Shortwave Radios: Communication and Survival

If you’ve ever been in a situation that required emergency help, a shortwave radio is a lifesaver. Maybe you couldn’t get a signal on your cell phone to make a call, or you dropped your iPhone in the woods and had no resource to receive an important message.

If you don’t already own a shortwave radio, you might want to add it to the top of your list for your next outdoor adventure. When unfortunate events arise, you need to be prepared.

Shortwave radios were originally developed for emergency military transmissions. Today, shortwave radios are used by governments, private organizations and amateurs alike to reach large populations across the globe.


Signals Can Be Tricky

Shortwave communications travel great distances, so they’re not always as clear as a local FM station. Conditions in the atmosphere may cause the signal to fade in and out, and you are more likely to get interference from stations on neighboring frequencies.

With so much advanced technology today, one may think shortwave radios aren’t worth the hassle or investment. On the other hand, some listeners love that they can explore stations from other countries.

Shortwave Enthusiasts

A fragment of the shortwave spectrum is reserved for outdoor enthusiasts as well as amateurs who want to message back and forth in two-way communication.

Today’s most common band allocations are AM/FM bands, aircraft frequencies, amateur radio, international commercials, longwave bands and coastal stations.

It’s true that shortwave radios are not as popular as modern technology like cell phones and high-speed Internet. But, shortwave technology is still used around the world by numerous international broadcasting companies such as CBS News Radio.

There’s many outdoor adventurers who’d rather sit on top of mountain and escape everyday life. I’m sure that technology is not even a thought in their mind. But, there are still many adventurers who prefer to use a shortwave radio to receive emergency transmissions.


History of the Shortwave Radio

Way back in the 20th century, shortwave radios were developed to provide an inexpensive, low-tech way for anyone in the world to receive radio transmissions.

Shortwave is also referred to as high frequency. It’s transmitted a bit above the AM band on the radio spectrum. Additionally, in 1920, most long-distance communication was conducted via transoceanic cables.

Fast forward to 1928 and shortwave radio communications had grown tremendously. In fact, they had accounted for more than 50% of long-distance communications. Over time, technology was on its way to even more improvements.

First Advanced Waves In Technology

The invention of shortwave radio technology is credited to radio pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi. He and his assistant, Charles Samuel Franklin began a large-scale study in 1923 to determine if short would suffice for long distance transmissions.

But there’s evidence that amateur radio operators were the first to generate a transatlantic shortwave signal with a low-frequency signal.

The lowest-frequency band considered to be shortwave is 1.8-2.0 MHz. Thus, it was deemed useless for long distance communications and designated for amateur use.

In 1922, hundreds of radio amateurs from North America were heard throughout Europe as a result of this “impractical” frequency. Also in 1922, the first two-way communications between North American and Hawaiian amateurs were recorded at the same wavelength.

These radio novices now had their own frequency and were able to experiment and make significant progress in long distance usage of shortwave technology.


What Does a Shortwave Radio Offer?

For the survivalist, a shortwave radio provides an easy way to pick up emergency broadcasts from local government channels, amateur radio channels, and international broadcasters.

Long before the Internet, shortwave radio was the primary tool many expats used to keep in contact with their homeland. For example, hundreds of college students would gather around shortwave radios to listen to their national teams play sporting events.

Also, families would ditch the local nightly news on television. Instead, they would listen to broadcasts from their home country.

Today the Internet is increasingly popular as well as cable news channels. Therefore, some governments have closed down or reduced their shortwave offerings.

Programs and Exploration

Nevertheless, the shortwave spectrum continues to offer a multitude of programming options. There’s a large community of enthusiastic shortwave hobbyists listening and creating original content.

Some may believe that modern communications is killing shortwave listenership. The true fans favor it more than ever to explore the high frequency universe. For these diehards, there are websites specifically devoted to providing schedules of shortwave programming.

In addition, there’s lots of apps that list schedules and report changing frequencies to help you track your favorite stations.


Advantages of Shortwave Radios

You may be wondering how can you use shortwave radios to your advantage. There is an explanation: a shortwave radio is a receiver that can receive radio transmission on frequencies up to 30 MHz . This is usually between 1.6 and 30 MHz (1600-30000 kHz).

These precise frequencies are known for their ability to multiply over long distances. Because of this, international broadcasting is easily accessible. This capability is otherwise known as world band radio.

International Channels/Organizations

Some radios are strictly shortwave, meaning they only pick up distinct frequencies, while others have a broader range and can pick up your standard AM/FM stations. Shortwave radios have a variety of uses. These uses include simulcasting AM/FM channels to remote areas, or communicating vital information in emergency situations.

