The 9 Best Shortwave Radios
Shortwave Radio Basics
A portion of the shortwave spectrum is even designated for amateurs who want to talk back and forth in two-way communication.
Even if the world isn't coming to an end, a shortwave radio is an important part of any emergency preparedness kit.
Shortwave radios provide an inexpensive, low-tech way for anyone in any part of the world to receive radio transmissions. Also known as high frequency, shortwave is transmitted just above the AM band on the radio spectrum. Radio waves at this frequency are reflected back to Earth from the ionosphere instead of being absorbed, allowing the signal to travel thousands of miles.
While originally developed for emergency military transmissions, shortwave is now used by governments, private organizations and amateurs alike to reach large populations across the globe. Because they travel such great distances, shortwave communications are not always as clear as your local FM station. Atmospheric conditions can even cause the signal to fade in and out, and you are more likely to get interference from stations on adjacent frequencies.
With all the advanced technology you have in your house, you may wonder if listening to shortwave radio is worth the trouble, but part of the allure is the chance to explore stations from other countries and discover the unknown. A portion of the shortwave spectrum is even designated for amateurs who want to talk back and forth in two-way communication.
The practical advantage of having a shortwave radio is that it remains the only way to make direct communication from one country to another without an intermediary such as a satellite or cable company. In the event of a global disaster or zombie apocalypse, you'll be able to stay connected with the rest of the planet.
Even if the world isn't coming to an end, a shortwave radio is an important part of any emergency preparedness kit. Many models are available with solar panels or even a hand crank so they are guaranteed to function under any circumstances.
What's on Shortwave Radio?
Before the advent of the internet, shortwave radio was the primary way many expats kept in touch with their homeland. Gaggles of college students would huddle around shortwave radios to listen to their national teams play soccer games and other sporting events. Families would forgo the nightly news on TV in favor of broadcasts from home.
One can argue that modern communications is killing shortwave listenership, but it is also making it easier than ever to explore the high frequency universe.
Because of the internet and the proliferation of dozens of cable news channels, some governments have closed down or reduced their shortwave offerings. Despite this disappointing development, the shortwave spectrum continues to offer a vast landscape of programming options. There is still an avid community of shortwave hobbyists listening to and creating interesting and original content.
Aside from stations run by governments and major religious organizations, there are a few privately-owned international stations that sell blocks of airtime to a variety of groups to provide a wide range of music, entertainment and educational programs. Segments of the spectrum are also blocked off for amateur usage, marine communications and other utility functions.
One can argue that modern communications is killing shortwave listenership, but it is also making it easier than ever to explore the high frequency universe. There are websites devoted to providing schedules of shortwave programming and even smartphone apps that list schedules and report ever-changing frequencies to help you track your favorite stations.
A Brief History of the Shortwave Radio
The invention of shortwave radio technology is often attributed to Nobel Laureate and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi. He and his assistant Charles Samuel Franklin began a large-scale study in 1923 to determine if short wavelengths were suitable for long distance transmissions. His work led to the creation of the Beam Wireless Service that connected the United Kingdom to Canada in 1926. The service was expanded to Australia, South Africa and India in 1927.
Shortwave technology was such a cheap investment that it rapidly eclipsed the usage of the transoceanic cables for telegraph and television.
There is evidence that amateur radio operators were the first to propagate a transatlantic shortwave signal. The lowest-frequency band considered to be shortwave, 1.8-2.0 MHz, was deemed useless for long distance communications and designated for amateur use. It was within this “useless” frequency that hundreds of North American amateurs were heard in Europe in 1922. The first two-way communications between North American and Hawaiian amateurs were also recorded in 1922 at the same wavelength.
Having their own frequency and newly available vacuum tubes made it possible for radio amateurs to experiment and make significant strides in long distance usage of shortwave technology, including the first transatlantic two-way contact in 1923.
Shortwave technology was such a cheap investment that it rapidly eclipsed the usage of the transoceanic cables for telegraph and television. By the late 1920's, over half of of all long distance communications adopted the use of shortwave, ending the need for further investment new transoceanic cables and massive longwave wireless stations.