Any Of You Still Listen To Shortwave?

Any Of You Still Listen To Shortwave?

If you don’t know what shortwave is, then you don’t listen to it. You probability don’t even own a radio that tunes to the shortwave bands (which are above the AM broadcast band, but well below FM).

When we were first starting out, I was new to radio and shortwave. The Air Force at the depot at Kelly where I was stationed had all sorts of equipment which I could use when working afternoon shifts. It was a blast to play with. The world was a much bigger place in 1983, and the magic of hearing Germany, the BBC, Australia, and even the USSR from a radio in Texas has to now be imagined. There was no internet.

Many countries, like Germany and Australia, have by now shut down their official overseas shortwave broadcasts, both because it’s not seen as necessary, and perhaps because having a national identity worth boasting about in that fashion seems a tad too right wing. Money was, as it always is, the largest driver. Putting out the wattage to “hit” distant lands costs.

Besides, who needs to monkey with radio and a bunch of wire hanging out your window, only to hear a bunch of static, when you can surf over to Deutsche Welle Radio and listen to clear audio?

Sure, lots of areas of the world, like in China, still routinely use shortwave for domestic broadcasting. Nothing else would cover the distances as effectively. But those signals are hard to pick up in the States and in Europe, and anyway they are in Mandarin and other languages. In the States and Canada, the only equivalent I can think of is CFRX (6.07 MHz, 49 meter band), which originates in Toronto and is a relay of CFRB (1010 Khz AM).

I gave a link a short while back of a BBC radio personality handing an AM radio to passersby and asking them to tune to (I think) Radio 4. Hardly any could. The “device” was too unfamiliar to them. (It’s a fair bet that few to none none of these folks know their cell phones are radios, either.) If people can’t work an AM radio, tuning in a shortwave where you have to be much more knowledgeable about the frequencies, times, and atmospheric conditions would be like trying to follow a recipe in Swahili.

Radio Shack is dead, and it’s difficult to find even AM radios at departments stores and places like Walmart. They instead have “devices” which phones can be plugged into. Standalone radios are nowhere common. I don’t even remember the last time I saw a shortwave radio in a store. Obviously, if people don’t know about it, they can’t buy it. And if they don’t buy it, they don’t listen to it.

In English on shortwave, there are not a great deal of good listening options (yes, there are some good ones!). There are many “religious” broadcasters, but, let’s face it, their programming is often tedious. (And I speak as a religious person.) Of course, on regular AM much of the programming is tedious, too, or worse. There is only so much sports talk one can tolerate (about thirty seconds with me).

Shortwave broadcasting will survive here and there, but I can’t see it lasting in places like the USA. Eventually, the “bands” will be given over to hams, the military, and other commercial services.

I am a ham. K2JM (I started as KA5YHN). You will not hear me on the air, or only very rarely. I have what is called an “HT” (handy-talkie), a VHF/UHF toy that can contact “repeaters”, towers that translate my tiny signal and cast it as a wider net. My preference is still “HF”, the same range of frequencies used by shortwave. These signals, as stated above, can reach (sans assistance) worldwide. There is still magic in the idea of taping out “CQ CQ…” in Morse code and having a response from Bulgaria.

Alas, I do not tap out CQ, nor anything else. I live in Manhattan apartment weer than any researcher’s p-value. The noise and static on shortwave is so thick I am sure the building itself is supported by it.

I do not even own any HF “gear”. I could buy it, and many do, but to me that feels as boring as using the HT. I am therefore, after many years, going put my Air Force training back to work and build my own. I’ll start (probably) with the Michigan Mighty Mite. It is dirt simple, and I already have the crystal. Listen for me in the new year at 3.57954 MHz. Plus or minus.


  1. Kip Hansen

    Briggs=> We have a multi-band on our sailboat, the Golden Dawn, and I have a station license for it. I have used it in emergencies far at sea to call for help for other (luckily, never needed it for ourselves).

    When I was a wee boy myself, my older brother and I, as Boy Scouts, practiced code and had a jointly owned, little baby short-wave set and a wire antenna strung out a window across the backyard.

    Before that, we had crystal-radios….

