G4NSJ – Short wave listening SWL HF radio bands


Short wave listening, whether on the amateur bands, the broadcast bands or just general tuning around, is a great hobby. You might hear people say that short wave is dead. The bands are considerably quieter than they used to be, but there’s still some interesting stuff to listen to.



I watched my father tuning around the short wave bands on our old valve radio when I was about 8 years old. I heard foreign stations, strange music and languages. My father said something about receiving Albania. What was this fascinating world of short wave? Once he’d gone, I had a go on the radio. I heard a female saying, “This is Tel Aviv. This is a test transmission. Please reply in condition B.” Grabbing my atlas, I looked up Tel Aviv. Israel! I made a note of the frequency in an exercise book and continued tuning around. More stations, more entries in my book… and I was hooked.

First of all, where to listen and when. As a general rule of thumb, frequencies between 1 and 14MHz are best at night. Frequencies between 14 and 30MHz are best during the day. This is by no means a hard and fast rule as there are many other things that can affect propagation.

Just to confuse you, from medium wave to 30MHz…

Lower frequencies are best at night.
Higher frequencies are best during the day.
Longer wavelengths are best at night.
Shorter wavelengths are best during the day.

Even though many stations have closed down over the years, short wave listening is still a fascinating hobby. Most radio amateurs started out as SWLs, short wave listeners, spending hours tuning around the bands and listening to military and marine traffic as well as broadcast stations. Have a listen around the shortwave bands and, if you want to know about aerials, go here.


There seems to be some confusion over which HF amateur band (or broadcast band) to use and when to use it. Below, is a brief guide to the bands and when to expect results. Things are changing all the time so don’t trash this guide just because you get nowhere on 80 metres one evening. One night, 80 will be brilliant and, the next, it will be dreadful. The bands are unpredictable. Auroral activity (weird stuff happening around the north pole) can affect the bands, as can your neighbour’s clapped out vacuum cleaner. And as for switched mode power supplies!

Why is 160 metres better for inter-G working than 20 metres? See the ionosphere here.


Amateur band – 160 Metres. Top Band. 1.8-2.0 MHz.
Equivalent broadcast band – Medium wave

This is almost on top of the medium wave broadcast band. Old 1960s pirates familiar with medium wave and medium wave aerials will have no problems with top band. 160 metres is great for local contacts during the day, using ground wave, with long distances obtainable at night when the band opens. During the summer months, the night time distances may be several hundred miles, or even thousands of miles. During the winter months, communications over distances of several thousand miles can be achieved regularly.

Amateur band – 80 Metres. 3.5-3.8 MHz.
Equivalent broadcast band – 90 metres and 75 metres

80 metres is very similar to 160 meters but with greater distances obtainable during the night. 80 is a fairly reliable band, but there are times when it just dies. It’s used for regular nets, particularly inter-G working. The whole of Europe may be heard during the night if conditions are good. And, with a decent aerial, you can fire a signal over the pond the the US.

Amateur band – 40 Metres. 7.0-7.1 MHz.
Equivalent broadcast band – 60 metres 49 metres 41 metres

This is usually open to somewhere or other. During the summer months, daytime distances between 300 and 500 miles can be achieved. A great band for inter-G working during the day. At night, distances of 1000 miles or more are not uncommon. With the right aerial, you can work the world on this band at night. Winter days with 500 miles or more are usual and night time brings in the intercontinental stuff. It’s not as affected by the sunspot cycle as 20 and 10 metres. There are times when you’ll hear people say the the skip is long. When this is the case, inter-G working is pretty much nonexistent. However, during long skip conditions, the band should be open to Germany and other European countries.

Amateur band – 30 Metres. 10.100-10.150 MHz.
Equivalent broadcast band – 31 metres 25 metres

A lot like 40 metres, but this amateur band can only be used on CW and RTTY. (This doesn’t seem to apply to the French!) The band has a longer range than 40 metres, with daytime distances of 1000 miles or more achievable.

Amateur band – 20 Metres. 14.000-14.350 MHz.
Equivalent broadcast band – 21 metres 19 metres

This is a great band for DXing, even with a poor aerial. The whole of Europe can be worked or heard, usually twenty-fours hours a day. It’s a dreadful band for inter-G working, unless you want to chat to the bloke down the road. Of course, if you do that, you’ll probably be heard thousands of miles away. As we get higher in frequency, the aerials become smaller, making this an ideal band for the guys with small gardens.

Amateur band – 17 Metres. 18.068-18.168 MHz.
Equivalent broadcast band – 16 metres

Propagation on this band is virtually the same as the 20 metre amateur band and the 21 and 19 metre broadcast bands.

Amateur band – 15 Metres. 21.000-21.450 MHz.
Equivalent broadcast band – 13 metres

Very much like 20 metres, but unpredictable. More affected by the sunspot cycle. When this band is open, working the US is fairly easy.

Amateur band – 12 Metres. 24.890-24.990 MHz.

Very much influenced by the sunspot cycle. This band can be used for local communications, rather like citizens band. When the band is open during the day, the world can be worked with a pretty basic aerial. The band often remains open late into the night, which can be interesting.

Amateur band – 10 Metres. 28.000-29.7000 MHz.

This band is affected most by the sunspot cycle. As with CB, this band is pretty good for local work. But, when it’s open, it’s really great. From the UK, the American FM repeaters can be worked with no trouble at all.


90 metres 3.200 – 3.400 MHz
75 metres 3.950 – 4.000 MHz
60 metres 4.750 – 5.060 MHz
49 metres 5.850 – 6.200 MHz
41 metres 7.200 – 7.350 MHz
31 metres 9.400 – 9.900 MHz
25 metres 11.600 – 12.050 MHz
21 metres 13.570 – 13.870 MHz
19 metres 15.100 – 15.800 MHz
16 metres 17.480 – 17.900 MHz
13 metres 21.450 – 21.850 MHz


I’ve dedicated a page to the ionosphere here.