So Now What?

One of the things I have written about fairly often is the fun that can be had by either building or buying a general coverage receiver.  Did you know that most modern amateur radio receivers have a general coverage receiver built-in?  Yes, that’s right.  Look on your front panel and look for the GENE button.  Most transceivers have it and it opens another whole world to you.  Most modern rigs from Kenwood, Icom and Yaesu have the general coverage receiver built-in.  It will likely be near the band selector switches on the front panel.  Check it out.

You will be delighted with all that other stuff that these amazing rigs can do for you.  So not only do you get an amazing amateur radio transceiver with all the ham bands on it, but you get to be able to listen to international shortwave and medium band and LF signals too.  Most of the rigs I have seen cover from 100 kHz to 60 mHz and more.  

So what can you hear?  Where can you find stations to listen to?  How do you identify them and find out where they are from?  Are there English language stations out there beaming to North America?  Yes, yes and yes again.

The world is filled with shortwave stations that cover every subject imaginable.  Back in the old days we used to turn our family radio on to listen to BBC and Voice of America, Radio Havana, and Radio Moscow. Things have changed with some of the biggest stations not transmitting anymore because information is being passed by the internet, but there are still thousands of stations out there that you can pick up with a simple home receiver and antenna. 

Currently we have a war between Ukraine and Russia and Russia has restricted the use of the internet within their borders.  It has reverted back to the Cold War in effect.  So what did the people of the Soviet Union use to get their news?  They listened to shortwave broadcasts from around the world.  It was illegal to do so, but the Russian people will not be denied their news.  Some stations in the US have started up their broadcasts and are back on the air to beam information to Russia.  The airwaves are free after all. This gives rise to an increase in stations that are broadcasting on the international shortwave bands. 

So how do you find out who those stations you hear on shortwave are?  The trick is to tune in one of the SW bands and identify the frequency that they are transmitting on and look them up using this website: You don’t even need a clock because the program has its clock synced to GMT.  Simply type the frequency you are listening to in kHz into the program and press NOW and it will list the stations that use that frequency and when and where they are on the air and their location.  If you click on the flag on the right it will open up Google Maps and show precisely where the transmitting station is located in the world.

How about broadcast band stations.  Once again there are thousands that you can choose from between 525 and 1705 kHz.  If you look at a spectrum display of stations at night on the broadcast band, you will see spikes every 10 kHz.  Each one is the carrier of an AM broadcast station reaching your antenna.  Here is another website that will help with finding out where those stations are located:  Just simply put in the location and it will provide you with every station listed there.
So what do you need to have in order to hear this gold mine of stations? For AM stations on the broadcast band, a simple AM receiver will suffice.  Add an antenna to the mix and the stations will just pour in.  

A good antenna for medium wave and short wave listening is a long wire. However try to remember that the better the antenna and the further away its feed point is from your house and other noisy environments, the better your reception is going to be.  A good ground helps with interference too, so do the best you can to put something in the ground close to the radio.
What if you don’t have a GENE button on your transceiver?  You have an older rig that didn’t have those features built in.  Go buy yourself a general coverage or world band receiver from the internet.  Here’s a great choice from Amazon that won’t cost you an arm and a leg…  It even comes with an external antenna that you just hang up and you will receive stations from all over the world.

If you want to step up into something more serious, buy a SDRPlay RSP1A and connect it to your computer.  The software that they provide from SDRPlay is superb and it’s easy to use and free.  I own a bunch of these receivers and they work very well, especially for SW or AM broadcasts.  It gives you not only a sensitive receiver but you can use in from 10 kHz to 2 gHz as a communications receiver. With a good pair of headphones you will be in for hours of enjoyment with one of these great devices.  You can purchase one from GPS Central for about $160 and they are usually in stock out of Calgary.

I use my SDRPlay receiver with my MFJ-1886 loop which is quite a distance from my transmitting antennas.  This is important because the front ends on most radios are not capable of being in the near field of a transmitter.  It not only will overload it but may also damage the front end.  Whatever you do, do not ever connect your SW receiver to your transmitting antenna without a good T/R switch or some other type of protection in line with the input to the radio. The MFJ-1886 loop provides me with coverage from 0.5 mHz to 30 mHz and is sensitive and rotatable to eliminate noise.  You can find information on how to build a front end protection circuit here on Tom’s Notes –
So when the bands are open and you have exhausted trying to get into the nets or having QSO’s, turn on the GENE section of your receiver and fill up on some great content that is being broadcast around the world on both MF and HF.  You will not be disappointed.

73Tom VE6ARG