Shortwave Radio -  Learning The Basics


What is a shortwave radio?

On the technical side, a shortwave radio is a receiver that can receive radio transmission on frequencies between 3 and 30 MHz.  The main characteristic of these frequencies is their ability to "propagate" for long distances, making possible such world-wide communications as international broadcasting and coordination of long-distance shipping.

Why would I want/need one?

The primary reasons people own and use shortwave radios are personal enjoyment and keeping up with local emergency channels.  From a social point of view, shortwave radio is a method of enabling world-wide transmission of information and opinion, and a way to find out information and opinions from around the world. Many countries broadcast to the world in English, making it easy to find out what a given country's position is on those things that it finds important.  Shortwave radio can also provide a way to eavesdrop on the everyday workings of international politics and commerce.  You can hear news and other programs from a wide range of sources, and you can get emergency information by listening to amateur radio broadcasts including Single Side Band (SSB) transmissions. You also have Longwave (LW) band for Ship-to-Shore calls. FM and Medium Wave (MW) are commonly called AM.

What do I need to know to use one?

Shortwave listening is a hobby with thousands of participants worldwide, and all you need to know to begin is how to tune a radio. There are no special knowledge or skill requirements; however, as you gain experience and develop special listening techniques, your listening enjoyment increases accordingly. These skills include keeping up on local and non-local issues which affect the broadcast, knowing how to troubleshoot your radio and antenna installation and maintenance.  The basic equipment you would need is a radio and a list of frequencies. In most cases, you can receive many stations using the antenna that comes with the radio; however, to receive more distant stations, you can use an external long-wire antenna.

What types are available?

Shortwave radios are distinguished from each other by tuning method, size, and frequency range. A comparison of the shortwave radios we carry is given below:

RadioShack Shortwave Radios Features
Model DX-396 (Cat. No. 20-226)

Click For More Info On The DX-396

Tuning: Digital

Size: 4 3/4 x 7 1/4 x 1 3/8"

Antenna: Rod Only

Frequency Range:

AM, FM, FM Stereo
SW (AM mode)
120, 90, 75, 60, 49, 41, 31, 25, 21, 19, 16, 13 Meters

User's Manual Available On-line

Model DX-402 (Cat. No. 20-230)

Click For More Info On The DX-402

Tuning: Digital

Size: 5 x 8 1/2 x 1 3/8"

Antenna: Rod Antenna and External Antenna Jack

Frequency Range:

LW, AM, FM Stereo
SW (continuous, AM & SSB modes)

User's Manual Available On-line

Model DX-398 (Cat. No. 20-228)

Click For More Info On The DX-398

Tuning: Digital

Size: 5 x 8 1/4 x 1 1/2"

Antenna: Rod Antenna and External Antenna Jack

Frequency Range:

LW, AM, FM, FM Stereo
SW (continuous 50 kHz - 29.999 MHz, AM & SSB/CW modes)

User's Manual Available On-line

What accessories can I use to improve my listening enjoyment?

There are several things you can get which will affect your listening enjoyment:

Antennas pull in more distant and/or weaker stations
Headphones allow you to focus on the transmissions without outside interference
External Speakers allow you to improve on the built-in speakers
Listening Guides and Reference Books give you information on stations, frequencies and using your equipment

The last and most important "accessory" is Experience.    Time spent working with your shortwave unit teaches you the skills and information to get the most out of shortwave listening, such as the best times in your area for reception and how to best use your equipment.


Portable Shortwave Antenna
Cat. No. 278-1374

Designed for travel or home. This antenna clips over receiver's rod antenna and extends up to 23 feet.  The  insulated wire stores on the reel when not in use.

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Outdoor Antenna Kit
Cat. No. 278-758

Includes Instructions, 70 feet of antenna wire, 50-ft. of insulated lead-in wire, insulators and a window feedthrough strip.

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Full-size Monaural Headset
Cat. No. 20-282

This closed-cup headset is ideal for scanner or shortwave listening, particularly in noisy areas. It is great for air shows, car races, events, because the comfortable earcups seal out noise. It has a 1/8" plug and comes with a 1/4" adapter.

User's Manual Available On-line

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Lightweight Monaural Headphones
Cat. No. 20-210

This is a comfortable, lightweight monaural headset for your shortwave radio. It has a 1/8" plug and comes with a 1/4" adapter.

