Shortwave radio is one of those things that is on the fringe of the preparedness world and sometime in the future I’m planning on something of a preparedness-minded shortwave 101 article that will cover most of the basics and the general state of affairs in the world of shortwave. I know there’s some popular emergency radios out there with shortwave capabilities and it takes a bit of know-how to make the most of them. It’s definitely not like FM where you can tune in to a known station at any time of the day and expect to get a crystal-clear signal.
In today’s world shortwave is more or less a low-tech thing, but globally it has some advantages over more advanced technologies. One is that radio waves can’t be traced to the receiver. They can trace the point of origin, but not who receives them. Radios don’t hold memory of what they picked up, either. A shortwave receiver is a very unassuming piece of gear and it’s something that’s reasonable for anyone to own, whereas more specialized transmission/decryption gear would certainly raise some eyebrows.
For these reasons many intelligence services still rely on shortwave to get messages to their operatives. This works out especially well in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa where shortwave is more common and there’s more geopolitical hot spots and actors within easy range of radio waves in that part of the world. It’s kind of cool that a low-tech thing like shortwave radio can get around some of the advanced technologies used for counter espionage. These stations can be jammed, but they can always move to a different frequency.
Here in the middle of North America we don’t get a lot of shortwave action, but we do have one “hostile” nation nearby: Cuba! Yes, Cuba has spooks operating on our soil. What they hope to accomplish, I don’t know, but they’re here and you can hear transmissions intended for them every night at about 2:00AM Central or 0800 UTC time at 5880Mhz. It starts off with a female voice saying “Atencion” and reading several series of four numbers in Spanish. It’s quite hypnotic. “Seis, Ocho, Dos, Neuve. Cuatro, Uno, Dos, Seis. Siete, Cinco, Ocho, Tres” Apparently these numbers mean something to somebody and the Cold War still rages on.
Here is a video with about a minute of it:
There’s a group of Cubans currently incarcerated in the US under espionage charges known as the “Cuban Five”. Apparently authorities found that they had received messages from Cuba via this numbers station because they had logged the numbers or something like that. They couldn’t physically prove that they received the radio waves though, like they can if someone visits a website or receives something via the internet. If you tune in to Radio Havana, they always take a few minutes out of each show to talk about the Cuban Five and make a plea to release them.
I think this goes to show that with a shortwave radio you give yourself more options to acquire information. There’s the idea that “they” can shut down the internet if they want, I don’t think anyone really trusts television news anymore and AM/FM radio stations have to be relatively close to you (AM can be more or less regional instead of local like FM). It may be getting out there a little bit, but if there was ever a situation where you would want information from outside our borders and couldn’t get it, shortwave would be the way to go. Something like an EMP (provided you EMP-proofed your radio, of course), a massive grid outage, excessive rule of law and censorship or something like that is what I’m thinking of. Probably not the most pressing issues of preparedness, but it is something to consider.
Here are a few links to check out if you’re interested: