On September 12, 1989, several key figures in the private sector of the U.S International Shortwave Broadcast community met in New Orleans at RADIO “89. The purpose of this meeting was to explore the formation of a national organization to represent the interests of FCC licensed international broadcasters.
Some of those present for that initial meeting were:
Ed Bailey, KNLS, World Christian Broadcasting
Ralph Carlson, KUSW Worldwide
Joe Costello, WRNO Worldwide
Ed Evans, WSHB, WCSN, KHBI, Herald Broadcasting Syndicate
Doug Garlinger, WHRI, LeSEA Broadcasting
Ted Haney, KFBS, Far East Broadcasting
Tulio Haylock, KSDA, Adventist World Radio
George Jacobs, George Jacobs & Associates
A special session on shortwave had been held that year at Radio ‘89 entitled “Technical Aspects of Shortwave Broadcasting” Prior to 1982, there were just four privately licensed shortwave stations in the US: WYFR, KGEI, WINB and KTWR. The FCC was reluctant to issue shortwave licenses for many years. Finally in 1982, citing Public Law 80-402, WRNO Worldwide became the first privately owned shortwave station to be licensed in many years. By 1989, the number had grown to 16 stations.
Licensed prior to 1982:
KGEI Redwood City, CA
WINB Red Lion, PA
WYFR Okeechobee, FL
Licensed from 1982-1989:
KCBI Dallas, TX
KHBI Saipan (Formerly KYOI)
KNLS Anchor Point, AK
KUSW Salt Lake City, UT
KVOH Rancho Simi, CA
WCSN Scotts Corner, ME
WHRI Noblesville, IN
WMLK Bethel, PA
WRNO New Orleans, LA
WWCR Nashville, TN
A list of U.S. shortwave stations presently licensed can be found on the FCC HF Web Page at: http://www.fcc.gov/ib/sand/neg/hf_web/stations.html
The participants in the initial Radio ‘89 meeting decided to go forward with the formation of a national association.
Articles of incorporation were filed in Washington D.C. a few months later on February 1, 1990. The first meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters was held by telephone conference call on February 12, 1990 to officially organize the association as a District of Columbia, non-profit corporation.
The first officers were:
Ed Bailey, President
Ted Haney, Vice President
Tulio Haylock, Secretary-Treasurer
Each year since that time, the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters has held an Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C or other parts of the United States (and even once in Canada). This meeting has been widely attended by FCC licensed shortwave broadcasters, FCC personnel, VOA and other IBB personnel, consultants, other international broadcasters from around the world as well as many shortwave manufacturers and shortwave listeners.
Shortwave (also known technically as "high frequency") is found just above the mediumwave (or AM) band on the radio spectrum. The AM band in the United States ends at 1,700 kHz (or 1.7 MHz). Shortwave goes roughly from there up to 30,000 kHz (or 30 MHz). The shortwave spectrum is divided into several segments, some of which are used for marine communications, utility stations (i.e. radioteletype and point-to-point feeds) and amateur radio operators (who talk back and forth to one another with relatively low power). But certain "bands" within the shortwave range are dedicated to regular broadcasting stations, such as the Voice of America, the BBC and many privately-owned stations that are transmitting to a mass audience.
Depending on the amount of power, the location of the station and the type and direction of its antenna(s), a shortwave station can be heard for many thousands of miles -- even completely around the world at times. The secret is the ionosphere -- a layer of the earth's atmosphere that shortwave signals bounce off of, rebounding back to earth hundreds and thousands of miles from their point of origin.
There is one government-owned shortwave broadcasting organization in the United States: U.S. Agency for Global Media, which operates the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Marti, Radio Free Asia and other US Government international broadcasters. In addition, there are about 20 privately-owned shortwave stations throughout the U.S. and its territories that are licensed by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Most, but not all, of these privately-owned stations are owned by religious broadcasting organizations.
Throughout the world, there are hundreds of shortwave stations. Many governments operate one or more shortwave stations. Other stations are owned by religious organizations. Some are shortwave relays of a commercial AM or FM station intended for audiences in remote areas of that particular country. But very few countries license privately-owned shortwave stations that are designed to broadcast to foreign audiences. The United States is one of the few countries that permit such broadcasters.
