Maritimes Scanning Site
AM Broadcast Band Listening
Last updated March 20, 2008
2006 Personal List of AM stations heard in Halifax area (since then some stations have left the air or otherwise changed, notably local station CHNS 960 kHz has gone to the FM band) This is a casual list, i.e. the reception was not with special equipment or very dedicated listening habits!
This topic is definitely not a scanning one, but I am interested in it and am happy to share with you, so here it is! I do not profess to be any kind of expert on this topic but I certainly have dabbled in it since 1963 and my first QSL cards were from Broadcast Band (BCB) stations. Back then in the 60's I listened from Vancouver Island, and was thrilled to hear stations from the Atlantic coast such as WNBC in New York City and WSB in Atlanta. I realized later that such reception was routine for listeners in those days who actually searched for them. I have kept up my interest off and on over the years and although transcontinental reception is no longer routine and I no longer report for QSL cards, I still enjoy very much going through the dial and hearing what I can hear. This is a hobby that takes nothing much in the way of special equipment. In fact I do much of my listening from the car radio when no one is with me to annoy! Of course it is best to do this with the car stopped, for safety reasons and also to avoid all that electrical noise from the car itself.
My current revival of interest began in the Fall of 2005. For some reason there has been a lull in my other radio interests I guess, and one day I began to fiddle with the car radio and from there my interest has gone up and up. I also listen with a small digital Radio Shack portable (DX-370) and for Christmas received a Grundig S350 portable that has digital readout but continuous tuning. I describe this a little more farther down the page. [Note: editorial note in March 2008: since then I have not been listening much to AM, but will no doubt will do so again!]
Although it is generally thought that AM broadcast dx'ing is a nighttime activity, I also find it very interesting to listen throughout the day. Post-sunrise, mid-day, pre and post sunset.... they all provide variations on what one can hear. I have been quite surprised that I can hear some distant stations even when the sun is still quite high in the sky in the afternoon.
By the way, I am not a real AM dx'er. I do not possess special receivers or antennas. At this point I am only using the radios as they came from the store (built-in antenna) or the automobile factory. The experts use much better receivers than I do and often have very long wire antennas or amplified loops designed not only for pure reception but for very highly directional characteristics.
Above I had mentioned that transcontinental reception is no longer a routine occurrence. My farthest reception from here in Nova Scotia in my current wave of interest (2005+) is WWL in New Orleans. I picked this up just before sunrise in late January. This is a powerhouse to be sure, but as is discussed in more detail below, is just not that easy anymore to receive.
I am attaching a list of stations I have heard from my home or in my car in the Halifax area. This list originates in November 2005, so does not include any historical reception from earlier decades when listening was easier. I hope to keep this list somewhat updated as nothing is static about AM listening and really it is a never-ending pastime.
For expert information on BCB Listening I suggest you go to the websites of the National Radio Club (NRC) or IRCA in the United States. (Links appear below.) These clubs are dedicated to BCB dx'ing of stations in North America and worldwide. They produce a number of publications, the premier one being the Domestic Log (NRC) which lists all the stations in North America. The Ontario DX Association is a general organization covering the complete radio spectrum and does have a monthly publication with a BCB column with a Canadian perspective.
The AM broadcast band is one that is familiar to all of us. Anyone of age 50 and older grew up with it, while those of age 30 and under pay little attention to it, having themselves grown up with the higher fidelity of FM broadcasting.
The North American BCB extends from 540 kHz to 1700 kHz in steps of 10 kHz. There is also very limited use of 530 kHz in Canada and in the Caribbean area. The frequencies from 1610 kHz to 1700 kHz were additions to the original band, and older radios will not include this segment. There are relatively very few stations in this range as it was allocated only around 1990.
