Shortwave radio operates in the frequency range of 3,000 KHz to 30,000 KHz (3–30 MHz). In radio, short wavelength corresponds to high frequency given the inverse relationship between frequency and wavelength, thus, “shortwave radio” is denominated so, because its wavelengths are shorter than the long wave-lengths used in early radio communications; moreover, HF (high frequency) radio is an alternate name for short wave radio.
US Radio amateurs discover long distance shortwave propagation
Amateur radio operators are credited with the discovery of long distance communication in the shortwave bands. The first successful transatlantic tests were conducted by radio amateurs in December 1921 operating in the 200 meter mediumwave band, the shortest wavelength then available to amateurs.
1BCG generated a lot of attention. Here, center of the front row, Professor Pupin is paying a visit
"to see what the boys are doing".
One of the greatest achievements in amateur radio history was the spanning of the Atlantic by shortwave (~200 meters) in December of 1921. Up until that time it took huge and expensive machines like the GE built Alexanderson alternator and the massive Federal Telegraph Co. arc converters, generating up to a megawatt of energy, to perform this same task.
In 1922 hundreds of North American amateurs were heard in Europe at 200 meters and at least 20 North American amateurs heard amateur signals from Europe. The first two way communications between North American and Hawaiian amateurs began in 1922 at 200 meters. Although operation on wavelengths shorter than 200 meters was technically illegal (but tolerated as the authorities mistakenly believed at first that such frequencies were useless for commercial or military use), amateurs began to experiment with those wavelengths using newly available vacuum tubes shortly after World War I.
Extreme interference at the upper edge of the 150-200 meter band--the official wavelengths allocated to amateurs by the Second National Radio Conference in 1923--forced amateurs to shift to shorter and shorter wavelengths; however, amateurs were limited by regulation to wavelengths longer than 150 meters. A few fortunate amateurs who obtained special permission for experimental communications below 150 meters completed hundreds of long distance two way contacts on 100 meters in 1923 including the first transatlantic two way contacts in November 1923, on 110 meters.
By 1924 many additional specially licensed amateurs were routinely making transoceanic contacts at distances of 6000 miles and more. On September 21, several amateurs in California completed two way contacts with an amateur in New Zealand. On October 19th, amateurs in New Zealand and England completed a 90 minute two way contact nearly half way around the world. On October 10th, three shortwave bands were officially made available to amateurs by the Third National Radio Conference, at 80, 40 and 20 meters. The 10 meter band was created by the Washington International Radiotelegraph Conference on November 25, 1927. The 15 meter band was opened to amateurs in the United States on May 1, 1952.
Guglielmo Marconi, who has been called called the father of radio, is said to have read about the experiments that Hertz did in the 1880s while he was on vacation in 1894 and about Nikola Tesla's work in the just-published book Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla. It was at this time that Marconi began to understand that radio waves could be used for wireless communications.
In June and July 1923, Guglielmo Marconi quietly completed successful night time transmissions on 97 meters from Poldhu Wireless Station, Cornwall to his yacht Elettra in the Cape Verde Islands. In September 1924, Marconi completed successful daytime and nighttime transmissions on 32 meters from Poldhu to his yacht in Beirut. Marconi took the world by surprise in July 1924 when he entered into contracts with the British General Post Office (GPO) to install high speed shortwave telegraphy circuits from London to Australia, India, South Africa and Canada. The UK-to-Canada shortwave "Beam Wireless Service" went into commercial operation on 25 October, 1926. Beam Wireless Services from the UK to Australia, South Africa and India went into service in 1927.
Shortwave soon became an extremely disruptive technology. Far more spectrum is available for long distance communication in the shortwave bands than in the longwave bands; and shortwave transmitters, receivers and antennas were orders of magnitude less expensive than the multi-hundred kilowatt transmitters and monstrous antennas needed for longwave.
