Have you ever thought about what would happen if your cell phone stopped working? No calls, texts, or getting online. Sound like a nightmare to you?
If you had shortwave radio you wouldn’t have to miss a beat. I’ve put together this quick guide so you can learn how to communicate through shortwave radio.
What is Shortwave Radio?
Short wave radio uses high-frequency radio waves that can travel across continents and beyond. Shortwave users can listen to broadcasts and even have conversations with people from all over the world.
How does it Work?
The radio waves can travel great distances by bouncing off the atmosphere. These signals are further spread by repeaters all over the world. With the right radio, you can listen in to these broadcasts and even talk to others.
Who uses Shortwave Radio?
If you were sailing around the world, you would want a reliable way to make contact right? Shortwave is used by emergency services, the military, airplane pilots, people navigating yachts or large ships at sea. There is also a worldwide community of amateur radio enthusiasts.
I had a friend who had a shortwave radio in his jeep. He would drive miles into the Oregon forests on logging roads. Whenever he turned up a rough muddy road he would pat his shortwave and say, “If we get stuck, I can call emergency services. In fact”, he would always say, “being out in the mountains improved our reception.
How to Get Started with Shortwave Radio
- Buy a shortwave radio – There are basic, shortwave radios for under $100. A digital radio costs more money and has some nice features.
- Upgrade your antenna – While you can buy a special antenna, building your own is not expensive or difficult. A coaxial cable- like the one on your TV- can be clipped to your radio antenna. Easy to follow DIY designs are available online.
- Tune in – If you start moving the dials you will be picking up broadcasts on shortwave radio. Guidebooks and websites with listings of the frequencies and schedules will help you navigate the frequencies. You could soon be listening to conversations or news from Central Asia. Or some folk musicians performing in a radio studio in Argentina. Cool.
- Experiment – Shortwave radio only works when conditions are good. Conditions like sunspots and solar weather affect shortwave radio functions. Around sunrise and dusk are good times. You can find a voice saying ‘At the tone the time will be…” that means you in the right area of the dial. Search around that area and there will be some programs in nearby frequencies.
If you purchase a guide such as the World Radio and TV Handbook, it will help you find broadcasts. You will hear interactions between amateur radio operators, emergency and utility transmissions. You can listen to foreign radio broadcasts as well. There are even some mysterious stations that just read numbers all day. Nobody knows why. International espionage anyone?
Finding broadcasts is where the advantages of a digital receiver become clear. Not only will it tune directly to a frequency and follow the signal when it drifts around, but it can save frequencies and schedules to help you find the same broadcast later.
How to Communicate with the Shortwave Radio?
You want to learn how to interact with others, right? Let’s talk about the steps to start talking to people over the radio. First, you will need a couple pieces of equipment.
- Transceiver – It’s a receiver and a transmitter, get it? Again, these can range from a cheap hand-held at a flea market to a very expensive set-up.
- Power Supply – The receiver and antenna need a power supply that matches their needs.
- Antenna – Again, this can be made at home. Remember to check with your local zoning laws if you install a new antenna.
- Antenna Tuner – this connects the transceiver to the tuner.
- Microphone or Key – most transceivers come with a microphone. A key is a device that allows you to communicate in Morse code. Repeating a Morse code signal is often the way to initiate a talking conversation.
You will also need to get a ticket, which is basically a license to operate a HAM radio. You will purchase the study materials and pass an exam. There are different types of licenses. ‘Technician’ is the license for getting started on HAM radio.
Join the club. There are HAM radio clubs that can greatly help you with all of these steps.
QSO – First Contact
Now you are ready to talk to someone for the first time. Here are the steps for that;
- Turn on the radio and a clear frequency. Always check to see if the frequency is being used.
- Send out a signal for QSO. This means “Can you communicate with me for a direct contact”.
- Wait a few minutes. if nobody is present to answer you can try another frequency. Sooner or later somebody will pick up.
- Follow the protocols for the conversation. Usually, this involves sharing some data on your location and how the signal sounds. After that, you are ready to have a conversation.
What are the Benefits of Communicating this way?
Remember my friend in his Jeep. He did finally have to call for help one day when he was out deep in the wilderness, observing damage from a forest fire. When he called for help, he didn’t get directly in touch with emergency services. He found a random person, who contacted 911 for him. He was able to communicate directly with search and rescue through that random person’s radio. This may have saved his life. A person at home can use their shortwave radio to assist in emergency response.
HAM radio is the front line of communications during catastrophes like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes or forest fires. Everyone is trying to call or get online and the system stops working. Homes sometimes go without power for weeks. If you can communicate with your shortwave radio, you can stay connected.
Using a Shortwave Radio to communicate is a skill that you learn and maintain. There is a community of people all over the world who love doing this. You can make friends from around the world or meet-up with others at your local club.
It is an inexpensive and fascinating hobby that has real-world usefulness. And who knows, maybe you’ll be the one who figures out what those secret numbers really mean.