Listen to Shortwave Broadcasts on an AM Radio

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I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making an...

Intro: Listen to Shortwave Broadcasts on an AM Radio

The larger radio is my Sangean ATS-803A shortwave receiver. The smaller radio in the foreground is a travel alarm/AM-FM radio from the late 1980s. I converted it to receive shortwave frequencies between 4 and 9 MHz and used it that way for a while. You can make a like conversion on an AM radio you own.

For those with a deeper interest: Once while vacationing in Oregon I heard a broadcast from Radio Australia about a radio operator on a naval ship who learned to recognize the "fist" or touch of wireless operators from other ships before he heard their call signs. When WW II was about to break out the German radiomen ceased using their call signs to hide the identity of their ships and their location, but he knew each one from his distinctive "fist" on the Morse code key. The radio signals also modulated in a distinctive way when a ship was transmitting from one particular area. Not only could he identify the German ships from the way the radiomen tapped out their Morse code, but he also knew exactly where some of the ships were located at the time. This is just an example of things you can hear on shortwave broadcasts.

Step 1: Not As Popular As Before

Shortwave frequencies bounce off of the ionosphere and return to earth halfway around the world. It is easy to receive broadcasts from another continent; depending on conditions, time of day, signal strength, and target area for the broadcast.

Pictured is the Passport to World Band Radio. A new edition is published each year. It is a yellow pages guide to international broadcasts.

Unfortunately, shortwave broadcasts are not as available as a couple of decades ago. This is due to budget cuts and the Internet. Now you can download Podcasts from many national broadcasters. These Podcasts are in FM quality and without the static interferences associated with shortwave broadcasts. Still, there is a certain romance from listening to a radio signal from the other side of the globe.

Step 2: Open Your Radio

Select a radio with analog, not digital, tuning. Open the back of the radio. Look for the ferrite rod antenna and the condenser or capacitor tuning block. The ferrite rod is the black rod with flesh colored wire wrapped around it. (See the top of the photo.) The tuning block is the translucent plastic block you see with trimmer screws on the back surface of it. There are solder tabs around the tuning block. A boom box works better for this project than a small radio because the much larger ferrite rod pulls in a better signal.

Step 3: Magnet Wire

Get some magnet wire from an old motor, ballast, or transformer. Or, you can buy a set of small spools from Radio Shack. #26 is about the right size. The pencil included in the photo is for scale better to perceive the size of the wire. Cut a piece about six inches long and scrape about 1/8 inch or more bare on each end.

Step 4: Loosely Wrap Seven Turns of Wire

Wrap seven turns of magnet wire around the flesh-colored coil on the ferrite rod antenna. The turns can be a little loose. Spread the turns out as evenly as possible over the length of the flesh-colored coil.

Step 5: The Circuit

Below is an electrical diagram of what you are trying to accomplish. The easiest radio for this conversion has only an AM band. Then you can solder the ends of the wire you wrapped to the tuning block terminals where the very fine wires from the flesh-colored antenna coil attach to the tuning block. It is a little more complicated when the radio also has an FM band with additional connections to the tuning block. The trick is to find the two tabs on the tuning block for the AM band. A good clue is when local AM stations are no longer heard as you tune across the radio dial. Attach ten to twenty feet of wire to one end of the small coil you added. This will lay across the floor as an antenna. Close the back of the radio.

It is possible that a radio you have will not work with this conversion. I have just such a radio, but have also successfully converted several other radios.

Reception is generally limited to hours of darkness. Evening will be the best time. Tuning can be difficult. Stations may be no more than a blip on the dial, requiring a constant gentle pressure from one side or the other on the knob or wheel to hear the broadcast. A smaller radio may require earphones in order to hear. A boom box will be easier to tune and to hear without an earphone.

I knew a Chinese couple and offered to convert their boom box's AM band for shortwave. I finished the project and gave it back to them four days before the massacre at Tiannamen Square happened. Every evening after they closed their business they were glued to their radio. Radio Taiwan gave accurate reporting. Radio Bejing glossed over the story and played classical music. Both had relatives in Bejing (Peking). Not only had I experienced a success with the conversion, but I helped out this couple and they were very appreciative.

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    86 Discussions

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    SHOE0007

    5 months ago

    Here some info on the schematics but it is extremely complex. I have Photonics background in electricity and have taken electronic courses and I find it difficult to follow! :)

    http://ukradio.info/Degen/

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    SHOE0007

    5 months ago

    Apparently there a device that uses logic and CPU circuits to pick up all different types of bands (Very low frequency and very high) but it depends on Solar interference and flairs since stations are bouncing off the ionosphere from Russia, China, France, Germany, UK, Africa, etc.