Shortwave communications began to grow exponentially in 1927, similar to the internet in the late 20th century. By 1928, more than half of long distance communications had moved from transoceanic cables and longwave wireless services to shortwave and the overall volume of transoceanic shortwave communications had vastly increased. Shortwave also ended the need for multi-million dollar investments in new transoceanic telegraph cables and massive longwave wireless stations, although some existing transoceanic telegraph cables and commercial longwave communications stations remained in use until the 1960s.
The cable companies began to lose large sums of money in 1927, and a serious financial crisis threatened the viability of cable companies that were vital to strategic British interests. The British government convened the Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference in 1928 "to examine the situation that had arisen as a result of the competition of Beam Wireless with the Cable Services". It recommended and received Government approval for all overseas cable and wireless resources of the Empire to be merged into one system controlled by a newly-formed company in 1929, Imperial and International Communications Ltd. The name of the company was changed to Cable and Wireless Ltd. in 1934.
Shortwave frequencies are capable of reaching any location on the Earth because they can be refracted by the ionosphere (a phenomenon known as Skywave propagation). The selection of a frequency to use to reach a target area depends on several factors:
- The distance from the transmitter to the target receiver.
- Time of day. During the day, frequencies higher than approximately 12 MHz can travel longer distances than lower ones; at night, this property is reversed. The dependence on the time of the day is due to a particular transient atmosphere ionized layer known as the D Layer, forming only during day when photons from the sun break up atoms into ions and free electrons. This layer is responsible for partial or total absorption of particular frequencies.
- Season. During the winter months the AM broadcast band tends to be more favorable because of longer hours of darkness.
- Solar activity. Sunspots, solar flares, and overall solar variation affect the ionosphere. Solar flares can prevent the ionosphere from reflecting or refracting radio waves.
Types of Modulation
Independent from frequency, the receiver must also be capable of receiving the modulation type being transmitted. AM, Single sideband and CW are common modulations. Types of modulation frequently used in the shortwave frequency range are:
- AM: amplitude modulation. Most commonly used for shortwave broadcasting.
- SSB: Single sideband: This is used for long-range communications by ships and aircraft, 11 meter CB, and for voice transmissions by amateur radio operators, and for broadcasting. LSB (lower sideband) is generally used below 9 MHz and USB (upper sideband) above 9 MHz.
- CW: Continuous wave, which is used for Morse code communications.
- NBFM: Narrow-band frequency modulation. Primarily military NFM transmissions occur in the higher HF frequencies (typically above 20 MHz). Because of the larger bandwidth required, NBFM is much more commonly used for VHF communication. NBFM is poorly suited for long range SW broadcasting due to the multiphasic distortions created by the ionosphere.
- DRM: Digital Radio Mondiale: digital modulation for use on bands below 30 MHz.
- Various radioteletype, fax, digital, slow-scan television--or other systems, which require software or special equipment to decode.
Some major users of the shortwave radio band include:
- Domestic broadcasting in countries with a widely dispersed population with few longwave, mediumwave, or FM stations serving them;
- International broadcasting to foreign audiences (also known as "world band radio");
- Specialty political, religious, and conspiracy theory radio networks, individual commercial and non-commercial paid broadcasts for the North American and other markets;
- Utility stations transmitting messages not intended for the general public, such as aircraft flying between continents, encoded or ciphered diplomatic messages, weather reporting, or ships at sea;
- Clandestine stations. These are stations that initiate broadcasts on behalf of various political movements, including rebel or insurrectionist forces, and are normally unauthorized by the government-in-charge of the country in question. Clandestine broadcasts may emanate from transmitters located in rebel-controlled territory or from outside the country entirely, using another country's transmission facilities;
- Numbers Stations Officially these stations do not exist as they are unlicensed and untraceable yet regularly appear and disappear all over the shortwave radio band range. It is believed that Numbers Stations are operated by government agencies and are used by these agencies to communicate with clandestine operatives working within foreign countries however, no definitive proof of such use has emerged. As the vast majority of these broadcasts contain nothing but the recitation of blocks of numbers, in various languages, with the occasional 'burst' of music, they have become known as 'Number Stations', although they actually lack any official designation. Perhaps the most famous example of a Number Station is the Lincolnshire Poacher (numbers station) named after the 18th century English folk song, which is broadcast just prior to the recitation of the number sequences;
- Amateur radio operators;
- Time signal stations: In North America, WWV and WWVH operate on these frequencies: 2500 kHz, 5000 kHz, 10000 kHz, 15000 kHz, and 20000 kHz. CHU Canada operates on these frequencies: 3330 kHz, 7850 kHz, and 14670 kHz. Other similar stations operate on various shortwave and longwave frequencies throughout the world;
- Over-the-horizon radar From 1976 to 1989, the Russian Woodpeckerover the horizon radar system blotted out countless shortwave broadcasts daily.
