1. What is shortwave radio?
Shortwave (also known technically as "high frequency") is found just
the mediumwave (or AM) band on the radio spectrum. The AM band
United States ends at 1,700 kHz (or 1.7 MHz). Shortwave goes
there up to 30,000 kHz (or 30 MHz). The shortwave spectrum is
several segments, some of which are used for marine communications,
stations (i.e. radioteletype and point-to-point feeds) and amateur
operators (who talk back and forth to one another with relatively low
power). But certain "bands" within the shortwave range are dedicated
regular broadcasting stations, such as the Voice of America, the BBC,
Voice of Russia and many privately-owned stations that are transmitting
a mass audience.
2. How far do shortwave signals
Depending on the amount of power, the location of the station and the
and direction of its antenna(s), a shortwave station can be heard for
thousands of miles -- even completely around the world at times.
secret is the ionosphere -- a layer of the earth's atmosphere that
shortwave signals bounce off of, rebounding back to earth hundreds
thousands of miles from their point of origin.
3. How many shortwave stations
are there in the U.S. and around the world?
There is one government-owned shortwave broadcasting organization in
United States: the International Broadcasting Bureau, which operates
Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Marti and
Free Asia. In addition, there are about 25 privately-owned shortwave
stations throughout the U.S. and its territories that are licensed
FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Most, but not all, of
privately-owned stations are owned by religious broadcasting organizations.
Throughout the world, there are hundreds of shortwave stations.
governments operate one or more shortwave stations. Other stations
owned by religious organizations. Some are shortwave relays of
commercial AM or FM station intended for audiences in remote areas
particular country. But very few countries license privately-owned
shortwave stations that are designed to broadcast to foreign audiences.
The United States is one of the few countries that permit such
4. How much power does a
shortwave station use?
Some of the regional shortwave stations intended to reach just one
or a limited distance may use only 1,000 or 5,000 watts of power.
large government-owned stations use as much as 500,000 watts.
United States, the privately-owned stations range from 50,000 to 500,000
watts. All of these are capable of reaching large parts of the
even worldwide when conditions are right.
5. What kind of programs
do shortwave stations broadcast?
Not surprisingly, the religious stations broadcast mostly religious
programming, and the government-owned stations broadcast a lot of news,
analysis, music and cultural programs intended to promote their own
countries and their points of view. Among the religious stations,
but not all -- transmit programming from many diverse branches of
Christianity. Muslim and Jewish programming can be heard from
some of the
government-operated shortwave stations in those countries. The
relays of local AM and FM stations permit distant listeners to hear
news and music from their places of origin. Privately-owned international
shortwave stations often sell blocks of airtime to religious, political,
commercial and cultural organizations which air a wide variety of news,
music, entertainment, educational and inspirational programming.
In short, there's something for everyone on shortwave radio.
Within a span
of a few hours, you can listen to the news from London or Beijing,
service from Boston, Alpine music from the mountains of Switzerland,
football (soccer) game live from Australia, a program about the indigenous
peoples of the South American Andes, the Koran being read from Cairo
Riyadh, the Pope pronouncing a speech from the Vatican, live coverage
the Indianapolis 500-mile race, and the latest releases of Latin pop
6. What languages do shortwave
stations transmit in?
Of course most stations broadcast in the language(s) of their particular
country, in order to reach their citizens who are living or traveling
abroad or in remote areas of the interior. But most stations
transmit in a
variety of languages, depending on the target areas they are interested
reaching. Some government-owned and religious stations have programs
literally dozens of languages every day, beamed to different target
around the world. English is one of the most-used languages by
stations; don't be surprised to hear daily English programs from Russia,
China, France, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Libya, Japan and Malaysia.
Other languages often heard on shortwave include Chinese, Arabic, French,
German, Spanish, Japanese, Hindi and many, many others.
7. Why is shortwave reception
often better at night than during the
Remember that the secret to shortwave reception is the ionosphere.
layer of the earth's atmosphere is made up of small particles
themselves closer together at nighttime, thus reflecting more of the
shortwave signals back to earth. However, the frequency being
other factors also come into play. In general, the lower shortwave
frequencies (say below 9 MHz) travel better at night, and the higher
frequencies provide better daytime reception. Another factor
is that many
stations only broadcast at local nighttime and early morning time periods
in their target areas, since most people do not have shortwave receivers
their schools or workplaces and therefore tend to listen more at night
in the early morning hours when they are at home. Other stations
broadcast all day long to a particular target area, and their signal
heard perfectly throughout the day as well as night.
Now, a few more facts about the ionosphere... This region ranges
about 50 to 500 kilometers (about 30 to 300 miles) above the
Radiation from the sun electrifies the atmospheric gases in this region.
