What’s your favorite shortwave listening story?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Zack Schindler (N8FNR), who writes:

Back in the 1980’s I was tuning around and came across two guys talking back and forth in a non-ham portion of the HF spectrum. They were not using any callsigns which I found weird so I kept listening. It became obvious that one guy was on the ground and the other was in a plane. The guy on the ground was trying to give the other guy instructions on where to land. The pilot kept saying that he was not seeing any of the landmarks that the other guy told him to look for. The man on land then gave the pilot a beacon callsign to navigate by so I looked it up and it was in the Yucatan. The pilot said that he was not receiving the beacon but after a bit said that he could see a water tower in a town. He flew near the tower and read off the name and it was a town in the panhandle of Florida.

So it appears to me that they were probably drug smugglers and the pilot was so bad that he was off course by 700 miles or so. I always wondered how this story played out.

Please reply with your favorite SWLing story here. I look forward to reading yours.

What a great idea, Zack!

In fact, I’ll sweeten the pot…

Next Sunday (July 14t, 2019) I will pick a commenter at random from this post and send them a copy of Joe Carr’s Loop Antenna Book which has been graciously donated by Universal Radio.

This is open to anyone, anywhere–I’ll ship it globally.

Please comment with you favorite shortwave listening story!

[Note: Please include a valid email in the email address field of the comment form, else I will not be able to contact you to get your shipping address. We never share your email or use it for any other purpose.]


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20 thoughts on “What’s your favorite shortwave listening story?

  1. April Ferguson

    My favorite shortwave listening story is a personal one, but it happens many times over; my boyfriend and I are long-distance and sometimes we talk on Skype while having radios tuned to the same frequency in the background. I think it’s romantic, anyway . . .

    Reply
  2. Richard Murnane VK2SKY

    Here’s a story from 1992, which at the time I submitted to the Computer Risks forum (https://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/13/57#subj5), reproduced below with a few typos fixed and a little extra detail at the end:

    Where on earth are you?
    Richard Murnane
    Tue, 9 Jun 92 15:07:38 AEST

    On Monday 8th June, I was tuning my amateur radio set across the 20-metre band,
    when I came across an emergency traffic net on 14.245 MHz. Several radio
    amateurs, in Hawaii, California, Florida, and Mexico City, were assisting an
    American marine vessel in the Caribbean, the “Sea Harvest”, whose navigation
    systems had been disabled, apparently by a lightning strike.

    Miami Coast Guard was alerted and the Coast Guard cutter “Courageous” was
    dispatched from Jamaica to locate and assist the vessel.

    One problem that arose was getting accurate coordinates for the vessel: all
    they had to go on was the last known LORAN readout from the previous day, and
    the direction and speed she had been sailing. Later, Sea Harvest contacted
    another ship on the marine distress frequency, VHF channel 16. Because Sea
    Harvest had a hand-held VHF transceiver, the other ship would have been fairly
    close, and that ship’s position reading would have been a reasonable
    approximation.

    However, when it came to relaying that information to the Coast Guard, things
    became confused: the position was read out as “22 degrees, 34 minutes north,
    *08 42 92* West” (I don’t recall all the digits correctly, but the longitude
    was read out as three pairs of digits).

    The “08 42 92” was interpreted by all on frequency as being
    degrees/minutes/seconds, as most of us have been brought up to read
    geographical positions. The “08” was immediately rejected as a mistake,
    possibly in translation from Spanish to English, as 8 degrees west is in the
    Western Sahara desert, and it was judges that it was in fact *80* degrees West,
    which is in the Caribbean. The ship which provided the coordinates however
    insisted that “08” was correct.

    Several hours later, when authorisation was given to activate Sea Harvests’s
    EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Information Radio Beacon), the longitude figure
    again came up as “084..”; it was only then that everyone realised that the
    first THREE digits represented degrees, and the remaining three the minutes in
    decimal format, eg 84 degrees 34.6 minutes.

    The misinterpretation of the data format, when relayed over a voice radio link,
    led to a lot of confusion: one of the degree/minute/seconds coordinate groups
    placing the Sea Harvest five miles inland! This confusion lasted several hours
    until the EPIRB was activated.

