Guest Post: Why listen to shortwave radio?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Why listen to shortwave radio?

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Decades ago, an entrepreneur challenged his audience with a concept of critical importance: “Every once in a vhile, it is important to ask ourselves vhy are we in business?” He had a waaay cool Austrian accent, and his point was valid: every once in a while, we should examine our fundamentals.

So why, indeed, listen to shortwave radio?

For me, the short answer is: because there are treasures out there on the shortwave spectrum, that’s why. Further, with a relatively inexpensive shortwave receiver (even better if you have a receiver with single-sideband – SSB – capability), you hear them too. You can discover things that you are unlikely to find anywhere else, and not only are they fun to hear, they are also fun to find.

So let me present for your approval a shortwave journey that I took on October 24, 2021.

1115Z – It all starts when I am flipping through my old shortwave reference materials, and a copy of a page from Popular Communications magazine, April, 1986, catches my eye: “Handy Ute Finder by Hubble Gardiner, KNE0JX.” Utes are utility stations (as opposed to hams or international broadcasters), like ships at sea, planes in the air, and fixed commercial and military stations, and the like. The article presented places to look in the HF radio spectrum between 4000 kHz and 26960 kHz, for utility stations transmitting in SSB, CW, and RTTY/ARQ modes. Is this chart still valid? I don’t know, but since I enjoy hearing people doing their jobs on the air, why not start tuning from 4000 kHz in upper sideband and see what I can hear? Freeing the Tecsun PL-880 from its case, I extend the antenna, press the power button, punch in 4000 kHz, and start turning the dial. And while my initial impulse was to discover some “utes,” I am open to whatever comes through the headphones.

1128Z, 4426 kHz USB – a ute, super loud and clear, a weather forecast from the US Coast Guard Communications Command, including a forecast of tropical weather from the National Hurricane Center. If I were a mariner, I would be pleased to hear this forecast.

Duties call, and my cruise of the bands is interrupted, to be continued later in the day . . .

2130Z, 7490 kHz AM, — highly unusual music that sounds like a mash-up between 1930s movie music and oompah bands. It’s odd but pleasant and certainly not anything you are going to hear on the “regular” broadcast stations. Turns out it is a program called Marion’s Attic on WBCQ from Monticello, Maine. Two females, Marion (with a high squeaky voice) and Christine, play recordings from yesteryear (including wax cylinders, I think). Evidently, this program has been on the air for 22 years, and it made me smile.

2150Z, 8950 kHz USB, — a ute, European weather conditions for aviators from Shannon VOLMET, Ireland, very difficult to hear on the PL880’s whip antenna, but fully copyable on my Satellit 800 with wire antenna. How cool to hear weather from all the way across the pond!

2206Z, 9350 kHz AM, (back on the PL880) — USA Radio News on WWCR, then Owen Shroyer and a Dr. Bartlett discussing the problem of a hospital in Texas apparently putting plastic bags on the heads of covid patients. Unusual, I think, but I had heard enough about the virus of late and continue to rotate the tuning knob.

2215Z, 9395 kHz AM, — My ears are tickled by cool jazz, a very together group, laying it down with style. “This is cool jazz, jazz from the left coast,” the announcer intones as he cues up another group. It’s WRMI, transmitting from Okeechobee. Hearing it, I flashed back to “The Hawthorn Den, Jazz after Midnight” Saturday nights, listening under the covers when I was a kid.

2226Z, 9830 kHz, Voice of Turkey, in English — A professor presents an analysis of the United Nations, which he thinks needs to be reformed due to the shifting of the axes of power. This is followed by exotic music with nice female singer.

2239Z, 9955 kHz,WRMI, — Glen Hauser hosts The World of Radio, detailing the status of various shortwave stations around the world. Fascinating stuff and well worth the time.

2257Z, 10051 kHz USB, — a ute, weather for aviators again, but this time from Gander, Newfoundland. Makes me glad to be in a nice warm house.

