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When and Where to Listen

Unlike medium wave stations, you can DX shortwave 24 hours a day. However, the hours of darkness still offer the best time for shortwave DXing. This is because of improved propagation conditions on the lower frequencies, reduced atmospheric noise, and because shortwave broadcasters like to concentrate on the local evening hours for their primary audience. So first let's look at how shortwave stations tell time.

What Time is It?

Because shortwave stations can broadcast from anywhere in the world it becomes too confusing if everyone uses local time. Instead, a common time called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is used. This time is somewhat based on the standard time of London, England also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Although UTC is a more modern term many broadcasters still refer to GMT.

In the eastern time zone, you add 5 hours* to EST (Eastern Standard Time) to get UTC. So if it is 12 noon locally, then the time is 1700 UTC. Here is a table of some times that might help to sort out UTC.

EST 24 Hour Date UTC UTC Date
8:00 AM 0800 April 1 1300 April 1
12:00 AM 1200 April 1 1700 April 1
6:00 PM 1800 April 1 2300 April 1
7:00 PM 1900 April 1 0000 April 2
9:00 PM 2100 April 1 0100 April 2

Figure 1. Universal Time Coordinated (UTC).

This might seem a little confusing at first but it will soon seem natural. If you set a clock to UTC, or better yet, get a 24 hour clock, then you won't need to do the conversion each time you read the time.

*Unlike local time UTC does not change when we change to or from daylight saving time. But when we go from EST to EDT (or daylight saving time) then the difference between Eastern time and UTC is only 4 hours. So 9:00 PM (2100) EDT on July 4 is 0100 UTC on July 5.

Where are the Shortwave Bands?

Shortwave bands are located in the 2000 kHz to 30000 kHz (2-30 MHz) range of frequencies. But not all of these frequencies are used by international broadcasters. Instead most broadcasts are restricted to segments of this range called meter bands. Some meter bands are more widely used than others and some exhibit better conditions during the daytime while others are better at night. Here are the major bands used for shortwave broadcasts.

Meter Band Frequency (kHz) Reception
120 2300-2500 Infrequent reception
90 3200-3400 Winter nights
75 3900-4000 Winter nights
60 4750-5060 Tropical stations, winter nights
49 5900-6200 Best at night
41 7100-7350 Best at night
31 9400-10000 Best at night, some day
25 11600-12160 Best at night, some day
22 13570-13870 Best day, some night
19 15100-15800 Best day, some night
16 17500-17900 Best day, some night
15 18900-19020 Best day
13 21450-21750 Best day
11 25600-26100 Best day

Figure 2. Frequencies for Shortwave Listening.

One way to listen to shortwave is to just tune around the band of your choice and look for what's on. A better way is to have a guide to broadcasters and frequencies. See the section Shortwave Listener's Resources for a list of publications and web sites where you can get current information about shortwave broadcasts. In the section Major English Language Broadcasters we will look at some of the easier catches on the shortwave bands to help you get started.

Text 1999 Don Cassel VE3BUC
You can e-mail me at
ve3buc@rac.ca

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