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Radio Equipment

Short Wave Listening

Whilst in the developed world, listening to short wave radio is seen as somewhat of a niche hobby, in many parts of the developing world it is the way in which people receive their daily news and for many, their only access to information and education. The equipment required to tune in to short wave broadcasts is very straightforward and inexpensive and is well within even the most meagre budget, though using more expensive equipment will enable you to hear a lot more, or to tune into broadcasts a lot more easily.

Radios and Receivers

Radios that receive short wave broadcasts are often sold as 'world band' or 'world receivers' and can be bought for as little as US$25 or equivalent (see the radio on the right here as an example). Cheaper radios will tend to have analogue dials which can make it more difficult to find an exact frequency or station. Finding stronger broadcasts is easy but if you are trying to tune into a weaker signal, the only way to identify it might be to find two strong ones, look up what frequency they are on and then use them as pointers to help navigate to the frequency you are looking for. That being said, for such a small price and as an entry point to the hobby, even a cheap radio such as this will open your eyes to the world of broadcasts from around the globe that are freely available.

More expensive radios, such as the one on the left, have digital displays and allow you to directly dial-up or key-in a particular frequency making tuning far more straightforward. In addition, they are more stable meaning that they remain 'locked' to a particular station for much longer without the need for any fiddly retuning. Their performance is also often (but not always) better meaning that it is easier to receive weaker signals. They may also have additional features such as memories in which to store frequencies for easy recall and even, in the case of the Eton radio shown on the left, have special receivers known as 'synchronous detectors' which perform much better with signals that fade in and out than normal radios do. Some radios are also able to receive the single-side band (SSB) transmissions used by radio amateurs and many commercial services (maritime and aeronautical for example).


The only additional item which can help improve reception is an antenna (a.k.a. an aerial). Almost any length of any kind of wire, attached to the antenna on the receiver itself, will improve reception. The higher up you you can get your wire (slung over a tree for example), the better it will perform. Also, generally speaking, the longer the wire, the better it works (officionados of such antennas call them a 'long wire' for good reason!) Whilst antennas which are outdoors are more effective, even a few metres of wire strung across a window or inside a room will make a difference (though indoor antennas can often collect a lot of counterproductive noise and interference from electrical devices such as computers and televisions). Some radios may have a separate socket into which you can connect your long wire but just attaching one end to the telescopic antenna on the radio will usually make a significant difference.

Reference Books

Last, but not least, it is helpful to have access to a list of short wave broadcasters and the frequencies and times they are on-air. The short wave info web-site was set up specifically for this purpose but there are books available which list short wave stations as well - useful if you don't have an internet connection. Given that one of the great advantages of short wave radio is that it can be received anywhere, such as up a mountain, or at sea, an internet connection is not always available!

Remember that a list of frequencies is only as good as the date it was produced. This web-site is updated roughly every month, whereas a printed book may become out of date very quickly. Broadcasters tend to have a summer and a winter frequency schedule (not least to take account of daylight saving time) and often change frequencies more regularly than this to sort out interference problems. The World Radio and TV Handbook (WRTH) is probably the best known tome for short wave listeners (SWL's) and is updated each year. The authors of the WRTH are almost all experienced SWL's from around the world and are often professionals whose jobs involve short wave broadcasting of some kind and so it is complied by those who know what they are talking about.

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