Shortwave Radio For Disaster Information

During a disaster, getting news and information is a key element to making good decisions. A portable battery-operated shortwave radio receiver (with HF Ham bands) will be a great asset.

At a minimum, get yourself an inexpensive portable AM radio.

[ Read: Best Cheap Pocket Radio for AM/FM Band ]

Even better, take it to the next level with a portable battery operated shortwave radio. It will provide more opportunity (more bands) to get even more information – which may be critical during a disaster.

Listening to Shortwave Radio, whether a hobby, or gathering information during a disastrous event, will provide news and information from around the region, country, and the world. Broadcasts and sources ranging from government, business, independent stations, and individuals.

In addition to ordinary news gathering, there are many emergency situation scenarios where a portable battery operated shortwave radio will be a valuable asset to be used to gain critical real-time information. Perhaps before others get the information – enabling a head-start on decision making. The sooner you understand what’s going on, the sooner you can make good decisions.

For example, let’s say your entire region loses electrical power. Lets say this results in a mostly, or total blackout of information from local broadcasters. Most people rely on cable TV, satellite TV, or the internet for their sources of information. These stations could be completely off the air – and your TV will be down anyway from the grid being down. Some radio stations and transmitters will have emergency power generators, and if you had a portable (battery operated) radio, you could find out what’s going on. A shortwave radio will enable you to hear stations from very far away, enabling you to hear information from around the region, nation, and the world – beyond just your local region.

Choosing a portable shortwave radio receiver

There are many portable shortwave radios out there to choose from. I’ve written about it several times. Here’s one article:

[ Read: Best Shortwave Radio For Travel | Portable | Handheld | Hobby Listening ]

Though no longer manufactured, I believe the following portable shortwave radio is (one of) the best. I’ve had it for many years and am still completely satisfied with it’s quality and longevity. You can still find them in good used condition.

Sony ICF-SW7600GR
(view on amzn)

The TECSUN brand also has a great reputation. I will suggest two of their models. The PL-380 is quite reasonably priced (although not as feature-rich). This portable shortwave radio comes with great reviews – and looks to be a great value.

TECSUN PL-380

If you can afford this TECSUN model, the PL-880 is their top-of-the-line. Excellent reviews. And it has SSB (Single Side Band) reception, which is necessary for listening to Amateur Radio Operators talking on the HF Ham radio bands.

TECSUN PL-880
(amzn)

Shortwave bands

A typical ‘shortwave radio’ is more than just an AM/FM radio. It has frequency bands that for decades have allowed broadcasters (and Ham radio operators) to bounce signals around the globe. Whereas AM is fairly local (much wider range at night, even up to ~1,000 miles if you’re DX’ing) – and FM is very localized.

If you take the PL-880 as an example, this radio will receive the following bands:

  • FM: 64-108 MHz
  • SW: 1711-29999 KHz (including the 10 – 80 Meter Amateur Radio Bands)
  • AM: 520-1710 KHz
  • LW: 100-519 KHz (popular in Europe)

[ Read: Best DX Radio For AM DXing – Long Range Listening ]

Shortwave radio broadcasters will typically ‘target’ their broadcasts to specific parts of the globe based on several technical factors including antenna design and orientation, the frequency they use, the time of day, and even the time of year.

Shortwave radio schedules are most always listed in UTC time (Coordinated Universal Time), which basically means the time in London, and is typically displayed in a 24 hour format.
The current UTC time.

A good source of shortwave radio schedules can be found here, Prime Time Shortwave.

Shortwave radio listening can be an enjoyable hobby, while at the same time providing an additional layer of preparedness while receiving information in the event of a ‘grid-down’ situation, be it local – or wider.

Get one that includes Ham radio bands (and SSB)

Good shortwave radios will also include the HF Ham radio bands. I would definitely recommend choosing one that has these bands. This way, you can listen to individual Ham radio operators all around the country, and world, when conditions are right. In addition, you’ll need SSB (Single Side Band) reception capability.

