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Hearing Radio from Thousands of Miles Away

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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7 Responses to Hearing Radio from Thousands of Miles Away

  1. DJ Spinelli June 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    yesterday (june 24, 10), around 2:30 in afternoon, i’m driving around in peabody listening to my pal j.j. wright on oldies 103.3 and i notice another radio station trying to break in. i didn’t really think much of it until i finally pulled over somewhere and actually caught the other station coming in. it would fade in and out with oldies 103, but at one point, it came in crystal clear in stereo. i waited and listened as a rock song finished and then heard a traffic report mention “rt 40”, then a commercial mentioning “fox 59”. so i jumped on my cell phone, got on google and typed in “fox 59” – it comes up showing it’s out of indianapolis!

    i then google “103.3 indianapolis” and sure enough “x-103 – indy’s rock radio” (wrzx 103.3) comes up. so i go to the web site, get the phone number and call the station (i had to call and find out if anyone else called about this). after all, this is unreal that a station from indianapolis (950 miles away) on the 103.3 frequency was actually drowning out 103.3 out of boston! the person i speak with tells me i’m the only person that’s called about this.

    there’s gotta a bunch of 103.3 stations on the fm dial between boston and indianapolis with thousands of people listening at that time… and i’m the only one that’s noticed this?

  2. Jennifer Waits June 25, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks for the report. I couldn’t find anything online about this particular E-skip, but it must have been exciting to hear.

  3. NerdKore June 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    driving heavy equipment in the middle of nowhere North Dakota, picked up all sorts of West Coast signals today – from Mexican church stations to 92.5 KLAD in Klamath Falls, OR!!

  4. )Beefy9602 June 18, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    yesterday, for about 5 hours, I was sitting in the work truck waiting for the rain to stop and scanning through the radio stations here in northeast missouri and the scan function stopped on 101.9 the flame from san angelo texas. creeped me out since the air force had a couple jets flying in the area about 200 feet above the ground. did not help my paranoia….

  5. Joshua R. June 18, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

    Driving to work today and was listening to KMIT 105.9 Hot Country out of Mitchell, South Dakota. I live in Virginia.

  6. Daniel June 23, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    Running heavy equipment in northern Alberta canada and was picking up Y94 93.7 out of Fargo North Dakota

  7. Mike August 18, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    I live in central New Jersey. I was trying to listen to WMMR 93.3 out of Philadelphia, PA this morning, but for a good few minutes I was treated to WFLS 93.3 out of Fredericksburg, VA. Not as far of a distance as some of the other commenters, but still took me by surprise. Additionally, most of my other local stations were getting wiped out by rogue signals this morning.

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