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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shortwave Receivers

Hello, Frank here.

Today this is going to be a short post. No, actually, it's going to be about shortwave. Okay, let's see. 

Shortwave is from 3 MHz to 30 MHz, or thereabouts. To help clarify a few things, medium wave is just underneath shortwave and that is where your local AM commercial radio station functions. Directly under medium wave is long wave. For entertainment purposes or listening, not a lot happens on long wave. But if you are in London, or other parts of Europe and you ask someone about an AM radio station, they may look at you a little odd, because over there it is called medium wave or MW. Most, but not all, shortwave radios will pick up all 3 of these bands. 

But, what we are going to focus on today is between 3 and 30 MHz. Falling in that same range is where most HF (high frequency) ham radio
takes place. That's why I have included the ICOM ham bands. Take a look at this chart. Especially the lower part of page one. You can see where the ham frequencies operate. You will notice that between 10 meter and 12 meter ham bands are the CB frequencies, or sometimes called 11 meters. Why is this stuff important? If you want to listen on your shortwave radio, that picks up these frequencies, then all ham bands in the HF frequencies are either lower side band (LSB) or upper side band (USB) which is called SSB, single side band. So, if you want to listen to the ham frequencies, you will need a shortwave radio with SSB capability. Most shortwave radios do not have SSB. 

I have included a few DX websites. DX in the ham world normally means out of the continental United States, DX for shortwave purposes, means shortwave. Go into these sites and play around. Prime Time Shortwave is filled with information about radio stations. Look on the left hand side, go down about five tabs and you will see SW schedules to America. Click on it. These stations are geared for broadcast to America, which means they are in English, normally. Play at this site for a long time, there is some really great stuff there. The DX Zone is a place with lots of information. Look around here. is another site that is filled with information. Check out the left hand side column. 

Okay. You've looked at a few of these and you have looked at some of the radio stations. The time is weird. The time for these stations is sometimes called GMT - Greenwich Mean Time, Zulu Time, or
UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). You will find these on the first website I sent you to. You can figure out the time where you are. I live in the Central Time Zone, CST. I am about six hours different from UTC. Example: If it is 8:00pm in London, it is 2:00pm in Oklahoma, CST, or thereabouts. But you say, it doesn't say am or pm. 8:00pm is actually 2000 hours. Because 8:00am is 0800, and you just keep on counting - 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 - you'll get the picture. There are some charts there to help you, if you need it. So, if it's 2000 UTC, it is 1400 CST.

Now for some radios. There are portable and tabletop SW radios. If you
will take a look at some of these, you will see there are vast differences between portable and tabletop. Most people use a portable, which I have included two of - one is the Tucsen PL600, the other is a Grundig 750. Each one of these will work fine for basic shortwave reception and both are SSB capable. Remember if you want to listen to the ham frequencies, you will need SSB. 

You might ask yourself why do I want to listen to a bunch of old men talking? Because if the power goes off someday and you are operating this radio in the dark, plugged into your car's cigarette lighter plug, then those old men might be the only voices you hear. Then you might be glad that your SW radio has SSB. Almost all shortwave stations operate in the AM mode. This is not the AM band that is in your car. This is the AM mode of transmission which about any shortwave radio will receive. So much for preaching.

Also included are a couple of tabletop shortwave radios. The ICOM R75 and the AOR AR-Alpha. Both of these cost a little bit more
than your portable SW radios. The AOR costs a whole lot more. You might recognize that the ICOM R75 looks just like the ICOM IC-718 ham radio transceiver. And it does. The primary difference is that the R75 does not transmit it will only receive and it costs about the same as the IC-718.

Okay, so this light goes off. Why should I buy a receiver when I can buy an IC-718 that will transmit and receive for about the same cost? Good question. The IC-718 is a ham radio that will pick up all the HF frequencies and transmit. It will also pick up all of the shortwave frequencies which are just mixed in between the ham frequencies, but you can only receive on those. It will receive USB and LSB, which are ham functions and AM which is a shortwave function. These are all called modes, by the way. 
 The SW frequencies in many cases are also designated by meter. They are in between and around the ham meters. Look at that ICOM chart again with the ham frequencies. Hopefully you are starting to get the picture where the SW DX frequencies are located in relation to the ham frequencies.

You can buy a used ham radio, from a local ham radio operator or at what is called a ham fest. The ARRL, American Radio Relay League, is the home site for most ham radio operators. Open this site and look for clubs. You can find one in your area. They have meetings, radio sponsored events, websites and phone numbers. You may not be interested in getting your ham license, which if you are this is the place to start, but if not these local clubs will have individuals that will be happy to answer many questions about radios and where to purchase them. The ARRL site also has lots of information about radios, it's a good place to play around in. If you're looking for a $100 SW radio with SSB, there is one mentioned above. If you're looking for a $300 radio, there is one mentioned above. If you have longer term plans and are thinking about a ham radio licence the ARRL is a great place to start. Then you can get a ham radio that will also work as a SW radio. Food for thought.

If you live in a metal building, or you want to put a radio on your desk inside a metal building, then you might want to consider a little bit longer wire for an antenna. If you don't live in a metal building, and you live out in the middle of nowhere, or somewhere in between, the longer the antenna wire, the better the reception. If you choose to go the ham radio route, you can use the same antenna as your ham radio. Okay, that's enough for now. Above is a lot of information, give it time, let it soak in. Next time we will talk about scanners, which should be a whole lot easier.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank

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