The part of the ionosphere facing the sun will be more strongly electrified
than the part in darkness. Thus the nighttime ionosphere is relatively
electrified as compared to the daytime ionosphere. The ionosphere
show the same electrical effects throughout all its levels. For
as far as long-distance shortwave broadcasting is concerned, the lowest
the ionosphere bend a shortwave signal very little, but are very absorptive
during daylight hours. This absorption considerably weakens the
of a shortwave signal. The higher levels of the ionosphere are
effective in bending back a signal to earth. During the nighttime
the lowest (absorptive) layers of the ionosphere dissipate, thus permitting
shortwave signals to arrive with much greater strength than during
8. What kind of receiver
is best to hear shortwave radio?
In general, a shortwave receiver with digital readout and continuous
coverage is best, because you can find stations much more easily by
punching in the frequency you want. "Continuous coverage" means
receiver covers the entire shortwave spectrum from approximately 3
MHz, with no gaps in coverage. There are still many good analog
non-digital readout) receivers available as well, even though you may
to guess a bit about the exact frequency you're on. In some countries
(particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America), many of the boom
radios with cassette players often include shortwave bands.
In North America, all Radio Shack stores sell a variety of shortwave
receivers with their own brand name (although often made for them by
companies). Other electronic stores such as Best Buy, Circuit
sell shortwave radios as well. Some of the best quality name
available in North America include Sony, Grundig, Sangean and Panasonic.
Large mail-order businesses specializing in shortwave (such as Universal
Radio in Ohio and Grove Enterprises in North Carolina) have catalogs
shortwave receivers they sell. You can also try a local amateur
store in your area, which may carry shortwave receivers.
Receivers range from $50 or $75 paperback-book-size portables, to tiny
pocket-size travel portables, to $500 or $1,000 tabletop radios.
even wind-up shortwave receivers that you can take everywhere, because
require no electricity or batteries to operate. Be leary of some
very cheap receivers that cost under $100, although some of them can
quite adequate for listening to strong stations. Again, always
try to get
a radio with digital readout and continuous coverage from 3 to 30 MHz.
number of "bands" it has is not important.
9. Why do shortwave stations
not sound as loud and clear as local AM and
Well, sometimes they do. But quite often, they don't. The
this are many. First of all, shortwave signals often have to
hundreds or thousands of miles to reach you. In that distance,
affected by various factors. There is a lack of spectrum space
causes shortwave stations to be frequently packed close together.
means that there may be interference from another station on an adjacent
frequency, or even on the same frequency beamed to a different part
world. Countries like China, Cuba and North Korea still jam certain
shortwave broadcasts that are directed toward them from abroad (in
violation of international conventions), resulting in a grinding sound
bubbling noise on the channel. Atmospheric noise and static can
shortwave signals more than AM and FM signals. And there's also
phenomenon called "fading," where a shortwave signal fades up and down
in and out) over a period of seconds or minutes, due to ionospheric
But despite these disadvantages, shortwave remains the only medium
of direct communication from one country to listeners in another country
without intermediaries (like satellites or cable companies, for example).
That's why when a major event or crisis occurs anywhere in the world
it a war, a natural disaster, a major celebration, etc. -- millions
people tune in to shortwave stations to hear the news direct from its
source. It is also a unique way to hear about different cultures,
religions and musical traditions straight from their sources.
add that new, smaller, inexpensive yet higher-quality shortwave receivers
(often with digital readout) are now available in many markets around
world, making shortwave radio more accessible to more people, and giving
a better sound than ever before. And with the advent of digital
broadcasting likely in the near future, the sound quality will improve
10. How many people listen
The truth is that there are no worldwide surveys to determine the number
listeners to a particular shortwave station, or to shortwave radio
general. It would simply be too expensive and time-consuming
these kinds of surveys.
The number of letters that a station receives is really no accurate
indication of its listenership either, since this is often affected
factors such as contests, giveaways, the literacy levels in different
countries, listeners' abilities to afford international postage costs,
their propensity to write to radio stations in general, etc.
Some of the larger government-funded shortwave stations like the BBC
Voice of America have been able to fund local surveys in certain countries
to determine listenership rates. These weekly listenership figures
from less than 1% up to 30% or more of the population of a given city
country, depending on the availability of shortwave receivers and the
availability of alternative programming on local radio stations.
listenership is generally higher in countries where the domestic media
largely government-controlled, or where there is a desire to hear programs
from countries which the domestic media do not provide. The BBC
Voice of America have estimated their worldwide audiences at as much
million per week. Not many stations have all of the technical
or the number of languages that these government-funded stations have,
even if they only have a small percentage of the BBC's and VOA's audiences,
these are still very significant numbers.
11. Why do shortwave stations
change frequencies so often?
