Changes, Part 1

The first of many observations about what has changed since I last was a shortwave radio listener.


Whether you’ve stuck with it through the years, or you’ve returned to the hobby after a long absence, it’s hard not to look at shortwave radio today and be bummed about some of the changes.

With Radio Canada International being snuffed out in June, yet another giant broadcaster from my early days will be gone. My earliest listening experiences came on a Panasonic boom box that had two shortwave bands on it. Scrolling through them, RCI was one of many big time signals I could count on finding. The BBC, VOA, Radio Moscow, Radio Netherlands, AFRTS, and Deutsche Welle seemed to be everywhere, and at least one frequency was always booming in. WRNO didn’t play music that different from the FM stations I listened to, but the experience of listening to it on shortwave was somehow much cooler.

Today, most of those giants have either disappeared, scaled back their transmissions dramatically, or are just difficult to hear. Perhaps it’s just me and my location, but being an SWLer seems a lot more difficult now than it was in the 1980s.

What is most jarring to me is how quiet the 60 Meter Band is. Once I graduated from SWLing to DXing, the 60 Meter Band was my favorite playground. There was always a wonderful balance of powerful Latins at all hours, Africans late at night and in the afternoons, weaker Latins in the mornings, and a few Asian and Pacific stations that popped up around sunrise.

Today when I roll through the band, it’s mostly American religious stations, Cuba, and static. No up-tempo music from Venezuela or Colombia. No indigenous music from Central America. No morning greetings for African farmers starting their days. Not even Radio Mayak at the bottom of the band.

When I was debating whether to start listening again, that was a big consideration. Was it worth it if there were fewer and fewer of the fun DX signals, and they were harder and harder to hear? While the number of DX targets have certainly been reduced, there are still enough to keep me interested.