Discovering The Long Year Town

In public school for most kids, geography always comes off as a dull subject. One of memorizing states, and state capitols, and peering at a bland globe at far off places that never really captures the interest of most students. Yeah, that was me too–guilty as charged!

If public schools really wanted students to enjoy geography, they should sit students down with a ham radio and get them making contacts.

I’ve been relearning geography in a much more interesting way since I started DXing a bit, and even places closer to home become more interesting when you spot your signal landing there, or make a contact with a real person. I think this is because it gives the brain an extra little marker to hang the dry facts on so they become meaningful.

As I’ve witnessed with elderly relatives now passed on, who’s short term memory decays, but they still remember things with emotional attachment long into their decline, memory is in many ways an emotional activity.

Last night while working FT8 on 40m I ran into a fun little place off to the right of Greenland where my signal reports were landing for the first time.

I zoomed in, but it had no name on the map other than the name of one town, Longyearbyen. Huh.

So I sent my Elmer a screenshot. “Where in the WORLD is THIS?”

A 11pm query to my Elmer friend… what is THIS?!

A half hour or so later he sent back a reply. “That’s Svalbard”

Ah! I remembered he had mentioned a couple months earlier making a contact with a ham in a place by that name himself. So THAT is Svalbard!

Apparently this far north island is actually a part of Norway, though it looks to me like it’s closer to Greenland.

The Long Year Town

And the name of the town, Longyearbyen translates to the Long Year Town. It’s the most northern settlement of more than 1000 people in the world, and “enjoys” several months of solar darkness, as the tilt of the earth keeps it facing away from the sun part of the year.

Apparently it once was a coal mining town.

A tourist information page about the town proudly gives the following information about living in Longyearbyen:

  • There are separate “roads” in the town centre for snowmobiles
  • We only have one grocery store
  • We are used to living next door to reindeer
  • We still take off our shoes when we enter hotels and restaurants, a tradition that has arisen from the problem with coal dust in the old days.
  • All the mining infrastructure is protected and remains as surreal monuments in and around the settlement.
  • The streets in Longyearbyen have numbers instead of names.
  • Longyearbyen has a university centre with 300 students, all of whom must learn to use firearms.
  • Seeing whales swimming in the fjord from our lounge window is not an uncommon occurrence.
  • Polar bears roam the landscape so people always go armed when they leave the settlement.

The ham station there that I saw receiving my signal report is JW4PUA— have a look at that proper Norwegian face on his QRZ profile!

He’s conservator working in the Svalbard Museum, and lives in a cabin just outside town. From his comments he’s piled upon the second he sets foot on the air, because there aren’t many hams out there.

He reports a couple of other interesting facts. Not only do they have 4 months of total darkness, there is an opposing 4 months of midnight sun in Svalbard, and they are located halfway between Norway and the North Pole– a whopping 1000km away from mainland Norway.

There are around 2000 people total living and working in the town.

Another Round of 2am Japanese Takeout and Other Assorted Contacts

Other things I got up to last night on 40– (yawn, stayed up wayyyyy tooo late!)

Chased and caught a station in Australia.

Chased and didn’t catch several stations in Costa Rica.

Chased and caught 6 stations in Japan, including several of the calling areas I didn’t already have.

Japan is divided into calling areas, and the number in the call sign seems to indicate which one they are in. I previously had four of them, but there is an eQSL award for snagging all ten that I am working on.

Chased and caught a few more grids– I just need 10 more grids for the Grid Squared Award on 40m now.

Completed and was awarded the eNorthAmerica award on eQSL.

Now it’s time for a nap. I really gotta quit staying up so late, but it’s hard when there are leaping hams everywhere. 🙂