Is shortwave radio something of the past?

May 3rd, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT

 

Eddy Starts, started broadcasting on shortwave in 1928

Eddy Startz, who started broadcasting on shortwave in 1928.

Before the first FM radio service was introduced in South Africa on 25 December 1961, just about every home had a radio which could tune the shortwave bands. Many people were fascinated by foreign radio stations and the various languages in which they were broadcasting. The BBC, the Voice of America, Radio Nederland, Deutsche Welle and Radio France International were amongst the most frequently listened to stations.

Many shortwave listeners (SWLs) became so involved that they made it their hobby to log as many shortwave radio stations as possible. These provided useful reception reports to shortwave broadcasters and in return the SWLs would receive a QSL card (confirmation postcard) and programme schedules.

Looking back, reception on even a simple radio, was good most of the time. Perhaps the noise level then was much lower than today where every conceivable electronic device adds to the radio frequency noise floor.

In 1957 interest in shortwave radio surged as the Russians launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1 and it became known that its signals could be heard on the 15 m band.

The rotating antenna masts in the Netherlands. Installed in 1937, the complex structure was unique in the world. It was capable of optimising radiation power to the desired target area. It consisted of two 60 metre high towers. In order to maintain minimum absorption the towers were built of wood. The platforms in the summit served as suspension for the antennas. In the direction of the beam, the radiation was a total of 24 times stronger than a simple dipole.

The rotating antenna masts in the Netherlands. Installed in 1937, the complex structure was unique in the world. It was capable of optimising radiation power to the desired target area. It consisted of two 60 m high towers. In order to maintain minimum absorption the towers were built of wood. The platforms in the summit served as suspension for the antennas. In the direction of the beam, the radiation was a total of 24 times stronger than a simple dipole.

One of the favourite broadcast stations and one of the very first to operate was the “Happy Station” which was operatd by the Philips company.  It  started broadcasting from Eindhoven in the Netherlands on 19 November 1928. The station’s call letters were PCJJ. In 1947 Radio Nederland took over the programme and introduced separate English and Spanish versions in addition to a multi-lingual version. Edward “Eddie” Startz presented the programme from its inception until his retirement in December 1969. Tom Meijer took over the English and Spanish versions until his own retirement in 1993. He was followed by Pete Myers and Jonathan Groubert for the English version until the end of the 1990s when it was cancelled by the management of Radio Nederlands.

Installed in 1937, a complex structure of the rotating antenna masts in the Netherlands was capable of optimising radiation power to the desired target area. It consisted of two 60 m high towers, and in order to maintain minimum absorption the towers were built from wood. The platforms in the summit served as suspension for the antennas. In the direction of the beam, the radiation was 24 times stronger than a simple dipole.

In South Africa, shortwave was used to cover the country. The first commercial station broadcasting on shortwave, LM Radio in Mozambique, came on air in 1935. It was a popular choice for South Africans and had a large following. Even car radios included the shortwave bands and when travelling across South Africa, LM Radio was often the only station that could be received. On 7 September 1974 the station was occupied during an uprising in Lourenco Marques and the administration of the station was taken over by the Frelimo army.

Shortwave listening was a thriving hobby in South Africa during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. There were several shortwave listening clubs in South Africa but with the arrival of television, shortwave listening popularity faded. Another reason is perhaps that today modern HiFi systems, portable and car radios cover only the medium wave and FM bands.

Yet listening to shortwave broadcast stations remains fascinating. There are still people who spend their evenings tuning across the bands to pick-up those distant radio stations. Even medium wave offers a challenge when many hundreds of stations become audible in South Africa at night. If you have not tried it, dust off that old valve set in the radiogram stacked away in the garage, string some wire from a tree and tune across the bands. Who knows, the bug may bite and before long you will be shopping for a state-of-the-art shortwave radio.

In the days of shortwave, while tuning across the various bands one would come across radio amateurs talking to each other. In those days both the SABC and LM radio broadcasted on the 40 m band, next to the amateur radio allocations. Many shortwave listeners were fascinated and became radio amateurs but that too has disappeared as radio amateurs no longer use AM; they too have migrated to the digital era.

Conventional radio and television broadcasting may eventually be doomed, or so one might reasonably assume from reading the BBC’s broadcast charter proposal for the next ten years. It talks about moving to an internet-fit BBC, to be ready for an internet-only world whenever that comes. The only limiting factor will be to “move at the pace of the audiences”; ensuring that older subscribers have access to content on radio and TV as long as they need it. Does having a respected broadcast institution like the BBC speaking of an “internet-only world”  mean that the over-the-air transmission medium is doomed?

Unlikely for a very long time to come!

Many African countries still rely on shortwave broadcasting to cover sparsely populated areas where even medium wave does not provide enough coverage. In South Africa, Radio Sonder Grense (SABC Afrikaans service), makes use of shortwave transmissions to cover the Northern Cape, while Sentech, the national signal distributor, broadcasts programmes on shortwave for the BBC and Voice of America. Sentech also sponsors a broadcast called Amateur Radio Today, an hour-long programme dedicated to amateur radio on Sundays at 10h00 on 7205 and 17660 kHz with a repeat transmission on Mondays at 18h30 on 3230 kHz. It is also streamed on the internet for anytime listening.

While many will take to the internet to listen to local and international radio stations or view streaming TV stations, they will get the programming but they will miss the nostalgia of the airwaves: short wave!

Related Articles

  • High-side switches with embedded control functions
  • Industry expert talks about importance of continuous learning
  • Digitiser with same performance across all channels
  • Interface measurement of oil, emulsions, water in desalters
  • Futuristic ICT needs futuristic skills