Short Wave Radios: An Instructional Guide

Short Wave Radios: An Instructional Guide

Shortwave Radios is considered to be the “first internet.” Shortwave signals are sent so that users can listen to broadcasts in foreign countries. This gave shortwave radios the name of “world band radio” due to its extensive reach and its ability to transmit and receive signals in almost any location.

It allows users to communicate in a large geographical location and is safe to use. While the sound quality can vary, it's an interesting communication tool that’s used internationally.

Shortwave Radio

Let this quick guide help you develop a deeper understanding of the shortwave radio technology that we use today. This will help you become a more informed buyer and make the right decision when it’s time to buy one.

What Is A Shortwave Radio?

Shortwave radio is an audio network that operates on frequencies in between the FM and AM bands. Its primary advantage is that data can be transferred throughout long distances and can reach the masses through one transmitter.

Messages and sound are transmitted through electromagnetic waves that range from 10 to 80 meters long (33-262 feet). Each wave has a frequency length of about 2.7 to 3.5 megahertz.

Due to their extended length, shortwave radios are mainly used for international broadcasting, maritime communications, and amateur radio stations.

Shortwave Radio:

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    Transcends government restrictions and political barriers
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    Transcends cultural oppression and religion
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    Reaches a mass group of people simultaneously
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    Can provide news when the local infrastructure is affected by natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.)
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    Most cost-effective way to reach the masses with no access/limited access to the internet

What Are Shortwave Bands?

Shortwave bands are frequencies that can be used inside the shortwave radio spectrum. Usually, the frequency has a wavelength that’s measured in meters. The effectiveness of the bands depends on the level of solar activity, time of the day, and the location of the station.

Illustration Of Shortwave Bands

If you’ve ever listened to AM or FM radio, then you know what a band is. Shortwave bands are frequencies where a radio station is located. When finding stations within those bands, you’ll use the tuning knob of the radio until you find the desired station.

Check your radio’s digital display or tuning scale to find which frequency is used within the shortwave. On some radios, the frequencies will appear as 15105 kHz, 15110 kHz, or 15100 kHz. On other radio equipment it will look like 15.105 MHz, 15.11 MHz, or 15.100 MHz.

Shortwave bands have names such as 41 meters, 33 meters, and 50 meters to note what radio stations are within them. 

They are usually abbreviated to 41m, 33m, and 50m. Similar to AM and FM radio, you search through the shortwave bands and look for a channel that’s currently being broadcasted.

Band Frequencies

Here are 14 of the most common band frequencies that are used throughout the shortwave radio network.

Shortwave Radios is considered to be the “first internet.” Shortwave signals are sent so that users can listen to broadcasts in foreign countries. This gave shortwave radios the name of “world band radio” due to its extensive reach and its ability to transmit and receive signals in almost any location.
 
It allows users to communicate in a large geographical location and is safe to use. While the sound quality can vary, it's an interesting communication tool that’s used internationally.
 
Let this quick guide help you develop a deeper understanding of the shortwave radio technology that we use today. This will help you become a more informed buyer and make the right decision when it’s time to buy one.
 
What is a Shortwave Radio?
Shortwave radio is an audio network that operates on frequencies in between the FM and AM bands. Its primary advantage is that data can be transferred throughout long distances and can reach the masses through one transmitter.
 
Messages and sound are transmitted through electromagnetic waves that range from 10 to 80 meters long (33-262 feet). Each wave has a frequency length of about 2.7 to 3.5 megahertz.
Due to their extended length, shortwave radios are mainly used for international broadcasting, maritime communications, and amateur radio stations.
 
Shortwave Radio:
Transcends government restrictions and political barriers
Transcends cultural oppression and religion
Reaches a mass group of people simultaneously
Can provide news when the local infrastructure is affected by natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.).
Most cost-effective way to reach the masses with no access/limited access to the internet.
 
 
 
What Are Shortwave Bands?
Shortwave bands are frequencies that can be used inside the shortwave radio spectrum. Usually, the frequency has a wavelength that’s measured in meters. The effectiveness of the bands depends on the level of solar activity, time of the day, and the location of the station.
 
If you’ve ever listened to AM or FM radio, then you know what a band is. Shortwave bands are frequencies where a radio station is located. When finding stations within those bands, you’ll use the tuning knob of the radio until you find the desired station.
 
Check your radio’s digital display or tuning scale to find which frequency is used within the shortwave. On some radios, the frequencies will appear as 15105 kHz, 15110 kHz, or 15100 kHz. On other radio equipment it will look like 15.105 MHz, 15.11 MHz, or 15.100 MHz.
Shortwave bands have names such as 41 meters, 33 meters, and 50 meters to note what radio stations are within them. 

