A Nostalgic Introduction to Long Distance TV DX'ing in the United Kingdom up to 2005

by William F. Kitching

 


What is DXTV ? DX: meaning Long Distance, and TV: meaning Television, so its Long Distance TV reception. However it must not be confused with Satellite TV. The DXTV we are interested in is the reception of local TV broadcasts outside normal transmission areas via the Ionosphere. If you think this is impossible then read on, as you will see it is quite feasible to watch Arabic TV from Iran, Jordon or Syria or indeed most European Countries in the U.K. The fun is it only happens at certain times of the year and in the case of Arabic TV, only at certain times of the Sun Spot Cycle.

 

Bands Used

 

Before we look at modes of propagation and when and what can be received first a little history lesson of TV. In the United Kingdom we used to have three TV Bands or frequency groups. These where known as Band One, Band Three and UHF, (Bands 4 & 5). In the first days of TV we had one channel, the BBC. This used a couple of channels in Band One. Famous ones received in the Midlands where Channel 4 from Sutton Coldfield and Channel 2 from Holme Moss. Then ITV was introduced. To make room for this service a new band or set of frequencies were used in Band 3. We had ATV on Channel 8 here in the Midlands and Granada on Channel 9 along with Harlech on Channel 11. Frequencies where quite low, Band One starting at 41 MHz. and finishing at 65 MHz. or so. ITV on Band Three had frequencies a little higher around 175 MHz. As you will appreciate frequencies as low as these can be affected by various modes of propagation as we shall see later.

With the introduction of colour TV in the UK it was decided to use the UHF band only. The idea that Bands One and Three would be phased out as people gradually switched. This indeed happened, so we now have UHF only for our terrestrial TV. We also had an increase of picture quality with the introduction of UHF, 625 lines instead of 405 lines on Bands One and Three.

 

Now, as you no doubt appreciate we in the U.K. are a little different than main land Europe in many ways and TV is no exception. Europe uses Bands One, Three and UHF for colour TV and they also have 625 lines on all bands. However, groups of Countries do have their little differences, especially France and the old Eastern Bloc Countries including Russia. The table below shows the Frequency, Channel Number and System used by Countries in Band One and Band 3.



                             
Channel Freq S or V System   Channel Freq S or V System   Channel Freq S or V System  
B1 41.50 S A   ID 175.25 V B   E9 203.25 V B  
B1 45.00 V A   E5 175.25 V B   B11 204.75 V A  
B2 48.25 S A   R6 175.25 V D   R9 205.75 S D  
E2 48.25 V B   L5 176.00 V L   B12 206.26 S A  
L2 49.25 S L   B6 176.25 S A   L8 206.50 S L  
E2a 49.75 V B   B6 179.75 V A   IG 206.75 S B  
R1 49.75 V D   ID 180.75 S B   R10 207.25 V D  
B2 51.75 V A   E5 180.75 S B   L9 208.00 V L  
B3 53.25 S A   B7 181.25 S A   E9 208.75 S B  
IA 53.75 V B   R6 181.75 S D   B12 209.75 V A  
E2 53.75 S B   E6 182.25 V B   IH 210.25 V B  
L3 54.00 S L   L5 182.50 S L   E10 210.25 V B  
E2a 55.25 S B   R7 183.25 V D   B13 211.25 S A  
E3 55.25 V B   IE 183.75 V B   R10 213.75 S D  
L2 55.75 V L   L6 184.00 V L   L9 214.50 S L  
R1 56.25 S D   B7 184.75 V A   B13 214.75 V A  
B3 56.75 V A   B8 186.25 S A   R11 215.25 V D  
L4 57.25 S L   E6 187.75 S B   IH 215.75 S B  
B4 58.25 S A   IE 189.25 S B   E10 215.75 S B  
IA 59.25 S B   E7 189.25 V B   L10 216.00 V L  
R2 59.25 V D   B8 189.75 V A   IH1 217.25 V B  
L3 60.50 V L   R7 189.75 S D   E11 217.25 V B  
E3 60.75 S B   L6 190.50 S L   R11 221.75 S D  
B4 61.75 V A   B9 191.25 S A   L10 222.50 S L  
IB 62.25 V B   R8 191.25 V D   IH1 222.75 S B  
E4 62.25 V B   L7 192.00 V L   E11 222.75 S B  
B5 63.25 S A   IF 192.25 V B   R12 223.25 V D  
L4 63.75 V L   B9 194.75 V A   E12 224.25 V B  
R2 65.75 S D   E7 194.75 S B   E12 229.75 S B  
B5 66.75 V A   B10 196.25 S A   R12 229.75 S D  
IB 67.75 S B   E8 196.25 V B            
E4 67.75 S B   IF 197.75 S B            
R3 77.25 V D   R8 197.75 S D            
IC 82.25 V B   L7 198.50 S L            
R3 83.75 S D   R9 199.25 V D            
R4 85.25 V D   B10 199.75 V A            
IC 87.75 S B   L8 200.00 V L            
R4 91.75 S D   IG 201.25 V B            
R5 93.25 V D   B11 201.25 S A            
R5 99.75 S D   E8 201.75 S B            
                       
