Getting Started in Shortwave Radio

Ham radio enthusiasts often start with an interest in shortwave radio.

| May/June 1976

  • 039-056-01-Copthorne-MacDon
    Copthorne MacDonald, inventor of slow-scan television.

  • 039-056-01-Copthorne-MacDon

Shortwave Listening

The ham radio bug bites in many different ways, but probably sinks its fangs into most people when they innocently begin listening to distant broadcast stations.

Typically, the "disease" starts with your staying up late at night listening to AM stations a thousand or more miles away. Then it becomes worse when you read somewhere that if only you had a shortwave receiver you could tune in regularly to the BBC from London . . . or to Radio Moscow . . . or to broadcasts from dozens of other exotic places.

So you borrow that portable with all the shortwave bands from Uncle Joe—or buy an old Hallicrafters receiver at a garage sale—and start to listen. And you find that, if anything, it's really more fun than you thought it would be!

Tired of the biased news reporting doled out at night by your local stations? Try shortwave . . . and select the bias of your choice!

A Mixed Bag

In many parts of the world there is no local broadcasting service, and shortwave serves as the news and entertainment mainstay. Shortwave broadcast signals—like ham signals—are able to travel long distances because they are reflected back to earth by a layer of the upper atmosphere called the ionosphere. While hams are limited to a transmitter power of 1,000 watts maximum, most international broadcasters blast out with at least 100,000 watts and get additional "reach" with big, expensive antenna systems. The end result is some pretty good listening, even with inexpensive receivers and simple receiving antennas.

Shortwave broadcasting is a very mixed bag. Most stations are government-run. Radio Moscow and the Voice of America are, as you might expect, weapons of ideological warfare for the superpowers that operate them. On the other hand, shortwave gives even small nations like Luxembourg and the Netherlands the means with which to speak to the rest of the world. In addition, a few stations are operated by religious groups and private organizations.


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