Shortwave Listening

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 amteur radio operators, weather stations, broadcast stations and even diplomatic and military traffic.  It is way to start learning about radio and electronics.  It is also a window on the world.  Today one does not even need a radio as there are many options thanks to the Internet. 

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

Voice of Russia 

Internet Radio

It is possible to listen to streaming radio via an internet radio device.  Such a device does not require a computer but do require a connection to the internet (either a hardwired connection or a wireless link to a router).  Such radios have the appearance of a conventional radio but the sound quality is equivalent to FM.  As of 2012 there are 19,000 internet radio stations active. These devices were popular in the early 2000s but they are probably now obsolete as one can simply set up an App on one's cellphone or tablet (or laptop) to do the same thing. 

Internet radio and online streaming of shortwave broadcasts has made the operation of traditional shortwave stations questionable in terms of cost effectiveness.  In Canada a huge shortwave transmitting station was situated at Sackville, New Brunswick and run by the CBC and later RCI.  It was a product of World War II and may have had some sort of role in eavesdropping, the collection of communications intelligence and the conveying of propaganda.  RCI had been under funding threats since 1991 but in 2012, the Government of Canada cut funding to RCI by 80%.   In 2012 and this facility, with a history dating back to 1944 and active right up to 2012 broadcasting Canadian and allied nations' shortwave programming (including Radio Netherlands) was scheduled to be abandonned in 2012.  RCI has now moved to a full internet presence with RCI Viva.  In March 2014 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the first of the towers at the Tantramar Marsh site was pulled down. 

On 1 January 2014 the Voice of Russia (formerly Radio Moscow) ceased shortwave broadcasting, following the lead of RCI, RNL, BBC World as so forth.  This was a cost-cutting move.  Voice of Russia continues with its internet presence.  For a history see:  http://www.eham.net/articles/31403 .

Like all things online, there is an assumption that the internet will not be disrupted.  Disasters - manmade (SkyNet?) or natural - have a habit of causing such disruptions and rendering internet technology useless.  There is still a role for traditional shortwave broadcasting and listening, but internet radio and streaming does provide a better quality sound with much less fuss - if the internet is working. 

Update 8 September 2015 - Some shortwave services are in the process of being re-established - in particular the BBC World Service to North Korea and to Syria in order to reach target populations in those countries who do not have access to the Internet. 

The Software Defined Radio

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 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.) 

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. 

Frequencies

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. 

Band

Frequency Range

120 m

2300 – 2495 kHz

90 m

3200 – 3400 kHz

75 m

3900 – 4000 kHz

60 m

4750 – 5060 kHz

49 m

5900 – 6200 kHz

41 m

7200 – 7600 kHz

31 m

9400 – 9900 kHz

25 m

11,600 - 12,200 kHz

22 m

13,570 - 13,870 kHz

19 m

15,100 - 15,800 kHz

16 m

17,480 - 17,900 kHz

15 m

18,900 - 19,020 kHz

13 m

21,450 - 21,850 kHz

11 m

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.