What You Need to Hear Shortwave Stations

As you read in the introduction, a shortwave receiver is a necessity if you want to receive international shortwave radio broadcasts. You will also need to consider the antenna used to pick up these signals. But you may be surprised at how easy it is to begin without a major investment to hear these interesting voices from afar.

Which Receiver to Buy?

You can begin this interesting pastime with a rather inexpensive receiver and test the waters. However, with the low priced receivers you will mainly receive the major shortwave stations that have strong signals and clear channels. This would include stations such as the BBC, Radio Canada International, Voice of America (VOA), and Deutsche Welle, Germany. You will also hear stations such as Radio Japan as they often use the transmission facilities of other stations.

To receive some of the weaker stations you will need a mid-priced receiver. And to go for the really rare ones a top of the line communications receiver may be just the ticket. So there is something for everyone's budget. Here are some examples of radios in each category.

Compact Portables $100-$400 Portables $300-$700
Grundig Yacht Boy 305
Grundig Yacht Boy 400
Panasonic RF-B45
Panasonic RF-B65
Sangean ATS 606
Sony ICF-SW760G
Sony ICF-SW-33
Radio Shack Realistic DX-375
Radio Shack Realistic DX-392
Grundig Yacht Boy 500
Grundig Satellit 700
Sangean ATS-818
Sony ICF-2010
Sony ICF-SW-55
Sony ICF-SW77
Radio Shack Realistic DX-390
Semi-Portables $1000 Tabletop $1000-$5000
Drake SW8
Lowe HF-150
AOR AR7030
Drake R8A
Icom IC-9000
Japan Radio NRD-535D
Kenwood R-5000
Lowe HF-225 Europa
Watkins-Johnson HF-1000

Figure 1. Selected Shortwave Receivers.

We are not recommending any specific receiver but just giving some ideas about what is available. There are many other receivers available, especially in the compact and portable area, so shop around before making a commitment. You might also pick up a copy of Passport to World Band Radio, an annual publication that has an excellent section of radio reviews. Passport is available from all major book sellers.

What About Antennas?

Except for tabletop radios all shortwave receivers come with a built-in whip antenna. This antenna will suffice for listening to the major broadcasters but at some point you may want greater capability. If you have a tabletop receiver then an external antenna is a must.

There are basically two types of external antennas. One is the outdoor wire antenna and the other is an active antenna which is an amplified whip antenna. Either type can provide all the signal you may need but the active antenna is especially useful for apartment dwellers or someone with restricted space to construct an outdoor antenna.

An outdoor antenna can be easily constructed by stringing up a wire between two trees or the house and a tree. 15 meters (50 feet) or more of wire is preferable. Each end needs to be insulated from the wire that attaches it to the tree or house. Then at the end nearest your receiver connect an insulated lead-in wire that runs to your receiver's antenna input. Radio Shack provides a simple kit that makes it easy to construct such an antennas. Other outdoor antennas designed specially for shortwave listening are available from Grove, The Antenna Supermarket and Alpha Delta.

Active antennas are especially useful for apartment dwellers although anyone can benefit from one. These antennas are essentially a whip antenna with an amplifier although some will have more features that allow tuning to specific bands, noise reduction, or selecting from more than one antenna. Even with an active antenna, getting the whip outdoors, such as on a balcony, will improve reception. One disadvantage of an active antenna is that while it is amplifying shortwave signals it also amplifies noise. Still it can be a big improvement over a receiver's built-in antenna. Active antennas are available from MJF, Datong, and McKay Dymek.

Finally, if your budget doesn't allow one of these antennas there are still other solutions you can try. One method is to dangle an insulated wire from your balcony when you are planning an evening of shortwave listening. Then pull it in after you are finished and no one will be the wiser. Or string up the wire inside your listening room, preferably near a window. Often just a short piece of wire will be all you need to improve your catches.

Now that you have the equipment get started by looking at the page When and Where to Listen. There you will find the hints and information needed to find your first shortwave stations.




Text 1999 Don Cassel VE3BUC
You can e-mail me at