The term DXing, in the context of listening to radio signals of any user of the shortwave band, is the activity of monitoring distant stations. In the context of amateur radio operators, the term 'DXing' refers to the two-way communications with a distant station, using shortwave radio frequencies.
The Asia-Pacific Telecommunity estimates that there are approximately 600,000,000 shortwave broadcast radio receivers in use in 2002. WWCR claims that there are 1.5 billion shortwave receivers worldwide.
Shortwave broadcasting frequency allocations
The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), organized under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union, allocates bands for various services in conferences every few years. The next WRC is scheduled to take place in 2007.
At WRC-97 in 1997, the following bands were allocated for international broadcasting. (listed in the table):
|Meter Band||Frequency Range||Remarks|
|120 m||2,300 - 2,495 kHz||tropic band|
|90 m||3,200 - 3,400 kHz||tropic band|
|75 m||3,900 - 4,000 kHz||shared with the amateur radio 75/80 meter band|
|60 m||4,750 - 5,060 kHz||tropic band|
|49 m||5,900 - 6,200 kHz|| |
|40 m/41m||7,100 - 7,350 kHz||shared with the amateur radio 40 meter band|
|31 m||9,400 - 9,900 kHz||Currently most heavily used band|
|25 m||11,600 - 12,100 kHz|| |
|22 m||13,570 - 13,870 kHz||substantially used only in Eurasia|
|19 m||15,100 - 15,800 kHz|| |
|16 m||17,480 - 17,900 kHz|| |
|15 m||18,900 - 19,020 kHz||almost unused, could become a DRM band|
|13 m||21,450 - 21,850 kHz|| |
|11 m||25,600 - 26,100 kHz||may be used for local DRM broadcasting|
AM shortwave broadcasting channels are allocated with a 5 kHz separation for traditional analog audio broadcasting.
International broadcasters for practical reasons sometimes operate outside the normal WRC-allocated bands or use off-channel frequencies to attract attention in crowded bands (60m, 49m, 40m, 41m, 31m, 25m).
The new digital audio broadcasting format for shortwave DRM operates 10 kHz or 20 kHz channels.
There are some ongoing discussions with respect to specific band allocation for DRM, as it mainly transmitted in 10 kHz format.
The power used by shortwave transmitters ranges from less than one watt for some experimental and amateur radio transmissions to 500 kilowatts and higher for intercontinental broadcasters and over-the-horizon radar.
Shortwave transmitting centers often use specialized antenna designs (like the ALLISS antenna technology) to concentrate radio energy at the target area.
Shortwave does possess a number of advantages over newer technologies, including the following:
- The difficulty in censoring programming by authorities in target countries: unlike the Internet, government authorities cannot monitor which stations (sites) are being listened to (accessed). For example, during the coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev, when his access to communications was limited, Gorbachev was able to stay informed by means of the BBC World Service on shortwave.
- Low-cost shortwave radios are widely available in all but the most repressive countries in the world.