    I’m very surprised that the Coast Guard could have been caught out by this: It
    suggests that the “decimal minutes” representation is non-intuitive, or at
    least counter to the way most “non-mariner” people (e.g. the radio amateurs
    providing voice relays) have been educated to read geographical coordinates.
    (Or, perhaps, there are two different readout systems currently in use?)

    Of course, when passing messages through one or more relay operators, one must
    be very careful not to try to “interpret” the message being passed, rather to
    send it *exactly* as received.

    It also illustrates that even the most sophisticated, systems can fail, and
    that it’s always best to have a safety backup. Presumably, Sea Harvest’s HF
    radio antenna was on a different mast, and thus not destroyed by the lightning
    strike!
    73 de Richard VK2SKY

    Addendum:

    Another aspect of the story was that the various direction-finding helpers determined that Sea Harvest was located south of Cuba, and suggested he head south to rendezvous with a Coast Guard cutter dispatched from Jamaica. Unfortunately, this turned out to be incorrect, which the skipper realised when he saw an unexpected row of lights across his path. He was heading towards the *north* coast of Cuba, which would not have welcomed an unauthorised American vessel turning up there! He promptly killed his lights and did a U-turn, eventually meeting up with Miami Coast Guard, I assume. Unfortunately, propagation to Australia dropped by that stage, so I never heard the end.

    Reply
  3. Ronald Grummer

    Radio Moscow Joe Adimov mailbag was very good.HCJB published -Ecuador- listeners letterbox was good as well as Radio Nederland Write on.

    Reply
  4. Andrew

    Not sure it fits, but …

    Many and many moons ago 🙂 I was a school child and my dad was serving as an officer at a NATO “fast redeployment” mil airport; I spent wuite a lot of time there, since the airport also hosted a very small “aeroclub” (“pipers”) allowing people to earn their flight license and practice with parachutes and gliders (they also performed towing)

    Anyhow… one of the folks, there, built an aircraft frequencies (tube) receiver (oh and I helped him !) mainly used to listen to comms between airport tower and aircrafts (civilian ones)

    One evening, while tuning around, we got a conversation, it was taking place between a cargo flight from Russia to Rome, the flight was repeatedly called by ground control as it was far off the airway, and then at a certain point, the airport suddely turnrd into a bunch of ants running around an a couple fighters scrambled off

    The next day it was on tv news, the cargo was escorted to ground and then inspected, and they found it was full of cameras and electronics devices, it was basically a spy flight !

    Reply
  5. Laurin Cavender

    Wow, that’s a tall order, I have had so many from listening to HCJB in Quito Ecuador to tuning from 6 to 20 Megacycles and hearing beeps and finally voice and realizing that I was hearing transmissions from the Apollo moon mission. My parents didn’t believe me until they heard when I turned the volume so loud and realized it came across the radio before it ever came over the TV. But I would have to say the most impressive was when I had built a crystal radio on a pine board and taken it to school and a friend and I heard that President Kennedy had been shot. We went and told our teacher she took us to the office for a paddling for lying and telling such a tail, only for the principal to call us into his office and he said say nothing else about it and for us to go back to our classroom and get our things ready to go home because school was being let out early, and we were to keep it to ourselves. My young shortwave experience lead me to get my Ham license in the 5th grade in school. Laurin Cavender WB4IVG

    Reply
  6. Bill R

    Some time in the 1970s, shortwave listening- and Radio Australia in particular- gave me a bit of practical education on the importance of correct punctuation. It happened during a weather broadcast to the South Pacific region, which went something like this.

    “The Weather Service expects current conditions to continue, with mild temperatures across the region and the chance of thunderstorms in New Guinea.”
    ” New Britain and New Caledonia will remain remote.” (Long pause.) “That’s an odd one.”

    Reply
  7. John Long

    In the early 90’s I read about Radio St. Helena and their annual Halloween shortwave broadcast. I decided to try for it since it seemed to be such a difficult catch. I took the day off on Halloween had everything set up. low and behold, I was able to pick it up using the long wire I had installed in the attic for SW reception. There was a lot of fading, but I was able to get plenty of details over a 30 minute time frame to secure a QSL from Radio St. Helena. I later found out that Radio St. Helena is one of the Holy Grails of the SWL hobby. Sadly, Radio St. Helena is gone. But I do cherish the QSL I received. If I could have scored Reykjavik, iceland and McMurdo Station, Antartica, I would have had my holy grail trinity. However I don;t think either are broadcasting on SW any longer

