Shortwave Radio. The long and the short of it.

February 5, 2008 at 3:14 pm 12 comments

My son is working on his Radio merit badge. I’ve had a shortwave radio for years, but I’ve never figured out when to listen and where on the dial to look for stations. This gave me a reason.

This has been a lot of fun.

I’ve listened to Radio Havana Cuba – they were talking about the School of the Americas, aka the School of the Assassins (see

I learned that China has been having some trouble with snow on China Radio International.

I listened to a discussion of aboriginal displacement on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that sounded a lot like our own country’s history and Native Americans.

I listened to a couple of folks talk of the strange things they’d eaten, riffing on the upcoming Year of the Rat on Radio Taiwan International, “Rat’s not that bad.” They also noted in response to a listener’s letter, that the reason they were off-the-air the other night was due to radio-jamming by mainland China!

I heard a really really really bad cover of Radar Love on Radio Nacional de España.

Here’s a couple of really good sites for finding out what’s on:

Here’s a really detailed discussion of radio propagation and the ionosphere: Introduction to HF Radio Propagation

A good book for schedules is Passport to World Band Radio.

When you think about the radio vs. the web, it’s hard to imagine that shortwave could last. In fact many countries no longer aim their broadcasts toward the US (BBC , Deutsche Welle) and I wonder if that’s not part of it: online radio and podcasts are much cheaper than a huge antenna.

But no one can tell what you’re listening to on the radio. And you can’t get web access everywhere yet.

Combine HF with the web and Open Spectrum gets interesting? Or becomes amateur radio?

I am having a blast! My son? Not so much. What are some good ways to pique a kid’s interest in Shortwave – or should listening to static be its own reward? That is, if he’s not interested so far, will he ever be?

Interestingly, he’s way more interested in Amateur radio and actually talking to people than in simply listening. I guess this is similar to our differences in playing computer games – I like playing against bots, he likes playing with foul-mouthed wackos online.


Entry filed under: geekdad.

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob Lytle  |  February 6, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Shortwave has really gone downhill. I have been an avid listener and ham radio operator since the 1970’s. Today there are very few English language broadcasts. All of those streams have moved to the internet. Instead the frequencies have been taken up by religious organiizations. The only stations I know of are Radio HCB and Radio Netherlands that broadcast in English. You might get lucky and find the BBC in English around 7.2Mhz but I can’t pick it up on the West Coast. The reason for all of this change: money. Governments are no longer allocating money for shortwave (excepting Radio Marti to Cuba in Spanish). They just don’t see any use for it any more when it can be picked up in much better fidelity with WinAmp or RealAudio.

    Sincerely, Rob.

  • 2. Mike  |  February 6, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Nice to hear someone is passing along the fun of shortwave radio.
    Many stations will reply to listener reports with a QSL of some sort which can be fun to collect. The World Radio TV Handbook is a very good addition to Passport. If your receiver has SSB you can also listen to some commercial and private air traffic (international) not to mention shipping lines and small fleets. All of this can serve to maintain a youngster’s interest in what can become a great hobby and learning tool that can lead to Amateur (Ham) radio and beyond.

  • 3. Adam Gott  |  February 6, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I used to love listening to shortwave about fifteen-twenty years ago but now I find that you can most of it on the net and forego all of the antenna hassles and what-not. Some of my favorite stations to listen to were the regional Chinese shortwave stations but they are very hard to get. I never understood what they were saying but you could tell by the music and speech patterns that it was mostly propaganda.

    I never did manage to get my kids (or wife) interested no matter how hard I tried. My interest started with my grandfather’s shortwave radio when I was about ten but I guess that is pretty rare these days when these kids have so much else to occupy their time.

  • […] good lesson, just after I questioned how long shortwave radio would be around, competing with technologies like the […]

  • 5. The Navigator  |  February 6, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    When I was a kid, my parents gave me a Heathkit shortwave radio kit (with vacuum tubes, kids!) for Christmas. It took me about a week to build it. From the first time I switched it on, I was hooked. I’d wake up in the morning to Australia, catch South Africa in the afternoon, and the Netherlands and the BBC at night. In my heavy traveling days, going to over 40 countries, I always carried a portable shortwave and could usually tune in something good. I just picked a new portable this year; digital tuning, stores hundreds of frequencies in memory, and sucks in signals like a Dyson.

    The Web did indeed destroy a good part of the market for shortwave, not to mention the increasing cost to broadcasters. Even though I can stream thousands of stations at will, there’s nothing quite like hearing a distance voice through the crackle of the ether. And when I’m sitting on the deck of a boat and listening, I’m not worried about a wi-fi connection. Perhaps we’ll see Digital Radio Mondiale (digital shortwave) come to the US someday. It’s certainly more useful than HD radio ever will be.

    Oh, about that antenna. A piece of wire anywhere from 20 feet long and up will make a fantastic shortwave antenna, but it really needs to be outside. You know, that place where we all went before we got so attached to the net.

  • 6. Are podcasts radio killers? « Feed My Pet Brain  |  February 7, 2008 at 11:45 am

    […] and is only getting more expensive. You can see how this story ends.” Reminescent of my comments in the context of World band radio, “online radio and podcasts are much cheaper than a huge […]

  • 7. Steve Bowbrick  |  February 13, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Good post. I too spent my formative years huddled over a Sanyo SW radio listening to the world. Interestingly, there is a proposed replacement for old-fashioned SW which is called DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale). It uses the same shortwave frequencies but squeezes FM quality out of them – plus it allows a parallel stream of data to be transmitted: for pictures and so on. I guess the net will triumph anyway but I’ve seen a demo of the BBC’s DRM setup and the quality is quite mind-blowing

  • 8. Russ  |  March 4, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Thanks for this wonderful entry. When I was a kid my parents gave me a shortwave receiver for Christmas when I was nine years old. I grew up listening to shortwave long before anyone could have imagined the internet. (I’m 42 today.) You’re right. Shortwave broadcasting is dying away. It made me sad to read recently that the BBC has discontinued many of its broadcasts. I can still catch the BBC on the web but it’s not the same.

  • 9. momofarm  |  September 20, 2008 at 11:36 am

    There is still shortwave transmission around south asia / china. China still using shortwave to broadcast signal to her vast land area. I can still listen to BBC/VOA/ABC after 0400 GMT. Maybe next time you travel to asia with your sw receiver will find here (Taiwan) a heaven of shortwave. 🙂

  • 10. Shortwave Souvenir (part 1) | The Radio Kitchen  |  March 31, 2009 at 7:11 am

    […] to a satellite channel or to the URL of an audio stream will also admit that it isn’t nearly as much fun as sitting down with a shortwave radio and finding what’s out […]

  • 11. Angel  |  August 6, 2010 at 11:39 am

    HD radio is doing everything it can to bloc DRM radio in many countries. you see DRM receivers would all be or are multiband receivers ,opening the door to longwave,mediumwave(AM)SHOTWAVE! and if it,s a DRM+ ,BAND I and BAND II as well. counties that choose HD will only offer receiver capable of only tuning into AM and FM only .on the other hand if DRM is choosen for example in Brazil people would start to listen and be more aware to shortwave transmitions because these receiver would be multiband making it more known and available to everyone I hope hd radio fail!!!!

  • 12. Lyle  |  September 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I remember back in the 50s and 60s listening to my Hallicrafters S-38 shortwave radio. It is sad to see so much go to the web and other systems. I bought a Sony ICF-SW7600GR and works fine for me. One of the local PBS radio stations carries the BBC news at night in Cincinnati.


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