User's Manual Available On-line

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External Speakers

Budget PC Speakers (Pair)
Cat. No. 40-1404

Compact magnetically shielded stereo speakers include speaker wire and brackets for mounting. Extended bass adds exciting depth to multimedia programs and games.

Size of each speaker: 5-1/16x3-7/16x3-5/8".

Add 4 "AA" batteries in each speaker. Can use an AC adapter Cat. #273-1770, or a DC adapter Cat. #273-1815.

User's Manual Available On-line

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Shielded 2-Way Speakers
Cat. No. 40-1405

Ported enclosures and Bass Boost for solid sound. New 3D surround effect adds real depth to stereo image. 5 watts per channel. 150-20,000Hz. 4" woofer/2" tweeter. AC powered.

User's Manual Available On-line

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2-Way Amplified Speaker System (Pair)
Cat. No. 40-1406

Amplified speakers with Extended Bass AMX-19. 2-way speakers with surround sound add another dimension to your system's sound. Extended Bass for deep, rich lows. Magnetically shielded for interference-free use near a monitor. 4" woofer, 2" tweeter. Frequency response 150-20,000Hz. 7" high. Requires 8 "C" batteries or adapter: AC #273-1779/M, DC #270-1534.

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Amplified 2–1/4 " PC Speakers (Pair)
Cat. No. 40-1407

Magnetically shielded. Bass/treble boost controls. 2–1/4" full-range speaker. 500-12,000Hz frequency response. Small (4x2-1/2 x2-7/8") size - easy to take along. Requires 4 "C" batteries or DC adapter.

User's Manual Available On-line

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Amplified 4" Full-Range Speakers (Pair)
Cat. No. 40-1408

Magnetically shielded. 4" full-range speaker. Bass and treble boost controls. 100-12,000Hz frequency response. 6–1/2×4–7/16×4–7/8 ". Black finish. Requires 4 "C" batteries or adapter: AC #273-1770 or DC #273-1815.

User's Manual Available On-line

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Shielded Mini-Speakers
Cat. No. 40-1409

This pair of magnetically-shielded, compact amplified stereo speakers add super sound to your PC monitor, TV, stereo or portable CD player. Convenient 3-way power-plays on home AC or car DC with optional adapters, or 8 "C" batteries, optional. The separate bass, treble and volume knobs give you control the sound quality. The sleek, contemporary design for a timeless look that complements any décor.

  • 3 1/2" speaker
  • 160-12,000Hz frequency response
  • 3 1/2 ft. cord
  • 1/8" mini phono plug
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Listening Guides

Antennas - Selection and Installation
Cat. No. 62-1083

Here's everything you need to know in order to choose and install the best possible antenna system. It discusses antennas for TV, FM, CB, cellular telephone, satellite and shortwave. Deals with the problem of TV and FM reception in fringe areas. Clear meaningful illustrations and easy-to-read text. 112 pages.

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The New Shortwave Propagation Handbook
Cat. No. 920-0073

By George Jacobs. This book is a necessary tool for radio amateurs, shortwave listeners and radio communicators of all types. Discover the most productive uses of the radio spectrum.

Click For More Info

What are the shortwave bands and/or frequencies?

A band is a group of frequencies. Sometimes, bands are grouped according to their wavelengths, in meters. The tuning locations of a station can be expressed as a frequency (kHz or MHz) or a wavelength (meters).  Amateur radio operators generally refer to the frequencies they operate on using the frequency's wavelength. For example, the 19-meter band refers to the range of frequencies with waves about 19 meters long.   You can use the following equations to convert kHz, MHz, and meters.

Certain bands are set aside for specific purposes; these are called the band allocations and are listed below:

AM Band
FM Band
Aircraft Frequencies
Amateur Radio Frequencies
International Commercial Frequencies
Longwave Band
Ship and Coastal Station Frequencies
Time Standard Frequencies

AM Band

The AM band is between 520 kHz and 1720 kHz and is used for commercial radio broadcasts.

FM Band

The FM band is between 87.5 MHz and 108 MHz and is used for commercial radio broadcasts.

Aircraft Frequencies

Aircraft on international routes sometimes use SW. Most transmissions are in SSB, although you can still hear some MW transmissions. Here are some bands where you might hear aircraft communications.

