World Band
Radio Listening

by Roger Williams

The journalist, in this rapidly changing world of politics, wars, natural disasters, and every day human tragedy and triumph, must seek by any means to remain informed. Fortunately, technology has kept up with the demands for up-to-date information, through the knowledgeable use of shortwave listening devices. While the shortwave radio for overseas listening is not new, the ability to find and listen to news throughout the world has become simplified.  We no longer need large radio sets with cumbersome antennas to listen to Japan, Russia or Britain, from anywhere in the world. We can now use any one of a number of small, digitally operated portable radios, with a simple wire antenna attached, and the world is ours.

It is very necessary to recognize that radio airwaves can be propaganda oriented - the transmitting agency may be a part of the local government. What better way for the state owned Radio Moscow to convincingly "allow" the listener to feel he has just uncovered some state secret about the Russian grain harvest, or Radio Tokyo to let its listeners learn that Japan's economy is on the mend. Governments are aware of the propaganda value of the shortwave bands, and spend large amounts of money on overseas propaganda transmissions.

However, shortwave world band listening is a valuable tool for the journalist, as long as proper "sourcing" is done, and the information simply becomes another tool in the journalist's kit.

With so many different manufacturers and so many models of radios available, a review of  the market basket of equipment available seems reasonable. Bear in mind that any of the radios covered in this review need a wire antenna plugged into the antenna jack, 33 feet long, to allow the radio to work to its capability. The antenna size is based on a wavelength 10 meters long, and will work with all the radio frequencies on short wave. The antenna that comes with these portable shortwave radios is simply too small a "catcher's mitt" to catch the radio waves.

Many of the radios on the market today have a built-in Beat Frequency Oscillator for listening  to the amateur radio bands.  In the event of any disaster, the amateur bands come alive with the news of the event and give the listener on-the-spot reports. This is an indispensable feature.

1.) Sangean ATS 818 and ATS 818CS--Realistic DX 390. Average cost $219.00

These are the same radios with the ATS 818CS with a built-in tape recorder. These radios have the best overall performance of any of the radios tested. There are 45 memory  channels for easy spotting and return to favorite frequencies. Two 24-hour world clocks, one for World Time, and the second used as an alarm clock are included. Unwanted signal rejection, an important feature is superior in this radio. AM and FM reception is included on the standard broadcast bands for local reception. A large knob makes tuning easy and the large easy-to-read frequency display makes moving from one frequency to another a snap. The dual bandwidth system employed makes for easy worldwide listening as long as a wire antenna is plugged into the antenna jack. An easy to use Beat Frequency Oscillator, BFO, makes single sideband listening on the amateur radio bands easy. The large batteries used naturally make the radio bulkier, but the traveler can expect up to a month's worth of life out of the battery system.

2.) Sony ICF-SWS100. Average cost $349.95

A nearly pocket-sized portable shortwave, with superior performance. World listening capabilities with a built-in Beat Frequency Oscillator for listening to the amateur radio bands in emergencies. World Time /alarm clock for traveling ease. An amplified outboard antenna is supplied for enhanced listening. The radio is tuned by keyboard entry, but its small size does not permit a tuning knob. The radio comes with a self-regulating AC adapter with American and European plugs.  When size is a problem for the traveling journalist, this radio will fit the bill. Local AM and FM bands included. A major drawback is battery life. Because it uses small size double A batteries, with only 6 to 9 hours of life expectancy. This radio is exceptional, but it is for the traveler with a wall outlet.

3.) Grundig Yacht Boy 400. Average cost $199.95

When dollars are more critical this radio with its small size and helpful tuning features is a good buy. The single sideband listening feature is included for emergency listening to the amateur bands. The radio is easy to tune and with an added outside antenna will receive most shortwave stations around the world. The illuminated display makes the radio easy to use.  Battery life is excellent--several weeks time is available for listening on one set of batteries. The radio does not have a tuning knob, it is tuned by keyboard entry, and an up/down button. A good value.

4.) Sony ICF-SW7600G. Average cost $249.95

The latest model of a tried-and-tested radio used for years by shortwave users. This continuously tuning radio will pick up most radio transmitters throughout the world, and includes a Beat Frequency Oscillator for single sideband amateur radio emergency listening. A passive plug-in antenna is included for enhanced listening. Its size does not permit a tuning knob, it is tuned by keypad entry and an up/down button. The clock is not readable when the radio is turned on, and the frequency indicator could be brighter. Battery life is somewhat limited because of the small size. The best feature of this radio is its single sideband tuning, which is similar to that found on expensive base type radios.

These are the 4 best buys among the shortwave portable radios.  Many radios are available with non-continuous tuning. All the radios listed have continuous tuning from 150 khz to 30 mhz and AM and FM local listening. Without continuous tuning, too many of the worlds stations will not be located.

The following items should be considered when purchasing any shortwave radio used for worldwide listening:

       1.  Continuous tuning from 150 khz to 30 mhz.
       2.  AM and FM band reception.
       3.  Outside antenna jack.
       4.  Battery life.
       5.  Beat Frequency Oscillator for SSB listening.
       6.  Image rejection, (cleanliness of signal).
       7.  Number of memories for ease of repeat moves to the same frequency.
       8.  Ease of reading frequency display.
       9.  Size for portability.

In my final analysis, the Sangean ATS 818, even though a bit large, seems to be in all other respects, the best buy.

You are welcome to email me at TheDigital Journalist (, and any questions you have about these systems will be answered.


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