Listener's Guide

Is Shortwave Listening For Me?

If, for some unaccountable reason, you decide to read these notes in one sitting and it takes you day to do it, the world will have spent a great deal of money on getting its message to you. Add in the utilities, the marine, aero and tactical, the number stations and everything else we hear between the broadcast bands and I reckon we owe it to ourselves to listen to it.

As we support the drive toward a better class of receiver, money has to be parted with in the hope of good performance. The writer's pedigree takes him back to The Classic Collins and the world renowned AR88D. And it is with all credit to them that we honour The Classics here, although the trade press prefers to let the history go even if it is the best teacher.

It's A Jumble Out There

The world of radio communications and international broadcasting is changing daily. Many have already given up on shortwave, moving to the internet to reach the target country. They will tell you this is the only future for radio.

Few continue to invest in shortwave, changing frequencies to make the best of changing conditions for radio over the 11 year sunspot cycle. They know that in under-developed countries the investment in even the simplest of portable radios takes a vast proportion of available income, so to suggest the village elders set up an internet cafe is out of the question.

With the rush for web-delivered news and the closure of so many short-wave services to force folk onto the web, I wonder about ISP provision in Third World countries. With feeding the population taking a priority, home ownership of a computer is well down on the must-have list. But they will tell you this is the only future for radio.

Some will continue to invest in AM Radio or medium wave, moving against the rush for FM, WWW, DRM and DAB because these are the only frequencies becoming available for new radio formats. They will tell you this is the only future for radio.

So What Can We Expect?

The truth is when it comes to home entertainment, we have been spoiled rotten. We expect digital quality sound from our CD hi-fi, surround sound in our cars and all our favourite radio stations in glorious FM or DAB Stereo. Transmitter processing will have left us with false perceptions of loudness and tonal balance. We can say from the outset that short-wave will not live up to this. Reception will vary from the quality of the worst international phone line right up to MP4, stopping at all points in between.

Recent developments in radio design can get the best out of steam wireless. Point-to-point communication channels that once required the constant attention of a radio operator are easy pickings from a favourite armchair, thanks to the receiver designer's commitment to DSP design. My generation remembers Tony Hancock and would like to think his outlook is, at last, quite redundant. Or is it?

They say that travel broadens the mind. Now, for about the cost of an airline ticket to somewhere half-decent, a radio can be bought that will take you almost anywhere on the surface of the globe.

If you can live without the Air Miles, the world can be your oyster.

A modern receiver can have the capacity to deal with the specialised transmissions used in air traffic control. World travel without the airport delays. If there are any, you'll hear about them first. Armchair travel broadens the behind. (My therapist advises it is best, at this early stage, to let me get these old gags out of my system.)

So, Who Is Listening?

The broadest range of people imaginable including you. From the new listener who has just heard Moscow for the first time on something marked SW1 on his ghetto-blaster, to the professional monitor reporting back world events to his government.

Ex-patriots wanting news from home while reading a four-day old copy of The Daily Mail.

People on ships, on expeditions or on holiday.

World leaders and policy makers wanting to know how the world sees them and how they see the world.

The armchair traveller who wants to know just a little bit more.

In oppressed countries where media is strictly controlled, short wave can be the only source of uncorrupted news. It can also be the catalyst that sparks the revolution.

In India and Africa where one radio serves an entire community.

A chap who has heard an international station on his iPhone.

If you have ever felt the need to mute the sound on the TV to check up on the unholy row going on next door, then this is the hobby for you.

We hope this Guide will give you a valuable insight into the radio world that lives somewhere between the AM and FM bands on your average set. Look around or try a search.