Note regarding the threat of EMP, electromagnetic pulse. You might consider keeping a spare portable shortwave radio in a do-it-yourself Faraday cage.

For even more protection, first (do this), and then, put it in (this).

[ Read: Shortwave and Ham Radio Bands ]

[ Read: Best BaoFeng Antenna Upgrade for Ham Radio or GMRS, FRS, MURS Bands ]

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16 Comments

  1. I constantly preach this…..
    In the US of A night time AM radio is amazing. If you don’t understand propagation it isn’t something you probably will spend a lot of time reading. So, I’ll try again…..see if this makes sense:
    When I was in SouthEast Asia, various places, we used to listen to the following ‘back home’ stations:
    Dub-ya, Dub-ya, Ay-ul (WWL) 870 N’or-Lense. (New Orleans) (AKA NOLA!) Don’t care if ya don like Cajun, English anything is good!
    Ate-Nyun_OH! (890) Dubba-ya-Ayl-Esssss, (WLS), Chi-Cah-Go! (Chicago!) The BEST un-biased biased news you’ll ever hyer.
    Kay-Are-Ell-Dee (KRLD),Dahl-Uss (Actually Garland) Texas. Wun-Oh-Ate-Oh (1080) on any dial. Good ol’ Boy radio. Best news you ever hyar on a horse, tractor, or in a Peeek-Up truk~! (I used to live about 1/2 mile from KRLD…..I could hear it on the phone (land line), TV, toaster, micro-wave, most light bulbs, and occasionally the garage door opener.
    Kay-Ohhhhh-EMMMMMM-Ayyyyyyy. The right end of yer dial at Fif-Teen-Twennnie. (1520) KOMA has been ‘sold’ at least three times. There affiliation with reality is unknown.

    I also have to include AFVN, Saigon. Doesn’t everybody remember: Gooooooooooooood Morning Viet Nam?
    I do. But they went off the air.

    These are all Clear Channel stations. They are authorized a transmitting power of 100,000 watts. Mostly directional at night. That being generally east-west for transmitters in the central US. For those stations on the east coast, the pattern is westerly, those on the west coast it is easterly. (Duh) They also have to have generators to last for……maybe…..72 hours. Used to be 7 days. But politics got involved.

    So…..give it a shot. Radio used to the ONLY entertainment. Might be once again.

    1. Crow Bait,
      Thanks, you brought back some good memories. 1960s, boy scout camp outs in the deserts of California, listening with our little AM transistor radios, seeing which far off radio stations we could find. Wolfman Jack on XERB in Mexico was always a kick to tune in on. Canadian stations were an occasional treat too.

    2. Crow Bait,

      WBAP….820 on your dial…home of the midnight cowboy Bill Mack. They cranked up the power to 100,000 watts at night…catered to truckers who could listen in coast to coast.

    3. Another one that could be picked up at night was WOWO 1190 AM out of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. At the time (1970s), they were broadcasting at 50,000 watts. As a teen, I would listen at night and the nighttime DJ (Ron Gregory??) would have people calling in all over the world from places like Guam and Jamaica saying they could easily pick up WOWO. It was fascinating to listen to.

  2. Now for those that want to date themselves:
    XERF….1570……Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico……AKA Instituto Mexicano de la Radio (IMER).
    AND…..
    XERG…. 690, Monterrey, NL, Mexico….
    Can you say “WolfManJack?????”……

    Both Xerf and XERG are still on the air!

    What has the internet done to us? Ain’t none of the “Social Crap” can defeat The WolfMan!!!!!

    Those were the daze…….

  3. – On January 23, 1966, I was sitting in my dad’s chair in the living room listening to the shortwave radio he kept near his head. (Dad was visiting my uncle so they could play with uncle’s new Porsche).