So that’s what a little over an hour of turning the knob yielded, and that’s why to listen to shortwave radio: because you never know what you may encounter. Who knows what you might discover with a shortwave radio and a little wandering around?

Remember what Gandalf said: “Not all who wander are lost.

Spread the radio love

32 thoughts on “Guest Post: Why listen to shortwave radio?

  1. Adam

    All these comments make me miss Pop’Comm and Monitoring Times… I’d spend evenings pouring through the logs and trying to “hear further” than I did the night before.

    I’m not sure why the USPS would be considered stupid… if someone sends something to me, I want it the way it was sent.

    Reply
  2. Rob

    “Why?” for me has several answers.
    (1) Works when the internet and local broadcasters are out. Yeah, it happens sometimes, I was in Katrina.
    (2) Different viewpoints, different places, you never know what you’ll hear.
    (3) I like the technical aspects. It’s something out of the ordinary.

    Reply
  3. Miguel_1960 Miguel

    Hi,
    Please, let me know wich model of radio receiver is the one that appears in this article. A Tecsun 880 or 990 ?.
    I love shortwave, mainly, for its mistery and for the light of the dials of its receivers brighting on the dark.
    Regards,
    Miguel
    Spain.

    Reply
  4. Bill McIntosh

    Does anyone have any idea about numbers of listeners on WRMI 5850 kHz at 10 PM Eastern Time (US). ? Is it just a dozen or so or thousands!

    I wanted a good Shortwave station to advertise on with a respectable audience. Thanks for your replies beforehand!
    Bill

    Reply
    1. Jock Elliott

      You could certainly ask WRMI. Usually stations that accept advertising have a media kit that gives their rates and talks about their audience. This kit may or may not be accurate and may or may not be based on actual measurements, but it’s a starting place. May I ask what you are planning to advertise?

      If it is a SWL-related product, SWLing might be a place to advertise and so might The Spectrum Monitor (and no one has given or is giving me money for saying that).

      Reply
  5. EastTroyDon

    Whenever a member of the younger generation asks me why I listen to Shortwave when we have the Internet I answer “For the same reason I would rather drive a 1957 Ferrari Testarossa 250 than a four-wheeled flashlight like the Tesla……because life’s rewards are better when they’re earned, not given”.

    Reply
    1. Jock Elliott

      Yup. For me, it’s a combo of the content and the experience of hearing it at long range.

      I was having coffee with a pal who runs his own commercial radio business. I said, “Forget all this technical stuff about MegaHertz and resonant frequencies. For me, the fact that I can hear a signal from South America, or you can hear me 50 miles away through a repeater is pure magic . . . and the sooner you admit that, the better you’re going to feel.”

      He just grinned.

      Reply
  6. Greg Pitt-Nash

    I am very nostalgic, and have listened to shortwaves back in the days of hf sets that had a back up function of heating the room.
    All todays broadcast bands re iterate the Same news many times, I now have a large collection of old and modern hf recievers, and often scan the shortwaves and rewarded with numerous news and articles from across the world, with often alternative views of the current news.

    I also feel tha shortwaves is part of our technical evolution, and would surely miss them if they were to cease.

    Reply
  7. Jim Tedford

    Maybe the post should have been labeled “Why Listen To International Radio?” Today, how (what technology) you listen with is less important than what you listen to. If you are a news junkie, curious about the world (that’s me) you need to regularly listen to international radio. Whether you do that with a shortwave radio hooked to antenna, or the various online methods, that you are listening is the key. It makes you a better citizen and person to know what the rest of the world is saying about our times. Too many of us in North America form our opinions about the world based on what our local media tells us. If you listen to international radio, you can form your own opinions.

    Seek out the real news. Seek diverse opinions and perspectives. Whether it’s with a radio, phone app, computer or other means doesn’t matter. Just keep listening, and make your opinions/decisions based on the information you hear.