Most countries operate their own shortwave radio channels, news, music, and even propaganda. In the United States, one government-owned organization, the International Broadcasting Bureau broadcasts in shortwave communication.

The BBC also operates an international news station that simulcasts via shortwave. If you’re curious about mindsets of different cultures around the world, there’s a wide range of international programming available to shortwave radio users.

Naturally, most programming is broadcast in the country’s local language, but you will find some international stations in English.

Additional Information

Many people use shortwave radios to pick up stations that relay commercial AM and FM channels. Both AM and FM frequencies have very short ranges, usually around 50-100 miles from the point of broadcast.

Some operators even broadcast relays of popular AM/FM channels, including news and music on shortwave frequencies.

If you live in a remote area, you can listen to popular radio programming as well as your local news stations.

Amateur Ham Operators

While some of these operations are legal, others operate as “pirate radio” stations and broadcast commercial programming without permission.

There are plenty of legal short wave radio operators out there. Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, describes the use of radio frequencies by individuals for communication, entertainment, recreation, and emergency communication.

Amateur radio is exactly what is sounds like. It’s everyday people using radio technology to communicate with other ham operators to host their own radio programs.


Types of Shortwave Radios

Portable

Portable shortwave radios are compact, easy to carry radios that are either battery powered or crank/solar powered. Usually, they don’t need to be plugged in to function — this makes them especially useful for emergency situations.

Desktop

Desktop radios are larger and more full-featured and mostly used by amateur radio operators and advanced listeners. These devices must be plugged in, and makes them significantly less portable.

All-In-One

All-in-one radios are versatile devices that can pick up shortwave frequencies, in addition to standard AM/FM stations. These devices are useful for everyday use because they provide a great deal more variety in stations.

Please keep reading for some of our top picks in shortwave radios…


1. Eton Grundig Satellit 750

Desktop

The Eton/Grundig Satellit 750 is an advanced radio receiver that provides access to a wide host of frequencies. It provides all the features you’d want and more in a shortwave radio.

In addition, it has excellent sound quality. Most shortwave radios come with basic speakers, but the Eton Grundig Satellit 750 speakers sound pleasantly good.

This shortwave radio even has an input port that you can use to capture music from your smartphone or from any music device that has a headphone jack. Another nice perk about this shortwave is that it has a foldable handle to allow for easy carrying.

The Eton Grundig Satellit 750 retails for around $300 and is a great option for intermediate and advanced users.

Pros

  • Comes with AC adapter so you can plug in this radio to conserve battery power.
  • It has a well-balanced audio with adjustable bass and treble knobs that you can use to dial in the perfect tone.
  • The Eton Grundig Satellit 750 large memory offers 1000 available presets to save all your favorite stations.
  • Backlight controls — makes it easy to use at night and during emergency power outages.
  • Two antenna ports — compatible with both high and low hindrance antennas.
  • Foldable handle — easily foldable when you’re not using it to save space.

Cons

  • This shortwave doesn’t have a contemporary detection circuit — you might encounter interference and static issues when listening to weak signals.

Additional Features

  • Single Side Band
  • AM, FM, aircraft band (118-137 MHz) and shortwave (1711-30000 KHz)
  • Auto tuning storage function for FM/AM
  • 1000 station memories (each band 100 memories, 500 customizable memories)
  • Dual alarm clock function to set two different alarm times
  • Check latest price on Amazon

2. Tecsun PL-880

Portable

The TECSUN  PL-880 is ideal if you hate dealing with digital buttons and prefer to use analog knobs to dial in radio stations.

This shortwave radio has incredible reception for a portable radio — especially with AM/FM frequencies. Like the many of this company’s radios, the Tecsun PL-880 uses hard plastic. However, what sets this receiver apart is its superior build.

The Tecsun features an external antenna jack along with a tone switch for bass, treble, and antenna sensitivity controls for DX, normal, and local. There’s also a line-out jack for recording and rerouting audio to external speakers.

In addition, the Tecsun PL-880 is really loud due to its 450 mW amplifier. Overall, the Tecsun PL-880 is a worthy performer.

Pros

  • Excellent controls. If you love oldschool knobs and dials, you’ll love the PL-880.
  • Good battery life thanks to the lithium batteries.
  • This shortwave radio will run for hours before the batteries need to be recharged.
  • Really loud speakers thanks to the 450m W audio amplifier.
  • Exceptional AM/FM reception. The PL880 is great at picking up faint AM/FM signals.
  • The backlight can be configured to switch off immediately or stay on for several seconds.
  • Comes with a carrying case.

