Kim Elliott: Why We Need “Shortwave 2.0”

Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post contributors who share the following article written by our friend Kim Elliott for Radio World:

Why We Need “Shortwave 2.0”

by Kim Andrew Elliott

Debate about the future of shortwave broadcasting focuses on the correct observation that shortwave listening is no longer a mainstream activity in most of the world.

The future of shortwave broadcasting — “Shortwave 2.0” — will not involve any revival of those large audiences. Instead, it will be an activity of communications enthusiasts and professionals. They would comprise a reserve corps able to relay information to larger populations in their countries when newer media are blocked or otherwise become unavailable.

The beginning of the end of “Shortwave 1.0” was described in “Shortwave Broadcasting Begins Its Long Slow Fade,” an article I wrote in the 1995 World Radio TV Handbook. I noted the elimination, in the post-Cold-War media environment, of shortwave broadcasts in some languages, as well as some entire transmitting sites, e.g. Trans World Radio on Bonaire and Far East Broadcasting Company in California (KGEI). In my (then) role as audience research analyst at the Voice of America, I listed examples of declining shortwave audiences.

The really big chunk fell from the shortwave glacier six years later, when BBC World Service ended its English broadcasts to North America. In the following years, other international broadcasters followed, first dropping shortwave to North America, and eventually to other parts of the world. The aforementioned 1995 World Radio TV Handbook listed 27 European countries with English broadcasts on shortwave to North America. Now only Radio Romania International has shortwave English to North America.

The exodus from shortwave (for both international and domestic broadcasting) was due to competing media, including relays on FM stations in the target country, satellite broadcasting (mostly television) and, especially, the internet.

For the audience, internet content is easier and more reliable to receive. It also allows content to be received on demand, and text or video in addition to the audio to which shortwave was restricted. As an audience researcher, I could see in the datasets that audiences for international media were migrating from radio to internet-based media. [Continue reading at Radio World…]

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21 thoughts on “Kim Elliott: Why We Need “Shortwave 2.0”

  1. Bob LaRose

    I’ve often thought that the Pacific basin, in particular, could benefit from a Tsunami/Typhoon Warning System based upon HF broadcasting with digital warning messages, using an appropriate version of MFSK. Radio Australia would have been the perfect vehicle. Now, Radio NZ Int’l could still provide partial coverage. Relatively low cost portable radios could have decoders built in and also receive frequency schedules over the air for seasonal adjustments. It could also be expanded to other regional and local broadcasters. It would sort of be like an international EAS system, but based on digital transmissions, not voice.

  2. Cees Smal

    Who is going to pay for it?

    Would people be happy with increased taxes to pay for something that only a tiny handful of people listen to, so they can chase after QSL cards for a broadcast that isn’t targeting them?

  3. paul walker

    THe problem is shortwave is incredibly expensive to operate, maintain and fix..

    Who pays for all of this for what will amount to a few hundred listeners a week at best?

    Some older folks in my remote part of alaska know what shortwave is… but most people younger then me (ium 40) have no idea what AM is, let alone shortwave

  4. Axe

    There are two points.

    1) The potential of SSB broadcasting remains unexplored. In the past, a strong argument against single sideband broadcasting was the lack of suitable receivers among the target audience, but now this argument is invalid – it is more difficult to find a receiver WITHOUT SSB than with it.

    2) Broadcasters and audiences are in a “vicious circle”. Broadcasters are hesitant to invest in HF, citing the small number of receivers people have, and people, in turn, are waiting for an extensive offer so that they have something to listen to and buy receivers for this. And this applies to any broadcast technology you choose.
    Therefore, someone must break this circle, and this someone must be a broadcaster. If states don’t want to do it, let enthusiasts do it, and let them use the most energy-efficient technologies. SSB in this sense has not yet been surpassed by anything.

    1. Jock Elliott


      “Therefore, someone must break this circle, and this someone must be a broadcaster. If states don’t want to do it, let enthusiasts do it, and let them use the most energy-efficient technologies. SSB in this sense has not yet been surpassed by anything.”

      A while back, I wrote an editorial for the SWLing Post that proposed that there ought to be more low-power SW broadcasters, and one of the people who responded pointed out (in essence) that hams could do it simply by scheduling a regular “conversation” in SSB at a regular time and regular frequency. That conversation could include news, views, survival tips, whatever might be relevant for the day. Of course, how potential listeners would know about the net to tune into it would be another matter, but I thought it was an intriguing idea.

