In the age of the Internet and the World Wide Web, it is interesting to note that radio has lost none of its popularity. This is partly because it is a convenient broadcast medium that is easy to listen to and informative in, for example, a car. Radio is also used as a communication device in the aerospace and maritime industries and other essential services. We will talk a little more about these later on.

We’re here to talk specifically about shortwave radio. In the early 1900s, when radio was coming into being as a commercial medium, the various transmitting bands on the radio spectrum were defined in three wavelengths – literally based on the length of the radio wave transmitted – these being Long Wave (LW), Medium Wave (MW), and Shortwave (SW). Shortwave radio waves are defined as shorter than 100m or beneath 1500kHz.

However, a great discovery was made in the 1920s by the legendary pioneer of radio – Guglielmo Marconi – and his team working in the UK.

The Discovery of Shortwave Radio

Marconi was looking for ways to overcome the limitations in MW and LW radio of long-distance broadcasting. To put it simply, this required expensive and very powerful transmitters and antennas, and relay stations to transmit any further than a few miles.

What Marconi discovered was that when transmitted upwards, shortwaves ‘bounced back to the earth of the ionosphere. This layer of the atmosphere is highly charged electrically, which is why the SW transmissions are reflected earth.

Marconi had discovered a way of broadcasting over the horizon, something previously difficult with MW and LW. Send the SW waves at an angle upwards, and they can be bounced over the horizon. The importance of this breakthrough cannot be overstated. For example, military radar would not be possible with Marconi’s research and development over the horizon. Now, you can even buy a desktop shortwave radio, but surely it is a medium that is outdated? Not at all, and we’re about to tell you why.

Why Shortwave Radio is Important

To recap, shortwave radio enables broadcasts to be sent long distances – in fact, to the other side of the world. However, broadcast radio has, by and large, moved on. Not only do we still use MW for broadcasting, but we also have latter methods such as Frequency Modulation (FM) and even digital radio. Yet, shortwave remains extremely important for many organizations and institutions worldwide. Let’s talk about who uses shortwave radio today and why they persist with it.

Who Uses Shortwave Radio? 

We immediately think of local radio enthusiasts, otherwise known as ham or amateur radio users, when we think of shortwave. Yet while they make up a good proportion of the users of shortwave, they are not the only ones.

Anyone involved or interested in aviation will be aware of shortwave. Airplanes in the sky and on the ground communicate with the tower and air traffic control and each other using a specific band of shortwave frequencies. You can buy an airband radio that will allow you to listen in. The same is true of ships at sea which naturally need a communication method to go over the horizon. Indeed, it was for this purpose that Marconi initially began investigating the power of SW.

Other users include the military in most countries across the world, emergency services such as police, fire, ambulance, and many people who live or work in remote areas where a mobile phone has no connection and no Internet access. Furthermore, broadcast stations such as the BBC World Service are still transmitted on shortwave frequencies to keep persons in remote areas informed.

There have also been examples where ham radio users have been the only source of information following, for example, natural disasters. A tsunami, earthquake, or another occurrence will usually wipe out mobile masts and internet connections. Still, ham radio operators can contact the outside world and – in particular – the emergency services. Let’s have a quick look at becoming a ham radio operator and why you might want to do so.

Can I Become a Shortwave Radio Operator?

It is a simple fact that ham radio is a popular hobby mainly because it can connect the user to people in far-flung parts of the world. Learning about radio and how it works is also interesting. There has been a rise in interest in ham radio over the past two years – since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 – as more people sought not only a hobby but a way of keeping in touch with people and keeping morale up by broadcasting on SW. How do you get started in ham radio? Let’s close with a few tips on how to get up and run.

Getting Started in Ham Radio

You need a license to operate as an amateur radio user in the USA and, in fact, in just about every other country. This is obtained by taking a series of multiple-choice question exams. To be given your unique call sign, you will need to learn how radio works to take the first exam – which gives you basic access to limited wavelengths. Without this, you are not permitted to broadcast.

Check out more about ham radio, and you’ll find it’s an interesting and unusual hobby that can be very rewarding as well as surprisingly useful.