First Posted 11/20/2020
What do 2020 and Shortwave Radio Listening (aka SWL) have in common? They both contain wacky stuff beyond anything you would have believed in previous years! As mentioned in my SDRplay post, I have a longwire antenna zip-tied to one of the support beams of the condo balcony. It’s worked out great for picking up many shortwave & HF ham radio stations via the High-Z port of my SDRDuo, especially considering my less-than-ideal 2nd floor urban environment situation. During the day, the longwire is barely noticeable, but at night it sticks out a bit more:
So given that it’s the year 2020, is anyone still broadcasting out to the Midwestern USA on the Shortwave bands? Can you still write radio stations and receive QSL cards like many people have posted on other blogs in the past? Is there content even worth listening to on shortwave radio in 2020? The answer is a gigantic yes, and even Wikipedia mentions shortwave QSL cards! Ever since getting my cheap Tecsun radio out on the balcony this summer, I’ve been writing any Shortwave stations I could pick up in the hopes of building a sweet QSL card collection without actually transmitting anything myself on the HF ham radio bands. I’ve lost count of how many stations I’ve written for QSL cards (or asked via their websites if no address was easy to find on Google), but I’d say my success rate is somewhere between 25-50 percent. Check out these six QSL cards below I received earlier this year!
Positive Shortwave Listening Experiences
Let’s start off with some of the highlights of my shortwave listening in this unprecedented year of 2020. Here in Chicago, I’m mostly picking up stations from the Southeastern United States or Cuba. However, in the summer we frequently visit Southwestern Michigan, where I was able to pick up some really great broadcasts from Maine and Canada. CFRX and WBCQ were the best stations I heard on shortwave, and I’d highly recommend checking these stations out if you’re within listening distance. Or maybe you’re lucky enough for HF conditions to be perfect, allowing you to receive these stations from crazy far distances:
CFRX Toronto, Canada
Perhaps the most useful shortwave station I’ve received in the Midwest, this Canadian news talk radio station is very similar to any city’s newsradio channels on AM radio, and I did not sense a strong bias towards any particular viewpoint. Although I couldn’t care less about Toronto traffic reports, it was really cool hearing news relevant to the US from a Canadian perspective, and some of the talk programming was quite thought provoking. Even listening to the commercials about random Toronto businesses was fun, makes me want to visit Ontario, Canada once this pandemic mess is over! CFRX was quick to respond to my QSL request, I included $5 to help them defray the cost of postage, which may have helped speed up the reply. Their history is pretty interesting too; starting off as a way to get more Canadians to buy radios in the far north, they began broadcasting omnidirectionally to reach Canadians in the US many years ago. If some type of crisis happened where I could only receive one Shortwave radio station, I’d really hope it’s CFRX.
WBCQ Monticello, Maine
If you’re into hacker culture, you’re going to love WBCQ. If you’re not, well, it’s not much different than the “medium” channels mentioned in the next section. I say this because WBCQ is huge on free speech, sometimes even airing people that say things which are extremely hurtful to others. As I mentioned on the bottom of the original SDRPlay post, I’m a big believer in the golden rule, and that rule does not always seem to be followed by some of the show hosts on their airwaves. That being said, WBCQ was the only shortwave station I’ve heard about prior to messing around with shortwave this summer, as they broadcast 2600’s Off the Hook radio show! I’m sure I’ll eventually write a lot more about how impactful 2600 magazine has been for my personal and professional life someday in the CCNA Toolkit part of this website, but for now just know that I’m a gigantic 2600 fan. Being able to hear 2600 related topics on the air is something I greatly enjoy, and while it’s not for everyone, it’s an awesome use of shortwave’s very large broadcast range in my opinion.
Radio Marti – Grimesland, North Carolina
Although I don’t know very much Spanish, I know enough to make out some content on Radio Marti. Their stations feature Spanish language programming produced with US taxpayer funds, meant to reach those living in Cuba. I have zero desire to get into politics on this topic, but I must say that it’s pretty fascinating that in the year 2020, there’s still radio stations like this as if we’re still in the heart of the cold war. I’ve been trying to learn a bit more Spanish on Duolingo recently, hopefully in a year or two I’ll have a lot more to say about both Radio Marti and Radio Havana once I understand the language better.