Some of the regional shortwave stations intended to reach just one country or a limited distance may use only 1,000 or 5,000 watts of power. Some large government-owned stations use as much as 500,000 watts. In the United States, the privately-owned stations range from 50,000 to 500,000 watts. All of these are capable of reaching large parts of the world -- even worldwide when conditions are right.
Not surprisingly, the religious stations broadcast mostly religious programming, and the government-owned stations broadcast a lot of news, analysis, music and cultural programs intended to promote their own countries and their points of view. Among the religious stations, most -- but not all -- transmit programming from many diverse branches of Christianity and sometimes Judaism. Muslim programming can be heard from some of the government-operated shortwave stations in those countries. The shortwave relays of local AM and FM stations permit distant listeners to hear local news and music from their places of origin. Privately-owned international shortwave stations often sell blocks of airtime to religious, political, commercial and cultural organizations which air a wide variety of news, music, entertainment, educational and inspirational programming.
In short, there's something for everyone on shortwave radio. Within a span of a few hours, you can listen to the news from London or Beijing, a church service from Kentucky, folk music from Romania, a football (soccer) game live from Brazil, a program about the indigenous peoples of the South American Andes, the Koran being read from Cairo or Riyadh, the Pope pronouncing a speech from the Vatican, live coverage of the Indianapolis 500-mile race, and the latest releases of Latin music from Miami.
Many stations broadcast in the language(s) of their particular country, in order to reach their citizens who are living or travelling abroad or in remote areas of the interior. But most stations transmit in a variety of languages, depending on the target areas they are interested in reaching. Some government-owned and religious stations have programs in literally dozens of languages every day, beamed to different target areas around the world. English is one of the most-used languages by shortwave stations; don't be surprised to hear daily English programs from China, France, Argentina, the Czech Republic or Japan. Other languages often heard on shortwave include Chinese, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Hindi and many, many others.
Remember that the secret to shortwave reception is the ionosphere. This layer of the earth's atmosphere is made up of small particles that compact themselves closer together at nighttime, thus reflecting more of the shortwave signals back to earth. However, the frequency being used and other factors also come into play. In general, the lower shortwave frequencies (say below 9 MHz) travel better at night, and the higher frequencies provide better daytime reception. Another factor is that many stations only broadcast at local nighttime and early morning time periods in their target areas, since most people do not have shortwave receivers at their schools or workplaces and therefore tend to listen more at night and in the early morning hours when they are at home. Other stations may broadcast all day long to a particular target area, and their signal may be heard perfectly throughout the day as well as night.
Now, a few more facts about the ionosphere... This region ranges from about 50 to 500 kilometers (about 30 to 300 miles) above the earth's surface. Radiation from the sun electrifies the atmospheric gases in this region. The part of the ionosphere facing the sun will be more strongly electrified than the part in darkness. Thus the nighttime ionosphere is relatively weakly electrified as compared to the daytime ionosphere. The ionosphere does not show the same electrical effects throughout all its levels. For example, as far as long-distance shortwave broadcasting is concerned, the lowest regions of the ionosphere bend a shortwave signal very little, but are very absorptive during daylight hours. This absorption considerably weakens the strength of a shortwave signal. The higher levels of the ionosphere are generally most effective in bending back a signal to earth. During the nighttime hours the lowest (absorptive) layers of the ionosphere dissipate, thus permitting the shortwave signals to arrive with much greater strength than during daylight hours.
In general, a shortwave receiver with digital readout and continuous coverage is best, because you can find stations much more easily by simply punching in the frequency you want. "Continuous coverage" means the receiver covers the entire shortwave spectrum from approximately 3 to 30 MHz, with no gaps in coverage. There are still many good analog (i.e. non-digital readout) receivers available as well, even though you may have to guess a bit about the exact frequency you're on. In some countries (particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America), many of the boom box-type radios often include shortwave bands.
