How to listen to shortwave radio: Using shortwave radios
Shortwave radio, also known as high-frequency radio, was the world’s first internet.
For decades, this technology has been a powerful way for people to connect with other human beings and cultures around the world.
Shortwave signals travel massive distances (particularly at night), and you can tune them to listen to broadcasts from other countries, or even connect with friends. Over the years, shortwave radio lovers have emerged all over the globe.
Today, listening to shortwave radio is one of the most popular technology pastimes.
So, how do you use a shortwave radio?
Learning how to listen to a shortwave radio is a process that takes plenty of time and practice.
Tuning for stations is a lot like sifting for gold – you won’t always get results. However, the more you learn, and the more you connect with other people in your community, the more you’ll discover about this unique part of radio history.
What is a shortwave radio? Catching the shortwave
Before you can understand how to listen to shortwave radio, you need to know a little more about the fundamental technology, and how it works.
Shortwave radio is just another name for listening to your radio signals in the “high frequency” wavelength. As you may already know, there are different wavelengths in radio listening, beyond the channels where you can tune into commercial stations.
Shortwave radio listening takes place between the AM and FM bands on a radio set, providing access to new kinds of frequencies that most people don’t notice.
All radio waves are types of electromagnetic waves. Over the years, clever scientists have revealed fantastic ways for us to manipulate these waves and tune into certain frequencies.
For instance, you can use antennas and special shortwave radio receivers to find bands that wouldn’t appear on a standard radio set.
One of the things that makes shortwave radios so appealing is that the frequencies they emit can travel much further than most radio waves.
Shortwave radios have the power to reflect off the atmosphere, using a layer called the “ionosphere.” This means that the radio waves can travel in more than just straight lines.
The incredible reach and versatility of shortwave radio listening means that people can use their radio sets to tune into broadcasts all around the world.
Indeed, shortwave radio is one of the best ways for groups to reach otherwise marginalised and isolated communities.
Shortwave radios and frequency bands
When you’re discovering how to listen to shortwave radio, one of the most important concepts you’ll need to learn, is how to navigate different “bands”.
If you know your way around AM and FM radios, you may already be familiar with radio bands.
The AM frequency range stretches from 530 Khz, to 1710 Khz. Alternatively, the FM band ranges from 88 to 108 megahertz.
When you look for stations in a “band” you twist the tuning buttons on your radio receiver until you find a station that’s easy to ear. Shortwave radio works in a similar way.
The main difference with shortwave radio bands, is that you’re browsing through multiple bands, named things like 25 metres, 31 metres, and so on. Each of these bands work just like AM or FM radio.
Once you dial into a band, you can fiddle with your tuning until you find a station that works.
The 19 metre band for shortwave radio covers the frequency range of around 15100 to 15600 khz, for instance, and it’s a common band for shortwave listeners.
Bands on a shortwave radio are a lot like streets in a town. There are a lots of houses on each street. Tuning into an exact frequency is like knocking on your friend’s door.
Finding shortwave radio frequencies
One thing that makes shortwave radios a little confusing, is that the frequency ranges available can differ depending on the devices you have. That’s pretty normal, and it happens because design differences alter the way that radio picks up frequencies.
On some radios, bands are clearly marked to help you with your listening journey. On other devices, you’ll need to track down the right SW frequencies on your own.
Another point to note is that because shortwave signals depend on various factors, like the ionosphere and the sun, as well as the way wavelengths interact with the earth, signals do change. You can’t hear the same signals on each band at every time of day.
Some bands are best for listening during the early daylight hours. Many of the bands on shortwave radios perform best at night.
Usually, the bands with frequencies under 13000 Khz perform better at night, while the bands over this frequency deliver better results during the day. The versatility of shortwave radio signals often means that you’ll get a unique experience every time you tune in.
If you buy your shortwave radio equipment from a professional, then it may come with instructions that help you to track down the best times for listening.
However, it’s always a good idea to spend some time experimenting with your technology.
What is shortwave radio good for?
Shortwave radios are an excellent way for people to communicate with peers all around the globe. Although you could say the same for the internet.
So, why do people bother listening to shortwave radios when they have social media and a constant stream of news on their television sets?
Members of the shortwave community believe that shortwave radio listening provides a different perspective on the world. TV, internet articles, and even talk radio don’t always cover every detail.
If you’re watching coverage of an event in Russia from CBS news or the BBC, then you’ll get a UK or US perspective on what’s happening.
Listening to the news without any “middleman” is an excellent way to get an alternative view on what’s going on. Even the perspectives of two different journalists can be quite different.
Shortwave radio also provides listeners with a way to see how foreign countries react to local news events in your country. For instance, you might want to get a behind-the-scenes look at what people in America are saying about the newest British prime minister.
You can always log into the internet and try to find some official broadcasts – but this is often easier said than done.
While it’s difficult to know how many shortwave radio listeners exist in the world today, there are more than you’d think.
People like David Letterman have spoken about their fondness for shortwave radio. Letterman likes to listen to broadcasts from the BBC – which aren’t always available in the US.
If you consider yourself to be the kind of person who likes to keep an eye on what’s happening around the world, shortwave radio is likely to be ideal for you.
Even in the age of the internet and satellite radio, there are significant portions of the world that you can only ever access with satellite radio.
