The World Above 1600 kHz

The first time I was ever aware that ordinary (AM/FM) radio stations could be received over long distances was back in March 1977. On a family vacation to North Mississippi, I was able to hear WBAP-820 from Fort Worth, TX, as well as KAAY-1090, Little Rock, AK. But I just thought it was because we were in a rural area, and far away from interference.

Back in L.A, later that summer, I vaguely remember hearing a station from Oklahoma (probably KOMA-1520) one night. Of course I was more than half-asleep anyway, so I don't remember too much about that one...

Later that year, I received a shortwave radio for my birthday. It was a Sanyo RP-8700, featuring AM, FM three or four shortwave bands, and a CB band. Since each shortwave band covered several megahertz, tuning could be hit or miss (except for the 49-meter band, which, for some reason, had its own bandswitch position). It also had a "loudness" switch (rare on shortwave receivers, but common on stereo equipment)

So what did I listen to? BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Canada, mostly. Radio Netherlands "DX-Jukebox" and "Unshackled" via HCJB in Ecuador were also favorites. By tuning to the very end of the 49-meter band, I could hear the CBC Northern Service. Occasionally I'd get Radio Japan and their beautiful interval signal late at night. Probably my best catch on this radio was Voice of Chile...

And there were also the weird sounds of shortwave. WWV and WWVH. Telephone company test tunes. Morse Code, the deedle-deedle sounds of teletype, and the quacking of single sideband (the RP-8700 had no BFO, so these modes couldn't be decoded properly). Also multiplex modes that sounded like the buzzing of a swarm of angry bees...

Although I didn't actively seek out any long distance AM stations at that time, I do recall hearing KOA-850 in Denver more than once...

It all came to a temporary end in April 1978 when that radio was stolen.

I received another radio in October 1978, this time a Panasonic RF-2800. This was a nicer receiver than the Sanyo, with an external antenna jack, a BFO, wide and narrow filters and a digital readout (no more guessing just where the radio was tuned).

This receiver was also much more sensitive, and soon I was hearing stations and programs that I never heard with the Sanyo. Of course there was the easy stuff (VOA, BBC, Radio Moscow, etc.) But I did try for the more exotic stations. I'd occasionally hear Guatemala on 3300 kHz, or Venezuela on 4970...Local shortwave stations from the southern part of Africa (Springbok Radio, etc.) also came in suprisingly well during the summer.

Mediumwave (AM) long-distance reception was also interesting. From my location in Southwest LA, I was able to hear the following stations:
  • CBK-540, Saskatchewan (Canada)
  • KOY-550, Phoenix, AZ
  • KFRC-610, San Francisco
  • KBOI-670, Boise, ID
  • KNBR-680, San Francisco
  • XEX-730, Mexico City
  • KCBS-740, San Francisco
  • KOB-770, Albuquerque, NM
  • XEROK-800, Ciudad Juarez
  • KGO-810, San Francisco
  • WBAP-820, Fort Worth, TX
  • WCCO-830, Minneapolis, MN
  • KOA-850, Denver, CO
  • WWL-870, New Orleans, LA
  • KRVN-880, Lexington, NE
  • WLS-890, Chicago, IL
  • KFRE-940, Fresno
  • KOOL-960, Phoenix
  • KOMO-1000, Seattle, WA
  • KTWO-1030, Caspar, WY
  • KFAX-1110, San Francisco
  • KPNW-1120, Eugene, OR
  • CKWX-1130, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • KSL-1160, Salt Lake City, UT
  • KGYN-1210, Guymon, OK
  • KXRX-1500, San Jose, CA
  • KGA-1510, Spokane, WA
  • KOMA-1520, Oklahoma City
  • KFBK-1530, Sacramento
In late 1979, we moved to a location about 30 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles. Although most of the L.A. local stations could still be heard, they weren't so strong and other signals could be heard. (Shortwave reception was about the same). Although I lost the ability to hear KGA (due to a local station on 1510), I was able to hear XEDM-Sonora on 1580, and a couple more Arizona stations on 1540 and 1580.

I also got to hear a couple of cross-country stations (WSB-750 in Atlanta, GA came in beautifully one morning, and, with a lot of antenna twirling and careful listening, I heard the "Yankee Doodle" interval signature of the Voice of America station in Key West, FL (1180 kHz)...just barely under a station in Bakersfield!

The real excitement came in early 1980, when we visited Mississippi again. I brought along the radio, and was pleasantly excited to hear:

On a visit to Chicago in 1986, I was able to hear several stations in New York (WQXR-1550 stands out) and Canada as well. (I still have yet to hear any transatlantic or transpacific stations, though...)

Long distance FM reception happened once in a while. I'd occasionally hear San Diego or Santa Barbara based stations in LA. (Of course, San Diego stations can often be heard in Santa Barbara, and probably vice-versa, because of the overwater path)

I still have the RF-2800, but over the last decade or so, it has worked less well. In particular, it developed a distressing tendency to suddenly lose all audio in the middle of a program.

Around April 1994, I bought a Sony 2010 (which I had had my eye on for several years). The synchronious detection feature helps with fading signals, and it's a good performer on AM and shortwave. But the FM section is not particularly sensitive or selective. And there's always that input transistor to worry about, although I've had no problems so far..

Although I didn't take the ICF-2001 to Europe (on either the 2001 or 2005 trips), I did take it with me to Puerto Rico in December 2001. By day, I could hear a few of the other islands, such as the Bahamas on 1540, Virgin Islands, and Anguilla on 1610. At night, Venezuela dominated the medium wave band, although I did hear WSM-650 in Nashville.

It also went with me to Hawaii in 2006, with the hope of hearing some prime DX. (Tahiti? Fiji? Australia? Japan?) but I didn't even get to hear a US mainland station. Oh well, at least the Hawaiian music radio sounded pretty good!

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