Medium Wave DXpeditions in the North Midlands

   or "It Shouldn't Happen To A DXer ..."

   This is an article I wrote for the Medium Wave News, the bulletin of the Medium Wave Circle, during the early 2000s, where it was entitled
   "The World's Unluckiest DXer!" It looks at the pros and cons of mobile DXing when you take to the countryside and roll out huge lengths of
   wire for the purpose of experiencing exotic, high-latitude DX, the kind which has only been heard on organised DXpeditions to the north-west
   of Scotland and north-west Wales. I wanted to find out if this kind of exotic DX could be achieved at lower latitudes, i.e. the English North
   Midlands. Having conducted further beverage experiments at my new address on the east coast I thought I should resurretn this article and I
   may add to it along the way. It shows what can, and does go wrong!

   Having experienced the excellent high-latitude DX which can be achieved in the far north-west of Scotland, I wanted to try a medium wave DX trip
   much closer to home, purely to see if the same results could be achieved locally. I could hear exotic west coast North American in the north of
   Scotland, but could I receive the same stations at my location in the centre of England?

   The following exercises may seem extreme to some, but many DXers have been known to carry out much more elaborate antenna experiments than
   the ones you will read about below!

   I first had the idea of using a beverage antenna locally in the mid 90''s. Living close to Sherwood Forest has its advantages as there are still
   large areas of woodland which contain natural beverage supports (also known as trees). Very little of the original forest remain these days but
   there are a few remote areas to be found which offer several miles of unspoilt forest.

   Clipstone Forest, Nottinghamshire
   The roads through the remaining parts of the forest are mainly dirt tracks and it is dificult to drive a car through them. I persevered and found
   a secluded spot about three miles to the east of Mansfield and erected a mile long beverage antenna, laid on the ground. These are also known as
   BOGs. Ther beverage antenna was almost pointing at my local Clipstone mast. This mast carries two medium wave stations on 1071 and 1584kHz
   and, as half expected, my AR7030 receiver started to glow with the strong overload and no DX was possible due to the large amounts of signal. Not
   giving up, I bought an Ordnance Survey map of the area to find other suitable locations within the forest which were further away from the Clipstone
   mast, but virtually all of them were located close to electricity pylons.

   Ransom Wood, Nottinghamshire
   Still in the forest, my next listening experiments were conducted in a wooded area close to the village of Rainworth. It was three miles further
   away from the Clipstone mast and no overload was present here, but I still found it difficult to access channels immediately adjacent to 1071 and
   1584kHz. The location was not so isolated but it was possible to erect a discreet wire some 300 metres long, high among the trees and some early
   morning listening sessions were carried out, sadly unsuccessfully due to poor conditions. One morning, after only a few weeks of trying this spot,
   I noticed one or two nearby trees being felled and various tractors and heavy machinery appearing around me. Little did I know that his area of
   woodland was going to be felled to make way for a new dual-carriageway. Grrrr! Another location was necessary.

   Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire
   Should I try and area closer to home? There was a lane which ran ran south-east / north-west at the back of my house. This was when I lived in the
   village of Huthwaite. The path had a stream running along its length and right through the middle of it and I thought this would provide a good
   earthing point for the beverage antenna termination. The path only ran for a few hundred feet but I thought it must be worth giving it a try as it
   was perfectly situated at the back of the rear garden. I could DX from home then!

   So I carefully concealed a wire underneath the top of the rear of the neighbour's fences which ran along the side of the path, giving about five
   feet of elevation above the ground. The wire was terminated in the stream and a reasonable null was achieved, despite the short length. Perfect! Well,
   until a few days later. I was taking some measurements on the terminating resistor when I was approached by a youth with a crowbar! The crowbar
   was raised above his head, ready to strike me. He asked me what I was doing and was particularly keen to know if I was working for the police. Little
   did I know that I had crossed the path of a local drug dealer! He thought I was doing surveillance work for the police and had assumed that the wire
   was some kind of listening device so I could listen in to their mobile phone conversations! I calmly (Yes, 'calmly'! Don't ask me how I remained so
   calm) explained to him that I was a radio ham and this was one of my aerials. I also invited him to come and visit my receiving setup if he didn't
   believe me, just so he could see for himself that I was not working for the police. He seemed to accept my explanation at face value and told me "no
   worries". We chatted for a while. He then walked away, completely satisfied with my story and I never heard from him again. Phew!

   I actually continued to listen for a few more weeks with this short beverage behind the house but it wasn't long before someone pulled it up and
   left it scattered along the path. It didn't seem to matter anyway as its shorter length was not providing me with quite sufficient signal, but I
   still believe I heard CFRY Portage-la-Prairie, Manitoba on 920kHz one morning. So, off I went again, on my travels to find yet another location for
   a beverage. I think the bad luck I'd had with the previous locations had only made me more determined to find a better and more reliable location.