 

In the above table, S or V corresponds to Sound or Vision frequencies and all frequencies are in MHz.

We are interested in the following channels: E channels, they are used by Western European Countries except France and Italy. France has its own system, L. East European Countries use the R channels. One other exception is Italy. They use the I channels. So it can be seen that we have DX possibilities from France on three channels, L2, L3 and L4. West Europe on 3 channels, E2, E3 and E4. Italy on two channels, IA and IB and finally East Europe on two channels R1 and R2. The band is agog with TV channels, you just have to be there at the right time to see something !

 

Band Three as I mentioned earlier uses higher frequencies. In Europe they start at 175.25 MHz and end at 224.25 MHz. The channel principle is the same as Band One. So we have E5, E6, E7, E8, E9, E10 and E11 for Western Europe except France and Italy. France has L5 through to L10. Italy has IC through to IH and finally East Europe has R4 to R12.

It should be noted that most West European Countries have abandoned the higher channel to make way for D.A.B.

 

Europe also uses the UHF band as we do in the U.K. so that is another band with DX possibilities, though due to the high frequencies, it is rather limited.

 

Just a little about sound now. Although the main interest is the picture it is possible to receive sound if your TV set allows. In the UK we use 6MHz. sound spacing system. Guess what, in Europe they use 5.5 MHz. In Russia they use 6.5 MHz. So once again we are all different! So, unless the TV you use has 5.5 MHz. sound spacing you will not get sound from West Europe. Not a problem but worth remembering.

 

 

Propagation Modes.

 

Now a look at the modes of propagation. When I was a youth many many years ago now, every summer we suffered Continental Interference on our black and white TV. I had always wondered what it was and why. How could hot weather cause all that patterning, especially if it was a cool rainy day ? Well after leaving school and getting into the radio hobby I soon discovered what the phenomena was. Sporadic E. This is the main mode of propagation for TV DXers. The reason being that it occurs without fail every summer in the U.K. and Europe. It can start as early as April and end as late as September, peaking in June and July. Also we have winter Sporadic E in December and January, so as you can see there are only a few bleak months of the year when we get no Sporadic E at all. If we are lucky these bleak months can have activity from other modes of propagation but more on this later.

 

First of all Sporadic E. As the names suggests this mode of propagation occurs in the E layer, about 95 to 150 kms above the earth. The diagram left helps to appreciate where these layers are. No one knows what causes Sporadic E or Es as it is often referred to as. There are many theories including Thunder Storms, but as with a lot of things in Nature, nothing has been proved yet. One thing that does hamper Sporadic E is if the Sun emits a CME towards the earth. This kills off Shortwave Radio reception as we know, but also badly affects Sporadic E. Luckily these events are most common during the peak of the Sun Spot Cycle and only last a day or so. So it is best to accept Sporadic E as a mode of propagation and the months of the year when it occurs. We are not interested in the whys, just what it produces for us with DXTV.

