Any real world experience shortwave listening in Antarctica?

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Delmar Williams, who writes:

I am going to Antarctica for 9 days on an “expedition.”

I always travel with my radio as I like to to go to remote locations sometimes where there is little or no internet or constant power blackouts. I remember from years ago that someone said reception in Antarctica wasn’t very good, but I could be mistaken. I have looked on the web for this subject, but I don’t see much info. I sent a tweet to someone in Ant., but I don’t think he responded.

Do you know anything about this topic. I tried to go in your chatroom but it didn’t work for me.

Thank you for your question, Delmar.  I know that DXing from the polar regions presents a unique set of challenges in terms of propagation, but it certainly wouldn’t stop me from taking a radio!

My hope is that an SWLing Post reader can shed a little light on Antarctic listening and possibly  even offer advice based on real world experience SWLing in Antarctica.  If so, please comment!

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17 thoughts on “Any real world experience shortwave listening in Antarctica?

  1. DL4NO

    On, look for DP0GVN. This is the call of the WSPR beacon at the German Neumayer station. WSPRnet shows on a map which WSPR beacons were heard where. This could give you an idea about the propagation conditions.

    I know a few of the people that built and operate the beacon. They say that their horizontal loops are extremely quiet. They observed some quite interesting effects, for example DX on 160 m during daytime while the dawn line was several 100 km north of them.

    Felix, DL5XL, mentioned this too: He could hear many stations clearly but could not reach them from the Neumayer station. His noise level was much lower than in Europe or so. Much of that was man-made noise, but not all of it. It has a few advantages when the next supermarket is 2,000 km away 🙂

    Messages above talked about much static. So you might consider some kind of loop antenna. They are less sensitive to static discharges.

  2. Alan Roe

    I took a shortwave radio with me on an expedition cruise to Antarctica some years ago and found reception very poor whilst aboard ship – I think that the ship construction did little help. On my second trip, I tried reception briefly on the top of the ship for a short while whilst sailing, but didn’t have much luck there either. Maybe the best opportunity would be whilst on shore following a zodiac landing. I didn’t try this myself as, frankly, there was plenty to see and do as part of the landing and taking time out to listen to the radio was not a consideration for me.

    Have a fantastic trip – I’m sure that you’ll love it!

      1. Alan Roe

        Yeah … I know … Sorry – but Antarctica is quite addictive! I’ll have another go with a radio next time ………………. ?

  3. robert puharic

    Perhaps 15 years ago I used to communicate regularly via ham radio with a buddy who was a 1st responder at McMurdo. He had a 706MKIIG and put a dipole on the ice (which was quite thick, so high in elevation)

    I had a very good station at that time (beam at 75 feet and 1.5KW amplifier) so he and I could chat any time we wanted.

    So if you want to communicate via ham radio it can be done!

  4. Mangosman

    My father spent a year on Macquarie Island which is an Australian territory just inside the Antarctic circle in 1956. We communicated with him twice on ham radio.
    The Antarctic has aurora Australis, borealis is in the northern hemisphere. Auroras produce lots of RF noise.
    You don’t say which part of Antarctica you are going to. is the government department which controls Australia’s Antarctic bases. will tell you about auroras and HF conditions including Antarctica

    Tourism I have not travelled with them.

  5. Andy G7UHN

    Hello folks,

    Between 2008 and 2010 I was the communications manager at Rothera Research Station. Over the southern summer most people on base (especially the comms people) are usually very busy working and providing support to the field operations so finding time for other things can be a challenge. I don’t recall ever having time to tune around the bands during summer but I did a bit of tuning around over winter when there’s more time to play… winter at the bottom of the world (and the sunspot cycle!) was pretty quiet on the radio. Obviously we received the BBC Midwinter Broadcast (the BBC put on test transmissions for us on several frequencies from several different transmitters 1 week in advance to ensure we had a good signal) but I don’t recall receiving much else other than the Overcomer religious short wave station with an extremely strong signal. Listening to that voice coming out of the noise with strong fading was quite a creepy experience in the long dark winter months…

    My advice, take a receiver, expect little and be fascinated with what you do hear.

    Have fun!

  6. Bruce Blackburn

    I spent 8 seasons as a communications tech at McMurdo Station Antarctica and did quite a bit of listening. My main focus was on utility and military but did SWL as well.
    Antarctica can be a challenge, the “Polar Flutter” when the ionosphere is unstable can render the spoken word and especially digital comms unintelligible.
    Oddly enough (or maybe not) northern hemisphere transmissions were usually better reception than those from south of the equator. I was not using a “packable” grade receive either as I had access to some very high end Sunaire and Harris radios most of the time and later went to WinRadio software controlled radios so my experience may be somewhat different than a tourist’s.
    Mr. Williams did not say where his expedition was going to be so it is kind of tough to say what his conditions will be. I do know that I replaced many front-end FETs in the HF field radios that are used by scientists on continent due to high winds causing high voltages on the antenna systems. Static electricity is always a problem as the air is very dry (Our computer techs used to always keep spare computer mice in their pockets because people would touch them first and kill them with a discharge).
    This probably did not answer all the questions but I am not writing a how-to manual on Antarctic comms in a comment section. Take a radio and have fun with it. Antarctica is still an adventure.

  7. Michael Black

    I’ve never seen anything about a tourist taking a shortwave radio. The distance may be an issue, if nothing else tge southern hemisphere likely has fewer shortwave stations.

    But of course shortwave works. Admiral Byrd had it along as early as 1924, and there was even a broadcast station along to reach the folks at home. Until satellites became viable, shortwave was the only way to communicate out. The first issue if QST had the photo of someone visiting the Antarctic on the cover. He’d done a lot of phonepatches to people down there, and finally given a chance to visit. Ham radio can use much less power than shortwave broadcasters, so there js hope.

    Do they have “Southern lights” down there, like Aurora Borealis? That affects radio signals. Decades back I heard some signals bounced off them, and it sounded like people were whispering. So tgat might be interesting in itself.

    A portable radio won’t take up.much space, so just take it and see. Maybe you’ll get nothing,but even if things afe odd because of location, interesting things may turn up. If nothing else, tge report woukd be useful to anyone else going down there.



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