4,650-4,750 kHz
6,545-6,765 kHz
8,815-9,040 kHz
11,175-11,400 kHz
13,200-13,360 kHz
15,010-15,100 kHz
17,900-18,030 kHz

Amateur Radio Frequencies

Amateur radio operators in the US operate mostly in LSB (Lower Side Band) mode. Morse code operators are generally found in the lower areas of each band. The amateur radio operators with the most advanced classification are found in the upper areas of each band.

Tuning to the amateur radio frequencies can be interesting and helpful, because amateur radio operators often broadcast emergency information when other means of communication break down. Portions of these bands are set aside for continuous wave (CW) Morse code communication or for single sideband (SSB) voice communications, as shown below.

160 meters:
1,800 - 2,000 kHz: SSB
80 meters:
3,500 - 3.800 kHz: CW
3,800 - 4,000 kHz: SSB
40 meters:
7,000 - 7,150 kHz: CW
7,150 - 7,300 kHz: SSB
30 meters:
10,100 - 10,150 kHZ
20 meters:
14,000 - 14,200 kHz: CW
14,200 - 14,350 kHz: SSB
17 meters:
18,068 - 18,168 kHz
15 meters:
21,000 - 21,250 kHz: CW
21,250 - 21,450 kHz: SSB
12 meters:
21,990 - 24,890 kHz
10 meters:
25,000 - 28,500 kHz: CW
28,500 - 29,700 kHz: SSB

Note: These ranges are not precisely observed everywhere in the world.

International Commercial Frequencies

International commercial broadcasts are found in the following shortwave bands. Programs (often in English) usually contain news, commentaries, music, and special features reflecting the culture of the broadcasting country. Reception for this range is best between 6:00 PM and midnight (your time).

120 meters * 2.300 MHz to 2.495 MHz
90 meters * 3.200 MHz to 3.400 MHz
75 meters * 3.850 MHz to 4.000 MHz
60 meters * 4.750 MHz to 5.060 MHz
49 meters 5.900 MHz to 6.200 MHz
41 meters ** 7.100 MHz to 7.350 MHz
31 meters 9.400 MHz to 9.990 MHz
25 meters 11.600 MHz to 12.100 MHz
21 meters 13.500 MHz to 13.870 MHz
19 meters 15.100 MHz to 15.800 MHz
16 meters 17.480 MHz to 17.900 MHz
13 meters 21.450 MHz to 21.750 MHz
11 meters 25.600 MHz to 26.100 MHz

* These bands are reserved for stations in topical areas.
** Interference is heavy in the 41m band (7.100-7.300 MHz) because amateur radio operators and international stations share this range.

Longwave Band

The 150-519 kHz range is known as the longwave band. Most stations in this range serve as beacons for aircraft and marine navigation by continuously transmitting their call letters. Reception for this range is best between 6:00 PM and midnight (your time).

Some ships also use this range, wit 500 kHz set aside as an international distress and emergency station.

Most stations in this range use CW (Morse code), although some use AM voice transmission for weather broadcasts.

Ship and Coastal Station Frequencies

Most transmissions from ships and coastal stations are in SSB and CW. You can hear these transmissions in the following bands:

2,000-2,300 kHz
4,063-4,139 kHz
4,361-4,438 kHz
8,195-8,181 kHz
12,330-12,420 kHz
13,107-13,200 kHz
16,460-16,565 kHz

* The Coast Guard and small boats use this band, with 2,182 kHz set aside as the international distress and emergency channel.

Time Standard Frequencies

The following frequencies announces the exact time of day at specified intervals.

WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado
2,500 kHz
5,000 kHz
10,000 kHz
15,000 kHz
20,000 kHz

CHU in Canada
7,335 kHz

VGN in Australia
4,500 and 12,000 kHz

How do I know where to tune for specific stations?

The following list contains some of the more frequently heard stations. All stations broadcast in English unless otherwise specified. You can hear these stations throughout North America. However, reception varies bases on the season, time of day, and a number of other conditions. This information is subject to change at any time without notice.