AM DX'ing is mostly a nighttime activity, but surprising reception is also possible during the day. Transmissions in the AM BCB consist of ground waves and sky waves. During the day the sky waves are quickly absorbed by the ionosphere and do not bounce back to Earth. Only at nighttime do the skywaves bounce and can be heard at great distances. Therefore, during the day a station depends on its groundwaves, and the area in which it can be reliably heard during daylight hours is referred to as its primary coverage area. The distance depends on the transmitter power, the antenna efficiency, the broadcast pattern (directionality) and the conductivity of the ground. In Canada and the United States the maximum transmitter power is 50 kW; however even with this the distance of reliable and enjoyable coverage in daytime is not likely to be much better than 100 miles (160 km). I have heard stations much farther away than this during the day, but the signal is not good enough for anyone but a hobbyist! Anything over 200 miles is likely to have had a path mostly over salt water, such as the situations where I have sometimes heard Newfoundland and regularly hear New York City from Halifax in daytime. The times in daylight within an hour of sunrise and sunset provide special conditions. I have often listened prior to sunset and this is the best time to listen for Newfoundland and for trans-Atlantic signals. The reason is simple. Those areas are already in darkness and their signals are bouncing off the ionosphere to my location which is still in daylight. At this time the stations to the west of me are also still in daylight so that their skywaves are not yet present to interfere with the desired ones from the east. A similar but opposite scenario exists just after sunrise but for a listener in eastern Canada this is not nearly as advantageous a time.
I will be concentrating on North America but you may be interested to know that the same band and step size is also used throughout Central and South America. In these areas and in the Caribbean there are a few oddball frequencies, some at 5 kHz steps and some that are just one or two kHz off a normal frequency. One that comes to mind on an unusual frequency is ZIZ in St. Kitts (Caribbean) on 555 kHz. Its unique frequency makes it hearable here in Nova Scotia, particularly as there are no local stations on 550 or 560 kHz.
The remainder of the world has a slightly different BCB band. It extends from 531 kHz to 1611 kHz in 9 kHz steps. If you have a radio that has analog continuous tuning, or is digital but is switchable to the 9 kHz format, you may be able to hear European or African stations from here in the Maritimes. Many of the stations across the Atlantic have very high power, but this band is not nearly as good as shortwave for long-haul reception. If you have a modern domestic digital readout radio it likely does not allow for any reception between the 10 kHz steps that we are used to. Keep in mind however that there are a few frequencies that are in both plans, such as 540 kHz. On this frequency there is for example, a station in Hungary with 1million watts. Even so it will not likely be heard over CBT in Newfoundland with 10,000 watts. I should add that there is an additional BCB band used in Europe, North Africa and Asia. It extends from 153 to 279 kHz, also in 9 kHz steps. This band is often referred to as the LW (longwave) band, and is not available in regular North American radios. Those with communications receivers may find it of interest. It contains relatively few stations, but some of these are very powerful.
Now back to North America. This band has been evolving since the earliest days of broadcasting. The earliest broadcasters such as CFCF in Montreal and KDKA in Pittsburgh began in this band in the mid-twenties and are still there! Along the way there have been major shakeups with mass changes in assigned frequencies, and this on several occasions, but things have been pretty much stable, relatively speaking, since at least the 1940's. Despite the phenomenal growth of FM broadcasting in the last 30 years, there was as well a major spurt of AM station proliferation as well.
There is a longstanding agreement on AM broadcasting amongst Canada, the United States, Mexico, Cuba and The Bahamas. In this agreement some of the frequencies (channels) are designated as Clear Channel frequencies. These are indicated on the chart below by the blue background. Essentially the term clear channel meant originally that only one or a very few stations would be allowed to transmit on the channel at night. This would allow very wide coverage at night for these "Clear Channel Stations".
In cases where there was only one station it was allowed to have a non-directional (omnidirectional) broadcast pattern as there was no other station to protect, and it could be heard all over North America and beyond, subject to receiver sensitivity and adjacent frequency interference. Examples from the 1940's to the 1970's are WNBC 660 New York (now is WFAN), WHO 1040 Des Moines, Iowa and WOAI 1200 San Antonio, Texas. I have heard these stations from my former home in British Columbia and from my present location in Nova Scotia, but today, of these three, I can only hear WFAN. Things have changed!
