... “The so-called 'pirate transmitters' off the coasts of England and Holland were my introduction to the SWL hobby when I was 13 years old. Of course, I also listened to 'normal' radio stations, and certainly to radio amateurs. And everything in between too - what a fascinating world that was. Long wave, short wave, border wave... signals from all over the world that somehow magically found their way to the short wire I had stretched in the room. Later, 'real' amateur radio came along, but shortwave listening never left me. And that's what this is all about - the fascination of receiving exotic radio signals from all over the world via long, medium and short wave.”

Ekkehard Plicht

Product Manager at WiMo and passionate radio amateur

Preparation for a licence or hobby in its own right

If you are interested in the hobby of amateur radio, you will deepen your knowledge by listening to the shortwave bands as a shortwave listener (SWL) on the way to your amateur radio licence, if this is not already how you made your first contact. As licensed radio amateurs, most of them stop active listening as SWL, as it is then part of the radio operation. As preparation for the licence examination and the later radio practice and operating technique, a preceding phase as SWL is advantageous. Unfortunately, the formerly common, intensive activity as a SWL has diminished in today's time between amateur radio quick course and question catalogue.

However, there are also OMs who are exclusively active as SWLs because, for example, they have no opportunity to become QRV or do not attach any importance to transmitting at all. Admittedly, this is a small community. But this variant of amateur radio also has its enthusiasts. In a broader sense, shortwave broadcast listeners (BCL = Broadcast Listener) also belong to it.


QSL card dispatch also for listeners?

Not only licensed radio amateurs exchange QSL cards among themselves for their two-way radio connections. Shortwave listeners who are not involved in the radio communication also participate in the radio operation as passive participants by sending reception reports to listened stations via QSL card, which are in turn confirmed by the active stations via QSL cards. They are sent either directly by letter post, via the QSL exchanges of the respective amateur radio associations or directly by e-QSL. This does not require an amateur radio licence or membership of an amateur radio association. However, the direct mailing of QSL cards becomes an expensive pleasure in the long run, so that for the intensive practice of the listening activity the membership in an amateur radio association and the use of QSL switching is recommended. Many collectors still attach importance to holding a QSL card in their hands to decorate the walls of the shack with.


Amateur radio in Germany: The importance of the DE number plate and SWL number

The German Amateur Radio Club (DARC e. V.) promotes this independent form of amateur radio with a so-called DE examination and the issuing of DE number plates (DE = Deutsche Empfangsstation). Anyone who is already licensed receives a DE licence plate on application, without an examination. Within the scope of membership, however, it is also possible to obtain listener cards without an amateur radio licence and DE registration number by using a SWL number, which consists of the country identifier (e.g. DL = Germany), the DOK (district and local association identifier) and the seven-digit DARC membership number. Examples of a SWL number and the DE identifier can be found on the QSL cards shown. The so-called DE examinations can be taken by the respective local association chairman of the local association or by the Training - Youth - Further Education Department and include basic knowledge in the areas of reception technology, operating technology and legal regulations. Upon passing the examination, the SWL receives a certificate with a registered DE mark.

Information and entries on the SWL-QSL

A complete listening report on a SWL QSL card should contain the following information in the order given:

  • Callsign of the station heard,
  • Callsign of the remote station with which the station written on was in communication,
  • Date and time (in UTC),
  • Frequency (MHZ, kHz) or band (m),
  • transmission method,
  • and the report.

Not obligatory, but quite interesting for the listened station, is information about the used receiver and antenna, as well as further information about the QTH and the person.


Listening report on the back of the QSL card. © DF2BC

Amateur radio diplomas for the shortwave listener

Also as a SWL you can apply for amateur radio diplomas announced by the DARC with the received QSL cards of the confirmed listening reports for the SWL. The DARC issues the diploma "DEM - Deutscher Empfangsmeister" in the levels "Bronze", "Silver" and "Gold". Online (Link) the DARC e. V. informs in detail about SWL, DE-identifier, SWL-numbers, QSL-dispatch and the tender conditions of the diploma programme.

