Shortwave Radio

I remain skeptical about my news sources. I feel that the only way to glimpse the truth is to listen to as many POVs as possible. I don’t watch TV, and domestic radio is limited in POV. Shortwave radio, however, is rich in POV. American Christian Right Wing, Radio Havana, The Beeb, Deutche Welle, Radio Taiwan, North Korea Radio, Radio Moscow, VOA, CBC, even Radio Albania and Radio Estonia — all have English language broadcasts.

I find radio much more satisfying than webcasting news. Something about the magic of wringing distant magnetic emanations out of the ether. By listening to enough points of view, you begin to see that they all circumscribe the truth – in the middle somewhere is the Real Truth.

I use a Sony ICF 2010 and a Grundig Yacht Boy 400, connected to a 40 meter dipole. The Sony ICF 2010 is a classic – it’s the Ford F-150 of shortwave radios. (see: DXing, scroll down). It was continuously produced by Sony for 16 years – a very, very long time in consumer electronics terms, but has recently been discontinued. You can easily find used ones between $225 – $300.

I always use the Sony when at home, but when I travel I use the Grundig Yacht Boy 400 (silly name!). The Grundig is smaller and lighter, fairly compact, and has a retractable antenna in a little reel that I use when I’m on the road. Works much better than the telescoping antenna on the radio. see: Grundig. However the Grundig is not as easy to operate, nor does it have quite the selectivity and filters that the Sony has. The Grundig is relatively inexpensive (current price around $130).

There are many other capable receivers available, starting from under $100. Radio Shack sells Sangean receivers, which are decent. Sony and Grundig produce a range of consumer priced models. You would probably do OK with any of the models in the $100 price range. Unless you buy a model that has DSP (digital signal processing) built in, the newest technology isn’t much different from the 15 year-old technology. The primary differences between inexpensive and expensive receivers are in the filters. Filters are what allow a receiver to have “selectivity” – the ability to discriminate between adjacent signals. I have a 50,000 watt AM station a few miles from my house. Their signal (or harmonics of their signal) show up all over the spectrum. Filters allow me to hear the weak signals from Radio North Korea and block the adjacent interference from my 50 KWatt neighbor.

DSP models are available now, but are currently expensive. That will change significantly over the next couple of years. In fact, the trend is toward SDR – software defined radio – where the radio itself is a highly flexible, programmable device that is configured in software. This would allow, for example, your AM/FM radio to become a cell phone, a GPS receiver, an aircraft band receiver, or a police scanner simply by running different “programs” on the device. The other new type of radio to emerge is a black box that interfaces to your PC. The box receives the radio signals and converts them into audio, which is then processed by your PC’s sound card. All control over the radio is via a user interface on the PC. Sophisticated filtering algorithms can be run on the signal with the sound card. You can download frequency lists from the internet, and scan those frequencies for signals of interest, and even record the audio to your hard drive for later listening or analysis. An example of this type of radio can be seen at Winradio.

-- Michael Clark