What to expect if you are new to Short Wave Listening (SWL)

If, like me, you are completely new to Short Wave Listening, there will be a few moments when the jargon you hear on Ham Bands is a bit bewildering. My first listening was on 40 metres (7000-7200 kHz) and 20 metres (14000-14350 kHz). Hearing a number of references to “Italy” I thought – Ah! I’m listening to someone from Italy – until they replaced that with “India” in their sequence and made me wonder. What I was hearing were Call Signs, spelled out using the Phonic Alphabet* for clarity. A Call Sign is a series of (usually five or six) letters and numbers which is the unique identity of the licensed caller. I soon worked out that the prefix of each Call Sign told me where the person was calling from. The “I” prefix did indeed tell me that the caller was in Italy, even if they used the phonetic “India”. All the Call Signs I have heard starting with “D” Delta have been from Germany, whilst “G” Golf (or, confusingly, Germany) invariably means that I am listening to someone from the UK. There are lists available online which detail which prefix denotes which country, and it’s helpful to have one pinned on the wall by your receiver so you can identify where the call you are listening to comes from.

One very handy website is QRZ.COM (QRZ “Who is calling me”). Whenever I have logged a particularly interesting caller I can enter the Call Sign into “Search” on QRZ.COM and if that Call Sign is registered there I will see all sorts of information about the person. Often this includes a photograph of the transceiver and other equipment being used, some impressive aerials, along with the name and location of the caller. To begin with, it is exciting to see just how far away the caller I have picked up and listened to is. Searching a Call Sign beginning with VK I discovered that the person I had been listening to was in Southern Australia. It is a matter of some satisfaction to me that although my internet is so slow as to be virtually unusable, and my mobile signal only works occasionally if I hang my phone out of an attic window at a peculiar angle, I can apparently pick up the radio transmissions of individuals in distant places whilst I am sitting in a comfortable chair with my radio receiver on a coffee table.

Whilst it is nice to listen in to a good old chat between two Ham Radio users and learn a bit about where they are living, something else that a new SWL will hear a lot of are just brief contacts between individuals Calling CQ DX (long distance) or DXing. The gist of this seems to be that the user wants to see just how far away their transmissions are being picked up and how effective their Ham Radio set-up is, sometimes as part of a competition. For me, as a SWL, this can mean listening in to a contact between two people in very far flung places, although depending on their signals, I will sometimes only hear one end of the exchange and only know where the second person is from the first repeating their Call Sign.

And there is always something worth listening to. For example, this weekend it will be Mills on the Air Weekend (13-14 May 2017) when amateur radio users will set up at various mills to coincide with National Mills Weekend, and I will be listening out to see how many UK mills I can hear from, as well as any participating mills in the Netherlands.

Update 14/05/2017 – Heard calls from Ham Radio operators at these windmills:

GB1 BWM – Bursledon Windmill, Southampton

GB6 CW – Cromer Windmill

GB6 MW – Meopham Windmill

GB8 OMB – The Old Mill, Coventry

*A  Alpha, B Bravo, C Charlie, D Delta, E Echo, F Foxtrot, G Golf, H Hotel, I India, J Juliet, K Kilo, L Lima, M Mike, N November, O Oscar, P Papa, Q Quebec, R Romeo, S Sierra, T Tango, U Uniform, V Victor, W Whisky, X X-Ray, Y Yankee, Z Zulu. (Expect a few variations such as I Italy, G German, Q Queen)


2 thoughts on “What to expect if you are new to Short Wave Listening (SWL)

  1. How nice to read a post where 14.313 isn’t mentioned. That’s the cesspool of the 20m band. I recall a letter in QST that lamented the fact that such language was used. I commented that it’s been that way the better part of 25 years and the FCC isn’t doing a damned thing about it. The OO’s have given up too.


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