UK ShortWave Listening
My interest in radio started as a child. I was off school due to illness and my Mum brought an old AM transistor radio into my bedroom to ward off the boredom. She had it tuned to a pop-music station and that was fine, but it wasn't long before I started to spin the tuning dial in search of something else.
During that time stuck in bed, I discovered many new sounds and languages. People talking from foreign lands, strange musical instruments fading in and out of the radio. Nigh-time brought in stations that hadn't been present during the day. I was fascinated by it all and although I didn't know it at the time, this would become a life-long hobby.
So for the next 50-odd years I have enjoyed a bit of occasional SWL and continue to do so. In 2019 I decided to get my ham license to expand my radio activities and now regularly come into contact with people from the hobby.
It seems to me that there's a lot of people out there who have an interest in SWL but they're not quite sure what's available to listen to. Sure, the passing years have seen a considerable fall in the amount of radio broadcast stations, but there's still lots available and these can be supplemented with other listening activities, such as NDB's (Non Directional Beacons), AirBand, Marine, Military, Amateur, etc.
Let's look at 11 of the Bands where you can tune around and expect to find activity. Please bear in mind that these bands aren't "open" all the time and may be unpredictable. If you tune around a band one day (or night) and hear nothing, try again on a different day (or night). 'Band conditions' change all the time, so be aware of that and look out for those occasions when signals are BOOMING in from far off lands. There are lots of free indicators on the internet, like the one shown below....
The bands which most people tune around for broadcast stations are the ones listed below.....
90 metres 3.200 – 3.400 mHz
75 metres 3.950 – 4.000 mHz
60 metres 4.750 – 5.060 mHz
49 metres 5.850 – 6.200 mHz
41 metres 7.200 – 7.450 mHz
31 metres 9.400 – 9.900 mHz
25 metres 11.600 – 12.050 mHz
21 metres 13.570 – 13.870 mHz
19 metres 15.100 – 15.800 mHz
16 metres 17.480 – 17.900 mHz
13 metres 21.450 – 21.850 mHz
Don't forget though, that unless you're sat on top of a hill, you're not going to hear very distant stations clearly unless you use a decent antenna. You don't have to go crazy and buy a multi-element Yagi, but a long wire outside from your house to a tree or other support will transform your listening.
If you're serious about SWL, then you'd be well advised to buy a copy of the WORLD RADIO & TV HANDBOOK from online. Don't worry about getting one a couple of years old - it's no big deal. This publication will not only help to identify incoming signals, but will also help you to go in search of them.You might also want to get familiar with a website called Short-Wave.Info which will tell you what's playing right now! This is useful if you've tuned into a station which you can't readily identify. Simply type the frequency in the "Find stations broadcasting on" box and it will show you all the Radio Station names which are broadcasting at that moment. Some will be highlighted in red and you will have to decide which one is the one you're listening to. Maybe there's 3 listed and one's in German, one's in English and the other's in Chinese. You should hopefully be able to tell the difference between those languages LOL.
Something like the AT-1000 Coupler above can make all the difference to the readability of the incoming signals. They can quite often be found on eBay for very little money.
As for antennas, the simplest solution is a long wire as mentioned previously. You can make this yourself from whatever you have around the house such as speaker wire - basically the longer the better, but a 66ft length is a great start. Or you can buy a commercial wire to suit the space available in your garden or loft, such as an EF-SWL.If you don't have space for a long wire, you could consider using a high quality Discone antenna. These are surprisingly good despite their early reputation. I have one made by DIAMOND and it regularly surprises me! They're not fantastic below 25MHz though.
Another option would be a HF Vertical. There are lots on the market with really wide coverage such as the cheap GPA-80 which covers 80M to 6M. Now bear in mind that reviews of antennas like these are always based on their transmission capabilities and not their ability to receive stations. You can get some surprisingly good DX using one of these - especially with a good ground.If you live in an electrically noisy area and if space is at a real premium, you might wish to consider a Magnetic Loop. These are amazing at dealing with local noise from LED's, solar panels, etc, but they're not usually cheap and they have an extremely narrow bandwidth, so you need to keep tuning them as you change frequency. Loops can be used very succesfully indoors and are quick to pack away when not being used.