    Reply
  8. Stu McLeod

    I guess I recall my earliest memorable SWL radio story as a brush with possible death . At the age of 11 I acquired or better still removed from an old cowshed on my grandparents house a two piece vintage radio – a 1936 Elgin made in Hastings . New Zealand. The Shortwave & BC band radio was in two pieces as my uncle had cut the oldest family radio to fit on the shelf in the farms cowshed up off the floor from the muck and hosing down. Cows love radio you know. Well id decided to fit an extra speaker to the output, and knowing very little about mains equipment, I went about connecting the extra speaker to the terminals of what I thought was the radios audio output stage – after all, I could see the speaker wires itself next to a transformer thingy …. …well …WHAPPP ! …. thankfully im still here.
    Of course these days I know I got lucky as I got a belt from the B+ terminal where the supply is filtered via the Electrodynamic speaker’s field coil acting as a magnet and the power supplies choke – a rat trap for sure.
    Too scared to tell my parents about what id done, in fear they would take away my bed time listening radio I said nothing of the matter. Each night spinning the dial tuning in far away lands on a rural property that had no QRM except the house refrigerator stopping & starting. Id get sleepy eyes while staring into the filament glow from its 45 output tube… with an antenna wire connected to the bed springs. Oh to be young and go back in time… imagine the DX if id put the same dipole up I had now !

    Reply
  9. DanH

    I understood that suburban radio frequency interference adversely affects shortwave broadcast listening but never really looked into the matter with much detail until last year.

    An online SDR located in an electrically quiet coastal area eighty miles away offered much better reception of any shortwave signals than I could receive at my suburban home. The SDR is a better radio than my receivers and its antenna is a professional TCI-530. My home antenna is a respectable but relatively humble 83m Skywire Loop. Very often, nice signals below S9 on the online SDR were under the noise floor with my gear at home.

    I have used long wire antennas at fairly remote coastal locations. These electrically quiet areas offer exciting shortwave performance. But, driving an hour and a half from home to the coastline is not something I can do very often.

    Frustrated, I decided to experiment with a very simple mag-mount shortwave antenna during the summer of 2018. This was intended for automotive use with a portable Sangean ATS-909X radio. Some neodymium magnets, a marine antenna mount, a 20-foot telescopic fishing pole and some 22 AWG wire were purchased online. The resulting vertical antenna may be seen on location in this video. There is no need to trespass on private property to string up an antenna with this setup.

    https://youtu.be/L3QIst2qiAI

    The first experiment with the new antenna took place on a warm and buggy August evening surrounded by agricultural fields. The location is three miles out of town. I figured that was far enough away to leave most of the neighborhood RFI behind. This site is more than a quarter of a mile away from the nearest above-ground power lines, a half-mile away from the nearest buildings and easily accessed by seldom used county roads.

    This antenna performs much better for shortwave than the built-in telescopic whip antennas found on portable radios. But, it is no miracle antenna. The advantage of this antenna is that it may be easily used along farmland roads and away from most of the pesky RFI.

    The very first shortwave broadcast station tuned that evening was MWV Madagascar World Voice. This station is some 10,700 miles (17,200 km) from my Northern California location. Reception of this signal was not possible from home that month. MWV uses a 100 KW transmitter but this is still excellent DX in my book. They sent me a nice QSL card a few weeks later.

    https://youtu.be/2b3qvWOGQt0

    I was watched at a distance by two men in white three quarter-ton pickups during a later DXpedition to this same site. Big white pickups are very popular with employees of corporate farms in this part of the West. I had binoculars and so did one of them. There are greenhouses more than a half of a mile from this location licensed to grow a crop that is illegal in most states. I believe those men were security people from that operation.

    I still do most of my shortwave listening at home. This is just easier than a thirty minute round trip to the rural listening post. I located all of the shortwave RFI sources on my property. It is an easy matter to turn them all off or power them down during SW listening sessions. Despite underground utilities and fairly clean Siemens LED street lighting serious RFI is still generated by my neighbors and the rest of my suburban neighborhood. There is not much that I can do about that. The problem will only grow worse in the future. In my experience RFI detracts far more seriously from shortwave listening than the solar minimum.