Some clear channels had two or three powerful stations and in these cases the stations mutually protected each other with directional antenna arrays. The term "protection" means to transmit directionally away from the direction of other stations on the same channel. Because these stations broadcast directionally away from each other, it was also possible on these channels to have lower power stations lying in between. Depending on one's location these shared clear channels afforded very long distance reception, though not as likely to be coast to coast.
In the years since the 1970's the nature of the clear channel has changed considerably. With the decline of AM radio and the rise of other means of entertainment and dissemination of information, the need for a few stations to transmit extremely long distances has diminished. Now the typical clear channel frequency still has its powerhouses, but there may be a considerable number of other stations now on with it. The result is that on some frequencies the powerhouse still dominates but on others it will not even be heard anymore, depending on your location. My opinion is that cross-continent listening is a thing of the past. I can still hear WSB Atlanta on 750 from here in Nova Scotia, if I am lucky, but I doubt it is heard from the west coast anymore.
The Clear Channels also had designations favouring one or more of the countries in the agreement. Due to its population the USA received the most and the Bahamas only received one (1540). This designation did not mean the other countries could not have stations on the channel, but the one or ones in the designated country had to be protected from interference.
Six frequencies were for local use. In the United States this meant that at night the stations could only have around 250 watts or less. The intent was to provide local coverage only. Naturally if there was only one station on the channel its 250 watts might still be good enough for long distance nightime reception but of course this is not the case. There are many many stations all over the continent on these channels and unless you are right beside a local station these frequencies are a mess at night. Dozens of signals are mixing and it is a real challenge to dig out identifications of any one station. Some hobbyists specialize in this challenge. I myself have never got that far, and tend to ignore these local frequencies. By the way, some writers call these the "graveyard" channels!
The other type of channel is the regional channel. There are many of them, and today they have large numbers of stations on at night, but they may have much higher power than is allowed on the local channels. The result is that from here in Nova Scotia you can typically hear a mix of stations from New England, Eastern Ontario, Quebec, and of course here in Atlantic Canada. They tend to fight it out for supremacy at any given time, at least at long distances. One will fade in and other will fade out. There likely will be always noise and background interference, but you are likely to hear many interesting stations, including in some case several on one frequency.
Directional broadcast patterns are employed by most of the regional stations and many of the clear channel stations. It is a giveaway that a station has a directional pattern if it has more than one tower in its transmitting array. Some stations are directional at night only, as this is the main period for potential interference. Some also have directional patterns in daytime. Certainly in my own local area near Halifax I have trouble receiving local 25,000 watt CJCH 920 from the area around Sackville and towards Windsor. This is because CJCH apparently has a transmission null in that direction. In other directions, including the main urban area of Halifax the signal is much stronger. This is a very common situation. Some stations are directional both day and night, but have different patterns.
The channels from 1610 to 1700 are legally designated as regional channels but they seem like clear channels as very few stations have so far been assigned to these frequencies, but power levels are quite low.
It should also be mentioned that the North American agreement is a lot looser than it used to be. At one time many many stations signed off at sunset. Canada has not had many of these (if any) for many years, but they were common in the USA. This was all in the name of reducing interference. Typically these would be on the Clear Channels, which would have to be cleared as the name implies, once nighttime came. In addition there were many stations even quite major ones in large cities that signed off later, such as at midnight. I certainly recall the good old days as a BCB dx'er in the 60's when some of the stronger stations in Vancouver would sign off and let me hear much farther away ones that transmitted all night. My favourite radio station as a teenager was CFUN 1410 Vancouver. It had a strong signal and a big population base, yet it signed off every Sunday night around midnight. I was then able to listen on what was my favourite frequency to hear KWYO in Wyoming and WING in Ohio. Those were not huge stations yet could be heard long distances due to these periodic signoffs, which were ostensibly to allow transmitter maintenance. Today there are very few weeknight or Sunday night signoffs, and a lot less stations that are daytime only. In addition, here in Canada there are many very low power (typically 40 watt) relay stations, mostly for the CBC. They are often on clear channel frequencies but at times can confuse the issue when it comes to identification. It should be noted that Mexico has for many many years allowed much more power than Canada and the United States, and Cuba has perhaps not honoured the agreement at all since the revolution in 1959. This is why there is an undercurrent of Spanish on a considerable number of frequencies.