    Reply
    1. Jock Elliott

      Jim,

      I agree with you about seeking a variety of perspectives . . . and there are lots of ways to get those.

      But for me — an oldster — nothing can replace hearing the signal, as (I believe) Edward R. Murrow once put it: “filtered through the shortwaves.” (Technically incorrect, but he made his point.)

      Thanks for your comments!

      Reply
    2. davide

      Yes. But when I was 12 years old I discovered SW stations simply rotating the MHz knob of an old 5 tube MW/SW/FM vintage radio of my grandmother. I remember also that when I was 10 y.o. I listened my first international broadcasting in italian language (Radio Tirana) with a 5 transistor MW radio in an italian camping.

      Discover these signal was quite simple: there were no more than 100 stations broadcasting an international program. Simply you have to play with an AM radio.

      Now, if you don’t know these international radio, it is very difficult to find them in internet: for example
      Radio Prague is ONE website between MILLIONS of websites… it is like find needle in a haystack!

      99,99% of young people never will find these transmissions on internet…

      Reply
  8. Tim Myers

    Been an swl from the age of 12 or 13 in the late 70’s and found shortwave different than stateside AM/FM stations. Back in shortwave’s heyday in my time, you could learn alot about other cultures and nations from the comfort of your home. Today, you can get the same effect through the live streaming of the internet. But to me and I’m sure alot of diehard listeners find the fading and crackling of a far away signal the best. Shortwave got alot of us interested in amateur radio hearing operators speak to each other with different accents around the world. The best thing that I find that’s making a comeback is music like that of WTWW, an oldies station near Nashville Tn. Reminds me of the short-lived KUSW in the late 80’s in Salt Lake City Utah. 73′, Tim Myers-N4TCM

    Reply
    1. Jock Elliott

      “But to me and I’m sure alot of diehard listeners find the fading and crackling of a far away signal the best.”

      Exactly! I know that many of the stations can be heard through the internet, but I, like you, am an “antenna to antenna” guy.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
      1. Charlie Buttacavoli

        Been at this since my $1 purchase of a Philco 37-620 more years ago than I care to say. Local TV shop gave me a few parts to change and I started DXing immediately. The antenna to antenna thing or as I put it transmitter to receiver has a mystery about it that has captivated me for 60+ years.

        Reply
  9. Mark Hirst

    Hearing how a nation sees and presents itself has always been of interest to me.

    That could be what they highlight in the their news programmes, which in the context of world news can reflect different priorities or perspectives.

    Music and culture are another aspect, Voice of Turkey, RRI and CRI all do this well.

    Even if the messages are biased or just propaganda, that in itself is an interesting insight into how they see themselves or how they want others to see them.

    Long ago when information packs were a thing, the requested schedule might also come with pamphlets about the country – another way of presenting themselves to the world. The best one I have of these came from the Voice of America in the early eighties, glossy magazines about democracy and how it worked in the USA.

    Reply
    1. Larry Thompson

      In the late 60’s, I would get program schedules from Radio Moscow, Radio Kiev, Radio Tashkent, Radio Prague Czechoslovakia, Radio Sofia Bulgaria, East Berlin, Warsaw, Poland, etc. All my QSLs and mail from the USSR and the Eastern Bloc was opened by the USPS!

      On the contrary side, I received mail from Radio Peking with lots of information about Chairman Mao’s Great Cultural and Socialist Revolution! I must have received over 40 copies of Mao’s Little Red Book of Socialist Quotations! Not one piece of mail from Radio Peking was ever tampered with by the USPS! Shows you just how stupid the government really is! Those were the good old days!

      I loved getting mail from HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, Radio Nederland Wereldeomdorp in Hilversum, Radio Australia, and the SABC in Johannesburg!

      Reply
      1. James Doran

        I don’t get it: the Soviets used such mailings to communicate with agents in the west; the Chinese did not. How does this make the US government stupid?

        Great article by Jock though; thanks!

        Reply

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