BCL Broadcast Listener

The BCL is a broadcast listener who, in addition to long and medium wave, is mainly on short wave. He listens to the programmes of broadcast stations as far away as possible and sends them reception reports as detailed as possible, which are confirmed by the stations with QSL cards. In the past, the only way to do this was by post. Today, contact is made with the radio stations via their website, their Facebook presence or via e-mail. Even in the age of e-QSL, the majority of collectors still prefer a traditional QSL card, so returning the QSL by letter post has remained common. With the drastic withdrawal of broadcasting from long, medium and short wave, the number of stations has declined sharply. More and more small stations are still QRV, but compared to earlier times, they can now be received with less interference. It has become quiet in the broadcasting bands, the range of stations has become manageable. Many of the remaining foreign stations have maintained an additional German-language programme. Another institution of the BCL scene has also remained: They still exist, the hard-core radio listeners who have joined together in DX clubs like ADDX, Assoziation deutschsprachiger Kurzwellenhörer e. V., since 1967.


Receivers for shortwave listeners

If you see yourself exclusively as a shortwave listener for a longer period of time, you are well served with a higher-quality all-wave receiver or an SDR with a frequency range from 100 kHz to 30 MHz. If you are more focused on amateur radio, you can start with a simple receiver concept. Pure amateur band receivers are hardly available on the market any more, except for older, used ones. Since smaller shortwave mobile transceivers are available for the price of a better communications receiver, many candidates for an amateur radio licence start out with an inexpensive transceiver. The times when one started with a self-built audio receiver, even a modernised circuit version, are over. This and the construction of more complex receiver concepts are usually dealt with many years later, when radio with "off-the-shelf" equipment no longer gives you any satisfaction.

For the BCL, a so-called world receiver is the first choice. For a start, a portable travel radio is sufficient. For more ambitions than BCL, an all-wave receiver in the format of a tabletop unit is called for. It is important that the receiver has the filters required for AM broadcast reception with at least 9 kHz and 6 kHz on board. Furthermore, one or more antenna input sockets for connecting external antennas are a must.


SWL via the Internet?

But it is also possible without a receiver at home, namely very modern via the Internet. There are thousands of SWLs and radio amateurs worldwide who make their receiver (usually a modern SDR (Software Defined Radio)) available to all listeners via the Internet. All you need is a web browser and you're ready to go. Most of the time you don't even need to register, reception is usually anonymous and open to everyone free of charge, although there are also paid services.

Try the "KiwiSDR" receivers, here is a list of all open offers:

Of course, this has nothing to do with the old hobby of remote reception of exotic signals. The achievement was to optimise one's own system in such a way that the "voice of Guatemala" could also be received well at my home in Germany. With a "web radio" located a short distance from the transmitter, this is of course no longer a challenge. Nevertheless, such worldwide access to almost any receiver has its own appeal - radio amateurs can check their own transmitting signal. Many receivers can be interconnected as direction finders (keyword TDOA, Time Difference of Arrival) and thus enable almost professional radio reconnaissance. Modern times, but still based on the traditional knowledge of how to set up a good receiving system.


Suitable receiving antennas

Short wire antennas in the room or longer wires hung from the window in the garden, and the end plugged into the coaxial socket of the receiver with a banana plug: This is pretty much the worst of all solutions and at best suitable to try out whether, for example, a used receiver works at all. Even if, given the sensitivity of current devices, such simple receiver wires would already enable usable reception. The omnipresent fog of "man-made noise" puts a spanner in the works. In most locations, you would probably not be able to hear anything except "rattling and hissing".

