Is there anything to listen to on shortwave?

I am asked this question, or a variation of it, almost every week:

“I’ve been thinking about buying a shortwave radio, but have heard that shortwave is dying out. Is there actually anything to listen to on shortwave? Should I even bother?”

It’s no wonder I get asked this question so much. First of all, the root website for the SWLing Post is SWLing.com, which is dedicated to teaching people the basics of using a shortwave radio. Indeed, if you search the internet for shortwave radio reviews or how to use a shortwave radio, you’ll most likely see this site somewhere near the top of the search results.  So it makes sense that many of our readers are just starting out in shortwave.

But the primary reason people wonder about shortwave’s vitality and want to check its pulse, is due to recent news about shortwave broadcasters leaving the spectrum. Most recently, Radio Canada International, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Radio Bulgaria have all closed up shop, and broadcasters like the BBC World Service and Vatican Radio have trimmed down their shortwave offerings.  It’s unfortunate, and does make the continuation of shortwave seem doubtful to those who know less about it.

The Edward R. Murrow Tranmission Station’s slewable curtain antenna.

Question: So is there anything to listen to? Answer: Absolutely!

Regular shortwave radio listeners already know the answer to this question. Sure, the landscape of the shortwaves is changing, but it’s such a vast landscape that, even with a few major players dropping out, there is still so much to hear and appreciate. In fact, we’ve only been talking about  governmental international broadcasters, in the main–which doesn’t even include pirate radio, clandestine stations, utility stations, religious networks, spy numbers stations, digital modes, and ham radio communications.  Among others.

Doubt me?  Well, then–check this out:

250 kHz of 31 Meters on a Friday afternoon

The WinRadio G31DDC “Excalibur”

Last Friday, I spent a pleasant afternoon reviewing the WinRadio Excalibur software defined receiver (SDR). Perhaps my favorite feature of many modern software defined receivers is their ability to record not only individual shortwave radio broadcasts, but also record radio spectrum.  In other words, instead of recording a single station on 9,555 kHz, the WinRadio Excalibur (and similar SDRs) could easily record everything between, say, 9,410 and 9,635 kHz. Later, you can play back the spectrum to listen to and record individual broadcasts as if they were live. At least, this is exactly what I did last Friday at 20:00 UTC.

Fast forward to yesterday:  While listening and tuning through the Friday spectrum, I once again realized how many stations are crammed into this relatively small chunk of the shortwave spectrum. Yet I only captured about 250 kHz, or .25 MHz of shortwave spectrum. To put this in perspective, this is a chunk of spectrum so small, you could fit four of them between 95 and 96 MHz on your car’s FM dial.

And  what did I find? A lot of stations–and a lot of variety! In fact, I then went through and recorded 8 samples of the stronger broadcasts.

Here is some of what I heard just in that wee swatch of spectrum:

Voice of Greece – 9,240 kHz

Voice of Iran – 9,460 kHz

WWTW – 9,478 kHz

Deutsche Welle - 9,490 kHz

Radio Riyadh –  9,555 kHz

Radio Marti – 9,565 kHz

North Quebec Service – 9,625 kHz

Voice of Turkey – 9,635 kHz

Here is how the actual spectrum chunk appeared on the Excalibur’s display:

Note from the DDC spectrum window (the one immediately below the tuning knob and S Meter) that there are many, many other stations–indicated as spikes in the spectrum, above–that I did not bother to record.

I didn’t set out to find the most active piece of shortwave spectrum–I chose this one pretty much by chance.

Is shortwave radio dead?  Only if you’re not listening

Perhaps the real fascination I find in listening to recorded spectrum, as I did above, is that each time I go back through a recording, listening carefully, I find so many other items that I would have otherwise missed. In other words, the better your ears, the more you will hear. And there’s lots to hear.

A good portable radio, like the C.Crane CCRadio-SW, can easily receive the major international broadcasters and even some low power regional shortwave stations.

So, what are you waiting for?

Prove it to yourself. Pull out your portable radio, your tabletop, your SDR or your general coverage ham radio transceiver, and just listen. There’s still a vast, informative, oftentimes mysterious world out there on the shortwaves, simply waiting for your ears.

Join me in the Shortwave Radio Archive Project:  post coming soon!

26 Responses to “Is there anything to listen to on shortwave?”


  1. 1 Chris Freitas

    Excellent response to that question. Even with the audio samples you have, there are still plenty of other stations and sounds on shortwave. I have actually been thinking this question to myself. As long as there is something to hear, I won’t give up on shortwave!

