Shortwave Listening as a Hobby: When Static is Music to Your Ears

Shortwave listening as a hobby may not be as popular as it once was, but for those who have discovered its unique appeal, it’s an addiction that’s hard to break.

From collecting exotic QSL cards to chasing rare signals from far-flung corners of the world, shortwave listening offers a window into a world that’s often hidden from view.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a curious newcomer, there’s always something new to discover in the world of shortwave listening as a hobby.

See Also: What Are Some Spotting Hobbies?

What is Shortwave Listening?

Shortwave listening (SWLing) is a hobby that involves listening to broadcasts on shortwave radio frequencies, which range from 1700 kHz to 30 MHz.

Shortwave radio is different from regular AM/FM radio in that it can travel much farther distances, often reaching across continents and even oceans. Shortwave radio broadcasts are transmitted by radio stations, and can include news, music, weather reports, and more.

Shortwave radio frequencies are divided into bands, each with its own range of frequencies.

The most commonly used shortwave bands are the High Frequency (HF) bands, which include the 80, 60, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10-meter bands. Each band has its own characteristics, and some are better suited for certain types of broadcasts than others.

Reception is a key part of shortwave listening, and many hobbyists invest in specialized equipment to improve their reception.

DXing, or distance listening, is a popular aspect of shortwave listening, in which hobbyists try to receive radio signals from as far away as possible.

Ham radio operators also use shortwave frequencies for communication with other operators around the world.

Tuning is an important part of shortwave listening, as the frequencies of shortwave broadcasts can vary depending on factors such as time of day, season, and location.

It is important to be able to accurately tune to the correct frequency to receive a clear signal. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is often used as a reference time for shortwave broadcasts.

QSL cards are a way for shortwave listeners to confirm that they have received a particular broadcast. These cards are often sent by radio stations to listeners who have sent in reception reports. Antennas are also important for shortwave listening, as they can greatly affect the quality of reception.

Why Shortwave Listening is a Fun Hobby

Shortwave listening is a fun and exciting hobby that allows you to tune into radio broadcasts from around the world. Here are a few reasons why you might enjoy it:

  • Discover new cultures and languages: Shortwave broadcasts come from all over the world, so you can tune in to stations in countries you’ve never visited and hear languages you’ve never heard before. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA) are two popular stations that broadcast in English, but you can also find stations in French, Spanish, Russian, and many other languages.
  • Challenge yourself: Shortwave listening can be a challenging hobby, especially if you’re trying to pick up weaker signals. You’ll need to learn about the different shortwave bands and experiment with different antennas and receivers to get the best reception. But once you start picking up stations from far away, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.
  • Connect with other hobbyists: There’s a whole community of shortwave listeners out there, and many of them are happy to share their knowledge and experiences. You can join online forums, listen to podcasts, and even send reception reports to stations to let them know you’re listening.
  • Enjoy the nostalgia: Shortwave listening has been around for over a century, and there’s something nostalgic about tuning in to a station on a tube-type shortwave receiver. But even if you’re using a modern shortwave receiver, there’s still a sense of history and tradition to the hobby.
  • Experiment with wire antennas: One of the fun things about shortwave listening is that you can experiment with different types of antennas to see what works best for you. Wire antennas are a popular choice for shortwave listeners because they’re easy to set up and can be very effective.
  • Tune in to unique stations: Shortwave broadcasts can be very different from what you’re used to hearing on FM or AM radio. For example, the Voice of Russia used to broadcast a program called “Xenophobia in the USA” that was very critical of American culture and politics. You never know what you might hear when you tune in to a shortwave station.

Getting Started with Shortwave Listening

Shortwave listening is an exciting and rewarding hobby that can open up a world of international communication and news. Here are some tips to help you get started:


The first thing you will need is a shortwave radio receiver. There are many options available, from basic portable radios to more complex tabletop models.

Consider your budget and needs when selecting a radio. It’s also important to have a good antenna and an antenna tuner to ensure you are receiving the best possible signal.

Ham Bands

The ham bands are a great place to start for shortwave listening. These bands are designated for amateur radio operators and offer a variety of interesting transmissions. Check out the ARRL website for a list of ham bands and frequencies.

AM Broadcast Band

The AM broadcast band is another great place to start for shortwave listening. This band includes local and regional stations that broadcast news, music, and other programming.

World Map

It’s helpful to have a world map to help you locate the countries and regions you are listening to. This can also help you understand the propagation of radio waves and the effects of the Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF).


The Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF) is the highest frequency that can be used for communication between two points at a given time. Understanding the MUF can help you determine which frequencies are best for listening to transmissions from different parts of the world.

Antenna Tuner

An antenna tuner can help you fine-tune your antenna and improve your reception. It’s important to have a good antenna and antenna tuner to ensure you are receiving the best possible signal.


Shortwave transmissions can be found on a variety of frequencies and in a variety of modes, including AM, SSB, and digital modes. Experiment with different frequencies and modes to find the transmissions that interest you the most.

Ham Bands

The ham bands are a great place to find interesting and varied transmissions. These bands are designated for amateur radio operators and offer a variety of interesting transmissions. Check out the ARRL website for a list of ham bands and frequencies.

Shortwave listening can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby. With the right gear and a little knowledge, you can explore the world of international communication and news.

Shortwave Listening Gear

When it comes to shortwave listening, having the right gear is essential.

There are many brands and models to choose from, but some of the most popular and reliable ones include Eton, Grundig, Sony, Icom, and Yaesu. Each of these brands offers a range of shortwave radios that cater to different budgets and needs.