    As it happened, I was listening to Radio Havana, an English-language communist radio station. They interrupted the program to talk about an American spy ship captured off the coast of North Korea, the USS Pueblo. It was interesting to hear; I decided to see what the TV news had on it.

    I waited for three days before it broke on the American news front.

    I cannot say when or where, but I had a similar experience while on active duty when I was the Duty NCO who received a message to decode and hand to the colonel regarding a similar incident. That one also waited three days before reaching the public news.

    There are a lot of incidents that are never put out to the public. You will frequently hear of them on “opposing forces” news programs, usually with considerable lead time.

    – Papa S.

    1. Papa, That’s why I check in every so often with Al Jazeera. Lots of anti-American propaganda, and lies about Israel, which I just skip over, but pretty good news re the region.

      1. My youngest son’s father lives in Bali and Al Jazeera is the only news, since most of Indonesia is Muslim. Bali is more Hindu however no news for them. Said father was going on and on about how good Biden was etc etc because of the only news is A J. My son said, you are not in the US and do not know s… about the real Biden.
        Radio is a good idea and yes I remember Wolf Man Jack.

    2. i remember that, i was only about 11 years old and my brother was stationed in south korea. he was about to come home but had to stay a little longer. i remember him saying they had issued them wepons etc to be ready to go in and take the ship, but it finally settled down and he did get to come home. he was stationed in seoul, i believe if i am not wrong camp rose.

  4. When I was stationed in Kodiak, AK, I could take my ’66 Beetle down to the Sealand docks at night and pull in stations all across the country and down into Mexico with the car’s stock AM radio and antenna! AM is pretty cool that way, actually. Shortwave/Ham enjoys this bounce. FM doesn’t work that way because the frequencies those stations use are too high. VHF and UHF signals shoot through the ionosphere before they can be bent enough to refract back to Earth. Unfortunately, most of the AM dial where I live is the realm of Spanish stations…

  5. The newer shortwave radios a relatively cheap. I would recommend buying more than one. On top of that, if you come across an older AC/battery shortwave at a decent price, ask to try it out. If it works and you can afford it, BUY IT. Reason being; the older radios were expensive. People wanted their money’s worth if they were going to shell out more for a radio than a car payment! They were very sensitive and built really well. I still have one of the last Zenith Transoceanic shortwave sets made. That thing’s INCDREDIBLE. The downside; it’s also heavy; almost 5 lbs WITHOUT batteries. The reason I say “try it out” is that some of these radios have been sitting in someone’s attic, basement, or garage since Grandpa died. The analog controls on these will start to sound scratchy if they’ve been sitting in a less-than-ideal environment for any amount of time. If the radio you’re looking at sounds scratchy but the price is right, take a chance. Bring it home and USE it. Ofttimes just working the controls for a while will clear things up.

    One thing missed in the article; if you want to listen to the hams talk, make sure you buy a radio with SSB (Single Side Band). Most hams use SSB for voice coms.

    1. Good point regarding SSB. Thanks for bringing that up. My radios have it. I just ‘assumed’… Yes, a very important feature for listening to hams on HF.

  6. About Shortwave Ham Broadcasts: virtually all ham stations use AM Upper Side Band (USB) or AM Lower Side Band (LSB). Most of these cheaper (under $150 bucks) AM radios do not receive the ham sideband freqs. Please folks get a real ham radio or an AM radio with sideband receive capability

    1. Homer has a good point. Don’t limit your searches to “shortwave” radios. HF (High Frequency) ham radio receivers/transceivers cover the “shortwave” bands. In fact, they often overlap. Disclaimer; if you purchase an HF transceiver and aren’t a licensed ham, leave the microphone unplugged…

    2. “Real” ham radio transceivers are great. However, for the sake of purchasing a portable battery operated SW radio (receive only), there are several excellent choices (that include all HF bands and SSB, Single Side Band). My Sony has it. The PL-880 (listed above) has it. Just check for it if you’re looking into one of these.

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