Portable shortwave units are easy to use, but Ernie Dobos of the Amateur Radio Center in Baltimore cautions, "people don't understand you can't just turn it on and hear what you want."
First, you need to know what broadcasts are in the air. Two widely used guides are "World Radio TV Handbook" ($19.95) and "Passport to World Band Radio" ($16.95). Both list literally thousands of shortwave (and other) radio stations around the world. The "Handbook" also includes television stations, while the "Passport" book includes an equipment catalog section.
Beware, the guides require significant study to learn their format, abbreviations and time conversion procedures. They list the time and frequency of a variety of broadcast services which are broken down by language and by the area of the world to which they are specifically beamed.
Most local users, for example, would likely seek English broadcasts beamed to North America. All times in the guides are listed according to the world time base, now known as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC, once known as Greenwich Mean Time). In the United States, Eastern Standard Time is five hours behind UTC, so listeners must subtract that time from the guide's hour to figure out when the broadcast can be heard here.
Here are some timely examples, as culled from "World Radio TV Handbook" and using Baltimore time:
* Baghdad Radio, 9515 kiloHertz (kHz) -- An English broadcast to North America is scheduled from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. daily (sometimes including "Baghdad Betty," according to local listeners).
* Kuwait Radio, 13610 kHz -- An English broadcast is scheduled at 1 p.m.
* The Voice of Israel -- Broadcasts in English for North American listeners may be heard throughout the day on several frequencies, including 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on 11605 kHz, 12077 kHz or 15615 kHz. At 6 a.m. our time, a mid-day broadcast (Israel time) is scheduled on 11585 kHz.
* Egypt, Radio Cairo -- A 90-minute broadcast to North America is scheduled at 9 p.m. on 9475 kHz and 9675 kHz.
* British Broadcasting Corporation -- The BBC is ubiquitous, with hundreds of broadcasts daily. For "BBC World Service," try 9590 kHz from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Other useful BBC frequencies to try at other times, according to users, include 5965 kHz, 9590, kHz and 11775 kHz.
* Radio Moscow -- English broadcasts are scheduled around the clock, and frequencies best tried after dark in Baltimore include 9720 kHz, 9895 kHz, 12050 kHz, 17720 kHz and 17700 kHz.