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What to buy and why!
A Beginners Guide to Shortwave Radio Receivers

"This information has been edited from information obtained
 from the RADIO NETHERLAND Receiver Test Team"

You can spend anything from US $ 50 to US $ 50,000 on a shortwave receiver. But price is by no means the only factor to consider. First you should decide what sort of listening you want to try. In Europe, you are unlikely to hear a 10 watt station in Venezuela on a 50 dollar portable. But conversely it would be foolish to buy a US $ 5000 communications receiver for simple listening to major international broadcasters (e.g. BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Voice of Russia, Radio Netherlands, etc.)

Portable receivers

If you only listen to the stronger international broadcast stations, general shortwave listening including the Amateur Bands or if you plan to take a simple receiver with you everywhere, then consider sets in this category. To avoid disappointment, make a note of the following:

These receivers give good and cheerful performance, but you must not expect too much. Their size and weight is a given consideration, but that should not be the only factor to consider:

Some sets only offer PARTIAL coverage of the shortwave bands. If you plan to buy such a set to listen to (a) particular station(s), then check in advance that the set will cover the frequencies you want to listen to. On some receivers the band coverage is incomplete and some bands are missing altogether. Check out the frequency table under Coverage below. This is already a serious disadvantage.

Ease of tuning is another factor to consider!
The shortwave bands are extremely crowded and, due to the price range, the shortwave bands may be cramped into a few millimetres on the dial. The sets listed here are better than average in this respect, but if you find the job of searching for stations difficult, go for a set that offers "digital readout". This means the set displays the frequency it is tuned to, rather like a digital clock. This eliminates most of the "guesswork" as to where you are in the band. This is rather more difficult with the conventional "point-and-dial" system.

SOME radios do not have the facility for single-sideband (SSB ) reception, so you can't listen to amateur radio operators, radio teletype stations, morse code or utility services. Selectivity (i.e. the ability to separate the station you want from the interference) and dynamic range (see later notes for an explanation of this term) are NOT good enough for picking out very weak stations. Some receivers offer the Phase Lock Loop (PLL) tuning systems. This means the set is generally more stable and easier to tune than receivers using older techniques (such as Wadley Loop). Sets offering FM (VHF) coverage, portability, built-in clocks, and stereo adaptors for FM performance just add to their price without offering better shortwave reception.
Points to consider

Buy the best possible receiver you can afford.
You CANNOT expect $2000 performance from a $200 receiver. You may be disappointed in the results of an inferior receiver.
Before assuming your present receiver is useless, or that it needs upgrading, check your antenna facilities. Do not always assume that a long (10 metres or more) random wire antenna in the garden will work wonders. If your receiver is a portable, you may find that such an antenna will cause too much signal to be fed into the receiver's sensitive circuitry. This results in overloading and the appearance of strange stations on odd parts of the dial. For further information, look at the
shortwave antenna page on this web site.
expect that by buying an expensive receiver you will be able to tune in exotic countries with hi-fidelity reception. Shortwave signals have to travel vast distances. The imperfections of the ionosphere that forms part of the signal path lead to fading and distortion. As yet, there is NO SUCH THING AS A "SUPER POWERFUL" receiver that pulls rare stations in with "local" quality. It is far better to start with an inexpensive set, learn about the shortwave bands, propagation and the limitations of your receiver. If you decide that international radio listening is interesting enough to start pursuing weaker signals, upgrading is always possible later.

let salesmanship at your local store talk you into buying a receiver without at least a demonstration. There is still a serious problem when it comes to getting advice from shop assistants, many of whom are not aware of the existence of shortwave broadcasting stations. Their main expertise is in video or hi-fi. If the salesman (or -woman) cannot name a major international broadcasting station you can hear on the set, or fails to give a convincing explanation of terms like SSB, the chances are s/he is bluffing! 

buy a receiver in the hope that you can buy extra parts at a later stage to upgrade its performance. Some more expensive receivers can have modifications done, but these are the exception rather than the rule. You CANNOT economically make a professional receiver from a US $150 dollar portable!
AVOID using the receiver on batteries if there is an option of AC mains electricity. Batteries are up to 1000 times more expensive per unit of electricity than the household current supply.

Abbreviations and terms used

kHz: kilohertz, MHz: Megahertz, GHz: Gigahertz
1 GHz = 1000 MHz = 1,000,000 kHz.

Wavelength (in metres) = 300 divided by Frequency (in MHz)

In North America, the medium wave band is usually referred to the "broadcast band" or the "AM band".

Weight: This is given in grams (1 oz = 28 grams). Unless stated, this weight is WITHOUT batteries!

AM: Amplitude Modulation (i.e. the type of signals found on long, medium, or shortwave). MW: Medium Wave LW: Long Wave SW: Short Wave

VHF: Very High Frequency. This term, prominent in Britain, is now being phased out.