 

April sees the odd opening, not every April though. Openings are usually short, just a few minutes. May is a funny month. Some seasons have seen May producing very little, others see May as a very active month. Openings, especially towards the end of the month can be quite long, over an hour or even more. June and July are without doubt the best months of the year. Openings can be hours at a time. In good seasons I have had pictures all day long and well after mid-night local time. August sees conditions quieten down a lot. Some days no pictures at all, others openings up to an hour. September is a quiet month, but again we can have openings lasting 15 minutes or so.

 

Sporadic E affects Band One only, though on really intense days DXers have reported Band Three reception. However for most purposes consider Sporadic E for Band One TV.

 

 

There are three other modes that produce Band One DX Signals. The first is F2. The F2 layer is where most shortwave transmissions are reflected back to earth from. This layer is time, month and Sun Spot Cycle dependant. In the winter after 1600utc at Sun Spot minima, frequencies above 13 MHz. are usually dead; so there is no chance of Band One Signals being reflected back to earth. But conditions alter dramatically at Sun Spot Maxima. The Maximum Frequency to be reflected back to the earth increases to 50MHz. or so. Band One TV Signals can be reflected back over large distances. This is the mode for receiving signals from Syria, Iran and Jordon as well as the Asiatic republics of the C.I.S. The mode is multi hop, so unlike Es, the pictures are very distorted and ghostly, but are very strong. The best time to receive these pictures in the U.K. are in the mornings from around 0730. At 1100 signals from the C.I.S. may also start to come in. If you are very lucky, the afternoon may see pictures from Canada or the U.S.A.

 

The next mode is Meteor Scatter. During major Meteor Showers such as the Leoninds or Perseids signals can be reflected back to earth from Band One transmitters from the ionised trails left by the Meteor. As you will appreciate these are quite short, milliseconds to around 5 seconds. So it is not a mode for the beginner. You need to know your Countries as with Meteor Scatter reception you only have a few seconds to ID a picture. Some years Meteor Showers turn stormy when the earth passes through the debris trial that produces the showers in the first place. A good example of this is the Leonid Meteor shower in November. Over the last few years this shower has turned into a storm. Because there are so many Meteors hitting the Earths atmosphere at a time the ionisation lasts many seconds so pictures last longer & make it easier to ID.

 

Next we move on to Aurora. I said earlier that any CMEs from the sun kill shortwave and Sporadic E. Well they have a side effect: Auroral Es. TV pictures can be reflected from the aurora. They are usually weak & watery here in the U.K. but the further North you are the better. Hence the Scandinavian DXers do quite well with this mode.

 

The last mode is Troop. This mode is best for Bands Three and UHF TV. Signals are bent back to earth via the troposphere when we have a high pressure system. This gives good reception in the UK from Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France & Denmark quite easily. Depending where the High Pressure System is placed depends what Country you see. On Band One channel E4 and to a much lesser extent E3 can give Tropo reception in the U.K. from Europe. Holland on E4 from Lopik is a regular along with Belgium on E3.

 

 

EQUIPMENT

 

My first DXTV receiver was a Bush dual standard TV set. I still have that TV and a set of valves for it. However times move on as does technology & equipment. My aerial was a 20 year old Band One aerial pointing to Sutton Coldfield, because thats what we used for Channel 4 BBC TV.

 

The set was simple to alter for DXTV. All I had to do was disconnect the system switch, so that the TV was always on 625 lines & then tune away on Band One. My very first DXTV signal was on 26 May 1982 at 1026 UTC. It was Spain, a Test Card on Channel E3. Sadly test cards are rare now, but don't despair, IDing is relatively easy as I shall explain later.

