Shortwave radio still exists because there’s always a chance that phone and Internet connections can go down. When that happens, you’ll be thankful that you know how to communicate through shortwave radio. With the proper setup, you can talk to people even across continents.
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Buying Your First Shortwave Radio
For newbies, listening to shortwave broadcasts is the first step. Actually, it’s a hole list of steps:
- Buy a good shortwave radio. The more basic models cost less than a hundred bucks, though you may want to spend more for a digital radio with extra features.
- Upgrade the antenna. This is crucial, and it’s the one component you need to focus on. While you can go online and learn how to build your own antenna, you can just get a special antenna that works better than the stock antenna.
- Tune in to shortwave broadcasts. Once you pick the right shortwave band, you move the tuning dial and try to get shortwave broadcast stations. You should go online and do some research first, so you can get listings of shortwave frequencies in use and their broadcasting schedules.
- Try new things and experiment. You’ll find that you get better receptions at certain times. If you have a digital shortwave radio, save your found frequencies in the memory slots.
Shortwave Communication Gear
While listening to shortwave broadcasts is well and good, it’s a lot more useful for you if you can talk back too. For that, you’ll need the right set of equipment.
- Transceiver: A transceiver acts as a transmitter and a receiver (which explains its name). While you can go with a costly setup using your home (or a cabin high up in the mountains) as your station, you can also just go with an inexpensive handheld model.
- Antenna: You need this to broadcast and receive the shortwave radio signals. If you’re installing a new antenna at home, you may want to check to see if your local zoning laws have something to say about this.
- Antenna tuner: This component connects the tuner to the transceiver.
- Microphone: This is the part you speak in, though you may want to start with then key first. The key lets you transmit in Morse code, which keeps you from getting too tired when looking for someone to talk to.
- Ham radio license: This will be your ticket to making broadcasts, since to do so you need the license.
Finding Someone to Talk To (QSO)
The first conversation or contact (called QSO) through ham radio can be rather nerve-wracking, since you’re always worried if you had set things up correctly. That’s why it’s often more convenient to arrange your QSO with a radio buddy. You can set up a list of frequency you can use, along with the set time for the QSO.
Here are the steps you should take.
1. Do a final check on your radio setup
Check that it’s in the right mode, and that you’ve correctly set the microphone gain. Then select the appropriate amount of power.
Check your antenna again, and see that everything’s okay.
2. Find a clear frequency
The reason why you and your buddy need a list of frequencies is that the frequency you pick may be in use at the time. So, you have to check first.
Listen to the frequency first to confirm that no one is using it. After a while, you can talk and ask: “Is this frequency in use? This is [your callsign].”
Wait for a reply, and maybe ask the question again. If you don’t hear a reply, then you’re in luck and you can use the frequency with your buddy.
If you do hear a reply, maybe the other person is also trying to find someone to talk to on shortwave radio. You can then begin your conversation.
3. Invite people to talk to
When you’re on an unused frequency, you can then transmit CQ in Morse code using your key. This is an open invitation for anyone listening on that frequency to respond.
If you want, you can also speak and use the 3×3 method and spell out your call sign,
Let’s say you’re Jim with call sign H7BCD out in Miami.
“CQ, CQ, CQ, this is Hotel Seven Bravo Charlie Delta, Hotel Seven Bravo Charlie Delta, Hotel Seven Bravo Charlie Delta”.
If no one responds after a few minutes, try another frequency.
4. Engage in conversation
If someone responds by giving their call sign, then you can talk back. Mention your name and spell it out, and also say and spell your location. Also report the condition of their transmission.
So, your response should be something like this, if callsign E5LJM responds.
“E5LJM, E5LJM, this is Hotel Seven Bravo Charlie Delta. Good evening, your report is 5-9 (meaning their report is perfectly readable and extremely strong). My name is Jim, Juliet India Mike. My QTH (location) is Miami, Mike India Alpha Mike India.”
Then the other guy also responds with their report, name, and location.
The report uses the Readability and Strength scale:
- Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable
- Readable with considerable difficulty
- Readable with practically no difficulty
- Perfectly readable
- Faint—signals barely perceptible
- Very weak signals
- Weak signals
- Fair signals
- Fairly good signals
- Good signals
- Moderately strong signals
- Strong signals
- Extremely strong signals
While there are hundreds of millions of shortwave broadcast receivers in the world, not all that many people know how to set up their shortwave radio system for 2-way communication.
Now that you know how to communicate through shortwave radio, you have an extra lifeline for emergencies in case phone lines and the Internet goes down. It may just save your life, though more likely you’ll be engrossed with your new shortwave radio hobby. Talking to people in other countries is much cooler than just typing words through your keyboard online!
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