SWL or shortwave listening is the reception of public broadcast or amateur radio ham stations in the frequency range 1.8 to 30 MHz (160m to 10m band), also called SW (shortwave) or HF (High Frequency) bands. The combination of receiver, antennas and propagation make SWL an exciting and often technical challenging hobby.
This page explains how you can receive shortwave international broadcast, ham and utility stations with a good digital shortwave receiver in the price category of 200 Euro or $250, how to considerably improve its reception by constructing an external wire antenna, how to eliminated noise by properly feeding the antenna to your receiver, and how, when and at what frequency to capture the many stations. With only little technical skills you can build the complete antenna system for less than 100 Euros or $120.
Once you master the basics of SWL, you will enter the exciting world of radio signals that travel around the earth. You will receive the most exotic broadcast stations, capture conversations between radio amateurs from all over the world and get to know the ideal time and conditions to catch the most remote stations.
It is up to you how difficult or expensive you want to make SWL. You could compare it with fishing: catching a powerful 300.000 Watts broadcast station is pretty easy, even when it is located at the other end of the world. Catching smaller stations or amateur radio ham stations, transmitting with a mere 50 Watts, located thousands of kilometers away, can be a true challenge.
Most SWL's also log the stations they received. This way, they can easily analyze when and at what frequencies they can search for a particular station or radio signals from a particular country. Each new station or country is another trophy for their SWL log. Many SWL's also send signal reports, called SQL cards, to the stations they captured. By reporting the quality and readability of the signal at their location, they help the ham radio amateurs or broadcast stations to assess the quality and performance of their equipment and antennas.
Radio amateurs and some broadcast stations respond to these SQL cards by sending their own QSL card to confirm the signal report. These SQL cards come in all kinds of own designs and colors, but all carry a standard formatted signal report (RST or SINPO). SWL's and ham amateurs often collect SQL cards from all over the world. Amateur radio organizations offer free world-wide SQL postal service to their ham or SWL members. You might consider joining a local amateur radio organization.
For many ham radio amateurs, listening to shortwave stations was their first acquaintance with amateur radio and a first step towards their ham license. Indeed, SWL is an ideal introduction into ham radio because you get familiar with the ham bands, radio propagation and procedures. However, there are just as many SWL's who never become radio amateur but continue to enjoy discovering the world through radio waves all their live. On the other end, many radio amateurs continue to SWL once in a while, all their live, to sharpen their receiving skills or test new antenna designs.