How do you use a shortwave radio?
Learning how to listen to shortwave radio isn’t always easy. It’s not the same as just switching on your radio and automatically finding your favourite FM channel. However, if you can master this unique skill, then you can have a lot of fun with it.
Shortwave listening clubs exist all over the world, giving fans and interested students a chance to learn more about connecting with their peers. If you can find a club or a forum to guide you in the initial stages, then you’ll have a much easier time when you listen to shortwave radio.
The good news is that the answer to “Where can I buy a shortwave radio?” is easy. You can find these devices virtually anywhere these days, including in specialist stores and on the internet. It’s figuring out how to use that device when you have it that’s often the complicated part.
Our advice is to start by making sure you have the best reception. Shortwave radio receivers usually come with their own antennas attached. Creating or buying a better quality antenna, however, will give you more range, and a stronger sound.
Once you’ve got your equipment:
Check the Universal Time: Shortwave radio listening happens according to a unique schedule. Universal or World Time shows you which frequencies are going to be active.
Check out available shortwave bands: Based on the time of day that you’re listening to your shortwave radio, choose a band that you’re going to explore. Remember that lower-frequency bands are often easier to listen to at night.
Check available schedules: Shortwave broadcast schedules are available online these days. You can also look up stations based on the Universal Time.
Most shortwave radios come with handbooks and guides that will introduce you to the concept of world time or universal time. These books also come with lists of stations available at each time.
The lists you’ll find in your handbook will include insights into which days broadcasts happen on, the name of the broadcasting station, the target geographic area, and the type of content.
How to use a shortwave radio: Tuning in
Once you know a little more about the frequencies available at your current time, you can start tuning into stations. Shortwave radios work like standard radios, allowing you to scan for content on multiple bands.
A lot of the process of learning how to listen to shortwave radio is having the patience to sift through multiple channels. The World Radio handbook will give you an insight into which channels are available, but you might not be able to hear all of them clearly on your receiver.
It’s also worth noting that the way you use your shortwave radio will differ depending on the kind of device you have. A lot of people today prefer to use digital shortwave radios.
These digital devices allow users to input their frequency on a keypad. That way, you can make slight changes to your frequency very easily.
If you have a more old-fashioned shortwave radio, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right shortwave frequency band available first. Once you’ve done that, you can tune carefully to the frequency of the radio that you want to listen to.
Remember that analog tuners aren’t as accurate as their digital counterparts.
Once you find a frequency that works for you, you’ll be ready to start listening to shortwave.
After you’ve spent a while exploring the world bands, you’ll get to know different locations and broadcasters that you can rely on for a good signal. Unlike your local news, you can tune into channels anywhere.
Quick tips on how to listen to shortwave radio
Listen to Europe at night, and Australia or Asia in the morning.
No shortwave frequency can operate 24-hours a day. If you don’t hear anything, you might not be listening at the right time.
Learn about translation. Most of the best shortwave broadcasts will come from non-English stations.
Some stations will only air a couple of minutes of English per day. That means you might need to record and translate certain broadcasts.
You’ll see the country of origin for your broadcast. You should be able to find out where each of your frequencies originate.
Find the right equipment for your shortwave listening. Having a good shortwave radio receiver is often the key to getting good sound quality.
Are you ready to listen to shortwave radio?
Learning how to listen to shortwave radio isn’t the same as using an FM or AM radio set.
Although you can find talk shows and music on your shortwave radio bands, these frequencies come from all over the world – not just your local country. Shortwave gives you a lot more freedom to explore than most radio frequencies.
In many parts of the world, shortwave radio is the only way to share information. There’s no local broadcasting service in some communities, which means that shortwave is still the main place to go for entertainment and news.
Shortwave broadcast signals also ensure that people around the world can continue to access information and learning opportunities, even when they don’t have same reading and writing skills as people from other countries.
Many charitable groups around the world use shortwave radio as a way of keeping impoverished communities connected.
However, just because shortwave radio is an inspirational and exciting form of radio technology, doesn’t mean that it’s going to appeal to you. There are thousands of people out there who are absolutely obsessed with shortwave radio.
And remember, there are also a lot of people who care about radio history, but still don’t want to tune into shortwave broadcasting.
Notably, shortwave radio often provides a very mixed bag when it comes to entertainment and experiences. Most stations are still run by the government, which means that you might not get the degree of honesty that you would expect from shortwave.
However, there are also a lot of smaller stations out there that can provide a unique insight into what’s going on in the world around you.
A new kind of radio listening
If you’ve always had a passion for radio, and you like the idea of using radio waves to unlock new kinds of information, shortwave listening could be right for you.
With the right shortwave listening strategy, you can connect with people all around the world. Just remember that shortwave listening isn’t the same as communicating with ham radios.
You don’t need a dedicated license to listen to news and entertainment on shortwave, but you do need a license for ham or amateur broadcasting.
Though you might not be able to broadcast your own programs over shortwave like you can with ham, you do get a unique way to unlock information from all around the world.
That’s why countless people consider shortwave to be even more informative than television or the internet.
If you want to learn more about radio history, why not check out some of our other insightful articles here on Radio Fidelity. If you’re keen to experiment with different kinds of radio waves yourself, read up on our reviews for some of the leading kits on the market.