So, the cheap way into DXTV is to find an old dual standard TV and use that. The problem there is that they have all been scrapped now, so the next cheap option is to look for a multi band portable TV. Remember it has to have Band 1 and Band 3 as well as UHF. There are many around so it should not be too difficult to find one.

 

After a season using one of these sets you might decide its time to tweak. The main tweak is to reduce the IF bandwidth. This helps in splitting signals on nearby channels. Remember these sets are meant for local strong signals. They are not designed to watch one channel say E2 on 48.25 MHz. and another one on 49.75 MHz. channel R1. Knowledge is required and possibly electronic components.

 

The best option is to purchase a dedicated DXTV converter. This is no problem as one can be obtained for around 150.00 from HS Publications at Derby in the U.K. This is a superb piece of kit. It covers Bands 1, 3 & UHF. It has bandwidth switching, IF & RF Gain Controls, & provision to listen to sound no matter what TV system is in use. The lads who make this also sell Band One & Three aerials. Their address is 7, Epping Close, Derby. DE22 4HR. Note that you need a UHF TV to plug the converter into.

 

 

Identifying Stations.

 

As I mentioned earlier Test Cards are rare these days. However all is not lost as nearly all European stations have this fetish for putting on screen IDs on their channels, just like the satellite stations do. So here we go with a run down.

 

Starting in West Europe:


 

Portugal have the following on screen ID on channel E3. This has just been changed ready for the 2002 Es season !!! It is in the top left corner of the picture. I last logged Portugal on E2 in 1995, so the chances are the Transmitter has been closed down. However they are a regular on channel E3.

 

 

 

Spain have TVE1 bottom right hand corner. It is similar to this but with a one and no border. You might not see Spain in 2002 as they are supposed to closing down their Band One transmitters, but I think some might be left on. So at present its a case of check all E channels.

 

 

 

 

Sweden can be seen on channels E2, E3 and E4. They have just the 1 symbol top right of the picture. It is not prominent so look carefully, that way you wont mistake it for Norway. Sweden & Norway have loads of sub titled programs. Sweden quite often radiates a test card during the day in between School programs.

 

 

nrk

 

Norway has NRK top right of the picture. They can be seen on E2, E3 and E4. Quite often during the day they have Whats On type captions. Before 1000 they often have a test card showing and if your lucky, the transmitter location. Very obliging nation to TV DXers are Norway!

 

 

 

 

Finland can be seen on channels E3 and E4. Note they do not use E2. Only Norway & Sweden in Scandinavia uses E2. They often have a test card on in the day but also Whats On type captions similar to Norway.

 

 

 

 

Denmark quite often has a very nice test card on both Band One & Band Three channels. On screen ID is their 1 symbol top right of the picture as shown here. Lots of English programs. They can be seen on Band 3 when troppo is about. On Band One look for them on E3 or E4. Note they do not use channel E2. On band Three look for them on channels E5, E6, E7 and E10.

 

 

 

Iceland. Another easy catch when conditions allow. RUV radiates a test card quite a lot during the day. They also sometimes have Whats On Captions now like Norway. Remember Iceland is on UTC time so is one hour behind us in the summer months. Quite useful if you catch a clock but are unsure of which Country you are watching. Look for RUV on channel E4. When present always a nice strong signal. I last logged them on channel E3 in 1992, so am unsure if the E3 transmitter is still on the air. They do not use E2.

 

 

 

 

France. The network is Canal Plus. Often they are scrambled as on the satellite. The scrambling is like jagged edges to the picture so is easy to ID. Also France has positive video modulation so their signals appear negative. France is an easy catch on Band 3 Tropo and can be received on Band One via Es.

 

 

 

Switzerland can be seen on E3 and E4. They have SF1 in white letters top right of the picture. They have programs on now in the day so little chance of the test card.

 

 

Germany always have programs on in the day. They can be seen regularly on channel E2. Also check on E3 and E4. The network is either ARD or ZDF. Look for a 1 top left of the picture. I think all programs are dubbed so no sub titles. Sometimes you may see the ZDF Caption.

