Getting Away From It All…
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and were looking for a place to spend a couple of weeks intensive mediumwave DX therapy, then you’d probably consider, amongst others Lemmenjoki, Sheigra, Cappahayden or Grayland.
There is no doubt that each of these provide a better DXperience than struggling with the urban morass of depressing electrical noise and limitations for antenna space.
If you were to embark on a DXpedition to the Southern Hemisphere, you should seriously consider New Zealand as an option. So what do you need to know before making travel plans.
Why New Zealand
New Zealand has many factors that make it an ideal location for a DXpedition. For one, being in the Southern South Pacific opens up vast ocean paths to most continents and our relatively sparse population (particularly on the South and largest island) opens up large tracts of coastal land distant from noise-sources, eminently suitable for Beverage aerials.
Being in the Southern part of the South Pacific means it may be colder than those idyllic Pacific islands, though we don’t suffer the huge static levels which have even Aussie DXers rushing to turn their sets off for fear of lightning strikes or deafness.
New Zealand’s shape means that coastal areas are numerous and the habit of New Zealanders (“Kiwis”) holidaying close to the cost means there are lots of seaside holiday camps suitable for stringing aerials around.
Low levels of crime and very few venomous creatures (a couple of spiders) create safety of mind for DXers wandering off the beaten track in pursuit of rare signals.
It has been proven often over the years that DXers in New Zealand can hear low-powered stations with better readability than overseas colleagues much closer to the transmitter. Sub 100 watt pirate stations are regularly reported on shortwave and 2kW Spanish MW regionals have been known to flatten co-channel New Zealanders of similar power.
Whilst there is a plethora of New Zealand mediumwave stations (few of which exceed 10kW with a few 20kW, 50kW and 60kW senders), there are still numerous gaps on the dial particularly for DXing American stations on 10kHz spacing. Additionally, there are a number of 9kHz spaced channels bereft of New Zealanders, i.e. 648, 684, 747, 936, 1107, 1323, 1368, 1377, 1422, 1467, 1485, 1566kHz.
On top of that, we have pretty much all of the expanded band free (our Minister of Broadcasting decided NZ didn’t require that part of the broadcasting spectrum – I wonder if the case of rum I bought him swayed the decision?). The only NZer is an aeronautical beacon which uses 1630kHz USB and can be more or less negated by using LSB.
DXing the X-band gives us some idea of what it was like when NZ stations were few and far between. East Coast US 1kWers are readily heard mixing with their West Coast counterparts and Vatican Radio on 1611kHz flattening the co-channel Aussies when propagation is conducive.
There’s just one window of opportunity for us across the Americas. For North America, the best months are October – February, Central & South America between March – September. Times to listen vary from about 1 hour before local sunset through to just after sunrise at the transmitter location, although 2+ hours before sunset has been noted with South American signals on occasion.
Listening is also best before Australia experiences sunset (about 2 hours after dusk in NZ) and their signals are added to the mix.
Visiting European DXers have commented how pleasant it is to listen to signals from the Americas during civilised hours, rather than the wee, small hours of the morning as propagation dictates in their homelands.
Alaskans deserve special mention. They’re seldom heard during our evenings though a prolonged path opens up as sunrise approaches the transmitter location which results in some surprisingly strong signals, particularly from KNOM 780, KFQD 750, KICY 850 & KENI 650.
Africa – The Dark DX Continent
OK, OK… I confess… don’t come to New Zealand if you want to hear Africans on mediumwave. They just do not propagate here well and in over 28 years I’ve never heard a continental African station south of the Sudan and in all that time I can only recall loggings of Southerners on a handful of occasions by other DXers.
This hasn’t always been the case; back in the 1950s reception of Southern African stations was commonplace so it could be said that given the right conditions, it could happen again and with that thought in mind a number of Kiwi DXers are converging on the South Island’s West Coast during the next solar minima around 2005.
Shortwave is a different story, thankfully with great African DX to be had on the tropical bands in particular.
Conditions need to be right to hear Europeans and the nadir of the sunspot cycle presents the best opportunity. Paths open up around sunrise and sunset with the Greyline (coincidence of sunrise and sunset at the receiver and transmitter location) working in both directions. They’re tough to hear though it’s a real thrill to pick up what we call “longpathers” in the evenings. These signals travel Westwards from Europe towards NZ whereas sunrise Euros travel Eastwards of via the “shortpath” and 2kW Spaniards can propagate for more than an hour with uncannily steady signals, on occasion riding over the top of NZers up to 10kW!
Northern Europeans (Scandinavia etc) are very rare though Scandinavia DXers in almost polar regions can hear New Zealanders and Australians. Unfortunately, there are no high powered stations in the polar regions to be heard by a reciprocal path.
As New Zealand is further East than Asia, listening for Asians begin from their sunset through to our sunrise. Asians share 9kHz channels with either Australian or New Zealanders and propagate along the same signal paths which make them hard going. Once again, conditions need to favour the more distant signals to make our dials.
Very similar to Asia except by using an aerial that bears South of Australia, some of the interference from our nearest neighbour is reduced and holes in the band open up.
As you’d expect, South Pacific MW stations are heard particularly well and in some locations, i.e. Te Araroa and Northland they have been heard at midday local time!
Western northern Pacific stations are best heard around NZ sunrise whilst Hawaiians are heard right through the evening and on what can be clear channels once US Mainland signals have disappeared.
Our nearest neighbour provides stable DX fare for Kiwi DXers. Fading in around 2 hours after our sunset till an hour or so past sunrise, some consider them a pest and true, they do block almost every channel on occasion. There is a DX challenge here though… the low-powered expanded banders and in-band translators plus stations from Western Australia and the Northern Territories are great DX targets.