- In many countries (particularly in most third world nations and in the Eastern bloc during the Cold War era) ownership of shortwave receivers is widespread (in many of these countries some domestic stations also used shortwave).
- Many newer shortwave receivers are portable and can be battery operated, making them useful in difficult circumstances. Newer technology includes hand-cranked radios which provide power for a short time.
- Shortwave radios can be used in situations where Internet or satellite technology is unavailable (or unaffordable).
- Shortwave radio travels much farther than FM. Shortwave broadcasts can be heard from all parts of the world, in all parts of the world.
The benefits are widely regarded as being outweighed by the drawbacks such as these:
- Shortwave broadcasts often suffer from serious interference problems because of overcrowding on the wavebands, atmospheric disturbances and electrical interference problems (particularly in cities) from TV sets, computers, poorly designed domestic appliances, and substandard electrical installations.
- Even under ideal reception conditions, the audio quality of a shortwave broadcast is usually inferior to that of domestic stations, particularly FM stations and it is always in mono.
- As more people around the world have access to television and the Internet, old technologies such as shortwave radio find it difficult to compete for listeners' attention.
- In most Western countries, ownership of shortwave radios is usually limited to interested enthusiasts as many new standard radios do not have have the shortwave band facility. Therefore, Western audiences are limited.
- The dependence of shortwave radio on atmospheric conditions (the best frequency for hearing certain parts of the world varies by time of day and season) means that it can be difficult to use by non-technically minded listeners.
In the U.S. and Canada, no license is required to own or operate a shortwave receiver. The privilege of operating a shortwave radio transmitter for non-commercial two way communications known as amateur radio is granted through a licensing process by authorized government agencies.
In the USA, the licensing agency is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In Canada, the licensing agency is Industry Canada. As of February 2007, the FCC eliminated the Morse code requirement for all Amateur Radio operator classes, thereby allowing more operators to transmit in the HF bands.
Amateur radio operators have made many technical advancements in the field of radio and make themselves available to transmit emergency communications when normal communications channels fail. Some amateurs practice operating off the power grid so as to be prepared for power loss. It should be noted that many amateur radio operators started out as Shortwave Listeners (SWLs) and actively encourage SWLs to become amateur radio operators.
The 2003 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) removed the global requirement for Morse code proficiency needed to access most shortwave frequencies for the amateur radio service, but left the decision to each administrative body (e.g. Federal Communications Commission in the United States; Industry Canada in Canada). Many countries have phased out this requirement from their licenses and give access to the shortwave frequencies to all licencees. A few countries however have decided to keep the Morse Code requirement for the foreseeable future. In July 2005, the Federal Communications Commission recommended the removal of the Morse code requirement for amateur radio licenses the United States, as part of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in WT Docket 05-235. This docket was released after 18 proposals, including one from the ARRL for widespread changes in the Amateur Radio Service rules were received and considered by the FCC. These proposals had attracted 6200 comments from the Amateur Radio Service community. The FCC released a Report and Order on December 19, 2006, eliminating the Morse code requirement for amateur radio licensing in the United States.
Many hobbyists listen to shortwave broadcasters without operating transmitters. In some cases, the goal is to hear as many stations from as many countries as possible (DXing); others listen to specialized shortwave utility, or "ute", transmissions such as maritime, naval, aviation, or military signals. Others focus on intelligence signals from numbers stations, or the two way communications by amateur radio operators.
Many listeners tune the shortwave bands for the programmes of stations broadcasting to a general audience (such as Radio Canada International, Voice of America, BBC World Service, Radio Australia, Radio Netherlands, etc.). Today, through the evolution of the Internet, the hobbyist can listen to shortwave signals via remotely controlled shortwave receivers around the world, even without owning a shortwave radio. Many international broadcasters (such as Radio Canada International, the BBC and Radio Australia) offer live streaming audio on their websites.