  2. 2 inverness

    Good subject — it’s unfortunate that shortwave has all but died off, though this becomes clearer to those in North America to which broadcasts are no longer directed. The great irony of course, over the past decade, is that the United States basically gave up on shortwave broadcasting (except to some key areas in Africa and Asia) while stations formerly seen as competitors were permitted to take over the playing field. That’s why today you still here China, Cuba, Iran, the Saudis, still on the air, while VOA is barely audible, again except in those areas where the government-funded Broadcasting Board of Governors has chosen to extend the life of VOA and certrain other broadcasters it controls.

  3. 3 Keith Perron

    I would like to know where you get off saying shortwave has died off. North America has never been an important shortwave region, even 20 years ago compare to the listeners it has in South East/East Asia/Pacific or Africa. North America was only a penny dropping in the ocean. Also who were and are the majority of North American listeners? DAM DXERS! The US has not given up on shortwave. They still target the same areas, except for Europe. Why use SW to target Europe today. Communism died. They still target all the very important regions and in fact increased hours to some of them. What do you mean the VOA is barely audible? The VOA is very audible. If your in the US. Why should the VOA do programs you can hear. Your not the audience. If shortwave was dead Radio Australia would not have increased it’s schedule. Indonesian has gone from 2 hours a day to 4 hours a day, with an increase of 2 more hours coming in the fall, they have also added 2 more frequencies. For English they also added 8 more frequencies and throughout the day and night you can pick them up in the Pacific/East and South East Asia on up cto 9 to 11 frequencies at one time. The BBC World Service are also nearly 24/7. Why would they use shortwave for North America, they have other platforms. You can not count Cuba, Iran, and the Saudis. These are what you call DXER stations, thats who mostly only listens to them. As for China. So what China has more hours, frequencies and languages on air. But the AIB which studies international audiences put the size of their audience at less than 6% of the audiences of the VOA, BBC and FRI. Again CRI main audience are DXERS. I know this for a fact as I worked there for 5 years. And in the 5 years I was there for English it was only these stupid reports of. Man spoke, woman spoke, music. Please send me ……..
    One of the downfalls of international shortwave broadcasting is the stupid DXER community. Do they not realize that stations don’t respect them? The majority of DXERS don’t listen to content. All they are is a bunch of socially awkward loons, who just want free stuff. I’ve been working in international broadcasting for more than 20 years and everyone I know from Bob Zanotti, Bob Thomann, Ian McFarland, Jonathan Marks, Andy Sennitt, the list goes on. Can’t stand them. The vast majority of I would say North American DXERS are QSL chasers.

  4. 4 Dan Ervin

    Wow Keith. With all due respect, even though I am not a QSL Chaser, I would have to think that these “socially awkward loons” as you call them are an important part of the “radio economy” with their purchases of radios, antennas and countless other items, helping to make the manufacture of these receivers a profitable venture. Clearly you have had your fill of answering QSL requests, and I can appreciate that, but that was a little over the top in my opinion.

  5. 5 Kevin

    This winradio device costs $1000 and is a little out of the budget of any beginner. Though I always say that any serious hobbiest starts with an entry point of $1000 and goes up.

  6. 6 Thomas

    Hi, Kevin,

    Yes, the Excalibur and most of the (at least) pro-sumer SDRs will cost in/around $1K. The Excalibur allowed me to record 8 broadcasts from the same 1 hour chunk of spectrum and time. I think my Sony ’7600GR, hooked up to a long wire, would have gotten most of these too.

    The Excalibur, for what it’s worth, is an amazing SDR.

    I agree with your $1000 price point, especially assuming a decent chunk of that is going into materials for a good external antenna.

    Thanks!

  7. 7 Kevin

    Hi Keith. Just a thought, historically a lot of DXers may have been young folk trying to explore the world in the days before the internet. And while a few may have made it a lifelong hobby to pursue QSLs, many others listen now simply to enjoy the programming, or where they can’t follow the language, to enjoy the music and feel a sense of connection to a culture and place. Those folk have moved into all sorts of interesting and perhaps important parts of their societies, and may have visited or lived in the countries they listen to. Looking at QSL requests received by a radio station is probably not the best way to judge the impact of any station or the range of its listeners.