   No Man's Hill, Nottinghamshire
   At last, I found a spot which proved to be the most successful, at No Man's Hill , only two miles from home which ran through a small wooded area
   close to a busy main road. The dense overgrowth allowed me to successfully erect a north-westerly beverage of around 400 metres which was left
   there for several weeks. Car parking was ideal and I could get off the main road and settle down to some serious listening without interruption. This
   location proved to be excellent and many high latitude stations were received during the winter of 1997 which was a solar minimum period. Among
   the DX heard and recorded at No Man's Hill were ...

     680 CJOB Winnipeg Manitoba
     880 CHQT Edmonton Alberta
     980 KKMS Eagan Minnesota
   1010 CBR Calgary, Alberta
   1060 CKMX Calgary, Alberta
   1130 CKWX Vancouver, British Colombia
   1290 CFRW Winnipeg, Manitoba (Presumed)
   1390 CJCY Medicine Hat, Alberta (Presumed)
   1470 CJVB Vancouver, British Columbia
   1510 KGA Spokane, Washington

   So, this haul appeared to indicate that Sheigra-like conditions could be achieved at lower latutudes, although probably with less reliability than
   in the north-west of Scotland. But this wonderful location was not only going to provide me with my best DX from a location close to home, but it was
   also the setting for the most bizarre chain of events I have ever experienced while on a DXpedition, for a week or so later I was to discover some
   rather unlikely events in the very wood where I had erected my beverage. Not only that, but I was also about to read about it in the local press soon

   I was doing some maintenance on the beverage one morning when I became aware I was being watched from a distance by several youths. I was
   also aware that they had attempted to surround me, so I quickly made my way back to the car and drove off. I returned the following morning to
   continue my work only this time I took our German Shepherd along with me in the hope this would act as a deterrent, should anything untoward
   happen. Once again there were various youths seemingly snooping around in the woodland and paying particular attention to my beverage antenna.
   The dog did indeed serve as a deterrent and they kept their distance from me, but I did not fancy going deep into the woodland to repair a broken
   section of the wire. I hurriedly abandoned this location. Here's why:

   By chance, I was reading through one of the local newspapers a week or two later and I read about the goings on in No Man's Hill Wood. They
   reported that the woodland had been used as a discrete area for, of all things, gay prostitution! It would appear that the youths who had tried to
   surround me were, as the local paper eloquently put it, "gaybashers" !! "Beveragebashers" more like! Some gay people had been hospitalilsed after
   being attacked by the youths. Oh well, off to find somewhere else!

   Thieves Wood, Nottinghamshire
   Another wooded area only a few hundred metres from No Man's Hill, known as Thieves Wood, provided a great spot for a very long beverage. A 300
   metre wire was installed among the densely packed trees in this area. It was also possible to continue this wire another 200 yards and terminate it
   in a small lake, though I never got this far. It wasn't long before the wood lived up to its name when I found the wire had been 'stolen' as I arrived one
   morning. Replacing the wire only had the same result a few days later, but there was something else I had overlooked. The parking location, in a
   small layby just off the main road, was situated only a couple of hundred metres from a local children's nursery! I had assumed this was just an old
   farm building to begin with. I did not fancy staying around here just in case I was accused of spying on small children, so, yet again, I hurriedly
   moved on!

   Stainsby Common, Derbyshire
   You might not be surprised at this point when I tell you that I was getting rather low on wire. I was through about half my stock so I needed to be
   really careful choosing my next location. After more searching and map reading I spotted a quiet location to the west of Tibshelf village, close to the
   village of Astwith, overlooking the Amber Valley to Matlock and Crich. It was a country lane linking a busy road to a farm track. I didn't see much
   traffic using it so I setled here and erected another 300 metres of wire in a north-westerly direction. I presume I must have been being watched as I
   set this up as the following morning when I arrived at the spot at 5am I noticed a lot of activity on this road. The wire was still there, but there
   were a couple of white vans and a police car parked on the lane. A few people were looking at my aerial wire, scratching their heads. I  wondered if
   they were DTI officials or similar so I didn't stop and just drove straight past. Was this really happening? How many more locations could I find
   locally? I was running out of ideas.There weren't many more locations worth considering locally, so I decided to look further afield and travel out
   into Derbyshire. There are large areas of moorland to the west of Chesterfield which looked like they were begging to have beverage antennas strung
   across them! There were also many roads which ran for a mile or more in the required direction and virtually all of these had wire fences running
   alongside them.