What is needed here is an external antenna that does not necessarily have to be particularly long, but is connected to the receiver input via a shielded, coaxial cable. In principle, any antenna that is suitable for transmitting can also be used for receiving. However, it is not appropriate to use it only as a receiving antenna. What you install as a receiving antenna ultimately depends more on the spatial possibilities of your environment.

Wire antennas

There are numerous, relatively short wire antennas that work with forced matching through a terminating resistor. The coaxial cable is always connected at the antenna end via a broadband UNUN toroidal transformer and can thus be led inconspicuously into the house at a window. This type of antenna, installed as an outdoor antenna halfway up and free-standing, already allows good shortwave reception.

L and T antennas

Shorter L- or T-antennas, dimensioned according to individual space conditions, can be connected directly to a coaxial cable at their lower end via a UNUN transformer 1:9 or 1:16. If the single-wire line leads all the way into the shack, the use of a small, single-ended antenna matching device would be a way to selectively make the match as well. This method would add improved preselection. For this purpose, a device designed only for receive or for QRP operation is sufficient.

Endfed and multiband dipoles

An end-fed antenna of suitable length has fixed resonances on some bands, but outside of these it is also suitable as a broadband receive antenna on shortwave. If you have more space available, you can try a G5RV antenna in the large or small version, or the ZS6BKW antenna. They are also well suited for shortwave reception outside their specified resonances.

DIY loop antenna

Finally, an ultimate DIY tip: Passive, vertically suspended loop antennas made of antenna stranding with a circumference of 10-20 m, in square, rectangular or triangular shape, are particularly quiet. They receive mainly the magnetic component. In the simplest form, this works with direct connection of the coaxial cable without further adaptation and transformation by a toroidal transformer. The main thing is to have a good signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) that is as high as possible, and only secondarily the output signal level. If the SNR is good, low receive levels can be compensated with the RF amplification of the receiver without increasing the noise.

Active antennas

As always with shortwave antennas, listeners naturally quickly have to ask about the space available. There are active antennas that require very little space. Especially active antennas are well suited for broadband reception on shortwave; the well-known WebSDR of the University of Twente uses an antenna that is hardly bigger than a beer bottle (Link: In a suitable location, somewhat away from the fog of the house, these antennas also provide excellent signals with low noise. But you can also use such small antennas indoors, where magnetic loops do very well because they are less sensitive to the interference in the house.

Many of the active antennas are also interesting for the 'long' bands, i.e. 160 m, and even long and long wave, because of the low noise. A well-known supplier was the English company "Wellbrook", but unfortunately they stopped selling in 2023 due to age. A worthy successor is the Chameleon RX Loop, which covers up to 30 MHz. Equally useful is the ML-FX Loop made of 5 m wire, manufactured by nti from Germany, distributed by WiMo or Bonito. In addition, there are a number of replicable concepts for active antennas, for example the PA0RDT Whip and its variants. A building instruction is available for example at DL4ZAO (PDF Download,

Accessories and components for do-it-yourself construction

All these wire antennas are available as finished products or can be built by a wide range of single parts or complete kits. If the antenna is as good as possible, reception can be improved by using an external preselector.


The Magic of Shortwave - Discovering Exotic Radio Signals from Around the World

The world of shortwave listening and radio reception is a fascinating and diverse one. There are different paths from shortwave listener to licensed radio amateur, each with its own fascination. As a shortwave listener (SWL), you can prepare yourself for amateur radio by listening to the shortwave bands and collect QSL cards, even without an amateur radio licence. There are even diplomas that you can apply for as a SWL. A suitable outdoor antenna is important for reception, and there are different types of antennas for different space conditions.

Would you like to dive deeper into the world of shortwave listening? Take a look at our product pages, where you will find receivers, receiving antennas, accessories and components for DIY. Maybe you will soon be listening to exotic radio signals from all over the world on your own receiving system. Dive into this fascinating hobby and discover the wonders of shortwave!


Discover the world of amateur radio. Knowledge, guides and customer reports - from amateur radio operators for amateur radio operators!