    Skywave propagation is still happening on the shortwave bands. This video of English language VOK Voice of Korea recorded at home two weeks ago underscores that. But, I love my DX trips into the boonies.

    https://youtu.be/Np5Z-QGaWtw

    Dan H

    Reply
  10. William Coleman

    Back in the early 1980,s I was having a morse code qso from Sydney to Hawaii.The Hawaiian was an old time naval signals operator ,ww2.About 5 minutes into the qso the hurricane hit the island.Then,silence.The antenna was destroyed by the winds. Eventually the qsl card arrived via the bureau and the final minutes after the qsl were explained.The old guy was ok.This was real life drama.

    Reply
  11. Robert J. Gregory

    At around age 12 circa 1950, I asked for and received a trans-oceanic Zenith radio for Christmas – I was open to the world then, albeit that was the McCarthy era and some things were taboo – especially important in that my grandfather had escaped from Russia in 1905 and he shared stories with me about his early life, his being impressed into the military and serving in Siberia and sometimes his beliefs about the way the world worked as he saw it. My parents used to say “he is from the old country, don’t listen to him or his stories,” but of course, I did and I was fascinated by his adventures and travels and in his thinking. Of course,, in addition to WXQR classic music from NY City, I listened late at night to Radio Moscow. And what I heard was in contrast and conflict with what I was learning in junior high school history, contrary to what I was hearing from the local very patriotic church group, contrary to my books about American history, and definitely not ideas or information that I dared share with family and friends. The radio was a treasure, for I learned to question what I heard from Radio Moscow, as well as skeptical of what I heard from teachers and authorities of any sort. I thought far more deeply about what I read in books, and what I learned virtually all the rest of my life. Not that I am a cynical and grumpy old man now, but I have had the wonderful opportunity to think things through, to question with curiosity and genuine searches for information, and to be far wiser than I would have been without shortwave radio. I attribute my pursuit of higher education to late night listening, and subsequent puzzling out the why and the meaning of information. The radio experience then also led me in later life to become a ham operator and to appreciate communication of all sorts. Many thanks to my parents for getting me that radio and to Zenith for a relatively low cost, but very precious radio experience in early life.

    Reply
  12. Bill

    Great stories so far!

    My best memory is more subdued, but it taught me a lot for the next 30+ years.

    When I was a teenager and had discovered SW radio, I had one of those old multiband portables from the 1960s with the frequencies spread out over 6 MHz per “band.” No fine tuning, of course. I listened every night to Deutsche Welle, Radio Nederland, Radio Canada International and certainly the BBC World Service, all the big guns. I was using about 12-14’ of wire up and across my second floor bedroom. I lived on the east coast of the USA. Even though I knew enough about propagation and the limits of my set up, one summer night I decided to see if anything would actually come in on the highest “band” of the radio. Tuning around from 15 to 17 MHz, I came across a very strong (RCI quality) broadcast in English and they were speaking with what I originally thought was an Australian accent in the 16 meter band. Turns out it was Radio New Zealand, back in the day when they used their original 7.5 kW transmitters (they’re using 100 kW now and added “International” to their name). For two hours it came in like a 250 kW Sackville relay, then in a matter of seconds just disappeared.

    The lesson learned: listen, listen and listen! You never know what the wind will bring your way if you don’t turn on the radio and listen!

    Reply
  13. Rob

    #1: In early 2012, hearing that the last WWI veteran had died. Herd via BBC shortwave, on one of their broadcasts to Africa. The ionosphere was in good shape then, a lot of times it was easily listenable here in the U.S.

    #2: Hearing the mid-2015 return of Art Bell via WTWW. There’s nothing cooler in the world of late-night paranormal radio than hearing the inventor of the genre live on shortwave. He, as well as shortwave broadcasts of that show, are sorely missed.

    Reply
  14. Justin

    Remember WWCR’s Signals program – the short-lived show that had numerous segments about everything from Propagation to FTA Satellite to Pirates to News? They also had a mail-in segment, and one night I woke up about 2:30 in the morning and turned on the radio (I was about 15 at the time) and heard them reading my letter. I also found out that I won a T-Shirt! I’m pretty sure I still have it 🙂

    2nd best is getting Radio St. Helena on a small handheld in the middle of the day! Not bad for Central US.