The chart below is of the North American BCB frequencies. 530 kHz has minimal use by actual broadcasters but is used more commonly for low power Tourist Information Services (TIS) and similar such as in areas of road construction or at major airport terminals. 1610 was also used this way prior the the enlargement of the band, and some of those stations may still be on that frequency, but logic would say that perhaps some are now to be found at 1710 kHz. On the chart below the Clear Channel frequencies are indicated by a light blue background and the local (graveyard) channels by light purple. The others are regional channels, incuding the green ones which are the expanded band (X-band).
I do not intend to try to duplicate the complete lists of stations in North America or the world. It is possible to go online and find lists of stations by area. In the "old days" one could every year buy White's Radio Log which listed all the stations. AM listening was much more popular in those days and this was a sought-after publication. Today the AM Radio Log from the National Radio Club gives you a frequency by frequency listing with information on format, network, address, antenna pattern type, etc. Most of these pieces of information will be very valuable to you if you begin to try to log stations accurately and perhaps write for verifications (QSL's). I myself used to write for QSL's but have not since the early 70's. For the rest of the world I recommend the specialized publications of the NRC or the IRCA, but particularly I recommend the WRTH, the World Radio TV Handbook. Not only does it purportedly list all BCB stations, it also includes all Shortwave, FM and Television stations! You can search for it on the web. It is a fascinating annual read, and includes reviews of receivers and antennas.
Receivers and antennas: I did mention I am not an expert didn't I? The experts use specially selected radios and special loop and long wire antennas. Does the name Beverage mean anything to you? Generally it seems that communications receivers are used, along with shortwave portables. There are at least one or two more or less specialized AM receivers that I have heard about, such as the GE Superradio and the CCRadio, but I have never had one. It is not necessary to have a special radio in order to have fun with the BCB. You can have a great time sitting in your car and going through the frequencies... some radios being more sensitive and/or selective than others. The one in my 1999 Mercury Sable is very good. Indoors I currently use a Radio Shack DX-370 portable with digital readout. It is merely okay but fine for hearing some of the major stations around N.E. North America. I recently began using a Grundig S350 portable. It is slightly larger and therefore has a longer internal antenna. It also has connectors for an external antenna, which is something I would love to return to. I say return because my listening back in the 60's in British Columbia was with a long-wire antenna. My family lived in the country on 10 acres and now I don't know why I limited myself to 100 feet of wire, when I could have had 1000! Back then I used a variety of "plain Jane" home radios, long before the era of digital readouts. Getting back to the Grundig S350, it is much more fun than the DX-370. The latter restricts you to the centre frequencies at 10 kHz increments with no possibility of tuning in between. The Grundig has a digital readout but it is really an analog radio with continuous tuning. Not only can I listen in between the North American frequencies for the 9 kHz step Europeans, I can also tune slightly off the centre of the North American frequencies. You might ask why would I want to do that. Well it sometimes can be the key to tuning a weak station when there is a strong one on an adjacent frequency. Take 1000 kHz for example. There is a strong station on 1010 kHz. It can splash over to 1000 but if I go off centre to 999 or 998 I might lessen the splashover and more than compensate for the lessening of signal strength of the 1000 kHz signal. I hope you followed that.