For those looking for a “single antenna solution”, I guess my all-time favourite 'fixed' SWL antenna is the AOR SA-7000 because it is incredibly compact, covers a massive range of frequencies and can easily be mounted. Perfect for scanner users. With the advent of wideband SDR receivers, this antenna really comes into its own, covering 30kHz - 2000MHz. It's not cheap of course, but you get what you pay for. Needless to say, you should spend most of your SWL budget on your antenna(s). Depending on your listening habits, you may well need multiple antennas.Speaking of SDR receivers, it seems almost silly to use anything but one! I still use my old AOR AR-3000A and my ALINCO DJ-X2000, but the fact is, modern SDRs like the SDRPLAY RSP1A and RSPdx are just incredibly good and offer far more functions and features as long as you have a decent computer/laptop.Personally, I get great pleasure warming up the old AR3000A, pressing those wobbly buttons and spinning the tuning dial, but I fully appreciate (and enjoy) the technical marvel that is the RSPdx. Once you've experienced colours screens with large scopes and waterfalls, it's hard to go back to the old tech, apart from a bit of reminiscing.
There's a bunch of free software out there for SDR Dongles and it's great fun to download them and experiment. My own personal favourite has to be SDR UNO from SDRPLAY. This is very fully featured software and can be a tad intimidating when you first try it, but you soon get used to it, especially as there are lots of video tutorials for it.
Other software includes HD-SDR, SDR CONSOLE and more depending on your chosen hardware...
What about receivers?
Well personally, if I was just setting out I would start cheap and buy an SDRPLAY RSP1A. You can sort of "dip your toes in the water" without getting burned. They cost under £100 and offer outstanding performance! If you enjoy it and want to go further then you could easily sell the RSP1A and upgrade to the amazing RSPdx which has the best receiver of all the SDRPLAY models. A further upgrade would be to add an external Tuning Dial like the ELAD TMATE2 show next to the laptop in the image above. These make an incredible difference to the enjoyment of an SDR dongle.
There's lots of SDR Dongles on the market and I recommend that you search out reviews of them all before buying, but I personally don't think you can beat the SDRPLAY products - not just in terms of performance, but also in terms of Support from both the manufacturer and the community.
If you don't want to be tied to a computer, you will probably be looking for a more traditional receiver. Again, there's loads on the market and you can pay £100 to £5000. Some of them act as standalone radios and some offer standalone AND computer connectivity. Don't be afraid to buy second-hand radios! I've had some amazing bargains by monitoring selling sites such as Ebay and MarketPlace and dropped in some really cheeky offers for gear and 90% of the time I've been told to go away in no uncertain terms. But every now and then, someone will accept my cheeky offer and I end up with a bargain buy like this fantastic DJ-X2000.
One of my favourite HF receivers is the truly outstanding BELKA DX. This is a really compact high-performer that will bring a smile to your face every time you switch it on. Sadly, it doesn't doesn't go below 1.5MHz, so you miss out on Long Wave. In addition to being a great receiver, it also has an IQ-OUT socket!
The little Belka comes from Belarus, so right now they're almost impossible to order new due to Putin's disgusting acts of terror. If you want one of these little gems, you're probably going to have to save a search on eBay.
If you're looking for something that will serve you as a SWL Receiver and double up as a family radio, then you really do have a massive choice! There are scores of great portable radios out there and my own choice up to now has been the TECSUN PL-680 and its big brother the S2000.
The PL-680 includes AirBand and that's why I chose it above many of its competitors. It's very annoying when you look at some manufacturers flagship radios, only to find they don't include this popular band.
The big S2000 is quite a lump and you're not going to be slipping that into your pocket any time soon! It is though, a great performer and includes two built-in antennas and ports for external antennas. The sound on this bad boy is rich and entertaining. Neither of the Tecsuns are shining examples of receiver technology, but they're both very capable and remember that they both double up as family radios around the house and garden.
If you don't want to spend too much on a portable radio, then I'd strongly recommend the cheap but sensitive XHDATA D-808. It's at the lower end of the price range but it's pretty big on performance for the money and it covers LW, MW, HF and AIRBAND.