    Reply
  15. Kris Field

    Radio Jordan was very hard to verify in the late 1980’s.
    I was listening to their strong signal in 1989. I knew if I sent a reception report it would likely not be answered so I decided to call them on the phone. It took two tries to get someone who spoke English. Turned out it was their announcer who was British. I told him what a great signal they had and asked him if he could mention my call and my name on the air. Startled, he said, no of course not I’m reading the news in a few minutes. I apologized for my gaffe and we exchanged pleasantries and we said goodbye. 3 minutes later with my cassette recorder still running he surprised me while reading the news by saying he had just received a call from Kris Field in the U.S. who was receiving them with a great signal! Wow! A recorded QSL! I sent a reception report c/o the broadcaster and a month later received 2 QSL’s for 2 reports. The broadcaster and I became pen pals for a time and a new friend made.

    Reply
  16. Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU

    When I began shortwave listening, everything in radio was new and exciting and every new station I logged was a thrill. I worked all the big international broadcasters and the QSL cards starting rolling in, often arriving in exotic envelopes covered with even more exotic postage stamps.

    However, when I QSL’d Radio Peking, I opened a Pandora’s Box. Not only did I receive a handsome QSL card from the Chinese broadcaster, but I received propaganda — lots of it. It seemed like every week I would receive something new from Radio Peking: books, magazines, Mao’s “Little Red Book,” calendars, a huge poster of Chairman Mao and more! While I was having a blast receiving all this stuff, my father was very concerned.

    This was at the height of the Cold War, as well as the Vietnam War, and Pop was worried that after receiving so much Communist propaganda, my name was now on file with the FBI. He even went down to the post office to try and stop its delivery, but there was nothing the post office could do. To assuage Pop, I never QSL’d Radio Habana because at that time, they had a reputation of sending mass quantities of propaganda along with their QSLs, just like Radio Peking.

    After snagging all the big broadcasters, my appetite was whetted for the tougher stations. The World Radio TV Handbook became my Bible; I used it to identify stations that were hard to identify because their broadcasts were not in English.

    That is how I snagged Radio Hanoi. At least I thought it was Radio Hanoi. The operating time and frequency matched the schedule printed in the World Radio Handbook and the language spoken on the air sounded oriental, so I took a chance and sent my reception report off to North Vietnam, but I did not tell Pop.

    Months passed and I heard nothing from Hanoi. I was not surprised because (1) I was not positive that the station I heard was really Radio Hanoi, and (2) during the war, mail service between the US and North Vietnam was convoluted or non-existent. After I had just about given up on it, a letter showed up in our mailbox plastered with stamps from North Vietnam and inside was a QSL and a note that said that Radio Hanoi would announce my name over the air as a listener!

    The QSL and note took so long to get to me that the day they planned to announce my name had already passed — I could not even listen in to hear it!

    I did not tell Pop and meanwhile, I waited for the FBI to come knocking at our door, but there never did!

    Reply
  17. Tom Cook

    One day around 1988, I was making money painting a railing for a buddy from the local amateur radio club. Floyd
    KA6DAU (sk), had the complete FT101 station, even the clock. He called me into the shack and said that’s JY1, I asked what country and he said he’s the King Of Jordan.

    A living king in the 1980s blew my mind, and I got to say hello third party.
    I was 17 and was studying for my novice license.

    What a baptism into the shortwave hobby!

    Reply
  18. David

    Not a true shortwave story, per se, but I used to do a lot of ultralight DXing on medium wave. I used a digital Walkman-style radio and a loop antenna made out of speaker wire and a variable capacitor. By tuning the antenna up or down and making slight modifications to the radios I used, I actually found I could pick up long wave and a little shortwave–Radio Havana, airport NDBs, etc. My favorite logs were college radio stations operating hundreds of miles away on 1kw (or less).

    Reply
  19. Pingback: What’s your favorite shortwave listening story? – dxradio.de

  20. Jake Brodsky, AB3A

    I guess I should feel a bit of guilt, but I don’t. Back in the early 1980s, not long after I bought my first general coverage receiver, an Icom R-70, I was tuning around and stumbled across some ship to shore radiotelephone traffic. It was a poor guy on board a ship confessing to a priest about a voodoo ceremony that he’d been through somewhere in the Caribbean.

    He was confused, angry, and a bit scared. The priest absolved him of his sins. and that was the end of the call. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the priest fully understood the ramifications of that phone patch, nor do I think the guy confessing actually cared that the whole world could hear him.

    Reply

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