   Big Moor, Derbyshire
   To begin with, I found such a road with wire fences in the hills to the west of Chesterfield and tried an experiment. First, I lay a beverage on the ground
   (Wasn't that the title of a Billie Joe Spears song? Beverage On The Ground?). Above the wire on the ground was a wire fence! This was unearthed
   across the length I chose and seemed to be continuous. Beware though - make sure you test the wire for continuity before using it. Also make sure it
   does not come into physical contact with anything which will earth it, such as metal supporting posts. In the case of the wire fences in Derbyshire,
   all the supporting posts were made of wood! I compared the gain and directivity between the beverage on the ground and the wire fence above it.
   Surprisingly there was no obvious difference! I had expected the wire fence to give poor results due to lesser conductivity but it seemed to exhibit
   exhibited exactly the same characteristics as the wire on the ground. Both were roughly 300 metres in length. I was now asking myself the question
   "why bother to run out wires? There just wasn't any need anymore!

   Over the coming weeks I continued my beverage experiments, comparing the characteristics of the wire on the ground and one and one resting along a
   hedgerow. Once again there was no significant difference between the performance of the two. Furthermore, extending the beverage by another two or
   three hundred metres made precious little difference to the overall gain of the antenna, nor its directivity. My conclusions were that 300 metres was a
   suitable length, being perfectly resonant in the centre of the medium wave band.

   Curbar Edge, Derbyshire
   Finally, the last in my series of DXing disasters (for now at least!) was to take place on a stretch of road which runs close to the Curbar Edge, a few
   miles to the west of Sheffield. I had been camping out and listening from my car one morning in 2005. It was 7am and the day was breaking. I was
   ready to haul in the beverage and go home as conditions had deteriorated substantially since the midnight period. I drove from the layby where I had
   been parked, up to the end of the beverage and got out of the car. Meanwhile, I noticed a tractor had pulled into the layby so I got back in my car
   and watched closely. I doubt the wire would have been a problem but I always hate the thought of having to explain to somebody what I am doing. I
   thought the tractor was going to drive through the gate next to the layby and into the field. Ten or fifteen minutes passed and I could see that some
   kind of cutting equipment had been attached to the tractor though I could not see what it was. Hopefully it wasn't a hedg ecutter. More minutes past
   and I heard the sound of something tapping repetitively against my car. I wondered what on earth it was and so got out but of my car and looked
   around but could I see nothing. Very odd indeed! Since I was out of the car and wasting time waiting for the tractor to go away I thought I may as
   well start to haul in the wire, so I looked for it in the hedgerow at the side of the road. Nothing! It wasn't there anymore! I looked more closely
   as it is not unusual to lose the wire. I always use very thin black plastic covered wire which can easily become camouflaged in the twigs and branches.
   Still nothing! Suddenly, I became aware that the tractor had moved and was moving up the road towards me. I quickly got back in the car as I realised
   I may have been looking a little suspicious searching through the hedgerow. The tractor drove straight past me and I saw the large hedge cutting tool
   attached to it, my beverage antenna and several copper earth rods wrapped around it! I suspect this had damaged the cutting tool and the tractor was
   driving away as he was now unable to cut the rest of the hedgerow. Ooooops! Scarcely able to believe my eyes I hung my head low and drove away
   quietly. This was very frustrating and I thought I probably shouldn't show my face around that area for a while at least!

   Since these minor disasters I have concentrated on improving my setup at home. I have since added Dream IF-DSP software and constructed a very
   efficient ewe antenna. I have also placed several chokes inline with my antenna cables which has got rid of the awful noise levels which used to wipe
   out the entire medium wave band. For now at least there is little point in going out into the countryside to DX, but I have to admit it was good fun
   while it lasted.

   I really do feel that it is possible for me to come close to the kind of reception conditions experienced in more northerly climes but a coastal
   location is probably necessary. The site at No Man's Hill would appear to prove this point due to the high latitude reception in 1997, listed above.
   But generally, the conditions for the times when I carried out the majority of my beverage tests (between 1995 and 2004) were rather poor. Even up
   in the north of Scotland nothing particularly exciting was being heard at the time. The medium wave band in this part of central England is awash with
   continental signals at night and these will block many transatlantic channels. This situation is slightly different in northern Scotland where the
   continental signals, though still present, do not affect transatlantic reception quite so adversely. The real challenge is to find a suitable location
   to erect a beverage and actually keep it there!

   08-11-13 Update: This season has seen exciting new possibilities while DXing from my new QTH on the east coast. Some stations, one or two even
   quite rare by Scandinavian standards, have appeared on my domestic flag antenna. I hope to carry out a few beverage experiments in nearby rural
   locations soon. DX reports will feature on this site.

   Happy DXing!

   John Faulkner
   Skywaves Administrator