Cons

  • The sync detector doesn’t work very well.

Additional Features

  • Full range coverage includes AM/FM, longwave and shortwave with single side band
  • Four and five selectable bandwidth filters on AM and SSB plus single side band receiver with 10 Hz tuning step
  • 24-hour alarm clock plus sleep timer from 0-120 minutes
  • Powered with one 18650 Li-ion rechargeable battery with built-in charger
  • Battery included
  • Check latest price on Amazon

3. Sony ICF-SW7600

Portable

Are you looking for a classic shortwave radio that’s loud, durable and portable? Well, you just found it with the Sony ICF-SW7600.

This old school device dates back to the late 1970’s. But you would never know it with its pristine sound. Every feature on the Sony ICF-SW7600 has been refined and teased to perfection.

The Sony shortwave radio may not be the best for playing music, but it does deliver with news and talk radio stations. The sound is very crisp and clear, with no interference.

The Sony ICF shortwave radio is an all-around performer with reliable technology that never goes out of style.

Pros

  • Sony has been perfecting the ICF-SW7600 model for over 25 years with no complaints.
  • Heavy duty construction. This solid metal shortwave radio is incredibly sturdy and extremely well-built.
  • Professional features. The ICF-SW7600’s synchronous detector allows you to lock on to faint stations.
  • Excellent reception — quite small, yet surprisingly powerful.
  • Portability. You can carry this shortwave radio with you wherever you go.
  • Intuitive controls for the beginner shortwave radio enthusiasts. –easy-to-use interface.
  • Energy efficient. The ICF-SW7600GR has better battery life than most other portable shortwaves.

Cons

  • The ICF-SW7600 is made for talk radio, not music. You can definitely hear the newscasters, but music doesn’t come in as loud and clear.

Additional Features

  • PLL digital tuner receives FM, MW/AM, shortwave and longwave
  • Four tuning methods: direct, manual, scan and preset
  • Scannable up to 100 frequencies
  • World clock and dual clock functions
  • Built-in timer
  • Label presets with 6 alphanumeric letters
  • Check latest price on Amazon

4. Kaito KA600 Voyager Pro

Ultra-Portable

The Kaito KA600 Voyager Pro Shortwave Radio is perfect if you’re on a tight budget. In addition, if you’re looking for an ultra-portable model for your next camping adventure, you’ve just found it!

For the ultimate in portability, try out the Kaito KA600 shortwave radio. This innovative device offers five different ways to power, which makes it essential for survival situations.

The hand crank  on the Voyager is an incredible feature — it allows you to power the radio in a blackout, or even inside with no sunlight. Simply crank it for about five minutes and you’ll have roughly 45 minutes of essential radio use.

When you’re not camping or exploring, you can easily store the Kaito in your glovebox or even your pocket. The Voyager Pro is true to its namesake, as it’s ultra-portable and ready for a voyage.

Pros

  • AM/FM, longwave, shortwave and NOAA weather radio
  • Five-way powered: AC/DC adapter, AA batteries, USB, hand crank and solar panel
  • Four tuning methods: direct digit entry, manual, ATS and memory tuning
  • Alarm clock/sleep timer
  • Digital display
  • Adjustable solar panel with built in reading lamp, flashlight, thermometer and humidity meter
  • Very light and compact
  • Great for on-the-go

Cons

  • Some users had trouble with the instructions included

Additional Features

  • Four tuning methods: includes manual, direct digit entry, ATS and memory tuning with 335 memories for easy access to favorite stations
  • 180-degree adjustable solar panel with 5-LED reading lamp plus flashlight
  • Available in black, green or silver
  • Extemely durable and reliable
  • Check latest price on Amazon

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever used a shortwave radio on an outdoor journey, you know that it’s quite a resource for an emergency situation. Or it may even be a casual pastime for an amateur ham operator.

For whatever reason you plan on using a shortwave radio, you need to know that there’s a learning curve to using these devices. To assist you, the Internet provides a plethora of information with answers and reviews to most of your questions.

You can consider this review a great place to start … but depending on your needs, you just might require more in-depth information. When you finally find a shortwave radio you like, you’ll need to understand the basics.

Shortwave radios provide the piece of mind you need when traveling to the unknown.  You’ll discover that there’s some excellent ones for your next adventure. Hopefully you’ll never be in an emergency situation where you need to use your radio for help, but nonetheless, it’s always good to be prepared.

Alex Joseph is an avid bow hunter and father of two boys. Originally from Tacoma, Washington Alex now resides in California.

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