They are usually abbreviated to 41m, 33m, and 50m. Similar to AM and FM radio, you search through the shortwave bands and look for a channel that’s currently being broadcasted.
 
Band Frequencies
Here are 14 of the most common band frequencies that are used throughout the shortwave radio network.

Band

Frequency

Notes

120 meter

120 meter

2300-2495 kHz

Tropical Areas only

90 meter

3200-3400 kHz

Tropical Areas only

75 meter

3900-4000 kHz

3900-4000 kHz

Used in Africa, Europe and the Middle East

60 meters

4750-4995 kHz

Tropical Areas

49 meters

5900-6200 kHz

41 meters

7200-7450 kHz

Used in the Americas (7300-6450)

31 meters

9400-9900 kHz

25 meters

11600-12100 kHz

22 meters

13570-13870 kHz

19 meters

15100-15800 kHz

16 meters

17480-17900 kHz

Highest band for daily usage

Highest band for daily usage

15 meters

18900-19020 kHz

Unused

Unused

13 meters

21450-21850 kHz

11 meters

25670-26100 kHz

Used to test local digital services

Used to test local digital services    

To use this table, turn your shortwave radio’s knob into the following kHz. If there’s no outside interference, you’ll be able to hear the station and tune into the network. Make sure to have your radio on during the desired time to get an accurate signal and a clear sound.             

FM Bands

Frequency Modulated (FM) bands use radio frequencies ranging from 88 MHz - 110 MHz. The signals are made via limited local coverage and line of sight. On average, FM radio stations have a radius of 30-100 miles depending on the antenna placement and the power of the antenna.

Illustration FM Bands

AM Bands

Amplitude Modulated (AM) bands have frequencies within a 540-1700 kHz and are used to reach local and regional audiences. AM bands follow the curvature of the Earth’s ground waves.

The Voice of Hope is a 100-kilowatt station founded in Israel and uses AM bands to broadcast up to 200 miles during the day. During the evening, this reach expands up to 1500 miles due to Skywave (an enhanced radio signal that occurs in the night).

History Of Shortwave Radios

Before shortwave radios were invented, data and information were sent through longwave radio networks. However, this system had a multitude of drawbacks. Longwave radio transmitters required expensive antennas, transmitters, and receivers. Because of this, communication computers opted for shortwave radios because they were more cost-effective.

Additionally, radio operators discovered that the shortwave bands can create long term communication. Beforehand, long-distance communication required surface wave propagation which would reduce the low-frequency signals.

The longer the signals and the higher the frequencies meant for a longer signal reduction. This problem would remain prevalent until the 1920s era began.

During the 1920s, the US created their first attempt to transmit radio frequencies over long distances. The signals would bounce off charged particle layers that were found in the Earth’s ionosphere.

As a result, shortwave radios began to receive success in the 1930s. For example, it was so successful that over 50​% of long-distance radio users had converted to shortwave radio transmission. This lead to further inventions and innovations within the communication industry.

Since shortwave radios use sky wave propagation, the shortwave radio energy can be found in any location on earth. Skip zones were also included as a propagation of the shortwave radio. Skip zones are small disturbances in the radio frequency and are usually found during the evening.

Now, shortwave radios are the popular source of entertainment and news throughout highly developed regions such as North America, Japan, and Western Europe.

Some of the most well-known shortwave radio stations are Voice of America, British Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of Russia (previously voice of Moscow). Besides being used for international stations, shortwave radios are used for telegraph and telephone conversations through long distances.

How Do Shortwave Radios Work?

Simply, shortwave radios work through radio waves. Radiowaves are electromagnetic waves that are generated by an antenna. The radio waves have multiple frequencies that are distinct from one another.

Illustration Of Shortwave Broadcasting

Shortwave radios travel through long distances by bouncing on the earth’s surface until it reaches your radio’s antenna. These are the following factors that determine the clarity of your shortwave radio station:

  • Will it be used to tune into amateur radio stations?
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    Time of the day (day/night)
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    Atmospheric conditions near earth (weather such as rain can damage the reception)
  • Nearby mountains or buildings
  • The distance between your radio station and your antenna

Here is a table that demonstrates the best times to receive shortwave radio frequencies:

Night Frequencies

Day Frequencies

5,950 to 6,200 KHz

15,100 to 15,800 KHz

9,200 to 9,900 KHz and 11,600 to 12,200 KHz

13,570 to 13,870 KHz

7,100 to 7,600 KHz (Eastern US only)

17,480 to 17,900 KHz

To get the best reception, try to make sure that your radio station is in between these frequencies. Doing so will allow you to broadcast your station to a wide audience without obtaining any outside interference. Test your radio signal before broadcasting to ensure that it works.