If you’re just starting out, a basic portable shortwave radio is a good option. These are compact and easy to carry around, making them ideal for outdoor activities.

Some popular models include the Eton Executive Satellit, Grundig Mini 400, and Sony ICF-SW7600GR. These radios typically have a frequency range of 2-30 MHz, which covers most of the shortwave bands.

For more advanced users, a desktop shortwave radio or a software-defined radio (SDR) may be a better choice. Desktop radios like the Icom IC-R8600 and Yaesu FTDX101D offer more features and better performance than portable radios. They also have a wider frequency range and can be connected to an external antenna for better reception.

SDRs are a relatively new technology that allows you to tune into shortwave signals using a computer and a specialized receiver. They offer a lot of flexibility and customization options, but they can be more complex to set up and use than traditional radios. Some popular SDRs include the SDRplay RSPdx and the Airspy HF+.

In addition to a radio, you’ll also need a good antenna to pick up shortwave signals. There are many different types of antennas to choose from, including wire antennas, vertical antennas, and loop antennas. The best type of antenna for you will depend on your location, budget, and the frequencies you want to listen to.

Finally, it’s important to have a good understanding of shortwave signals and how to identify them. There are many different types of signals that you may encounter, including voice transmissions, digital signals, and Morse code. Knowing how to decode these signals can greatly enhance your shortwave listening experience.

BrandModelFrequency Range (MHz)Features
EtonExecutive Satellit2-30Portable, AM/FM/SW/LW, SSB, RDS
GrundigMini 4002.3-26.1Portable, AM/FM/SW, ATS, LCD display
SonyICF-SW7600GR2.3-26.1Portable, AM/FM/SW, SSB, sync detection
IcomIC-R860010 kHz-3 GHzDesktop, wideband, multiple modes, SD card slot
YaesuFTDX101D1.8-55Desktop, multiple modes, large color display
SDRplayRSPdx1 kHz-2 GHzSoftware-defined, multiple modes, wideband
AirspyHF+9 kHz-31 MHzSoftware-defined, high dynamic range, low noise

Antennas for Shortwave Listening

When it comes to shortwave listening, having the right antenna is crucial for receiving clear signals. Here are some types of antennas you can consider for your shortwave listening hobby:

  • Wire Antennas: Wire antennas are the most popular type of antenna for shortwave listening. They are simple to construct and can be very effective. A long wire antenna, for example, can be strung up between trees or poles and can provide good reception for many frequencies.
  • Loop Antennas: Loop antennas are another popular choice for shortwave listening. They are often used by apartment dwellers or those with limited space. These antennas can be mounted indoors or outdoors and can provide good reception for a wide range of frequencies.
  • Log Periodic Antennas: Log periodic antennas are designed to receive a wide range of frequencies. They are often used by DXers who want to receive signals from around the world. These antennas can be expensive but can provide excellent performance.
  • Digital Antennas: Digital antennas are designed to receive digital signals. They are often used for receiving digital television signals but can also be used for shortwave listening. These antennas can be mounted indoors or outdoors and can provide good reception for a wide range of frequencies.

When selecting an antenna, it’s important to consider your location and the frequencies you want to receive. For example, if you live in Toronto, Canada, you may want to consider an antenna that is designed to receive signals from Europe.

It’s also important to consider the type of transceiver you have. Some transceivers may require a specific type of antenna to work properly.

Finally, it’s important to consider radio propagation. Radio propagation can affect the performance of your antenna. For example, during times of poor radio propagation, your antenna may not be able to receive signals as well as it would during times of good radio propagation.

Joining the Shortwave Listening Community

If you’re interested in shortwave listening, joining a community of like-minded individuals can be a great way to learn more about the hobby and get support along the way. Here are some ways you can get involved:

North American Shortwave Association

The North American Shortwave Association (NASWA) is a non-profit organization that has been serving the shortwave listening community since 1961.

Membership includes a monthly newsletter, access to online resources and databases, and the opportunity to connect with other shortwave listeners around the world.

To join NASWA, you can visit their website and sign up for a membership. Annual dues start at $25 for members in the United States and Canada, and $30 for international members.


There are several publications available for shortwave listeners that can provide valuable information and resources. Here are a few examples:

  • The SWLing Post: This is a popular blog that covers a wide range of shortwave listening topics, including equipment reviews, frequency updates, and more.
  • Monitoring Times: This is a monthly magazine that covers a variety of radio-related topics, including shortwave listening. It includes articles, reviews, and frequency lists.
  • Passport to World Band Radio: This is an annual publication that provides a comprehensive guide to shortwave radio stations around the world. It includes frequency lists, schedules, and other useful information.

Online Communities

There are also many online communities where you can connect with other shortwave listeners. Here are a few examples:

  • Reddit: The r/shortwave subreddit is a community of shortwave listeners who share news, tips, and other information.
  • Facebook Groups: There are several Facebook groups dedicated to shortwave listening, including the Shortwave Listening group and the Shortwave Radio Listeners group.
  • Online Forums: There are several online forums where shortwave listeners can connect and share information, including the forums and the forums.

Joining a shortwave listening community can be a great way to learn more about the hobby and connect with other enthusiasts. Whether you join an organization like NASWA, subscribe to a publication, or connect with other listeners online, there are many resources available to help you get started.


Shortwave listening can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby that allows you to tune in to radio stations from all over the world. By listening to shortwave broadcasts, you can stay informed about world events, learn about other cultures, and enjoy a wide variety of music and entertainment.

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