  2. F. Mitchell

    Yep, Mitch W4OA. I, also, mostly listen. Currently building an OVI40 being designed by a group of German hams, second iteration of a UK design. Radios and computers have merged. Taught my grandkids how to solder this year. My second grade granddaughter claimed she was the only kid in her school who knew how to solder (most assuredly true). Although not in a technical profession, electronic knowledge opened many business doors for me.

  3. Sheri

    It is indeed very, very difficult to find an AM radio. Since I live in a state with less tech services than the African bush (seriously) I frequently cannot listen to talk radio on the internet. Here, most talk radio is on AM. I have a couple of really old AM/FM/etc radios (one even has a turntable!) but the portable one I had ceased to function. I finally found an AM/FM/shortwave band portable radio that used “D” cell batteries (an even bigger feat—most are AA or AAA) at Menards. The quality is not exceptionally good, but it does pull in enough signals to be useful. Of course, it has a USB port and a microSD slot, too. Can’t leave those out.

    Enjoy building your Michigan Mighty Mite. The days of building what one needs are slipping away as young people can’t even read a tape measure or use a hammer, let alone build anything electronic.

  4. John M

    Remember purchasing a SW radio for a trip to Germany in the mid-90s. The small town I stayed in still had dial-tone phones, so I couldn’t even check voice mail! Got snippets of American music and news, but generally, I was disappointed.

    So since there appears to be some expertise here, a bit of an off-topic by related question:

    Back when I was a kid (late 60s or so), I was tuning to AM radio around 800 kHz (back in Detroit, 760 carried the Tigers and 800 was another favorite of mine, CKLW out of Windsor—played top 40s music including the Beatles—sorry Briggs).

    I distinctly heard Morse code. Only time it ever happened. I’ve actually thought about it over the years wishing I knew who it was and how it happened.

    Any thoughts? A rogue transmission? Strange atmospheric effect? Some sort of frequency coupling effect?

  5. Briggs,
    This brings back memories. As a kid in the early ’60s, I used to listen to “The North American Broadcasting Service of Radio Moscow” and Radio Havana on short-wave (HF). That plus a 1966 trip to East Germany was enough to ensure that I would never a communist or socialist be. BTW, on that trip, my scientist-spook father got us a tour of RIAS, a 350kW short wave anti-Communist station in West Berlin, literally across the street from the hated Berline Wall.

    While a radio operator on a Navy airplane a few years later, I’d use the HF to tune in Radio Hanoi (when in the near vicinity ). It was a great way to know what the other side wanted us to hear, and to know what the “anti-war “folks would be spouting next. I also used the HF to talk to my father, and to provide telephone calls via “phone patches” for crew members.

    Today, HF is still used for communications. The military uses it as a backup to their satellite systems. We use it in Civil Air Patrol. It is still used for disaster communications – tune in 14.325 USB during a hurricane, for example. And, of course, hams use it, these days sometimes with ultra-narrow-band modes that allow intercontinental communications on a fraction of a watt of power.

    73 de NJ7E

  6. I was an Advanced Class Ham back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I got my license when I was 14. I had to learn to copy morse code at 13 words per minute and I can still copy it, though not as fast.
    I was WB9AAE, which was, phonetically, “whiskey bravo 9 alpha alpha echo” and I still love the way it rolls off of my tongue, as did many of those with whom I QSOd. It’s much more sonorous than “November 8409er Yankee,” my airplane.

    I had a Swan 500C HW SSB transceiver and a Hy-Gain vertical antenna that covered 80 through 10 meters. I didn’t build my rig back then, and people would criticize such folk as “appliance operators.”

    Before that I was an avid SWL (short wave listener) and had a large collection of QSL cards from shortwave stations all over the world. I let my license lapse and regret it. I’ll occasionally pick up a copy of QST if I happen upon a newsstand (another disappearing relic) that carries it just to see what’s going on. And I still occasionally listen to shortwave on a small, portable receiver that I bought from Radio Shack back in the ’90s.

  7. Bob

    Sorry about the Manhattan apartment thing. With a QRP rig (low power) antennas are almost everything. I use an Elecraft KX3 for low power fun, but I have dipole antennas that work pretty well, too. Good luck on your antenna solution.