How To Listen To Shortwave Radio

First, you’ll want to find some radio equipment to help you find the frequencies located within the shortwave network. We’ll go in depth on the best shortwave radios in our buying guide.

Next, you’ll want to upgrade into a larger antenna in order to receive a better signal. Remember, the longer the antenna, the higher the chance you’ll be able to find a station. We suggest that you get an antenna that’s 2-4 feet long to help utilize your shortwave radio.

There is a myriad of shortwave bands that are named 39 meters, 42 meters, 55 meters, etc. Each of the bands represents a frequency range. Depending on your radio, they’ll show the frequencies in either KHz or in MHz.

Look in your radio’s manual to find these specific bands. Most bands have the best reception during sunrise and sunset, while some have better signals during the evening.

Lastly, search for shortwave bands that have content that appeals to you. For instance, some people look for amateur radio stations, foreign stations, or military stations when using a shortwave radio. Congratulations, now you know how to use a shortwave radio!

Shortwave Radio In Hands

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your shortwave radio:

  • Your radio needs to be fully charged to receive the most accurate signal. Thus, you should use AC power or have 100​% charged batteries at your disposal
  • To prevent electrical interference, don’t place your radio near stereo equipment, televisions, microwave ovens, or other electrical appliances
  • Concrete and steel framed builders create weak radio reception
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    To improve your radio reception, try moving your shortwave radio in different locations in your home. If possible, place your radio to the eastern window, southern window, western window or northern window depending on the foreign country radio broadcasting location that you want to listen to
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    Change the direction of your telescoping antenna to see if it improves the reception. Remove your hand from the antenna to test it
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    As a rule of thumb, longer antennas are usually better than short antennas. A good antenna can be made from 2 feet of copper wire. Let one part of the wire hanging from the window. Place the other end below the radio’s telescoping antenna
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    Headphones or earphones can increase the signal of a weak reception from distant radio stations

Uses

Shortwave radios can be used for multiple tasks besides simple radio broadcasts. Here are the most common uses and reasons why people tend to use shortwave radios.

Education

Shortwave radios are perfect for teaching short distance education.  It’s best used in regions where there is a lack of educational infrastructure, accessibility, and financial means. The radio signals can be reached by women, men, and children faster than traditional educational methods due to the speed of the radio transmissions.

Also, shortwave radios are used to teach literacy amongst adults and youth alike. It can also be used to empower female students in countries that deny their educational rights due to gender bias.

Shortwave radio can be used to provide health information and education to the community during man-made or natural disasters. Because of this, shortwave radios are invaluable for education and is a great media outlet to spread it.

Emergencies

Shortwave radios provide the best source of communication during emergencies. During natural disasters, regional or local networks can become destroyed or overloaded. This results into an information blackout which leads anger and frustration amongst regular users. Shortwave radio is the only source of information that assists people on these occasions.

Ham Radio Operator

Amateur radio networks tend to deliver information throughout these emergencies. They give out specific and helpful information when other communication systems and networks fail. This is appreciated by the public and the regulating bodies that manage the world’s radio frequency system.

Utility Stations

Utility stations are radio broadcasts that aren’t available to the public. They use shortwave transmissions for purposes such as marine weather, ship-to-shore scenarios, and merchant shipping.

Also, utility stations are used for airlines for air-to-ground communication and aviation weather. The government and the military also use shortwave radios to create their own private utility stations.

Music

Shortwave transmissions are distorted and lose clarity at certain frequencies. These effects change the natural sound and create a “spacey” sound due to its phase distortion. Musicians have used shortwave radio distortions and included with their music.

Snippets of shortwave radio broadcasts have been mixed with electronic sounds via tape loops and sampling. Sometimes the instrumental sounds have extra distortions, diminished garbled effects, and are altered by remixing.

Other music artists have incorporated this interesting aspect. For example, a 1975 German band named Kraftwerk created a full album using shortwave radio transmissions into their music.

Pros And Cons Of Shortwave Radios

Like any form of communication, there’s a multitude of pros and cons behind it. While shortwave radio is an innovative form of communication, there are some features that either considered obsolete by today’s standards. Take a look at this section to understand both the pros and cons of using a shortwave radio.

