Ham Radio vs Shortwave Radio Explained

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Written By Martin C

Many aspiring radio enthusiasts, when starting out on their exploration of radio devices, get confused about ham radio vs shortwave radio. As a result of their confusion and lack of knowledge, they end up with a device that does not meet their expectations.

Ham radio and shortwave radio are not alike just because they have the term radio appended to them. There are some unique differences that really pit them apart and make them suitable for different purposes. Our article dives into the difference between a ham radio vs a shortwave radio. including the different frequencies for ham and shortwave as well as the different transmission and listening capacities of both.

What is a Ham Radio

Ham Radio Station

Ham radio or amateur radio, as it is popularly known, is a service that allows people to listen to and talk with others locally, within a country, around the world, and even into space using radio technology. To achieve this, you can set up a ham radio station anywhere, including your home.

To set up and operate a ham station, you need a certain knowledge radio technology, its operating principles, and different amateur bands. You also need a license to operate a ham station. When you get a license, you are allotted radio frequencies within the amateur bands by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use. Ham radio remains one of the more popular hobbyist radio devices to use.

So with a ham radio, you can both broadcast and listen to others. We’ve compiled a list of the best ham radios for you to check out if you’re interested.

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What is a Shortwave Radio

Shortwave Radio With Antenna

A shortwave radio is a radio receiver that can receive more than one shortwave bands ranging from 1.6MHz to 30 MHz. Using a shortwave radio, you can listen to news, music, and other cultural programs from your country or internationally.

However, you do not need a license to buy a shortwave radio. Unlike a ham radio, you can only listen on a shortwave radio and cannot communicate or broadcast.

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Ham Radio vs Shortwave Radio Explained

  • A shortwave radio broadcasts stations that are in the shortwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum. These are broadcast stations. On the other hand, a ham radio is a two-way communication system where two or more people communicate with each other. So in a way, the scope of a ham radio is narrower than a broadcast. It is more of a communication.
  • Ham radio operates on a limited and licensed frequencies (bands) whereas shortwave radio operates on all frequencies, including  all of the frequencies ham radios operate on.
  • There are certain frequencies within the shortwave range that the ham radio operators get the license to operate on. So while listening to a shortwave radio, you may come across a conversation taking place among ham radio operators. While you won’t be able to communicate, you can listen.
  • Here’s a guide on getting licensed for ham radio from the AARL.

Shortwave Radio FAQ

We’ve answered a variety of questions that our readers have about how shortwave radio works, what it is best for, and how to get the most value out of your device!

What is shortwave radio good for?

Shortwave radio is ideal for someone wishing to listen to a variety of radio broadcasts and programs from around the world who does not need or want to transmit outwards. It’s essentially a cool way to find unique content and expand your cultural knowledge.

Does shortwave radio still exist?

While shortwave radio is still used throughout the world, I will say that there has been a bit of a decline in recent years in terms of the breadth and variety of programming one can consistently find. That said, there’s still plenty of great content out there that makes a shortwave radio a great investment.

Can you talk on a shortwave radio?

No you cannot talk on a traditional shortwave radio as it is receiver-only system. If you’re looking for a two-way system you can check out our guides on Ham or CB radios.

Can you listen to shortwave radio online?

While you cannot receive shortwave radio directly online, there are a variety of resources online which can help you access shortwave radio channels and frequencies. Check out the Shortwave Radio Schedules app or the 1 Radio News app which are both solid options!

Are shortwave radios obsolete?

While shortwave radio usage has declined somewhat over the past few years with the advent of new technologies, there is a still a decently strong scene going and plenty of content to enjoy!

Conclusion on Ham Radio vs Shortwave Radio

Hopefully you now understand the difference between a ham radio vs shortwave radio! Please check out our other articles for more information on ham radio and shortwave radio, as well as a variety of other communication devices!