      Cheers, Jock

      1. Axe

        Hi Jock,

        There is a small problem. Hams are limited by their bands, and within those bands they are limited by the topics they discuss. Therefore, your option will require a new permitting system that will allow licensed radio amateurs to either go to the broadcast bands or broadcast on the amateur radio bands. The first is still somewhat under discussion, but the second will obviously cause protests; personally, I myself would be against it.

        1. Jock Elliott


          I take your point, but it is permissible to have a conversation about the news.

          One could have a “news net” in which net participants the news of the day.

          As nearly as I can tell, it would be (unfortunately) within the ham bands, but legal.

          Cheers, Jock

      1. Axe

        A few years ago, I steadily received SW Radiogram while there was broadcasting from Bulgaria, but it has long been discontinued. There is a broadcast from the USA, but it reaches me very weakly, it is impossible to decode the images.

  5. Tim Marecki

    The most useful aspect of the shortwave medium is that people in times of crisis are able to very easily get news on a portable radio. Compare this to internet, WiFi or cellphones which are all subject to both censorship or hacking.

  6. Jeff

    My feelings about shortwave broadcasting are simple. With wars and hostilities on the the increase worldwide, and despot leaders trying to take control of everything, shortwave will be more important than ever. In the future, shortwave broadcasts may be our only source of news. I have purchased radios that don’t need the internet or software to operate. I hope I’m wrong about all of this.

    1. Axe

      Yes, all this is true, but there is one “but”. People in totalitarian countries with censorship do not really need news, especially about their own lives – they already see this around them. They much more need new meanings and new ideas on how to survive in their conditions – at least for those who are interested in this. And not every broadcaster can offer them this in such good shape that they can get a receiver for it.

  7. Jason VE3MAL

    There are so many advantages to this text bulletin broadcast notion, primarily among them the economy for both the audience (cheap existing radios) and the publisher. A typical newspaper front page is about 1000 words, so enough information to apprise people of the day’s major events can be sent in 4 minutes with MFSK64! Try that with a voice announcer! And because it can be recorded offline and read later, bulletins could be sent at the cheapest times on commercial transmitters, or when listening audiences dwindle late at night on any remaining state transmitters. The value is there for both public news broadcasters, and any other private publishers, provided the initial hurdle of it becoming common enough to have a listener base is met. Little to no equipment cost, and yet a whole new audience served.

    While a cheap/old shortwave radio, audio patch cable, and cellphone could record them in a pinch, if they became more common, an alternative setup could be a laptop and $35 RTLSDR dongle. With the appropriate software, that could monitor and decode whole SW bands at once, or jump around to different bands all day/night collecting bulletins.

  8. Kris Partridge

    I quote from Kim Elliott’s article: “During wars and crises, the internet will be most tightly restricted at a time when uncensored news is most needed.”

    There is at this time such a crises, Gaza.

    Whilst not Shortwave, 639 KHz has been reactivated by BBC Arabic Service.

    This was published on 01.N0vember.2023

    1. ash

      you are right
      When I decided to stop broadcasting in Arabic on shortwave, medium wave, and even Fm,
      We lost an important source of information

  9. Mike in Knoxville

    I also appreciate that he specifically states that DRM is not the answer. Unless some major broadcaster really adopts it, and pushes widely-available receivers, it’s about dead. While digital-over-analog isn’t nostalgic to old-time SWLs, it’s very sound and practical.

    1. mangosman

      India has 37 high power DRM transmitters 5 of which are 2 megaWatt each. The power drops when in DRM mode because there is no AM carrier to transmit.
      As for high frequency transmitters they have 500 kW, 100, 10 kW transmitters. Transmitter sites are Delhi and Bangalore. Delhi also transmits in DRM
      There are also over 6 million vehicles fitted with DRM/AM/FM receivers which had them fitted by the car manufacturer for no extra charge. The number of receivers is rapidly rising depending on total vehicle sales. The manufacturers have done this without compulsion.
      Radio New Zealand Pacific has 2 DRM/AM high frequency transmitters. One of these transmitters has been removed and a new 100 kW DRM/AM transmitter is currently being installed and will be on air in May.

      The listeners in areas with good FM and AM reception will not tolerate the poor sound quality and the need to remember multiple transmission frequencies. DRM even in the HF band overcomes these problems particularly if high power DRM transmitters are used.

  10. Sarah Salter KB1HAD

    A back-up communications mode is critical – not only with the possibility of government restrictions on information but also technical failures – overloads, power failures and sabotage, etc.

  11. Jock Elliott

    “Cousin” Kim,

    It’s a been a while since we met in DC. I was there with Larry Magne

    I agree. “During wars and crises, the internet will be most tightly restricted at a time when uncensored news is most needed. ”

    Exactly. We need redundant means for communicating information, particularly in a crisis.

    Cheers, Jock


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