What is SWLing?

The amateur radio hobby can be summed up in one word: diversity.

Learn to build antennas that will work on 20 meters, try 10 meters, see what 40 meters are like, think you’re missing something on 80 or 160 but can’t find it? You’re not alone; go out and find your missing piece of the puzzle.

Why SWL? The abbreviation stands for Shortwave Listening (SWL) and is derived from the practice of listening to distant radio stations on the shortwave bands. While you can do this with modified domestic receivers or dedicated HF (3-30 MHz) shortwave radios you often get more out of the hobby by building your own from kits or from scratch from whatever parts are at hand. Antennas – particularly monobanders – will put you in touch with other colonies of SWLs who might live 100 miles or more away. In North America, you’ll find a fellowship of SWLs who use the 60m band as both a local and DX band, especially Saturdays at 14:00 UTC. And should you decide to venture into SSB voice transmission, there is a whole world waiting for you.

How does SWLing work?

SWLing is done using a wide range of consumer equipment. Usually, shortwave radios are used but other receivers are sometimes used to listen to other types of waves. Some people even use antennas that are meant to capture long-wave or medium-wave signals. These are not able to capture the shorter-waveband waves, but they usually have better sensitivity than normal shortwave antennas.

Why SWLing

Often described as the “poor man’s ham radio,” Shortwave Radios (SWR) are incredibly popular among ex-pats, travelers, and international aid workers. SWR can be found in dozens of countries across the world. 

  1. Communication with family and friends in remote locations: After hurricanes, earthquakes, and the like, the ability to communicate is often nonexistent or expensive. Far-flung friends and relatives can use shortwave radio to check up on their loved ones and offer them support.
  2. Communication when cellular networks are down: During natural disasters like hurricanes, or man-made disasters like war, cellular networks are often down. Shortwave radio, by comparison, is not affected by this.
  3. Free internet access across the globe: Internet access can be expensive in some parts of the world, particularly remote areas. Shortwave radio offers users free internet access across the globe, without special equipment or software.
  4. International radio stations.
  5. Travelers entertainment: Travelers using campervans or motor homes can entertain themselves with shortwave radios during long trips across continents. Shortwave radios are also great for people spending long periods of time at sea or isolated on islands, like scientists or volunteers working at charity organizations overseas.
  6. Emergency communication: In case of natural disaster, war, or other emergencies, shortwave radios are one of the only methods of communication still functioning.
  7. High-speed internet access in areas without coverage is the premier online resource for SWR enthusiasts, covering everything from the best high-end radios to antenna installation. While users can learn everything they need to know about SWR (including reviews on everything from the Tecsun PL-380 to the Alinco DX-SR8), SWLing also allows readers to compare different models and brands of SWR side by side, with up-to-date prices, information, and even check for discounts when you buy two or more (just like with Amazon).

Is there a future for SWLing?

For shortwave radio fans, the short answer is yes – there are many communities of SELLers who are surviving, even thriving. But one can’t help but wonder why.

The most obvious reason is that SWLing has an undeniably cool factor. For some, it’s a nostalgic return to the days of wireless telegraphy. For others, it’s an irresistible challenge to test one’s equipment and patience in the face of natural interference. And for others, it’s just plain fun to tell stories about the amazing things the hobby will allow you to discover.

Wrapping up

In my experience, shortwave radio is one of the most overlooked ways to get information from other countries. I used to enjoy the magic of turning the dial and picking up other stations from around the world from my childhood bedroom.

In this technology-driven world, where so much exists online and at our fingertips, it is nice to know there still exists a treasure trove of radio stations and information waiting to be discovered simply by turning a dial and hearing what’s out there in the ether.

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