Shortwave Radio listening, also known as HF or High Frequency listening, is an enjoyable hobby. Yet, it pays to get familiar with how shortwave radios work, and the art of finessing stations out of the static.

The first step is a good radio. Avoid radios with analog readouts. These radios with slide-rule like tuning are not precise. Imprecise tuning results in frustration and inability to keep a radio locked on frequency. Given both the interference and AM modulation of shortwave, signals can vacillate rapidly. Use a radio with digital tuning, preferably with memories and direct-entry of frequencies via a DTMF or Touch-Tone like keypad.

Also, look for radios that have more than one bandwidth filter. This will allow the radio to focus on a signal that's bombarded by another signal. Usually this option is complemented by 1 kHz tuning, which permits finer selection of stations.

Once the radio is home, extend the attached antenna fully, walking with the radio around the room to find the best place to plop it down. (IMHO, do this when home alone.) It is not advisable to connect a long, outdoor strand of wire to the radio unless the radio is grounded and natural electromagnetism has been accounted for. Failure to account for EM will result in a badly desensitized or scorched radio.

Get a guide to shortwave like Passport to World Band Radio, which gives suggested easy frequencies and stations for newbies. A book to graduate to is WRTH: World Radio Television Handbook. WRTH is pure radio and TV frequency data with little editorial or feature story. Boring, yes; but useful.

Don't be discouraged if stations are hard to get at first. Put the radio into 1 kHz tuning mode and tune slightly up and down over the frequency to find the best angle to listen to. Radio stations frequently broadcast a song or sound right before a transmission, to signify that the frequency is occupied. Learn these interval signals of major broadcasters. It'll help when aimlessly tuning for something to listen to.

Refer to a discussion on UTC, also called Zulu Time, Coordinated Universal Time, GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, for a discussion on how universal time is used in shortwave. In summary, all international broadcasters use UTC/GMT, since it is a time reference that all listeners can refer to. Getting a dedicated 24-hour format clock or a radio with dual-time 24-hour-format clocks is a great help.

Whatever you do, don't attempt pirate radio, or unauthorized transmission on any frequency. It's fun to spin your own music to the world, but in the United States, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) frequently starts pogroms. For the rest of us, pirate listening is a rewarding, and entertaining, break from the stodgy tone of the BBC.

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