    If in Atlanta on the third Tuesday of almost any month, don’t hesitate to give me a call. That’s the week we have our local ham radio meetings, and generally have good programs.

    73, and good DX.


  8. DAV

    I’m ex-WA3HYF. I believe I mentioned that before.
    Had Drake T4XB and R4B
    Before that had a number of homebrews and a WWII receiver from a tank

    Good luck on getting an 80m antenna in NYC. You’ll need a good one for a QRP Mighty Mite.

    Actually, Radio Shack is still around. Not on most corners anymore though.

    Walmart still has SW receivers:


  9. Sergio Potes

    Short Wave is still going on, BBC, R. France International, NHK Japan, VOA, Voice of Turkey, Deoch
    Welle, All India Radio, KBS South Korea, RHC, CRI, North Korea, RMI, Radio Exterior de España, Radio Guinee, Taiwan, R.Cairo….etc etc etc

  10. Raymond Martin

    It is so true that technology and
    and people using it have changed
    since 1960, when I started DXing
    AM, medium wave on an RCA mini-tube portable radio, with the
    old type B batteries, just as I started High School, and met others interested in radio communications, moving onto SW, and then in 1962 as a ham,
    WV2ZPD, now W2CH, retired in
    Florida. My Elmer, WA2USG, still
    a friend is now N1MH in MA, almost for 50 years. I am no longer on HF, but VHF/UHF and DMR. I still have am/FM and sw
    receivers plus cassettes, vinyl records and CDs.


    I love listening to Shortwave. I hear a lot of stuff that isn’t on the news here. Not to mention that when the shtf internet will be down. It’s always fun to hear from different countries and get the occasional QSL card in the mail.

  12. Ituk Uppoo

    Yes, i do say its 1200 GMT and my favorite political bs from Cuba is about to start about the famous 5 being illegaly detained forvasking too many questions (now freed and deported).

  13. Norbert Sichterman KF0XO

    Still using my Hallicrafters S-40A and Hammarlund SP-600. SWL is still alive and well if you know where to look.

  14. jeremy lansman

    Now, for the first time in my life I just filed for & passed the written test on line. I also just bought some stuff that can work HF bands. I still have to rig an antenna. Maybe a stove pipe will be good enough. So, soon I will join the few who are in the now nearly empty bands. I just scanned the HF broadcast spectrum and heard only one station. Wow. When or if the government shuts off the internet, what will you do? AL6C

  15. Mike

    Sure do, as much as possible. While many brodadcasters have stopped their shortwave service, plenty do exist. HF radio is still magic, and there are plenty of amateurs keeping it active.

    73 de N2JBB

  16. Joni Zornes

    I’ve been a ham since 1974 and a SWLer long before that. My best receiver for both at that time was the Halllicrafters SX-100. I loved listening to all the shortwave programs and my favorites were HCJB’s DX program, Musical Mailbag, Morning in the Mountains and Crackerbarrel. 9,745 Mhz will forever be burned in my memory! Over the years it’s been so sad to watch most all the international shortwave broadcasters fall off one by one until so very few are left today. I still listen, but it’s only a fading shadow of what it used to be.

  17. Richard Stevens

    Only two days ago did I find your blog via a search for some ideas about apologetics. Somehow, on my cell phone, I got an alert about this Shortwave Radio post. How did Google (or whoever) know that I’d be interested in SWL / Ham Radio — so much as to set me up for blog posts from over a year ago?

    Nevertheless, I was/am delighted. Unrelatedly, today, I received a link to a web tuned receiver in England, and then via some other searching around inexplicably got pointed to a YouTube published in 2019 describing how to build a crystal set to listen to shortwave. Search on YouTube: “Shortwave Crystal Set!”

    I’ll comment on the SWL issue later perhaps, and AM listening, and ham radio (licensed since 1968). Just one thing: I do recall an article in the World Radio TV Handbook from the 1980s sporting the title “Thank You Both for Listening” — referring then to the gradual fall off of SWL, even before the Internet.

    Thanks, Mr. Briggs and everyone, for discussing this special interest and many memories. (HCJB was great, I agree!)