Shortwave listeners, or SWLs, can obtain QSL cards from broadcasters, utility stations or amateur radio operators as trophies of the hobby. Some stations even give out special certificates, pennants, stickers and other tokens and promotional materials to shortwave listeners.
Utility stations are stations that do not broadcast to the general public. There are shortwave bands allocated to the use of merchant shipping, marine weather, and ship-to-shore stations; for aviation weather and air-to-ground communications; for military communications; for long-distance governmental purposes, and for other non-broadcast communications. Many radio hobbyists specialize in listening to "ute" broadcasts, which often come from places without shortwave broadcasters.
Numbers stations are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin that broadcast streams of numbers, words, or phonetic sounds. Although officially there is no indication of their origin, radio hobbyists have determined that many of them are used by intelligence services as one-way communication to agents in other countries. For other examples, see The Conet Project.
The development of direct broadcasts from satellites has reduced the demand for shortwave receivers, but there are still a great number of shortwave broadcasters. A new digital radio technology, Digital Radio Mondiale, is expected to improve the quality of shortwave audio from very poor to standards comparable to the FM broadcast band. The future of shortwave radio is threatened by the rise of power line communication (PLC), also known as Broadband over Power Lines (BPL), where a data stream is transmitted over unshielded power lines. As the frequencies used overlap with shortwave bands, severe distortions make listening to shortwave radio near power lines difficult or impossible. However, because it is a cheap and effective way to receive communications in countries with poor infrastructure, shortwave will be around for years to come.
Shortwave broadcasts and music
Some musicians have been attracted to the unique aural characteristics of shortwave radio which -- due to the nature of amplitude modulation, varying propagation conditions, and the presence of interference -- generally has lower fidelity than local broadcasts (particularly via FM stations.) Shortwave transmissions often have bursts of distortion, and "hollow" sounding loss of clarity at certain aural frequencies, altering the harmonics of natural sound and creating at times a strange "spacey" quality due to echoes and phase distortion. Evocations of shortwave reception distortions have been incorporated into rock and classical compositions, by means of delays or feedback loops, equalizers, or even playing shortwave radios as live instruments. Snippets of broadcasts have been mixed into electronic sound collages and live musical instruments, by means of analogue tape loops or digital samples. Sometimes the sounds of instruments and existing musical recordings are altered by remixing or equalizing, with various distortions added, to replicate the garbled effects of shortwave radio reception.
The first attempts by serious composers to incorporate radio effects into music may be those of the Russian physicist and musician Léon Theremin, who perfected a form of radio oscillator as a musical instrument in 1928 (radios of the time were prone to break into whistles, adding various tonal harmonics to music and speech); and in the same year, the development of a French instrument called the Ondes Martenot by its inventor Maurice Martenot, a French cellist and former wireless telegrapher. A notable chamber piece by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas -- Ocho x radio, 1933 -- features a complex texture of pseudo-mariachi musics, overlapping and cross-fading as if heard from distant stations: quite similar to shortwave radio signal propagation disturbance. Much later, John Cage used radios live on several occasions, while Karlheinz Stockhausen used shortwave radio and effects in works including Hymnen (1966–67), Kurzwellen (1968) -- adapted for the Beethoven Bicentennial in Opus 1970 with filtered and distorted snippets of Beethoven pieces -- Spiral (1968), and Michaelion (1997). Holger Czukay, a student of Stockhausen, was one of the first to use shortwave in a rock music context. In 1975, German electronic music band Kraftwerk recorded a full length concept album around simulated radiowave and shortwave sounds, entitled Radio-Activity.
Among others, Shearwater, Tom Robinson, Peter Gabriel, Pukka Orchestra, AMM, John Duncan, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (on their Dazzle Ships album), Pat Metheny, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Rush, Able Tasmans, Team Sleep, Meat Beat Manifesto, Tim Hecker, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, and Wilco have also used or been inspired by shortwave broadcasts.
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