kHz Station Location Remarks
3,223 Radio SR Swaziland  
3,265 Radio Mozambique Maputo, Mozambique  
3,300 Radio Cultural Guatemala City, Guatemala Religious Programs
3,380 Radio Iris Esmeraldas, Ecuador Program in Spanish
3,285 FR3 Cayenne, French Guiana Programs in French
3,396 Radio Kaduna Kaduna, Nigeria  
4,750 Radio Bertoua Bertoua, Cameroon  
4,755 Imo Regional Radio Imo, Nigeria  
4,777 Radio/TV Gabon Libreville, Gabon Programs in French
4,795 Radio Nueva America La Paz, Bolivia Programs in Spanish
4,820 Radio Paz y Bien Ambala, Ecuador Programs in Spanish
4,832 Radio Reloj San Jose, Costa Rica Programs in Spanish
4,855 Radio Clube do Para Belem, Brazil Programs in Portugese
4,890 National Broadcasting Commission Papua New Guinea  
4,915 Voice Kenya Nairobi, Kenya  
4,920 Australian Broadcasting Commission Brisbane, Australia  
4,945 Radio Colosal Neiva, Colombia Programs in Spanish
4,965 Radio Santa Fe Bogota, Colombia Programs in Spanish
4,980 Ecos del Torbes San Cristobal, Venezuela Programs in Spanish
5,020 Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service Honiara, Solomon Islands  
5,057 Radio Gjirokaster Gjirokaster, Albania Programs in Albanian
5,950 Guyana Broadcasting Service Georgetown, Guyana  
5,954 Radio Casino Puerto Limon, Costa Rica  
5,960 Radio Canada International Montreal, Canada  
5,980 Radio RSA Johannesburg, South Africa  
6,005 CFCX Montreal, Canada  
6,025 Radio Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Programs in Chinese
6,045 Radio Australia Lyndhurst, Australia  
6,055 Nihon Shortwave Broadcasting Company Tokyo, Japan Programs in Japanese
6,060 Radio Nacional Buenos Aires, Argentina Programs in Spanish
6,075 Radio Sutatenza Bogota, Colombia Programs in Spanish
6,090 Radio Luxembourg Ville Louvigny,Luxembourg  
6,095 Polskie Radio Warsaw, Poland  
6,105 Radio New Zealand Wellington, New Zealand  
7,140 Trans World Radio Monte Carlo, Monaco  
7,170 Radio Noumea Noumea, New Caledonia Programs in French
7,300 Radio Noumea Tirana, Albania  
9,475 Radio Cairo Cairo, Egypt  
9,515 Voice of Greece Athens, Greece  
9,525 Radio Korea Seoul, South Korea  
9,530 Spanish Foreign Radio Madrid, Spain  
9,535 Swiss Radio International Berne, Switzerland  
9,540 Radio Prague Prague, Czech Republic  
9,570 Radio Bucharest Bucharest, Romania  
9,575 Italian Radio and Television Service Rome, Italy  
9,610 Radio-TV Algeria Algiers, Algeria Programs in Arabic
9,620 Radio Berlin International Berlin, Germany  
9,645 Radio Norway Oslo, Norway  
9,720 Radio Iran Tehran, Iran Programs in Farsi
9,745 HCJB Quita, Ecuador  
9,770 Austrian Radio Vienna, Austria  
9,800 Radio Kiev Kiev, Ukraine  
9,835 Radio Budapest Budapest, Hungary  
10,040 Voice of Vietnam Hanoi, Vietnam  
11,655 Israel Radio Jerusalem, Israel  
11,690 Radio Kuwait Kuwait City, Kuwait  
11,705 Radio Sweden Stockholm, Sweden  
11,720 Radio Moscow Moscow, Russia  
11,725 Radio Sofia Sofia, Bulgaria  
11,745 Voice of Free China Taipei, Taiwan  
11,815 Radio Japan Tokyo, Japan  
11,825 Radio Tahiti Papeete, Tahiti Programs in Tahitian
11,835 4VEH Cap Haitien, Haiti  
11,845 Radio Canada Montreal, Canada  
11,850 Deutsche Welle Cologne, Germany  
11,890 Voice of Chile Santiago, Chile  
11,900 Radio RSA Johannesburg, South Africa  
11,910 BBC London, England  
11,930 Radio Havana Cuba Havana, Cuba  
11,935 Radio Portugal Lisbon, Portugal  
11,945 Radio Beijing Beijing, China  
11,955 Voice of Turkey Ankara, Turkey  
11,980 Radio Moscow Moscow, Russia  
15,038 Saudi Arabian Broadcasting Service Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Programs in Arabic
15,084 Voice of Iran Tehran, Iran Programs in Farsi
15,135 Radio Moscow Moscow, Russia  
15,165 HCJB Quito, Ecuador  
15,190 ORU Brussels, Belgium  
15,205 All India Radio New Delhi, India  
15,260 BBC London, England  
15,265 Finnish Radio Helsinki, Finland  
15,275 Radio Sweden Stockholm, Sweden  
15,305 Swiss Radio International Berne, Switzerland  
15,310 Radio Japan Tokyo, Japan  
15,320 Radio Australia Melbourne, Australia  
14,400 BBC London, England  
15,430 Radio Mexico Mexico City, Mexico Programs in Spanish
15,465 Radio Pakistan Islamabad, Pakistan Programs in Urdu
17,720 Radio France International Paris, France  
17,825 Vatican Radio Vatican City  
17,860 Austrian Radio Vienna, Austria  
21,495 Israel Radio Jerusalem, Israel  
21,525 Radio Australia Melbourne, Australia  
21,625 Israel Radio Jerusalem, Israel  
21,645 Radio France International Paris, France  
21,735 Radio-TV Morocco Rabat, Morocco Programs in Arabic
25,790 Radio RSA Johannesburg, South Africa  