In North America, some electronic stores sell shortwave receivers. Some of the best quality name brands available in North America include Sony, Grundig/Eton, Sangean and Tecsun. Large mail-order businesses specializing in shortwave (such as Universal Radio in Ohio and C. Crane Co in California have extensive webpages full of shortwave receivers that they sell. You can also try Amazon.com where you'll find a large selection of shortwave receivers.
Receivers range from $25 or $75 paperback-book-size portables, to tiny $200 pocket-size travel portables, to $500 or $1,000 tabletop radios. There are even wind-up shortwave receivers that you can take everywhere, because they require no electricity or batteries to operate. Again, we recommend when possible to get a radio with digital readout and continuous coverage from 3 to 30 MHz. The number of "bands" it has is not important.
Well, sometimes they do. But quite often, they don't. The reasons for this are many. First of all, shortwave signals often have to travel many hundreds or thousands of miles to reach you. In that distance, they are affected by various factors. There is a lack of spectrum space which causes shortwave stations to be frequently packed close together. This means that there may be interference from another station on an adjacent frequency, or even on the same frequency beamed to a different part of the world. Countries like China, Cuba and North Korea still jam certain shortwave broadcasts that are directed toward them from abroad (in violation of international conventions), resulting in a grinding sound or bubbling noise on the channel. Atmospheric noise and static can disturb shortwave signals more than AM and FM signals. And there's also a phenomenon called "fading," where a shortwave signal fades up and down (or in and out) over a period of seconds or minutes, due to ionospheric propagation conditions. But despite these disadvantages, shortwave remains the only medium capable of direct communication from one country to listeners in another country without intermediaries (like satellites or cable companies, for example). That's why when a major event or crisis occurs anywhere in the world -- be it a war, a natural disaster, a major celebration, etc. -- millions of people tune in to shortwave stations to hear the news direct from its source. It is also a unique way to hear about different cultures, religions and musical traditions straight from their sources. We should add that new, smaller, inexpensive yet higher-quality shortwave receivers (often with digital readout) are now available in many markets around the world, making shortwave radio more accessible to more people, and giving it a better sound than ever before. And with the advent of digital shortwave broadcasting, the sound quality will improve drastically.
The truth is that there are no worldwide surveys to determine the number of listeners to a particular shortwave station, or to shortwave radio in general. It would simply be too expensive and complicated to undertake these kinds of surveys. The number of letters that a station receives is really no accurate indication of its listenership either, since this is often affected by factors such as contests, giveaways, the literacy levels in different countries, listeners' abilities to afford international postage costs, their propensity to write to radio stations in general, etc. Some of the larger government-funded shortwave stations like the BBC and the Voice of America have been able to fund local surveys in certain countries to determine listenership rates. These weekly listenership figures range from less than 1% up to 30% or more of the population of a given city or country, depending on the availability of shortwave receivers and the availability of alternative programming on local radio stations. Shortwave listenership is generally higher in countries where the domestic media are largely government-controlled, or where there is a desire to hear programs from countries which the domestic media do not provide. The BBC and the Voice of America have estimated their worldwide audiences at as much as 200 million per week. Not many stations have all of the technical facilities or the number of languages that these government-funded stations have, but even if they only have a small percentage of the BBC's and VOA's audiences, these are still very significant numbers.
First of all, some shortwave stations don't change frequencies. Some stations use only one frequency, all day and all year long. This means that their coverage area will vary throughout the day and throughout the year, since the ionosphere is affected by daily and seasonal conditions on the sun. (Yes, the sun really affects shortwave "propagation," as we call it.)
To make the best of these changing propagation conditions, many shortwave stations change frequencies throughout the day (and during different seasons of the year), in order to maintain the best possible coverage of a particular target area. They use sophisticated computer programs and on-the-scene listener monitor reports to determine which is the best frequency range to use at a particular time of the day to reach a particular target area. And this frequency range will often vary according to the different seasons of the year. All of this is designed to give the listener the best possible reception of the station, although it does at times make it more of a challenge for the listener to "keep up" with the changes.
