The Battle Over Internet and Shortwave Radio and Why SWLs Should Use Both

In the shortwave radio community, there are many listeners that detest the idea of internet radio. Some will say that it’s not real radio; others say it’s just not the same as shortwave. There’s certainly some truth to these claims, but it is a matter of one’s opinion. Of course, everyone’s experience with radio is going to be different in terms of what technology is being used. However, what surprises me is so many SWLs (shortwave listeners) are so adamant about internet radio.

The reality of radio these days is constantly changing. Part of this comes from newer technologies while some of it is economic pressures. Some broadcasters are wondering if their medium is a viable source of information and entertainment given listeners are listening elsewhere or if they are making enough money to stay on-the-air. While this applies to all radio, shortwave has received the “short-end of the stick,” so to speak.

Over the past 10-15 years, many international broadcasters on shortwave have either scaled back programming or have been forced off-the-air…especially in places like North America and Europe. Stations such as the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Netherlands, and Deutsche Welle have reduced shortwave services in many areas and are in the process of completely abandoning the medium. Some of these broadcasters have sought survival through local AM/FM radio stations, satellite radio thru XM/Sirius and others, and the internet through podcasts and streaming audio. Few have completely ending their radio stations (regardless of medium) completely.

Here’s where the true battle between shortwave and internet radio begins! In regions like North America and Europe,  many broadcasters have stopped their shortwave services. For some of them, they can only be heard on internet radio. Of course, it is possible to hear these stations on shortwave via broadcasts aimed to other regions but it doesn’t guarantee optimum reception. Unless one has the most state-of-the-art receiver and antenna and favorable conditions, it is going to be hard to catch these distant stations.

For some SWLs, that’s enough for them. They would rather listen to a barely audible frequency mixed with loud static and hear the same station on internet radio. To each their own, but there are some listeners that would rather hear a weak station on shortwave versus a clear, audible station on internet radio because web streaming is “not radio.” Now, let’s say this same station came in with strong signal strength on a radio set. I would I listen to it on an actual radio since it will sound better (and not electronic) and I won’t have to deal with buffering issues or lack of internet connection. Traditional radio can work anywhere, however wi-fi and 3G/4G web services have made internet radio a portable experience as well. I will tend to listen to stations I can clearly receive on a radio set. Otherwise, I will tune in using my iPod Touch or smartphone.

Basically, it all stems down to how you view radio. Your personal preference will shape your listening habits, of course, but why limit yourself. There is a wealth of stations on both shortwave and internet radio.  Each have amazing content found nowhere else. Personally, I view “radio” not as a physical medium but as content as well. The radio experience can be heard on some many devices: radio sets, iPods, computers, car radios, podcasts, smartphones. Honestly, what’s the difference aside from what device you are listening it on.

While I am not keen on many shortwave radio stations abandoning shortwave and just solely relying on internet radio. Some broadcasters have noted that shortwave is no longer viable and will have a larger audience on the web. I beg to differ. Even though shortwave listenership is the lowest it has ever been, internet radio is much lower. Since it is a new medium, web radio does not have a large audience because many people are not aware of it, web services are limited, it can be blocked in some regions, some cannot afford it, and some servers can only support a certain limit of listeners for the bandwidth. Web radio is still in its infancy. Until it matures enough to support a large audience, internet radio is not a worthy replacement to traditional radio.

Likewise, I think internet and shortwave radio can compliment each other. If a signal cannot be heard on a receiver, then you can still tune in online. If you are still not convinced, then you’ll miss out on a lot of content.

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About chrisfreitas

Chris Freitas is a graduate of the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Communications (concentration in Broadcasting and Journalism). He plans to work in radio broadcasting at home and abroad, mainly in New York City. In the meantime, Chris is working at WUMR U92 FM, the Jazz Lover in Memphis, TN. His hobbies include drawing, photography, shortwave listening, and playing some video games. He earnest wants to be a radio announcer and producer. Right now, Chris’s dream is becoming a reality by working at WUMR. Eventually, he wants to produce his own radio show, either by on-air or using the internet . The show he envisions could be based by one of his two passionate hobbies: shortwave radio or video games.

