Shortwave radio is a radio transmission using shortwave frequencies, generally 1.6–30 MHz (187.4–10.0 m), just above the medium wave AM broadcast band. Many of SW’s properties are similar to AM like the ability for the signal to travel long distances.
Since the early 1900’s, there have been significant advances in radio. One of the biggest advances that has had the most impact on shortwave, is streaming on the internet and through internet enabled devices like smartphones and Internet radios. Many of the most popular shortwave broadcasts in the late 90’s and early 2000’s have almost disappeared from shortwave and switched to streaming. If stations are still broadcasting, they often no longer broadcast to the Americas or much of Europe.
At any one moment, there are literally hundreds of millions of signals now transmitted from a wide range of devices. Cell phones, garage door openers, AM and FM broadcast stations, police, fire, airlines, TV stations and even the AC power to your home all occupy a part of the frequency spectrum. Time, propagation and the ionosphere all have an impact on what you are able to receive. Because all signals are affected by these things, it is important to understand the basics of radio transmission.
If you really want to learn about shortwave, the best way to learn, is to listen to it. ShortwaveSchedule.com provides a list of all the signals currently broadcasting at the time of your search and is a great starting place for your shortwave listening quest.
Why Would I Listen to Shortwave?
- Governments often use shortwave “utility” bands. Utility bands are where the action is on shortwave and are used for reliable long range communication. Coast Guard Search and Rescue, coordination of US military aviation and spy networks all use this band. One reason it continues to be used, is it is very difficult to block these transmissions. Utility stations generally operate in upper sideband mode. Virtually none of these type of transmissions is on the Internet.
- During a big crisis, whether it be an earthquake or hurricane, your best source of real news can be shortwave. Ham operators do an excellent job of contacting emergency services and handling messages between people. You may have experienced “all circuits busy” situations or failed text messages in a large scale emergency situation due to cellular towers being down or overloaded. Amateur radio is the only communication that works well under all circumstances and for that reason, it will continue to be used for the foreseeable future.
- News from other countries will give you a new perspective on the world. Following shortwave closely over a few months will give you information that approximates the political information the President and staff have at their disposal to make global decisions. When you listen to shortwave you find out how difficult it is to make decisions with global consequences. The political bent of a country slips out providing you with an alternative point of view. There is a whole world of listening and very little of it may be found on the Internet.
- You might stumble across a Pirate Radio station
If you have the urge, you can even take to the air waves yourself by becoming a Ham operator through the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). You don’t even have to learn Morse code anymore unless you go for an advanced classification.
SWLING.com is probably one of the most comprehensive sites in regard to shortwave and advocating for it. This article on Does Shortwave Radio Have a Future really outlines what’s available and what’s not and why.
Share with us the most interesting shortwave broadcast you’ve heard.
I miss those Pacific island stations, like the one from Port Morsby on 4890 KHZ. At least All India Radio is still on the air but it’s rather hard to hear. As for utilities, I heard a spy numbers station at 04:00 UT under Radio New Zealand International on 15720 KHZ. It’s been there almost every local evening when I tuned in.
I remember in December of 1991 when Radio Moscow, as it was known then, broadcast the transition of the Soviet Union into the Commonwealth of Independent States. Having made friends with a radio announcer there earlier in the year, I was keenly interested in how Russia changed from a totalitarian state into a democracy. Best of all, I heard it right from the source.
By the way, I visited Moscow in 1997 and stayed with my friend. While there, I was interviewed on the Voice of Russia World Service on their “You Write To Moscow” letters program. I also saw the editing room with its vintage tape machines. How wonderful it was to meet the people behind the scenes and be interviewed too.
“If you have the urge, you can even take to the air waves yourself by becoming a Ham operator through the American Radio Relay League (AARL).”
I think you meant the acronym to “ARRL”.
Yes, thank you very much! Corrected.
When I was on a boat in the area of the Galopolos Islands, I was able to listen to the BBC, North Korea and Iran, when the satellite internet signal was not available.
I wish the rules for international broadcasting were loosened so folks can put stations on the air with ease.
Randy Bachman came up with a good suggestion where bands could pay to have their music played. If such a pay-for-play station could be set up, it might be an alternative way for bands to be heard. And it would be a way for younger folks to discover the wonder of short wave radio.