  8. 8 Kevin2

    Just a small couple followups:

    1. when I say ‘many others’ I am not supporting this by being some sort of market research person or industry insider. I’m simply reflecting on what has happened in the lives of the people I know who started out listening to shortwave, and the sorts of comments evoked by the shutdown of, for example, RNI. I don’t remember one comment among those on their site that said “oh well guess I can’t ever get another pennant”. They were heartfelt comments from mature people to whom the station meant something. From this I infer that many DXers have incorporated shortwave as you desire it to be present in their lives, they just aren’t in touch with stations.

    2. I notice there’s another Kevin posting here. This is my first post. I will use Kevin2 if I post here again.

  9. 9 Tudor

    I’m a radio afficionado, DX-er and I’ve been a SWL since I was 10 (I’m 39 now). There may still be a lot of stations on SW right now but the truth is for me there is almost nothing worth listening to. I tune to BBC WS when the conditions are OK to catch the signals beamed to Middle East, Asia or Africa. On weekends there is the Mighty KBC on 6095 kHz with good music. I may tune now and then to All India Radio or Radio Djibouti if I’m in the mood for some Asian/African music. And that’s about it. I’m not interested in propaganda-type radio which I find boring. Of course, to each his own.

    Most stations who left SW said they will use alternative platforms like the internet for content delivery. Well I have all kind of high tech devices like iPhones, iPads and computers, plus broadband internet and mobile broadband. I still prefer to listen to a real radio, it’s easier, more affordable and more fun. Too bad there is almost no content to listen to.

  10. 10 Thomas

    Though I love wi-fi and web radio, I still turn to SWL for the big broadcasters (like BBC WS, DW and Radio Australia). I like the sonic texture of SW radio, thus enjoy seeking out the odd stuff.

    I’ve also become a BIG fan of the TuneIn app. It’s the best one I know of for sorting through the millions of online stations out there. Just used it today in my car to listen to a station in Paris, one in Moncton, New Brunswick and Perth, Australia. Yes, I love the higher tech stuff too!

  11. 11 The Professor

    First off, DXers and their “stupid reports” serve an important function, in giving broadcasting entities real reception information from various locations, which can be invaluable for international broadcasters and their engineers.

    And calling people who are probably more like you than you’d like to think “socially awkward loons” is probably as revealing about your personality as it is rude.

    I understand you are in some manner shortwave radio “talent” and perhaps you might be frustrated if someone receiving your show didn’t pay strict attention to your every word, or somehow identify you as “the man” who said something. But please, get over yourself. You’re just another fading voice in the static sir.

    And try to mind your manners Mr. Happy Man. And I believe that the word “damn” as you are using it, should end in the letter “n.”

  12. 12 javan

    hi dear friends i’ve just happend to listen to above clips and i think the second one is turkish radio not iran!

  13. 13 Robert

    Yes, you hit it right. I was a young DXer trying to explore the world in the days before the internet. What else was available to get up-to-date information, though slanted, on closed societies? The junk sent was actually interesting and some of it has become valuable collectors’ items. This hobby led to my getting a MA in International Affairs, JD degree, and working in diplomacy in Europe and Latin America. Would not have happened without first being a DXer which really helped me gain good geographic knowledge.

  14. 14 Thomas

    Thanks for the comment & sharing your story, Robert. Yes, DXing certainly kindled my love of everything international as well. Indeed, even with the vast quantities of news sources on the Internet, I often think that the ability I (and many SWLs) gained to hear & recognize propaganda, may be lost on the ‘Net generation. It gave me critical listening skills–knowing everyone has a motive in their message. I find the sound-bite information age tough to swallow. I like to interpret my own thoughts on the news instead of having someone else do that for me.

    -Thomas

  15. 15 PJ

    Sadly, shortwave in the US is dead. I was an avid DX’er in the 1980′s and early 1990′s, but gave up on this entertaining pastime when transmissions to my excellent portable rig began to wane. None of the major English-language stations broadcast to North America any more. One of these days, I might try wi-fi radio. Until then, some reasonably good foreign stations are available online.l

  16. 16 Ken

    SW is dead in North America, and unless you like to listen to the odd religious propaganda, it makes for a great time piece from Ft. Collins, CO. That is about it! And, oh yes, there is the HAM bands and CB. These are also pretty much dead. Only the real old timers are left on HAM radio, and CB is just garbage, not even good for truckers anymore. So, you can chalk this up to new technology, i.e. the internet, cell phones, and the like, but I would most certainly say that SW is dead in North America, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone buying a SW radio. I do remember that my Grundig Yaught Boy was around $200 back 18 years ago (when there was stuff on the air). Today, the same radio (albeit with a different name) can be had for the low price of $50. That must tell you something! As I said, it makes a good time piece from Ft. Collins, CO. I can set my clocks and watches by it.