What antennas are available and how do I install them?

The standard antenna type for shortwave reception is a long-wire antenna, so called because it uses a single long wire for reception.  The 278-1374 and 278-758 antennas above are both examples of long-wire antennas.  The 278-1374 is a portable antenna which has a cap to clip over the tip of your existing antenna and a loop to secure the extended wire.  This compact reel allows up to 23 feet of antenna when fully extended.

The 278-758 is for permanent installation and requires a radio with external antenna terminals, such as the DX-402 and DX-398.

Where can I get more information on Shortwave?

NASWA -- North American ShortWave Association, member of ANARC (Association of North America Radio Clubs) -- Distant Station Listening

Abbreviations and Glossary

We have provided a short list of common abbreviations and terms you may encounter.   You can find a much more extensive list on-line at the Federal Standard Telecom Glossary at


AM (Amplitude Modulation) ANARC (Association of North America Radio Clubs) ARRL (American Radio Relay League)
BFO (Beat Frequency Oscillator) CW (Continuous Wave) DX (old telegraph code for distant)
FM (Frequency Modulation) FSK (Frequency Shift Keying) GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
HF (High Frequencies) LSB (Lower SideBand) LW (Longwave)
MCW (Modulated Continuous Wave) MW (Medium Wave) PLL (Phase Locked Loop)
SSB (Single SideBand) SW (Shortwave) UHF (Ultra High Frequencies)
USB (Upper SideBand) VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator) VHF (Very High Frequencies)


Amplitude Modulation (AM): A modulation technique that varies the power output of a transmitter in accordance with the variations in the modulating audio signal.

Balun: A device used with to match an unbalanced feedline, like coaxial cable, to a balanced antenna, like a dipole.

Band: A range of frequencies

Beat Frequency Oscillator (BFO): A receiver circuit that generates a replacement carrier to enable intelligible reception of CW, FSK, and SSB signals.

Continuous Wave (CW): The constant output of a radio transmitter that can be periodically interrupted to send messages by Morse code.

DXing: listening to distant stations (D=distant, X=transmitter)

Frequencies: A band is a group of frequencies. Sometimes, bands are grouped according to their wavelengths, in meters. The tuning locations of a station can be expressed as a frequency (kHz or MHz) or a wavelength (meters). Amateur radio operators generally refer to the frequencies they operate on by using the frequency's wavelength. For example, the 19-meter band refers to the range of frequencies with waves about 19 meters long.

Frequency Steps: Lets you set the frequency increment for tuning or scanning.

Longwave (LW): Radio signals 300 kHz and lower in frequency, although this term is often used to mean any radio signal lower than 540 kHz.

Lower SideBand (LSB): The sideband lower in frequency than the transmitter’s carrier.

Medium Wave (MW): Radio signals from 300 to 3000 kHz, although this term is often used to mean any radio signal in the AM broadcast band (540 to 1700 kHz).

Shortwave (SW): frequencies between 1.7 MHz (1700 kHz) and 30 MHz

Sideband: A signal equal to the bandwidth of the modulating frequency found above and below the carrier frequency in an AM signal.

Single SideBand (SSB): A modulation technique that suppresses one sideband and the carrier and transmits only the remaining sideband.

Ultra High Frequencies (UHF): The frequency range from 300 to 3000 MHz.

Upper SideBand (USB): The sideband higher in frequency than the transmitter’s carrier.

Very High Frequencies (VHF): The frequency range from 30 to 300 MHz.

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