These days, there are a lot of station and frequency lists on the Internet, as well as e-mail "DX" newsletters outlining changes in frequency and time schedules for shortwave stations around the world. In printed form, we can recommend an excellent book that comes out annually and is available by mail order and in good bookstores in North America and elsewhere. In the United States, check bookstores like Barnes & Noble for the "World Radio TV Handbook." This book contains exhaustive information about shortwave stations around the world, their frequencies, broadcast schedules, mailing addresses, faxes, e-mail addresses and much, much more.
The bulk of the material in the World Radio TV Handbook is in country-by-country order. The WRTH contains schedules for English and foreign-language transmissions. It is an excellent guide, but be aware that this is an annual publication, and since shortwave frequencies are changing constantly, there will always be last-minute changes that are not included in the book. The WRTH is generally published around January of each year.
There are also magazines that contain information about shortwave stations. An excellent online magazine is The Spectrum Monitor (www.thespectrummonitor.com). For up-to-the-minute schedule information, try some e-mail DX newsletters and Internet sites. Many shortwave stations have their own web sites which include frequency and program schedules. Last, but definitely not least, check the public database information on the website of the High Frequency Coordination Conference (www.hfcc.org), which contains constantly-updated broadcast schedules for most shortwave stations worldwide.
Well, there are many possible explanations. First, you may be outside the station's coverage area. Or the list you are looking at may not have the correct times and frequencies, as these change frequently. Check to see if the time listed is local time or UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, which is the same as GMT). Stations may shift their programming by one hour in the spring and fall to account for daylight savings time. Some people may try to pick up a shortwave station using a standard AM/FM radio, which of course is not possible. Or they may have a shortwave receiver that does not have continuous coverage, and does not cover the frequency range that the station transmits on. Certain types of buildings (particularly concrete and steel structures) tend to shield out radio waves of all types, so you may have to place your shortwave receiver near a window, or even attach a piece of copper wire to the antenna and place the wire through a window and mount it outside the house. Solar storms and other conditions on the sun may cause a temporary fadeout of shortwave signals on a particular frequency in your area. And you may even be too close to a shortwave station to hear it well. Since shortwave signals travel up to the ionosphere and bounce back down to earth, the distance between the station's antenna and the first hop back to earth is called a "skip zone," and the signal may not be audible in that area. But even if you are not able to hear a station's signal where you are at the moment, other listeners will be hearing it well in other locations around the world. This is part of the "magic" of shortwave.
As mentioned above, most countries do not permit private entities to own and operate shortwave stations within their territory. But some, like the United States, do allow this. A lengthy application form must be submitted, accompanied by many technical studies and plans, programming and legal qualifications, and an application fee of over US$2,000. It generally takes several months or more for the FCC to evaluate an application, and their final decision may be positive or negative. A positive response would include the issuance of a construction permit, giving the applicant 18 months to build the station. After the station is constructed and tested -- assuming the tests are satisfactory -- permission is granted to begin regular programming. This whole procedure can take several years to accomplish, and a great deal of money. While it can sometimes be done for less, an applicant should probably budget at least $1-2 million for development of a basic 50,000-watt station with one antenna, from application to the beginning of regular broadcasts. Then, of course, there is the question of operating costs, which will be many thousands of dollars per month. Some religious and other organizations may be able to subsidize these costs, but those stations which must be totally self-supporting often face great challenges. It is extremely difficult to sell spot commercials on shortwave stations, since there are no audience ratings for such a disperse listenership. This same lack of audience ratings means that block airtime must also be sold very inexpensively, and nowadays there are a lot of stations (even religious and government-owned stations) selling block airtime in order to pay for themselves. This brings the airtime prices down lower still. The good news is that the lower cost of shortwave airtime has made it very affordable for organizations of all types to purchase blocks of time on privately-owned shortwave stations to get their message heard around the world, without having to go to the tremendous work and expenses involved in setting up their own station (which would be impossible for most of these entities). Some -- but not all -- of the member stations of NASB offer airtime for sale to outside organizations. Feel free to contact member stations for more details on their programming, sales policies, rates, etc.