When I was a kid we had a large old-fashioned radio that had stations listed on it from all over the country and globe. I can’t remember if we ever had any luck tuning in to far-away stations, but it seemed like such a magical concept. Certainly in the early days of radio that was one of the promises, that stations could be heard thousands of miles away. As I delve into the history of my own college radio station at Haverford College, I have found references to their broadcasts out of Pennsylvania on WABQ reaching as far away as Maine and Michigan. Upon installing a 1000 watt transmitter the station had dreams in 1925 of having a broadcast range of 3000 miles. Part of the excitement was that alumni all over the country could tune in to hear lectures and musical performances at the college.
Well, apparently last week due to some funkiness in the atmosphere, one could tune into the radio in western New York and hear sounds from thousands of miles away. As reported by Ben Beagle in the Batavia News,
“Atmospheric anomalies played havoc with local FM radio reception on Wednesday, pulling in signals from more than 1,000 miles away.
While driving home — a quick 12-mile commute from Batavia to Le Roy — I thought something was wrong with my radio. I could not get a Rochester or Buffalo radio station to come in. On WBEE-FM (92.5) I could hear some music, but it sounded like it was coming out of a white noise machine. Other stations seemed to have just disappeared. Nothing. Even WGCC-FM in Batavia was overtaken by static (though sometimes with college-radio music it’s hard to tell).
But the radio was functioning. Nothing had been amiss during the morning drive. There was reception in the afternoon, too, it just wasn’t coming from the usual places. The scan button was stopping and music was playing clearly from stations that the scan button had never stopped on before.
I felt like I was in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Or maybe the fabric of the universe was ripping apart. Something strange was happening. My wife looked at me like I was having a breakdown.”
Apparently what was happening was due to something called sporadic E-skip. In the article he explains that:
“Basically, a radio station’s signal bounces around the atmosphere and can be picked up a great distance away. Even the most powerful FM signals don’t normally reach more than 80 or 90 miles But E-skip, [radio consultant Scott] Fybush explained in an e-mail, usually brings in stations at a range of about 700 to 1,200 miles. ‘When an (E-skip) opening is especially strong, as today’s was, it can bring in so many distant signals that they wipe nearby stations off the dial, as you experienced,’ he wrote.”
That must have been both wild and exciting to hear far-away stations on the radio. Chalk this up to another benefit of terrestrial radio in my book! Did you experience these displaced stations on your dial last week?
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