Advantages

Shortwave radio’s main advantage is its ability not to be affected by tracking technology. This is because you’re receiving a signal but not transmitting anything.

This follows a similar concept as human speech. If someone is talking, you can easily identify them based on how they sound. But, if you’re only listening to someone, then no one can find your location because your ears are not producing any noise.

In fact, thousands or millions of people can listen to one person, and you’d be unable to find the location of each person that’s tuned in or how many people were listening.This is the same concept as listening to a radio broadcast instead of transmitting a broadcast.

Shortwave Radio Tuning

Despite new advances in radio technology, shortwave radio has a few advantages:

In all but the poorest countries, low-cost shortwave radios are readily available. For instance, they were widely used during the Cold War Era as thousands of citizens were able to obtain a shortwave receiver. Most of the newer receivers are portable and operate on batteries, which gives the user extra utility during emergencies.

Shortwave radios can be used when satellite and internet radio is unavailable. In addition, its radio signals transmit further than AM and FM stations. Its signals have enough range to reach from one continent to another.

Shortwave radio doesn’t have intense infrastructure demands. All that’s needed is a pair of batteries, antenna, and transceivers. Thus, making shortwave radios a robust and simple means of communication.

Shortwave radio is not fully influenced by thunderstorm or weather interference. They are able to broadcast to a large area using a small amount of power. That’s why domestic broadcasting is used on shortwave radios in tropical areas as a result.

Disadvantages

Atmospheric conditions can interfere with the shortwave radio’s quality. Your signal quality is impacted by specific factors such as the season and the time of the day.

Most of the new standard radios don’t have shortwave band functionality. Therefore shortwave radios are used only by radio enthusiasts and a decreasing Western audience.

Shortwave radios must compete with internet radios and televisions for their listener’s attention - a tough competition for it to win.

Shortwave radio quality is weaker than domestic and some FM stations, even when there is a good reception.

Shortwave radios are affected by electrical appliances that cause signal interference. For example, computers, televisions and cellphones can reduce the effectiveness of the radio signal.

Manufacturers

There are thousands of shortwave radio manufacturers that are in today’s market. We’ve compiled a list of the top three manufacturers that you should consider before buying. Each of them is known for their service, history, and the quality of their shortwave radio products.

Grundig

Grundig is not only known for selling electronic products, but for their contribution to radio communication history. 70 years ago, they created their first breakthrough product - the Heinzelmann radio.

Grundig Logo

Created in 1945 in Nuremberg, the company’s main goal was to give an extensive range of household goods to better the lives of their customers. As of now, its a global conglomerate that has over 80,000 employees.

With Grundig, you receive the high-quality shortwave radios that are engineered for user-friendliness and reliability. As one of the largest home suppliers located in Europe, their radios are made to ensure that you obtain the best signal possible.

Sony

Sony is a Japanese manufacturer whose known for creating products regarding music, games, and movies. The company is the leading manufacturers of electronic products in the professional and home consumer markets.

Black Sony Logo

Users tend to buy from Sony due to their effective customer service. If your shortwave radio fails due to an accident, you can receive a refund. Thus, Sony is perfect for first time users who want to have the best customer support for their radios right after its been bought.

When Sony presented their first shortwave radio receiver the ICF-2001 with a PLL frequency synthesis and microprocessor control, it was a huge milestone within shortwave radio history. The radio could travel longer distances and offered a digital keypad readout that could hold up to six different frequencies!

These radios are also portable; making them great for long distance traveling. You should buy a shortwave radio from Sony if you want a mixture of classic shortwave radio technology with a modern design.     

Sangean

Sangean is a manufacturer based in Taiwan. The company started in 1974, where they started as an engineering company. During this time, Sangean created shortwave radios, analog/digital alarm clocks, and pocket radio equipment for their consumers.

Red Sangean Logo

From the beginning, Sangean has valued product quality, consumer relations, and a warranty policy that surpasses the competition. Their market growth is not based on just consumer demand, but also their development of ground breaking technologies to create a new revolution.

Thus, you should get a radio from Sangean if you want the latest and effective shortwave radio transmitters, antennas, and accessories. Each of their products is designed to ensure that you receive the best reception so that you can enjoy your favorite signals without interruption.

Conclusion

Shortwave radios are loved by radio enthusiasts and international broadcasters. But, you might get confused on which ones to buy. If that’s the case, we invite you to look at our buying guide to help you find the best shortwave radios available!

Different Shortwave Radios

Do you have any additional questions regarding shortwave radios?

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