Is Shortwave Radio Dead?

Shortwave Radio.jpg

Can you remember the last time you listened to a shortwave radio? Why would you bother with the potentially crackling and interference-ridden experience when you can listen to crisp and clear radio either through satellite, FM, digital, or the internet. If you are in the west, in the US, Canada, France, or the UK, it’s probably been some time. Let’s face it, there may even be some of you reading this that are so young that you have never listened to shortwave radio at all in your life.

Taking the above into consideration, you may, like many other people, be quick to reason that shortwave radio is dead. However, we haven’t spoken about other parts of the world like Brazilian Amazonia, Kashmir, or Western China. We may not have thought of those places or the many other remote places, where shortwave radio is still depended on. 

Past Uses of Shortwave Radio

In times gone past, we are talking about Cold War type time here, many people could get free information using the shortwave program that was made available. There were lots of international broadcasters who were running big energy-guzzling, expensive transmitters using this frequency on a “without borders” basis. When you really look at it closely, you soon realize how miraculous shortwave radio is. How?

Why Shortwave Radio is Nothing Short of Miraculous 

When it is directed at a certain angle, it is directed into the ionosphere. The ionosphere is like a mirror that runs around the earth and drops like a ball at huge distances, past the horizon. This means that shortwave broadcasts can be sent from one place to listeners many hundreds of miles away and the transmissions can be delivered across large areas of land, including continents and oceans. All you really need is a handful, maybe even 2 or 3 powerful transmitters to cover all of the planets.

Why Shortwave Stands Out as Different

Interestingly, shortwave radio is not only used by radio amateurs and big radio stations looking to reach large international audiences, it has many other uses too. For instance, shortwave radio is important for emergency, diplomatic, marine, and aviation purposes. 

One of the huge benefits of shortwave radio signals is that they are not controlled or restricted by the countries that are receiving them, however during wintertime and then at summertime when the frequencies need to be changed, it is important that there is some sort of international coordination. 

Coordinating Shortwave Radio Broadcast Frequencies

The HFCC, short for the High-Frequency Co-Ordination Conference is the non-profit, non-governmental member of the ITU, International Telecommunications Union, that handles this. They meet at two times every year and coordinate the schedule for winter and summer, making sure they deal with any interference problems between broadcasters and countries.

The future of shortwave is regularly discussed at these meetings. The thing you need to remember about shortwave is and that most can’t argue about it, even those that think it is not best is that it is not bound by political, religious, cultural, or geographical barriers, is completely free, and can be received and used anonymously. 

All things that very few broadcasting platforms can truthfully claim these days.

Changes to Shortwave Radio

About two decades ago, the BBC stopped its shortwave radio transmissions to countries like the US and more developed areas of the world, as these markets/territories already had the internet and robust FM radio services. Many of the other noted international broadcasters stopped their shortwave transmissions in a similar way, such as Radio Exterior de Espania, Radio Australia, and Deutsche Welle.

Why Theres Still Life in Shortwave RadioRadio.jpg

However, the BBC continues to transmit shortwave for the large audiences that still exist in many parts of Asia and throughout Africa. Currently, the leading shortwave radio broadcasters are, besides the BBC, Voice of Turkey, KBS Korea, Radio Romania, Radio Japan, China Radio International, All India Radio, and the Voice of America among many others. So it might not be the time to get rid of those shortwave band radios just yet.

BBC is still using shortwave, despite many believing it was a dying piece of technology, because of its large audiences in areas like Nigeria, and have recently introduced transmissions via shortwave in various languages. While Radio Exterior de Espania has more than doubled its transmissions, also transmitting in additional languages besides Spanish.

What was once Radio Moscow, a propaganda tool utilized during the Cold War, is now the slick Radio Sputnik, whereas Radio china has very quietly invested in the upgrade of many of its shortwave transmitters to use domestically and the majority of the country is now covered by DRM-quality shortwave transmissions.

Meeting the Demand

As you can see, there is a lot still happening in the world involving shortwave radio, there are still broadcasters using this media and platform and consumers, end-users who are benefitting from it. It may not always be at the forefront of our mind and perhaps it has seen its glory days.

Given its importance, as a way of getting important information, not just entertainment broadcasts, to the remotest parts of the world that are not catered for by internet connections, FM signals, and the other methods of communications many of us probably take for granted, shortwave still has its place. The fact that it can be used anonymously, quickly and it can reach over large distances, makes it still a vital resource for many people.

Even if it is just for more emergency, aviation marine, and other crucial needs. 

Conclusion

The issue is not really whether shortwave has run its course because clearly there is a lot of demand for and interest in it. The bigger issue that will determine whether it survives another hundred years will be whether companies are going to continue to invest in transmitters and see the worth in still providing shortwave transmissions. There is definitely demand it out there and although it may have at one point seemed like the final nails were going to be hammered into its coffin, there is still life in shortwave radio. 

Adam Hansen