Posted on July 27, 2011, in Radio, Shortwave Radio and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Chris love it– guilty here I do love my XM radio that carries BBC World, WRN, etc- Coast to Coast AM show on Talk Radio channel. Shortwave is expensive, & with online content, you can actually see with your own eyes how many views/downloads and who did it and where. Not with broadcast over the air radio. But don’t fret it will not die. Military uses it, amateurs use it, Cubans will not stop using it. They don’t HAVE interent. As many Chinese have to pass the Great Internet Wall, and DPRK citizen listeners have nothing but. It wil not die.

  2. Good article, you have experience with both. Myself, I find the internet to be a very active, distracting medium; I find shortwave listening to be a more relaxing and focused activity.

  3. I would say that the “radio only” SWLs like the sort of “pioneering spirit” listening to a weak signal has – I would also suspect that many of the “radio-only” people are former QSL hunters, so it’s more of a “catch the most obscure foreign station” then actually listen for content. You see that a lot with the SW pirate radio listeners; radio on all the time, scanning endlessly between 6925 and 7400-something. You can’t hear the pirates online unless you are hooked up to an Internet scanner, and even then you might miss them.

    Shortwave will be the only non-televisual, broadcast way certain countries will communicate to their people for some time. Think of Russia, China or India: each are either large, developing, or have vast distances between towns or huge poor populations. Radio is a far cheaper way of getting information out from a nation’s capitol than the Internet; SW is deeply established in the Russian Federation and all the CIS ex-Soviet states, as it is in China and India. Where we are seeing growth in FM communications is Africa, but that is usually non-licensed and low power (15-40 watts); many of the African countries have used SW as a communication outlet from the government to the people (or to any world listeners if the transmitter was powerful enough.) What there needs to be is more non-governmental, non-church group (I’m looking at you, WWCR) broadcasting in the shortwave bands in the third world – then the interest in HF radio will grow.

    • I think there is small growth of new broadcasters popping up across the world to fill in the gaps left by big-name stations like the BBC and Radio Netherlands. One of these broadcasters is PCJ Media and they plan to transmit to various regions where SW is still a vital medium. Hopefully, this trend will open up more opportunities where new broadcasters enter into the shortwave bands.

      With that said, many places like North America don’t necessarily need shortwave. While I am saddened that many of these broadcasters leave the HF band, I know that there are MANY other ways to tune in.

      For example, I can hear the BBC World Service on three separate FM stations in the Memphis area in addition to podcasts and internet radio. Other broadcasters like CRI, Radio Netherlands, and Voice of Russia are actually experimenting on local AM/FM stations across North America to gain listenership.

      I don’t see SW disappearing from several regions but areas like the U.S., Japan, Australia, U.K., etc…there isn’t a large enough demand for SW. There is very little advertising and education of shortwave in these areas. Maybe with enough exposure, perhaps more will tune in, but the internet has made it more alluring, streamlined, and easier than just tuning the dial.

      For those of the “pioneering spirit,” it is still possible to hear these stations on SW on frequencies targeted to other regions like West Africa. With a great receiver, antenna, and the perfect conditions, these stations will be easy to catch with decent signal strength. Sometimes though, it’s not a sure way of hearing these “dead” broadcasters but an alternative to those who don’t want to listen to the station on the web or on newer mediums.

  4. Whats aggravating thing for me is of those international broadcast stations that are left, they are often overpowered my stations here in America. So I no find myself looking toward utilities.

  5. I bought my shortwave 1998 It was an amazing hobby I heard fantastic news and music from all over the world that I never would have had access to. The world news from the BBC, DW, and Radio Netherlands CSM and The Voice of America. Music and talk from HCJB voice of the Andes, Radio Habana Cuba, and all kinds of religious nuts, and just regular nuts like Tom Valentine who used to start his show with air raid sirens and jackboot footsteps and dogs barking.
    I’m still out here listening, And I miss the big stations and their programming. Sure I watch some BBC news on TV, but I’ve never listed to internet radio from any of the above stations. What I hear now in the wasteland of shortwave is China’s CRI, great programming from Radio Habana Cuba, and if I’m lucky I catch stations that are intending to hit the Caribbean or the VOA out to Africa, and of course Tom Valentine has been replaced by Alex Jones with his end of the world forecast on WWCR what’s that Alex? I should stock pile seeds for when the new world order wins the information war and takes over? Right I’ll get right on that.

  6. I remember using a Hallicrafters S38 radio to listen to shortwave when I was growing up back in Iowa. It is sad to loose the big stations like the BBC and etc.