  17. 17 Thomas

    Hi, Ken,

    It’s very true that shortwave radio listening is not as easy as it was 20 years ago in North America. Most of the major international broadcasters no longer target North America. Still, the recordings above were actually made in North America. There is still so much variety. That’s the great thing about HF propagation–you can often hear stations that were not targeting your geographic region.

    Browse our recordings category and you can get an idea of stations that can be heard in North America. With the exception of a few, not many are weak signal work. I stick with the loud stations for audio fidelity (and to be easy on the listener). I actually enjoy listening through the static for weak DX, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea!

    You should also try you hand at pirate radio listening. Lots of music (and commentary!) variety. Not for everyone, but I enjoy it. Again, I’ve posted a lot of these in the recordings category.

    Also, there are stations like The Mighty KBC that actually target North America. Not many, but they are very easy to hear.

    Shortwave radio prices have fallen tremendously. I’ve reviewed or used almost all that are on the market. Technology, over time, becomes less and less expensive. In the shortwave world, the SiLabs DSP chip can be credited for inexpensive capable radios. The Tecsun PL-380 and PL-390 are excellent examples. But I tend to gravitate toward the $100-150 radios–the Grundig G3, Sony ICF-SW7600GR and the Tecsun PL-660. They have SSB and sync lock, which helps with selective fading.

    Anyway, I would encourage you to listen for a few of the broadcasters I mentioned above. A lot of SWLs find listening difficult these days because of local radio interference from nearby electronic devices. While listening one night, step outside, away from your house and see if the noise level drops. If it’s hard to hear where you are, most of the broadcasters have Internet radio streams you can hear via PC or a proper Wi-Fi radio. You could save the shortwave radio for travel.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting and all the best!
    Thomas
    K4SWL

  18. 18 victor

    with due respect to still alive radio stations worldwide, i had great time listening to worldwide stations across the globe, at odd hours and all english broadcasts. serious listeners can still pursue the hobby to know various countries broadcast. SWL is not out of date yet. have fun with SWL..

  19. 19 Ronald

    It is good to see that there are still a lot of radio enthousiast around! I love listening to SW radio. Not only commercial broadcast, but also amateur radio. I like to hear music from other countries. Here in New Zealand, the local FM band is full of stations that all play the same sort of music. And it is full of advertising. In my car, I never listen to these stations. In stead of that, I am using my Yaesu FT857D for listening to SW. That is when I am not operating on one of the ham bands.

    Cheers;
    Ronald – ZL1RDK

    P.s; Keep up the good work Thomas. I like your blog.

  20. 20 Thomas

    Indeed! Happy SWLing, Victor!
    -Thomas

  21. 21 Thomas

    Hi, Ronald,

    That’s a great point–ham transceivers are built to take the punishment that life in a vehicle can produce. I have never had a mobile HF station, but plan to do so in the near-ish future. Good to hear your experience with the FT857D. By the way, I bet our FM station selection is even more bland than yours in NZ. In the States, much of the market is dominated by Clear Channel network. All of their stations sound the same. I love discovering the odd, independent station.

    Oh, thanks for the kind comments, OM!

    Cheers & 73,
    Thomas
    K4SWL

  22. 22 Diego

    Greetings from Spain and thank you for these very beautiful recordings. While you give me hope, I miss a lot the situation 10/15 years ago, when I started with shortwave, the government broadcasts were much more abundant and fascinating: Moldova, New Zealand, Finland, Portuguese for Africa, African music jamming, Radyo Pilipinas, Argentina, much more RFI, BBC, Deutsche Welle, VOA, Radio Canada, Radio Habana etc. The stations I pick became very limited, and I gave up the hobby a pair of years ago.

    The main reason I miss shortwave is because it has this factor of surprise and comfort; with a smartphone and tunein you have a clear sound, but you need to think about and look for what you want to hear; in shortwave radio, it was a bit of a lottery, and the world comes to you. I used to listen to it in bed before sleeping :-)

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