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Short Wave Frequency Bands


The frequencies and bands used for short-wave radio broadcasting are agreed internationally by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Not all stations stick within these bands, indeed many choose to use frequencies just outside where there are fewer competing broadcast stations and thus less interference (this is known as 'out-of-band broadcasting'), but most do remain within the agreed limits. If you're just tuning around short wave and looking for stations, the official bands are definitely the place to start. Also remember, radio frequencies below around 12000 kHz work best when it's dark (at night!) and those above around 9000 kHz work best during daylight hours. Most short-wave radio stations are on a 5 kHz raster meaning that their frequency in kHz will either end with a '5' or a '0' (eg 15205 or 6110 kHz).

The Short Wave Broadcasting Bands

There are fourteen discrete bands which are allocated for broadcasting over the short wave frequency range:

   Band     Frequency Range  Notes
120 metres 2300-2495 kHz Only used in tropical areas. (Strictly speaking not a short-wave band but a medium wave one!)
90 metres 3200-3400 kHz Only used in tropical areas.
75 metres 3900-4000 kHz Not used in the Americas. Restricted to 3950-4000 kHz in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
60 metres 4750-4995 kHz Only used in tropical areas.
49 metres 5900-6200 kHz
41 metres 7200-7450 kHz Restricted to 7300-7450 kHz in the Americas.
31 metres 9400-9900 kHz
25 metres 11600-12100 kHz
22 metres 13570-13870 kHz
19 metres 15100-15800 kHz
16 metres 17480-17900 kHz Highest frequency band in common daily use.
15 metres 18900-19020 kHz Virtually unused!
13 metres 21450-21850 kHz
11 metres 25670-26100 kHz Little activity other than tests of local digital services.

Note that on the main web-site, the range of frequencies listed for these bands in the pull-down menu are somewhat wider to ensure that transmissions from any of the aforementioned out-of-band broadcasters are also captured.

Radio Amateurs

Radio Amateurs (fondly referred to as 'hams') use a different set of frequencies to broadcasters and also use a different form of modulation for speech called single side band (SSB) instead of amplitude modulation (AM). Receiving SSB needs specialist equipment but even relatively low cost receivers will often do the job. Using a normal AM receiver, SSB sounds as if someone is talking with several socks stuffed in their mouth! Of course hams use morse code (CW) and digital transmission modes as well.

Radio amateur transmissions are not listed in the database, but the frequencies to listen out on are listed below.

   Band     Frequency Range  Notes
160 metres 1800-2000 kHz Strictly speaking not a short-wave band, but a medium-wave one.
80 metres 3500-3800 kHz Extends to 4000 kHz in the Americas.
60 metres 5250-5450 kHz An experimental band, not available in its entirity.
40 metres 7000-7200 kHz Extends to 7300 kHz in the Americas.
30 metres 10100-10150 kHz Only used for Morse code and digital transmissions.
20 metres 14000-14350 kHz One of the most popular bands with lots of world-wide chatter.
17 metres 18068-18168 kHz
15 metres 21000-21450 kHz
12 metres 24890-24990 kHz
10 metres 28000-29700 kHz The largest amateur short wave band which includes FM and satellite allocations.

Other Short Wave Frequencies

There are lots of other short-wave frequencies which are used for all manner of purposes including ship-to-shore communications (maritime), air traffic control (aeronautical), military and defence, weather information and even spy stations and radio pirates. Broadcasters normally use AM (though some are now digital), whereas most of the other users are either digital or use SSB as with the radio hams. It therefore requires specialist receivers to listen to these other services and indeed under some jurisdictions it is illegal to do so, however there is a world of fun to be had on short wave if you have the time and patience.

The only other short-wave frequencies which it is usually legal to receive and which require no specialist equipment are 'time and frequency standard stations'. These are stations which use very accurate transmitters controlled by atomic clocks, and thus serve as highly accurate references. They are very useful for checking the accuracy of your receiver. They also transmit time information, usually as a series of 'ticks' each second plus messages each minute. The following stations are believed to be on-air:

Station Location Frequencies
CHU Ottawa, Canada 3330, 7850 and 14670 kHz
RWM Moscow, Russia 4996, 9996 and 14996 kHz (note that RWM transmits pulses rather than ticks)
WWV Colorado, USA 2500, 5000, 10000, 15000 and 20000 kHz
WWVH Hawaii, USA 2500, 5000, 10000 and 15000 kHz
YVTO Caracas, Venezuela 5000 kHz
DSHO São Paulo, Brazil 10000 kHz
BPM Pucheng, China 2500, 5000, 10000 and 15000 kHz
HLA Daejeon, South Korea 5000 kHz
HD2IOA Guayaquil, Ecuador 3810 kHz (not 24/7)
EBC Cadiz, Spain 4998 and 15006 kHz (not 24/7)
BSF Taipei, Taiwan 5000 and 15000 kHz

Note that time signal stations are not generally listed in the main database and that you won't necessarily hear all of them. Some have much higher transmitter power than others, and propagation and your distance from the various stations means that some will be received better at your location than others.

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