WWV & CHU Time Stations
Calling these shortwave radio stations might be a stretch, but it’s worth noting that both the US and Canadian governments operate time radio stations, allowing you to get very accurate time over shortwave. The only thing on these stations is the time of day along with some timecode things, so once you’ve heard a minute of the broadcast, you’ve heard every time station broadcast. It is a little creepy hearing the one second ticks with various timecodes at first, but also a cool reminder about how the shortwave frequencies may be used for things like clock synchronization too. These governmental stations will also send you QSL cards, I received one from Canada’s CHU, fingers crossed my request to WWV here in the US will get a reply someday.
Medium Shortwave Listening Experiences
China Radio International and Radio Havana, Cuba
Much to my surprise, earlier this week I was getting a really strong signal on 6180khz, and I could clearly make out that it was in Chinese. This got me interested: could it be that HF conditions were perfect and I was getting a signal all the way from Asia?!? Well, thanks to short-wave.info, I was able to confirm the signal was actually coming from Cuba, likely from the same propoganda transmitting site as Radio Havana:
I couldn’t understand any of the Chinese broadcast, but Radio Havana occasionally has English broadcasts full of lies about the US. As much as I don’t care to listen to any of that, I do think it’s fascinating that in the year 2020, these propaganda broadcasts are still a thing.
WWCR, WRMI, WHRI, and other religious-focused stations
The very first QSL cards I received were from WRMI and WHRI, along with my most recent one coming from WWCR. These radio stations survive by playing mostly religious content from anyone willing to pay their broadcast fees. Many of these religious broadcasters are trying to solicit donations from a large rural audience, sometimes encouraging sexism and other questionable behavior. I’m very much against those kind of broadcasts, full stop. There are some broadcasters that genuinely sound like they’re raising funds for a good cause, sending a message of hope to those who might really need to hear it. Again, I really want to keep politics & religion away from my thoughts about the airwaves, but I think it’s worth noting that the lion’s share of shortwave broadcasts these days are either government propaganda or religious content. One of the nice things about these particular stations are they’re quick to return QSL requests, sometimes including cool stuff like bumper stickers:
Note how the QSL card mentions University Network, featuring a lot of content from Gene Scott. His Wikipedia article doesn’t look too bad at all, but when you Google “Gene Scott Controversy” and find things like this old LA Times article about him, you’ll see very quickly why I’m not a huge fan of all these religious broadcasts.
Poor Shortwave Listening Experiences
Anything involving Brother Stair or Alex Jones
There’s a very good chance you’ll hear the thundering voice of Brother Stair or the whining voice of Alex Jones while tuning between shortwave stations these days. I don’t have anything nice to say about these people, so I won’t say anything at all. Hopefully in the very near future, Brother Stair will be sent to prison for good, and someone will make a documentary that helps all those who have been victimized on his farm live to re-enter society.
So this is a bit awkward for me: I’m Catholic, and I hoped asking EWTN Catholic Radio for a QSL card along with a $20 donation was going to result in getting some really cool Catholic Radio stuff in the mail. Sadly, they’ve started spamming my mailbox on a near weekly basis, featuring mailers filled to the brim with donation requests and prayer cards:
The reason I’m marking EWTN radio as a poor experience is because these mailers waste a lot of paper if they’re being sent to all subscribers weekly, and I bet there’s some senior citizens who might be making poor financial decisions every week due to these donation requests. It makes me sick to my stomach that a Catholic affiliated organization is constantly sending these mailers out to listeners who could be sending them money instead of keeping their money to take proper care of themselves. I hope someday they’ll either get the memo, or more reforms will happen over at EWTN to ensure they’re not acting predatorily (on-purpose or on-accident) towards the elderly. But until then, I’ll write about it here, and I’ve written them to stop sending me stuff in the mail, fingers crossed it worked 🙂
Have you been listening to any good shortwave recently? Any highly positive or negative experiences? Please let me know in the comments, I’m curious to see if there’s anyone else nerding out on shortwave during the pandemic!
You’ve reached the end of the post! Click here to go back to the list of all Ham Radio posts.
You should also know I may earn commissions on qualifying Amazon purchases made via kd9cpb.com links to defray the cost of otherwise ad-free web hosting.