FM: Frequency Modulation (i.e. mostly found on the section of the dial between 88 and 108 MHz.) Sets made in Eastern Europe, including Russia and for the Japanese market often have a different FM frequency coverage.

NBFM: Narrow band FM (This does NOT imply that the set can pick up the FM range between 76 and 108 MHz). This mode is used by amateur radio operators on 10 metre ham band, and in VHF/UHF portions of the spectrum. Some 27 MHz CB operators in Europe also use this mode. You cannot use a narrow band FM position to listen to conventional FM broadcasts - there is too much distortion.

AGC: Automatic Gain Control

BFO: Beat Frequency Oscillator (needed for SSB reception)

FET: Field Effect Transistor

IF: Intermediate Frequency

IC: Integrated Circuit

LCD: Liquid Crystal Display

LED: Light emitting diode display

Mains: Set can be powered from household AC power supply.

PLL: Phase Lock Loop

SSB: Single Sideband  (
A must for listening to Amateur radio operators on most "Ham" bands

Keyboard Tuning
: The set has a calculator style pad on the front panel. If you want to tune in 6165 kHz, you simply press the keys 6 1 6 5, and possibly an "EXECUTE" button. The set will then automatically tune to that frequency. This is very handy when moving about the dial fast, and also simplifies tuning for the non-technically minded.

A receiver that only tunes the "official" shortwave bands may be very limiting. The "Radio Regulations" of the International Telecommunications Union define the shortwave broadcast bands. At the 1992 World Administrative Radio Conference, new bands were created and existing bands were expanded.

The band limits in the following table reflect the WARC-92 agreements and broadcast band expansions used on a non-interfering basis (e.g., the 41 mb starting at 6890 kHz on a non-interference basis):


Metre Band       Frequencies kHz
   120              2300 -  2495
     90              3200 -  3400
     75              3900 -  4000
     60              4750 -  5060
     49              5730 -  6295
     41              6890 -  6990
     41              7100 -  7600
     31              9250 -  9990
     25            11500 - 12160
     22            13570 - 13870
     19            15030 - 15800
     16            17480 - 17900
     17            18900 - 19020
     13            21450 - 21750
     11            25670 - 26100

Although the allocations do not become official until 2007, in practice many stations have already started using the expanded portions under the motto "use it or lose it." Additionally, there are a few stations that broadcast outside the band edges above, e.g., Iran on 9022 and a number of African stations around 9200 kHz. Clearly, receivers with continuous coverage between 1.6 and 30 MHz are preferred.

This is the ability to pick up weak stations. Most modern receivers (especially portables) are sensitive enough. Those that are not are mentioned. A good antenna is also important, but don't assume that a long wire of 30 metres connected to a small portable will allow you to pull in the weak stations better. The extra flood of energy may well overload the simple front-end circuitry in the receiver!

: This is the ability to separate the station you want to hear, from nearby interference. This is to a large extent determined by the bandwidth filters installed, and their so called "shape factor". The sharper the filters the better. The smaller the filter setting, the greater the reduction in nearby interference, but also the more muffled the audio quality of the station you are trying to hear. For listening to weak stations, most users want filters 4.0 kHz wide or less.

Dynamic Range
: This is the receiver's ability to cope with reception of a weak station with a powerful station close by (either on the band and/or geographically). Sets in class C are more expensive because of their above average dynamic range. Two excellent portable receivers we endorse highly that fall within the above range of specifications are made by SONY and SANGEAN.
The SONY ICF-SW7600GR is the best of the two
as reviewed by the Radio Netherlands Shortwave Broadcaster.

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Recommended Excellent Shortwave Radio Reference books!

World Radio & TV Handbook!
World Radio TV Handbook is now in its 67th year. It is the most accurate and complete guide to the world of radio on LW, MW, SW and FM, available in any form. The full-color Features section contains reviews of receivers and ancillary equipment, articles on topical issues such as digital radio, interviews with broadcasters, reception conditions, color maps showing the location of SW transmitters, and other topics of interest to Listeners and DXers.

The National and International Radio sections provide listings by country of all stations broadcasting on LW, MW and SW, and most stations broadcasting on FM, together with contact details. The International section contains full schedules as supplied by the broadcasters and confirmed by monitoring, together with any LW or MW frequencies used. It also contains a sub-section showing Clandestine and Other Target Broadcasters arranged by target country.

In addition the World Radio & TV Handbook! contains Frequency Lists, Terrestrial Television stations and a full Reference section with tables and listings of: International and Domestic Transmitter sites, Standard Time and Frequency Transmissions, DX Club information, International Organisations, and other essential information.

The bestselling directory of global broadcasting on LW, MW, SW and FM.
National and International broadcast and broadcasters
Clandestine and other target broadcasters plus MW and SW frequency listings and
Terrestrial TV by country.
Extensive Reference section plus lots more! World Radio & TV Handbook!

More excellent radio and shortwave reference books from Amazon.com below.

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