First of all, some shortwave stations don't change frequencies.
stations use only one frequency, all day and all year long. This
that their coverage area will vary throughout the day and throughout
year, since the ionosphere is affected by daily and seasonal conditions
the sun. (Yes, the sun really affects shortwave "propagation,"
as we call
To make the best of these changing propagation conditions, many shortwave
stations change frequencies throughout the day (and during different
seasons of the year), in order to maintain the best possible coverage
particular target area. They use sophisticated computer programs
on-the-scene listener monitor reports to determine which is the best
frequency range to use at a particular time of the day to reach a
particular target area. And this frequency range will often vary
to the different seasons of the year. All of this is designed
to give the
listener the best possible reception of the station, although it does
times make it more of a challenge for the listener to "keep up" with
12. Where can I get lists
of shortwave stations, frequencies and broadcast
These days, there are a lot of station and frequency lists on the Internet,
as well as e-mail "DX" newsletters outlining changes in frequency and
schedules for shortwave stations around the world. In printed
form, we can
recommend two excellent books that come out annually and are available
mail order and in good bookstores in North America and elsewhere.
United States, check bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders, B.
Waldenbooks for these two guides. They are the "World Radio TV Handbook"
and "Passport to World Band Radio." Each of these books contains
exhaustive information about shortwave stations around the world, their
frequencies, broadcast schedules, mailing addresses, faxes, e-mail
addresses and much, much more. The main difference is that the
bulk of the
material in the World Radio TV Handbook is in country-by-country order,
while most of the material in Passport to World Band Radio is in frequency
order. The WRTH contains more schedules for foreign-language
transmissions, while Passport's emphasis is more on English transmissions
and has a more North American focus. They are both excellent
complement one another very well. But be aware that these are
guides, and since shortwave frequencies are changing constantly, there
always be last-minute changes that are not included in either book.
WRTH is generally published in January of each year, while Passport
out around October or so.
There are also magazines that contain information about shortwave stations.
In North America, look for Popular Communications, Monitoring
sometimes publications at Radio Shack. In England, well-known
include Practical Wireless and Shortwave Magazine. Unfortunately,
editorial lead times that these magazines require makes it difficult
them to include up-to-the-minute schedule information. For that,
e-mail DX newsletters and Internet sites. Many shortwave stations
their own web sites which include frequency and program schedules.
13. Why can't I hear a particular
station at the time and frequency that's
listed for them?
Well, there are many possible explanations. First, you may be
station's coverage area. Or the list you are looking at may not
correct times and frequencies, as these change frequently. Check
to see if
the time listed is local time or UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, which
the same as GMT). Stations may shift their programming by one
hour in the
spring and fall to account for daylight savings time. Some people
to pick up a shortwave station using a standard AM/FM radio, which
course is not possible. Or they may have a cheap shortwave receiver
does not have continuous coverage, and does not cover the frequency
that the station transmits on. Certain types of buildings (particularly
concrete and steel structures) tend to shield out radio waves of all
so you may have to place your shortwave receiver near a window, or
attach a piece of copper wire to the antenna and place the wire through
window and mount it outside the house. Solar storms and other
on the sun may cause a temporary fadeout of shortwave signals on a
particular frequency in your area. And you may even be too close
shortwave station to hear it well. Since shortwave signals travel
the ionosphere and bounce back down to earth, the distance between
station's antenna and the first hop back to earth is called a "skip
and the signal may not be audible in that area. But rest assured
if you are not able to hear a station's signal where you are at the
other listeners will be hearing it well in other locations around the
world. This is part of the "magic" of shortwave.
14. Would it be easy to put
my own shortwave station on the air?
As mentioned above, most countries do not permit private entities to
and operate shortwave stations within their territory. But some,
United States, do allow this. A lengthy application form must
submitted, accompanied by many technical studies and plans, programming
legal qualifications, and an application fee of over US$2,000.
generally takes several months (sometimes a few years) for the FCC
evaluate an application, and their final decision may be positive or
negative. A positive response would include the issuance of a
permit, giving the applicant 18 months to build the station.
station is constructed and tested -- assuming the tests are satisfactory
permission is granted to begin regular programming. This whole
can take several years to accomplish, and a great deal of money.
can sometimes be done for less, an applicant should probably budget
least $1 million for development of a basic 50,000-watt station with
antenna, from application to the beginning of regular broadcasts.
Then, of course, there is the question of operating costs, which will
many thousands of dollars per month. Some religious and other
organizations may be able to subsidize these costs, but those stations
which must be totally self-supporting often face great challenges.
extremely difficult to sell spot commercials on shortwave stations,
there are no audience ratings for such a disperse listenership.
lack of audience ratings means that block airtime must also be sold
inexpensively, and nowadays there are a lot of stations (even religious
government-owned stations) selling block airtime in order to pay for
themselves. This brings the airtime prices down lower still.
The good news is that the lower cost of shortwave airtime has made
affordable for organizations of all types to purchase blocks of time
privately-owned (and sometimes publicly-owned) shortwave stations to
their message heard around the world, without having to go to the
tremendous work and expenses involved in setting up their own station
(which would be impossible for most of these entities). Some
-- but not
all -- of the member stations of NASB offer airtime for sale to outside
organizations. Feel free to contact each member station for more
on its programming, sales policies, rates, etc.