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School Me On Shortwave Radios

Infinite Jester

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Like the title suggests, I'm curious on the usefulness of a shortwave radio. The only thing I know of them, is that my dad had a big Telefunken back in the early 70's. He used to fool around with it some nights.

With these uncertain times, I fear that communication in the future might be cut off completely, or severely limited. The internet kill switch, (which was sold to us as preventing cyber terror), might very well be employed against any opposition or resistance. Would a shortwave radio be of any use?

I'm not looking to do any broadcasting, and don't have a ton of money to invest in expensive radio equipment. Just wondering if a decent shortwave radio might be something to consider.
 

cockpitbob

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The other advantage of a SW radio is you'll be able to listen in on the Ham bands. A lot of people got into Ham radio as part of prepping or they wanted to serve their community by providing emergency communications support. So, during a SHTF situation a lot of Hams will be on the air giving or getting information that you'll be able to listen in on.
 

Infinite Jester

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The other advantage of a SW radio is you'll be able to listen in on the Ham bands. A lot of people got into Ham radio as part of prepping or they wanted to serve their community by providing emergency communications support. So, during a SHTF situation a lot of Hams will be on the air giving or getting information that you'll be able to listen in on.

That's what I was wondering.
 

KBCraig

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Many (most?) of Radio Shack's SW radios are just rebranded Sangeans, which is a pretty decent brand. If you keep your eye out, you can snag them at half price clearance when they eliminate or upgrade a model.

That's how I got a DX-398 for (I think) a hundred bucks, when they normally retailed for $249. That's the same as the ATS909 (now discontinued).
 

Serapis

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You can purchase a radio via the internet easily (no background check...still a loop-hole!). Find one you like at a dealer site, then be sure to always check Amazon for a possible better price. Good luck!

You need a background check to buy a SW radio in a store?
 

cockpitbob

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I have a sw radio and all I hear is foreign stuff. Any hints on where to look to find more local talk?
Here's a visual summary of the ham radio frequencies. "Phone" means voice, so basically any of the green sections are frequencies you'll here us talking on. For example, in the 20 Meter band we'll be talking on frequencies between 14.150MHz and 14.350MHz. The real popular bands are 20M(days), 40M(night & some day), 80M(mostly night). Short wave listening (SWL) is popular enough that googling "short wave listening" should provide a lot more info.
Hambands_color_zpsa6954085.jpg
 
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Here's a visual summary of the ham radio frequencies. "Phone" means voice, so basically any of the green sections are frequencies you'll here us talking on. For example, in the 20 Meter band we'll be talking on frequencies between 14.150MHz and 14.350MHz. The real popular bands are 20M(days), 40M(night & some day), 80M(mostly night). Short wave listening (SWL) is popular enough that googling "short wave listening" should provide a lot more info.
Hambands_color_zpsa6954085.jpg

I don't think anyone has mentioned it, but if you want to listen to the Ham bands, then you want a radio with switchable SSB (single side band).

Thats what I was was looking for Bob thank you.

What is switchable ssb? Sorry if these are dumb questions.
 

KBCraig

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What is switchable ssb? Sorry if these are dumb questions.

Single sideband is a way of broadcasting that uses less bandwidth and no carrier signal. The why and how are complex (I don't understand it myself), but if your receiver isn't equipped to listen to SSB, then you'll hear a bunch of warbling whooshing noise instead of a listenable signal.

Not everyone broadcasts using SSB, but when they it's nice to be able to listen.
 
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Single sideband is a way of broadcasting that uses less bandwidth and no carrier signal. The why and how are complex (I don't understand it myself), but if your receiver isn't equipped to listen to SSB, then you'll hear a bunch of warbling whooshing noise instead of a listenable signal.

Not everyone broadcasts using SSB, but when they it's nice to be able to listen.

Maybe thats why I don't hear too much. I am assuming it would say SSB on the radio if it had it.
 
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OK, quick primer on shortwave radio. If you have any questions, please ask me.

OK so the beauty of "shortwave" or HF ("high frequency" as it's known to hams) (1-30MHz or so) is that these signals are reflected by the earth's atmosphere (a layer called the ionosphere) rather than absorbed or passed through like other frequencies. Because of this phenomenon, you can communicate with stations very far away and well beyond line-of-sight. It's commonly referred to as "skip" because the signals skip off of the ionosphere. The distance you can get depends greatly on the frequency since different frequencies will skip at different altitudes.

Most shortwave broadcasters are state-run media from different countries and are almost always using AM as the mode of modulation (modulation is the method by which information is put on a radio signal). Someone mentioned above quite correctly that amateur radio operators (hams) use SSB which stands for single-sideband. SSB is a special type of AM and requires a SSB-capable radio to demodulate. There are two types of SSB, upper and lower or USB and LSB. Typically (for no real good reason) frequencies below 10MHz use LSB and above 10MHz use USB. SSB is a narrower bandwidth signal and as such the quality of the signal is reduced. It's main advantages are that it uses up less frequency space and that it is more intelligible with a weaker signal. Another mode used by hams is CW (continuous wave). CW is the act of turning the transmitter on and off, quickly, to send morse code.

My recommendation would be to find a radio that has more or less continuous coverage from 500 KHz to 30 MHz and also SSB capable. Your traditional AM broadcast band is 500KHz to 1700KHz. Above that starts the ham and shortwave bands. Frequencies around 2-4 MHz will generally be local, maybe a couple hundred miles or so. Up in the 6-7MHz range is where some international broadcasters start. These freqs are generally good in the evening. Up around 10-15MHz, these frequencies are useful all day. Above that in the 20MHz area there is less activity and more so during the day.

Check these sites for SWL (short wave listener) listings: Prime Time Shortwave - Your guide for English shortwave broadcasts
NASWA WWW Shortwave Listening Guide

It's been a while since I was in the market for a receiver, but there's lots out there. Try ebay and eham.net/reviews/ . Read the reviews! You should be able to find something for 100-200 bucks that is decent to get started. One thing that I did not see mentioned that is just as important as the radio if not more so is the antenna! For starting out, you could just string up a "longwire" inside a room. I'd make it at least 15ft long, but try to go more like 50 ft, especially if you can get it outside. If you do put it outside you will need to be cognizant of lightning. Best advice for a beginner is to just not leave the radio (or anything) connected to the wire when it's not in use.

So why do all of this? Well, some people like the challenge of pulling in weak or distant stations. A more practical use is to get information from another source (Russia, China, N. Korea, Iran can provide some interesting perspectives and entertainment!) Of course during an emergency you could expand your listening radius greatly from that of a typical AM/FM radio.

Like any hobby, there are different levels you can take it to. There is a lot more to the world of radio but I wanted to keep this fairly on-point so as not to discourage you from trying it out.

Please let me know if you have any questions. There are dedicated radio forums as you might imagine, but there are quite a few NES hams and radio guys too.
 
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I bought a hand held am fm sw radio mainly to listen to music camping but figured that the sw would come in handy in an emergency situation. But haven't really found anything good even during Irene and the blizzard. Thank you guys for shedding some light on it for me.
 

cockpitbob

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Here's some frequencies that can have useful traffic during unpleasant times. You'll have to google a lot of the acronyms to know who they are. Some have regularly scheduled times that people check in, others are activated during emergencies, bad weather, etc.
EMCOMM-FREQ-REF-CARD_zps3415ae5a.jpg
 
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Thanks alot guys. Theres so much out there and I have so little knowledge in this area you just saved countless hours of me stumbling around google results. Now I have an idea what I am looking for. Much appreciated.
 
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