  18. Bill A.

    My father was a ham and his call sign was WA2NTA. I would sit and listen in the early 1970’s to him talk to people from around the world. I still listen to shortwave radio on my Radio Shack DX-350. The times they sure are a changing.

  19. James Smith

    I’ve listened since 1961 on an old 3 tube AM Sw low bander wooden cabinet! Now got a Panisonic Rf 2200 tunable antenna got it for $50.00 in food seriously ! Did my own restoration! Too bad about Radio Shack still one in Kannawah city! Lets keep it! Get em Mr. President Renegade WDX4jps

  20. Dan Simpson

    I stumbled across this blog, I’ve just rekindled my swl interest, bought an xhdata d808 and an old realistic dx394. Loving it.

  21. Leonard Hacker

    I am a HAM operator call sign K4ATG. I have an HF Ham radio and a 2 meter set. When my wire antennas were up I could hear all around the world but could not talk to anyone! It was real frustrating. On 2 meters I could talk on repeaters. My dad got me interested in shortwave radio listening to Morse code. I was in the Boy Scouts then.

  22. Jack Blanke

    Originally licensed as WN5ECF in March of 1970, I have maintained an advanced class license ever since as WB5LVP as of March of 1972 . As a kid, I was in awe of crystal radios , and later, cb radios. That interest evolved into SWL magic and the joys of several used Hallicrafters, used Transoceanics and ultimately a new Drake SW-4A. Sloping wires, insulators and coaxial feeds leading into windows always marked my dwellings as the place where “The Wire Head” lived. I recall the mad daily dashes to the mail box, eagerly anticipating receipt of QSL cards from distant lands….. treasured every one.

    In my hamming years, I spent most of my time on HF, and later some 2 meter activity. Then, got away from radio for a number of years. But recently rekindled my interest in DX’ing on the AM broadcast band. I enjoy it just about every evening at age 72 using limited radio gear, but once again, my thoughts have curiously changed to long wires and insulators and solving antenna feed problems. In other words, once again, I have the SWL Bug!! Presently awaiting delivery of an inexpensive but promising portable AM/FM/SW radio, and already reading what’s out there in antenna land. All of a sudden, I am seeing some full featured gear available, much of it portable and relatively inexpensive. Only problem is, there doesn’t seem to be much going on from the broadcast side.

    At any rate, I’ll spare you any more of this trip down memory lane…..but I sure wish there would be a revival of interest in SW. I am all excited about diving back into something that captured my interest over a half century ago. Man, have things ever changed!!


  23. Jerry Dorsett

    At age 62 I am a lifelong SWL’er. I got the SW bug when I was in elementary school, my brother enjoyed the hobby as a Boy Scout working towards that Merit Badge and my dad enjoyed the hobby off and on through his life. Watching those two got me hooked on shortwave.

    I have always enjoyed Shortwave and AM DXing. The AM DX was my link to the hobby whenever I was on the road at night. Over the years I loved the hobby and listened for a while, then would get busy with work and other hobbies dropping SWLing for a while and then get back into the hobby.

    In recent years when I have turned any of my radios on, I have been surprised at the low number of stations on SW. I still have a bundle of QSL cards from stations near and far. The cards especially from small, far away stations were a nice bonus. Listening to Radio Moscow and Radio Cuba, along with a few other stations from dictatorship countries were an added benefit of listening in on enemies of the US, which was exciting. Then there were the station contests and the postmarked stamps they would send with QSL cards.

    What a great hobby that harkens back to simpler times, with everyone being on a level playing field, as it depended on sunspots, patience and having a good long wire antenna.

    For SW radio equipment, there are a lot of used SW radios for sale on Ebay and other web sites, There are also a lot of new radios being sold by overseas vendors, as well as C C Crane in this country. I recently purchased an enhanced long wire antenna from a manufacture who is based in Western NC. I have my old Zenith Trans-Oceanic, a cabinet model RCA, a modern Sony and two radios from the 1980s that I could not have afforded when they were new. Even though the number of stations has decreased I still love this hobby. My favorite way to tune into a station is with an analog dial, as opposed to digital one. The two top line radios I own are a Panasonic from the 1980’s and a Panasonic RF 2200, which has been rated as the best SW radio that sold new for less than $500 to $1,000. Happy listening!

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