  7. HELLOmy name is david, and i started in radio way back in 1948 with crystal set . OVER THE YEARS I WORKED UP TO BUILDING MY OWN SHORT WAVE BATTERY SETS , AND AFTER THE AMETURE BANDS STARTED SIDE BAND ,I HAD TO GET INTO MAINS RECIVERS …….WHEN I WAS ON THE RADIOS AT THIS TIME THE SUNSPOTS WAS BEST IT HAS EVER BEEN , AND STATIONS COULD BE RECIVED WITH NO ANT . JUST ON THE COPPER COILS IN A HARTLEY CIRCUIT. .
    AROUND 156 THEY STARTED MAKING TRANISTORS . AND THIS ENABLED TO BE ABLE TO PUT SATELITES IN TO ORBIT. THIS OVER THE NEXT 20 JUST ABOUT KILLED THE COMMERCIAL SIDEOF SHORT WAVE . AND ON TOP OF THIS SUN SPOT ACTIVTY HAS BEE GETTING WORSE FOR 60 YEARS . AMETURE RADIO IS GONE FOR EVER JUST THE SAME AS THE STEAM TRAINS . INTERNET RADIO IS POOR QUALITY MOST TIME WITH DROP OUTS . AND MOST OLD TIME AMETURES ARE DEAD OR OLDER THAN ME AT 80 YEARS .I LIKE INTERNET FOR INFO .. NOT ON PHONE PRETENDING YOU ONREAL RADIO. ONE MORE THING SOME AMETURES NOW ADAYS THINK INTERNET IS RF SIGNAL .. THANKS DAVID NOT AMETURE AND NEVER WANTED TO BE . SPOKEN ALL OVER THIS WORLD YEARS AGO ..

  8. david i have icomr500 and loads of interference from every think, mostly tv and computers . mains . so not bothered for years

  9. When it comes to technology battles the technology of the present always buries the technology of the past. In the early days of radio the spark gap oscillator and CW gave way to the tube and amplitude modulation. Each time the technology advanced it left the old technology in the dust with a lot of people who yearned for what came before. That’s always been the case and it’s no different for shortwave listening. I’d say the best days for the hobby were during the cold war years when there wasn’t any Internet and the geostationary space satellite relay system was in its infancy.

    Back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s you got your news from TV, regular AM and FM radio and the newspaper. Since those news sources originated in the country you lived in you only heard news that was full of propaganda. With shortwave you could hear the news from other countries and their propaganda. By hearing all sides of the news from different countries you could get a better idea about the truth because you had more information about the issues and could use your own judgment rather than be told what to think by the local media.

    Now the Internet is taking over from shortwave and this isn’t a bad thing because there are far more people online, in the developed countries, than had shortwave radios back in the cold war years. This means it is harder for the government and corporate controlled media to push propaganda when so many other sources from foreign counties will present other points of view.

    The shortwave broadcasters are finding a new home on the internet and the shortwave utility stations are moving from HF to the more reliable geostationary space satellite relay system. The utility stations were the fun part of shortwave, because you never knew what you were going to hear. Business communication, military, aircraft, marine and a whole host of other users comprised the HF utility portion of the spectrum. You could hardly move the tuning dial to find a whole bunch of new stations in the heyday of shortwave.

    Now you tune and hear nothing but static or worse you’ll hear religious stations with boring scripture or nut job conspiracy theorists. It’s not a matter of whether Internet radio is real radio or not, it’s just the new technology taking over from the old and many of us yearn for what came before.

    • I don’t get why people think Internet radio isn’t “real radio.” What does that mean anyway? Does WiFi and 3G/4G not use radio wave? Last I checked, it does so to me it is definitely radio.

      More importantly, there needs to be great content…regardless of medium. If it’s boring, then it’s not worth it. However if it’s informative, engaging, and/or entertaining, then that’s what you want to tune into.

      There’s not a huge lack of sounds on SW, but most of them is garbage. Most are just news services or screaming new world order trash. The rest are hams and programs in other languages not English. The ones that stand out have a variety of content like PCJ, VOA, RA, and RTI. There’s garbage on-line too, but there’s a lot interesting content on podcasts and streaming audio. And most of the international broadcasters I love are on-line.

      Audio quality wise, most online stations sound 5 times better than a static, filled SW station. If you have a good connection and listening to at least 64 kbps (FM quality), then buffering isn’t even an issue.

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