Shortwave-listening is an inexpensive way of learning about radio propagation without the need for a licence or elaborate antenna set up. One can listen to amateur radio operators, weather stations, broadcast stations and even diplomatic and military traffic. Some stations even provide language lessons. New dimensions are opened up with these stations being present on the Internet. Has anyone looked at the recipes for Japanese food on NHK or Haggis on the BBC?
Shortwave listening is a terrific way to start learning about radio and electronics as well as news and culture from other countries. It is a window on the world. Today one does not even need a radio as there are many options thanks to the Internet.
The Software Defined Radio (Free Real Time Radio Monitoring)
It is possible for one to monitor HF frequencies via the computer thanks to various software defined radios that have been hooked up around the world. It is possible to even use some of the digital monitoring software to decode signals using these radios. Sometimes we even use them to see how our own signals from Yellowknife are being heard in Edmonton, Calgary or abroad. For more on software defined radios, click HERE.
Traditional Shortwave on High Frequency Bands
One need not be licensed to listen to the shortwave radio bands - however if one is going to transmit, generally one needs a licence. Yet much of the time spent by licensed amateur radio operators is spent observing and listening. Simply listening reveals a great deal about propagation of radio waves through the atmosphere. One of the most fundamental processes in any scientific inquiry is to observe.
A shortwave listener can listen to programming from various parts of the world in various languages. Listening to foreign languages is one way of learning those languages. One can also learn about foreign cultures and about current events in far off lands. One could even use some of the data techniques of amateur radio to intercept HF weather reports, fax transmissions, radio teletype (i.e. news-wires) and so forth. One can also listen to foreign news broadcasts.
International shortwave broadcasting has an interesting history. Shortwave broadcasts have been part of the HF bands since the 1920s and will probably continue to be present, despite recent cuts to a number of services (domestic and foreign).
In today's age of the Internet, we often take for granted instantaneous news. But there are times when the Internet fails, is shut off, is censored or when the infrastructure required to power it fails (solar storms, fallen lines, destroyed power plants etc.). With the onset of war in the Ukraine, many governments are realizing that the discontinuation of shortwave services and the dismantling of their infrastructure in favour of the Internet was short-sighted. The BBC for example has restarted its shortwave services.
The equipment required for shortwave listening is relative minimal and very cheap. Shortwave receivers can be found for under $15 although a half decent receiver will run $100 and up.
For those of you who have a shortwave receiver, here are the broadcast bands on which international shortwave services transmit. Unfortunately the services offered by Radio Canada International and Radio Netherlands have been curtailed greatly as they rely more on internet, satellite and local feed broadcasts over shortwave.
If you are after a programming schedule with times and specific frequencies of certain services, you should go to the website of those services and download a frequency schedule. Scheduling changes according to season and time of day to make efficient use of atmospheric propagation.
2300 – 2495 kHz
3200 – 3400 kHz
3900 – 4000 kHz
4750 – 5060 kHz
5900 – 6200 kHz
7200 – 7600 kHz
9400 – 9900 kHz
11,600 - 12,200 kHz
13,570 - 13,870 kHz
15,100 - 15,800 kHz
17,480 - 17,900 kHz
18,900 - 19,020 kHz
21,450 - 21,850 kHz
25,600 - 26,100 kHz
While shortwave broadcast radio is not really in the realm of amateur radio, the physics behind radio propagation still apply. For many an amateur radio operator, shortwave listening is a door into the hobby, sparking interest in radios, propagation and current events. For many in other countries it was through this medium that they learned a foreign language (e.g. English). And the programming is usually better than TV. For many an amateur radio operator, the hobby is a gateway into further inquiry and experimentation often leading to a career in technology and science.
Amateur radio transmissions can be monitored by anyone with a receiver. Some listeners use more sophisticated means such as hooking up their radio with a computer and monitoring digital traffic. They can and do often send reception reports such as the QSL card above. Broadcast stations do this too as do most other stations (such as weather fax and airport beacons), These reports are useful as they give the transmitting station an idea of propagation.
Shortwave on the Internet
Through shortwave radio, the world is available even in remote locations with the flip of a switch. No computer is needed. No internet connection is needed. With batteries, one does not even need access to the power grid. Signals bounce around the Earth and reach your shortwave receiver.
Convergence of shortwave radio and computing has occurred. One can easily visit a website and listen to programming, download schedules and frequencies and read interesting articles. The signals heard are devoid of atmospheric distortion and in high quality audio. Sometimes there is even TV. But one is dependent on the infrastructure that underlies the Internet.
The following is a selection of shortwave services that are online. While English has been chosen, you can easily select whatever other languages these services offer (from Farsi to Japanese). The services are primarily online and shortwave is increasingly being scaled back (RCI, Radio Israel, RNW etc.).
The selection below is chosen for several reasons: current affairs (just look at BBC or RFI) and language (DW, RFI, BBC and NHK offer language and sushi lessons). If you would like to see a link, let us know.
- BBC World Service
- Deutche Welle (Voice of Germany)
- NHK World (Japan)
- National Public Radio (NPR) - USA
- Radio Australia
- Radio Canada International
- Radio B92 (Serbia)
- Radio France Internationale (RFI)
- Rai Internazionale Radio
- Radio Nacional de España (RNE)
- Radio Netherlands
- Radio New Zealand
- Radio Norge - 103.9 FM Oslo
- RTBF (Belgium) [in French only, not Flemish - try VRT in Flemish and English]
- RTE Radio (Republic of Ireland)
- Sveriges Radio (Radio Sweden)
- Swiss Broadcasting Corporation
- TV5 (French language)
- United Nations Radio
- Voice of America
- Radio Sputnik (formerly Voice of Russia and formerly Radio Moscow)