Owning a shortwave, or “world band”, radio allows listeners to hear radio stations from across the nation and around the world. Many countries have shortwave stations, which are usually commercial-free, including Canada, Australia, Russia, The Netherlands, Iran, and others.
Some shortwave radios can also receive communications and HAM (amateur) radio broadcasts. World band radios have been produced by a variety of electronics brands, including Grundig, Kaide, Bell & Howell, Panasonic, and others. However, shortwave receivers vary substantially in quality and features, making it necessary to consider many factors before purchasing one.
One major consideration is how much of the shortwave frequency range the radio is capable of tuning. The frequency range of shortwave bands, including communications and broadcasting, extends from about 1.8MHz-30MHz, or 1,800kHz-30,000kHz. The Citizen’s Band (CB) is considered part of shortwave and is within the upper end of this range. Radio specifications may use either type of measurement (MHz/kHz). Some shortwave radios, like the jWin JX-M14, have a number of shortwave bands, but do not cover the entire shortwave range.
Many others, such as the Radio Shack 12-795 and Rhapsody RY-610/RY-611, cover a single long portion like 4-12MHz, and may receive CB radio as well. Some of the more expensive radios cover the entire shortwave range or nearly all of it. While greater coverage gives you more listening opportunities, it certainly isn’t necessary to receive the entire shortwave range to enjoy listening. Some sections of the SW range have minimal activity in most areas (such as the 2-3MHz section, sometimes called the Marine Band), and many broadcasters have multiple transmitters using different frequencies.
The other most significant factors are the features and size of the radio. Shortwave radios are available in sizes ranging from pocket-size to heavy and large. While there are certainly some exceptions, the radio’s size is often indicative of its performance. Many pocket-size radios have tinny sound, and some have mediocre reception. Even slightly larger radios often have significantly better performance. Larger radios usually have more features and better sound & reception. However, smaller radios usually cost less and are more portable.
As for features, there are too many features which may be included on a SW radio to mention here, but a few of the more common include fine tuning, antenna jacks, sensitivity controls, and BFO controls. Fine tuning knobs, which are featured on most larger shortwave radios (ElectroBrand 2971, Realistic SW-100), are very useful for shortwave listening because stations are often closer together on the dial than they are on AM or FM bands. An antenna jack can substantially improve reception even with a relatively short wire connected to it. Most large and a few small (DAK MR-101) radios have antenna jacks. Sensitivity controls, often in the form of a switch or slider, are included on many shortwave radios, including the Optimus 12-808 and Kaito KA-1103. They may be marked “DX/Local”.
These can be useful for improving reception when two stations are on the same frequency, or to limit the radio to finding strong stations if it has a digital station seeking feature. Finally, a BFO or SSB control enables reception of some types of communications, as well as a few additional broadcast stations. Some radios have a world time zone map on a folding panel or the back, as on the DAK DMR-3000.
Most shortwave radios also receive regular AM and FM bands. Some receive aircraft, weather information, police, or TV audio bands as well, and may be referred to as “multiband” radios. Examples of such radios include the WorldStar MG-6000, Sonnet R-3582, Electro Brand 2161, and the Realistic Patrolman series.
Another major decision regarding shortwave radios is that of whether a digital, analog, or digital/analog tuner is best. While some people assume that an all-digital radio is surely best, this is not always the case. Tuning entirely with buttons can make it more time-consuming to find stations, and may not allow as much fine-tuning as an analog radio. Some models of entirely digital radios tune in increments which skip over certain AM and shortwave stations in some countries. A digital-analog radio, like the Coby CX-CB91 or Sony ICF-7600DA, shows the current frequency on its display, but allows manual knob tuning. This makes finding stations and tuning easier, but still lets the user know the exact frequency. Such radios usually don’t have memory presets, however.
Otherwise equivalent analog radios are usually cheaper and tend to have better reception than inexpensive digital radios. Many analog radios use less energy, which makes batteries last longer. On the other hand, it can be more difficult to find the same shortwave station again with an analog radio, because of the large number of stations. Analog radios with wide tuning ranges (five inches across or longer) are often easier to tune, as stations aren’t as close together and it is easier to associate a specific position with a station.
Shortwave radios can be purchased from online shopping websites, internet auction services, and Radio Shack stores. Keep in mind that not every SW radio will be clearly marked as “shortwave”, and may be referred to as “world band”, “multi band”, “world radio” or another term. Radios of this type may also be found in discount stores like Big Lots on occasion.
Keeping in mind these considerations and the purposes you intend to use the radio for, you should be able to find an affordable shortwave radio which meets your needs acceptably.