Now back to antennas. The radio in your car may be very sensitive and easy to tune, but it receives pretty much equally from all directions. This is perfectly fine if you are most interested in receiving the one major station that might happen to be on a frequency. On the other hand there might be two or several signals on one frequency. If they are coming from different directions it might be possible to separate them, especially if they are at a relative angle of somewhere approaching 90 degrees. If you have an antenna that is directional you can simply turn it and favour the different directions. The antenna inside most portable radios is a bar that receives best at right angles to its long axis. Generally this means that if you rotate the radio itself so that it is broadside to the direction of the station, the reception will be best. If you turn the radio 90 degrees you might be able to null out the station, i.e. not receive a signal at all, or at least reduce it a great deal. This might allow you to pick up and understand another station that is off in that other direction. Try this on 1010 kHz. WINS in New York is dominant here in Nova Scotia, but if you turn your radio you might be able to reduce WINS and increase CFRB in Toronto. Give it a try. The experts or real hobbyists in BCB dx'ing use special loop antennas for the same purpose. Not only are they even better at nulling out signals, they also are much more efficient at picking up weak signals in the first place. Check out the links below and learn more about receivers and antennas.
Now, I suggest you check out the two major American clubs dedicated to BCB listening:
The National Radio Club (NRC): www.nrcdxas.org In addition to the monthly publications the NRC produces the must-have AM Radio Log as mentioned above. The NRC has just issued the latest edition of their Nighttime Antenna Pattern book. This book is the greatest thing since sliced breadl! I can tell you that this is a number one purchase for me. I have linked to a couple of pages from an older edition of the Pattern Book... you just have to check these out... you will see why I love this book. Links to page samples follow the chart below. For membership info for the NRC and for the publications check out their website.
The International Radio Club of America (IRCA): www.ircaonline.org This organization also is a great meeting place for its members but it does not produce as many publications as the NRC. You really need to check its site for the many informative articles and links. There is a link on here to a club in Victoria BC giving the pacific Canadian perspective. I just read on their site about the fellow in a 7th floor condo receiving trans-Pacific BCB signals....!! Wow!!
And also the Ontario DX Association (ODXA): www.odxa.on.ca This is a general purpose radio listening club that has been around for a long long time. It includes a monthly magazine that partially deals with BCB listening from the Canadian perspective.
The AM Broadcast Band in the Americas
Blue = Clear Channel. Purple = Local (Graveyard) These are the standard and unvarying frequencies (in kiloHertz) of AM band stations in Canada and the United States unless of course there is a transmitter problem giving an off-frequency signal.
Here are the links to sample pages from the Nighttime Pattern Book. These images are from the 1975 edition, and are shown here with the permission of the NRC. The 960 kHz nighttime pattern map shows at a glance what stations are on at night and you can see that the stations to a great extent protect each other by not beaming in each other's direction. The 740 kHz nighttime pattern map shows a typical Clear Channel in the days before the concept deteriorated somewhat. Notice that CBL in Toronto has most of the continent to itself. The statons in the southern USA beam away from CBL and they are probably dominant in the southeast. Even in the Maritimes, CBNM in Newfoundland would likely be much weaker than CBL as CBNM beams to the east, with a null to the west. I hope you enjoy these examples. The new edition of this book was published in January 2006. Check the link to the NRC that I have provided farther up the page. The patterns shown above from 1975 are of course changed now, as stations have gone or have changed pattern or power. Having said that there are many individual stations that have had the same power and pattern for decades.
For your interest here is the European/African/Asian/Australasian BCB chart. You will note that some frequencies are shared with the American plan. The best bets for listening are of course those frequencies that are nearly midway between American channels, for example those ending in 4, 5 or 6 kHz, especially if there is a foreign powerhouse on it. See the WRTH for details.
The AM Broadcast Band in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia.
Note that some areas of the Pacific basin use the American plan if there has been strong US influence in the past.