 

ORF 1

 

Austria can be seen on channels E2a and E4. Channel E2a is the same frequency as the East European R1 channel. They have ORF1 top right of the picture. Again day time programming is in operation so no test cards anymore.

 

 

 

Italy is an easy catch. Look on for RAI Uno on both channels, IA and IB, the latter being the same frequency as E4. You will never see a test card now, just loads of programming. The news has a TGI on screen logo. The RAI Uno logo is as shown here and can be in any corner of the picture. Italy also has private stations. TVA can be seen just below channel IA quite easily when conditions allow. They have TVA in white letters for their logo.

 

 

 

 

 

Slovenia. A quiet little Country this, it seemed to slip into independence without anyone noticing. Far from quiet on Band One though. Look for it on channel E3 only. Logo top right. Has changed over the past couple of years. Loads of English programs with sub titles.

 

 

 

 

Croatia. HRT1 is a regular on channel E4 only. Its logo HRT1 appears top left or right depending on programming. No test cards these days with day time programming. Does have regular news programs & some sub titled programs.

 

 

 

Moving onto East Europe. Forget Poland & Bulgaria. No Band One transmitters. If conditions are good look for Albania on Channel C. They have a logo top right. Its a high frequency so you need good conditions. If you find strong pictures from Croatia on E4 and Slovenia on E3 then look on channel C for Albania.

 

 

 

 

 

The Czech Republic has a private network on Band One known as TV NOVA. It is a regular on R2 and when conditions allow and also on R1. The logo is very distinctive as can be seen from this off air photo and is located top left of the picture. It does not always have the red star though.

 

 

 

 

Hungary. This Country has 2 stations using Band One. On channel R1 is the State TV M1. Sometimes it has a logo as shown, other times not. Again 2002 may tell a different story as they might have switched the R1 transmitter off. On channel R2 we have RTL. This has a Logo, RTL top left of the picture.

 

 

 

 

Romania can be seen on R1, R2 and R3. When conditions are good it is well worth checking R3 as there is far less QRM on this higher channel. R1 is a hard channel at the best of times due to baby alarm interference. R2 quite often has other stations on so go for R3.

 

 

 

 

Moldova is a regular on channel R2 and R3. Their logo is always top left of the picture and quite easy to spot.

 

 

 

 

 

Estonia is another regular occupier of channel R2. Their logo is top right of the picture and has varied a bit over the years. It will be interesting to see what 2002 brings.

 

 

 

 

Lithuania appeared on Band One in 1995 from no where. Quite an occasion for a new Band One TV transmitter to come on the air. Look for it on channel R2 with the logo beaming away in the top left of the picture. The logo has LRT in fairly large writing. An easy catch & quite often strong enough for colour.

 

 

 

 

 

Latvia. This Country has Band One transmitters on R1, R2 and R3. The second network is on R2 whilst the first is on R1 and R3. Not as easy as Estonia to catch but again check R3 if conditions are good.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ukraine is another regular on channel R1, R2 and R3. The logo is usually some form of a one as shown here. They may have changed it by 2002 we shall have top wait and see.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Russia seems to have various logos depending on the program maker. It is difficult to say what we shall see. However look for it on all R channels in Band One. Look for the logo top left similar to the picture shown. Russia is an easy catch on all channels.

 

 

 

 

 

I hope this will give an idea of what there is to see. The future of Band One is still in doubt. In the past we suffered badly in the U.K. during June & July with interference from European TV transmitters, hence the move to UHF. However, although UHF is used extensively in Europe there seems to be a reluctance to switch the Band One transmitters off. The first casualties at the start of this Century would appear to be Spain & Austria, though only time will tell.

 

In the meantime there is plenty to enjoy using many modes of propagation available to this side of the hobby.

 

 

 

Main Menu   Gallery of stations I have received