There's little point in me discussing truly higher-end receivers because they're not for beginners. They cost a lot of money and your first concern should be that SWL is for you, before spending the family pension fund. Try one of the radios mentioned above and if you find yourself eager to go further, then you can start researching high-end equipment from the likes of Elad and Icom, etc.
So which frequencies are regularly used? Well as I said previously, you'd do well to buy the WRTH book but to start off right here in the UK, see how many of these stations you can pick up...
UK MW STATIONS
Depending on conditions, you'll be surprised at how many you can hear from the other end of the country. Bear in mind this will alter virtually every day though.
Here's some LW stations...
You will (hopefully) notice that there are a number of stations listed for the same frequency. Obviously they will be many miles from each other and wouldn't normally interfere with one another but it's easy to find yourself with a stronger signal from the furthest away transmitter than the closest one due to propagation variances. On 252 for example, you'll hear an Irish accent one night and an Algerian the other night 😵
AIRBAND HF FREQUENCIES
If you want to explore the HF Aeronautical Frequencies, try these. If your radio has memories, it might be an idea to input some of these into search bands and just start a scan until you hear something.
Aeronautical HF Bands...
10005 - 10100kHz
11175 - 11400kHz
13200 - 13360kHz
15010 - 15100kHz
17900 - 18030kHz
21870 - 22000kHz
23200 - 23350kHz
2850 - 3155kHz
3400 - 3500kHz
4650 - 4750kHz
5480 - 5730kHz
6525 - 6765kHz
8815 - 9040kHz
Automated weather service for aircraft and if nothing else, you can use it to gauge local conditions. If you listen to it regularly, you get an idea of how it sounds at its best and how much it varies according to conditions. Make a note of S-Readings, best and worst.
5450 kHz RAF Volmet
5505 kHz Shannon Volmet
1644 Malin Head Coast Guard Radio. Listening on 2069.
1743 Stornoway Coastguard. Listening on 1743.
1746 Valentia Coast Guard Radio. Listening on 2090.
1752 Milford Haven Coastguard. Listening on 2096.
1770 Shetland Coastguard. Listening on 1770.
1880 Falmouth Coastguard. Listening on 1880.
1883 Belfast Coastguard. Listening on 1883.
1925 Humber Coastguard. Listening on 1925.
2182 International Marine Calling
2226 Aberdeen Coastguard and Hebrides Range Control.
2670 Falmouth Coastguard. Listening on 2670.
3023 Search & Rescue Night
4023 Search & Rescue Night
4125 International Marine Distress
4146 Primary Ship-Ship Channel-A
4149 Primary Ship-Ship Channel-B
4718 UK Rescue Night
5680 UK Rescue
5699 UK Rescue Secondary
8291 Marine Distress International
11253 RAF Volmet
12290 Marine Distress International
16420 Marine Distress International
AMATEUR RADIO BANDS
Listening to ham radio operators can be great fun too. People from all walks of life, with different outlooks, kings to gardeners, estate agents to astronauts!!
Amateur band – 160M Top Band. 1.8-2.0 MHz.
Closest broadcast band – Medium wave
Amateur band – 80M 3.5-3.8 MHz.
Closest broadcast band – 90 metres and 75 metres
Amateur band – 40M 7.0-7.1 MHz.
Closest broadcast band – 60 metres 49 metres 41 metres
Amateur band – 30M 10.100-10.150 MHz.
Closest broadcast band – 31 metres 25 metres
Amateur band – 20M 14.000-14.350 MHz.
Closest broadcast band – 21 metres 19 metres
Amateur band – 17M 18.068-18.168 MHz.
Closest broadcast band – 16 metres
Amateur band – 15M 21.000-21.450 MHz.
Closest broadcast band – 13 metres
Amateur band – 12M 24.890-24.990 MHz.
Amateur band – 10M 28.000-29.7000 MHz.
Well, hopefully that's enough to get you started! There's much more to do in the hobby of SWL and then maybe you'll want to move into ham radio if you're not already licensed.
If you've anything to contribute to this topic, please leave a comment.
Thanks for visiting the blog.
73, Tom, M7MCQ.