What if shortwave radio had been invented today?

SX-99-DialSWLing Post reader, Walt, comments on the recent cuts to VOA’s shortwave radio service:

“Having spent many years as a VOA Foreign Service Officer and radio engineer, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of shortwave broadcasting and it’s ability to reach oppressed people around the world. The “new” technologies like the internet are so easily filtered and controlled, all the proxy servers in the world can’t get around all the blocking software that these oppressive countries’ can put in place.

If shortwave broadcasting was invented today it would be regarded as a modern wonder of technology. To bad that the IBB board of governors are so out of touch with conditions outside of the USA. Not everyone in these oppressed countries has internet access. They all have radios!”

Many thanks for your comment, Walt. I’ve often thought the same thing.

If shortwave would have been discovered in the Internet age, would be working on ways to use it as a digital communications medium in earnest; “targeting” people across the globe with digital information, without using the Internet? Quite possibly.

No other broadcast or communications medium crosses borders at the speed of light and has no regard for who is in power, nor who is receiving the information; shortwave is anonymous and accessible.

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10 thoughts on “What if shortwave radio had been invented today?

  1. Pere Quintana


    It’s me again. I asked my question because SW, as a technology, must have a weak point, because otherwise, there should be more broadcasters and broadcasts.

    I bought my shortwave radio a few months ago and I’m enjoying it a lot. I live in Spain and, fortunately, I’m between Europe and Africa. Thanks to my geographic location I can listen to the broadcasts of the BBC and RFI (in English and French), which are targeted to West Africa. I’m also fortunate that, in the evening, I’m in the kitchen at the time of the broadcasts, this way I can listen to the news and practice languages while cooking. These are a lot of coincidences. Recently I went to Vienna, due to work, and from my hotel I only could listen to the Chinese, which I don’t really enjoy.

    So, SW radio is great, but there are too few broadcasts, only at specific hours and mainly targeted to developing countries. My guess is that broadcasting is very expensive, as it requires large antennae fields and a lot of electric power. Is that the case? Otherwise there would be more interesting private and public broadcasters.

    I’m sad because I fear that in ten years, my then still fully functional SW radio won’t be able to tune any interesting broadcast. Do you have the same fear? I hope that the bbc and RFI never stop broadcasting on the SW.

    1. TP Reitzel


      Yes, transmitter operation is expensive, but the cost of power over the longer term can be mitigated with solar power. IIRC, KTWR is adding solar power for its transmitters.

      No, I don’t have the same fear. I only wish that more state broadcasters would vacate the shortwave bands. Entrepreneurs will always be looking for a source of revenue. Can innovative use of the shortwave bands deliver a significant reward for its attendant risk? With DRM and novel applications, I think shortwave can deliver. Potential global advertisers could be travel agencies, tourist attractions, etc.

    2. Mark Piaskiewicz

      Shortwave has declined horribly since the time I began listening over 40 years ago and the few major broadcasters that are left have few transmissions to my neck of the planet (eastern US). I can mostly hear a lot of religious radio and a lot of talk radio so right wing that it would make George Bush (either one) look like a hippie by comparison.

      You are fortunate to live in an area still blessed with a wide variety of listening targets. If you have a smartphone or tablet, look for radio based apps. I’m not sure what’s available for Android, but there are iOS apps that will decode morse code, HF Fax SSTV and many other obscure signals just by tuning in while the device is near the speaker. Fortunately the apps are far, far less expensive than the hardware needed to perform these technological feats just a decade ago.

      Even if the major broadcasters disappear, there will still be much to explore.

      1. pqs

        I have an iPad. Could you recommend some apps?

        However, even though I find such explorations interesting, they are very different to, for example, listening to the BBC. I hope the best broadcasters remain active. I love computers, I have an iPhone, an iPad, but nothing beats the radio. With my iPhone I can listen to many interesting stations, but at the cost of having the iPhone with me and tapping the screen several times. With my sangean ATS 404 I just tap one or two buttons and the sound flows from a much better speaker than the speaker of the iPhone. I much more simple and batteries don’t die daily! 😉

        1. Mark Piaskiewicz

          Search the App store for Black Cat Systems. Be aware that most of these apps require that the radio is able to receive SSB.

  2. Jason VE3MAL

    If shortwave were invented in the Internet age, it would progress like the Internet did. Digital Text would be mastered first, before multimedia. People would be walking around crying something that looked like an ebook reader that was continually updating with new articles and stories throughout the day over SWR, from all over the world, automatically, and without any sort of “data plan.”

    1. TP Reitzel


      Absolutely! DRM is currently (@ 40% analog power) fully capable of reliably handling such a task on shortwave if a robust mode with a MSC of 16 QAM is employed. We need real innovators on the shortwave bands … We now have the tools with DRM and the xHE-AAC codec.

  3. Mark Piaskiewicz

    Shortwave, being subject to the vagaries of solar weather, sunspot cycles, QRM, QRN, and such, isn’t conducive to the all-or-nothing nature of digital transmissions. Short range transmissions may be fine, but long distance transmissions will remain analog.

    At least with analog we can change the PBT, kick in the synchronous detector, try ECSS, change the bandwidth, etc. and maybe be able to improve reception enough to eke out a bit of an intelligible signal.

    So unless you’re planning to listen to a powerhouse broadcaster under great conditions, digital shortwave would be a very frustrating experience. I guess that’s why Digital Radio Mondiale has been more than a curiosity in the US, though it may be more popular in Europe due to the higher signal strengths and shorter paths.


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