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The Mediumwave Band Plan

Understanding how the Medium Wave band is organized will help you in your search for those DX stations. Choosing the right frequency can improve your hit ratio and make MW DXing a more enjoyable pasttime.

AM Channel Spacing

The Medium Wave or AM broadcast band occupies the frequency range of 530 to 1600 kHz in North America and is currently expanding to 1700 kHz. AM channels are spaced in 10 kHz increments, i.e. 530, 540, 550, ..., 1600 kHz. Outside of North America channel spacing is in 9 kHz increments. With the band expanding to 1700 kHz there are some new DX opportunities before many new stations fill that band segment. A station such as WJDM 1660 in Elizabeth NJ can be easily heard most nights in Southern Ontario. See Extended Band List

Channel Categories

Medium wave broadcast frequencies fall into three basic categories. These are clear channels, regional channels, and local channels. Clear channels are easiest to hear and are occupied by a few strong stations while at the other end of the spectrum, local channels have many low power stations on each frequency and are more difficult to DX.

Clear Channels
Clear channels are the frequencies 540, 640-780, 800-900, 940, 990-1140, 1160-1220, and 1500-1580 kHz. These are typically populated by the 50,000 watts powerhouses. On each frequency there are usually only two or three of these stations across North America making DXing them fairly easy. Most of the clear channels also have a few lower power stations but they are not much of a problem unless one happens to be near your location. Old timers will remember when clear channels really were clear and had only the powerful signals.

Regional Channels
These chanels are all of the remaining frequencies except for the local channels which we'll discuss next. Regional channel stations are usually 5,000 watts or less although some now have 10,000 watts. A few stations on these channels are licensed for 50,000 watts. Once you have logged the clear channel stations your next goal might be to try the regionals. Because there are more stations here, a directional antenna can be a useful addition to your shack when trying to sort out the DX.

Local Channels
Local channels are the frequencies 1230, 1240, 1340, 1400, 1450, and 1490 kHz. These are often called the "graveyard" channels owing to the odd mix of sounds you will hear at night with so many stations interfering with each other. These are the most challenging channels to copy because stations are usually under 1000 watts, sometimes well under 100 watts at night. Special receiving techniques, a good directional antenna, and a quality receiver will help in sorting out these stations but even then the process is a challenge.

Summary

If you are just beginning to listen for MW DX signals then the clear channels are your best bet. By now you should have a list of stations that you hear locally so they will not be mistaken for DX stations when you begin night listening. In the section Finding Distant Stations we will consider what to look for to locate your first DX station.

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Text 1999 Don Cassel VE3BUC
You can e-mail me at
ve3buc@rac.ca

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