The future of HF broadcasters

Deutsche Welle (DW) is closing its last relay station, which is in Kigali, Rwanda. In recent years DW like many shortwave broadcasters, has been facing financial cutbacks. Also there are far fewer broadcasters using shortwaves these days.

As a youngster in the 1960s, I recall shortwaves crowded with AM broadcast stations, many from all over the world transmitting in English, with their distinctive interval signals. There was a magic about shortwave broadcasting back then. Quite a few could be copied with very simple receivers too. There is something quite nostalgic about listening again to those long-gone interval signals from behind the Iron Curtain. I remember getting some excellent freebees from China back in the early 1980s. Of course, it was all to spread the propaganda.  All I really wanted was their QSL card!

These days, users are often reached using the internet. Of course, it begs the question, “who is now filling the empty, vacated channels?”  In the long run amateur radio might gain some allocations, although the noise floor on HF is increasing too. SMPUs, cable TV and numerous other sources are mainly to blame.


Roger Lapthorn, G3XBM, is a regular contributor to and writes from Cambridge, England.

4 Responses to “The future of HF broadcasters”

  • Stephen G0PQB:

    I well remember listening to the Voice of America with all their stations all over the world with the US using callsigns like WBOU Bound Brook, WGEO Schnectady and then Greenville NC opened up with no callsign. But you could do a world tour listening to VOA with relay stations in Wooferton in England, Munich in Germany and Thessaloniki in Greece. The BBC didn’t have that many relay stations at that time. But I used to listen to the VOA Breakfast Show on the MW BC band from Munich before the BBC domestic services came on air. Those were the days but it has all changed now and I never listen to the BC bands anymore.

  • Stuart WB6RXG:

    My question is this, How much damage to Shortwave Broadcast has been done with many stations switching to Digital Radio Mondial (DRM). Your everyday listener is not able to go to their local electronics retailer and buy a basic shortwave receiver with DRM.

    Just my two cents.

  • frank ON6UU:

    I remember that it was great to hear VOA on the HF bands. They are still there. Being it on less frequencies I have the impression.

    VOA can also be listened to via :

    And there is also websdr where you can find them.


  • Tim Makins EI8IC:

    The BBC has gone a similar path, closing down many SW transmitters around the world. Why do we need them, they say, when you can listen to much clearer audio on the internet? Its a useful argument as far as the auditors are concerned, but totally misses the point: DW, VOA, and the BBC are (supposed to be) broadcasters!! I have traveled extensively to some 148 countries, and always used to take a SW receiver to catch up on the news. These days I don’t bother. Huge areas of the planet are no longer targeted for SW. Yet how do I hear the news? The thought of sitting in an internet cafe to listen to the BBC is ridiculous. Most of the time in third-world countries, their equipment and connection is not nearly adequate for this. A lot of the time its hard enough to get a big web-page to load, never mind a video or an audio feed. And then there’s the cost – in some countries, internet access is very expensive. In Australia a fee of 6 dollars an hour is not unusual. Am I going to spend that on the BBC – not likely!!

    Forgetting about the Westerner traveler, though, lets think of the local people. In huge areas of the world they live on a minimum income, and do not have a computer or broadband at home. If they have internet access at all, it will be on their phone, and very slow. It is fairly common for a family to have a radio set, a set which in many third world regions still has a SW band on it, not like the sets we see in the west these days. People would listen to the foreign broadcasters to get their news – I thought that was the whole point of broadcasting in the first place, but these days that entire audience has been lost, for good. The BBC used to have a great reputation around the world precisely because everyone listened to it. All gone now.

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