    The model from US is about 100 dollars CAN (shipping included!).

    E-bay

    https://www.ebay.ca/itm/TECSUN-PL-380-DSP-FM-stere...

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    CapeScanner

    2 years ago

    Listening to shortwave radio is one of many reasons I got my amateur radio license. sounds like you would enjoy it

    1 reply
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    Phil BCapeScanner

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you. I thought seriously about it a couple of times. A college roommate had his Heathkit rig set up on his desk with a dipole antenna strung above on the roof. It was chilly in the room when he connected the dangling antenna coax through the cracked sliding window during a Minnesota winter. I really liked the electronic theory, but never got very far learning code. I know there is a no-code license now. At this point in life I have too many other things happening.

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    DoctorEvil30564

    2 years ago

    Very informative instructable. My uncle showed me something very similar many years ago that I then tried myself. His method instead of winding wire over the coil on the ferrite rod, he would use a lighter to heat up the rod and burn off some of the insulation on the wire wrapped around the rod and then he would separate the wire so there was spaces in it.

    This got me interested in listening to Shortwave radio and I spent quite a bit of my teenaged years listening and sending QSL radio reports in to the stations I heard on a Radio Shack Shortwave radio I got one year for Christmas that had a great digital frequency display. I got more than a few QSL cards back from the stations and some would send cool stickers, pennants,etc. I think before I finally got bored with it I had over 100 different cards. I'll have to check the closets at my Mom's house and see if she still has my photo album that I put my QSL cards into.

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    stealthop

    3 years ago

    very cool . i must try this , thank you for sharing

    1 reply
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    Phil Bstealthop

    Reply 3 years ago

    As you can see from the other comments, several others tried it and found it to work. Thank you for looking and for commenting.

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    dmagryta124

    3 years ago on Introduction

    I did this project, with very rushed and very sloppy craftsmanship, and much to my surprise it works! I'm able to pick up only a few overlapping channels; a morse channel or CW beacon of some sort, and a very distant foreign channel. I just clipped the antenna wire to a wire basket, and the reception is just fine that way. Great instructable! Thanks!

    1 reply
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    Phil Bdmagryta124

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    I am glad it works for you. On the one hand, I miss the wide variety of things that were available on shortwave bands twenty years ago. But, on the other hand, I really like the crisp clear audio I can now download from the Internet and play anywhere, even in my car. Thank you for trying it.

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    sconner1

    4 years ago on Step 5

    Do the new wraps need to be in the same direction around the ferrite as the original factory coil?

    Do the new wraps extend the coil in a serial connection or parallel it?

    1 reply
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    Phil Bsconner1

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 5

    I paid no conscious attention to the direction of the windings relative to those already on the ferrite coil. The windings are in parallel.

    what if your ferrite rod antenna is farther away from the variable capacitor and the 6 inches of wire wont reach it, can i just cut the magnet wire longer?

    1 reply

    Six inches was only an approximate length for most radios. Go ahead and use a longer piece according to your needs.

    This is brilliant. I have dug out my old Realistic DX-350 and started listening to SW. It is fascinating. If I did this to a AM radio for my kids to play with, would there be a way to make it switchable to preserve AM functionality or does the loose coil adversly effect the AM signal?

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    Phil BBigBadgers2001

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I expect you could put a switch on the coil windings you add. Try disconnecting one leg to see if that works. If it does not, try disconnecting the other end of the coil and see if that works. Add a single pole or a double pole switch according to what you find.

    You will need to help your kids understand tuning an SW station on a modified radio like this requires a lot of patience because a signal is just a blip on the dial.

    I do not listen to much SW radio now because broadcasts I would want to hear are available now as Podcasts I can hear on my schedule in much better quality than I got with SW radio.

    Thank you for your comment and for looking. I hope you and your kids find enjoyment and success in your efforts.

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    Chakazuluu

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Wow you brought back some memories. When I was in elementary school (I am 70 now) my father had an old stand up Philco Am and shortwave radio. I sandwiched a piece of aluminum foil between two pieces of card board with two screws connecting the two antennae wires and put it under the dial phone we had. It brought in some amazing frequencies.

    I think I will do this with an old AM radio I have. Thanks for the memory.

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    Phil BChakazuluu

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    You are four years older than I am. We had a similar radio, but ours was a Zenith. For whatever reason, I do not remember ever getting a shortwave broadcast on ours. At the time I do not think I knew to attach an external antenna. I am guessing that what you did coupled with the telephone lines by capacitance to make use of them as an antenna.

    Thank you for looking. I hope you are able to make your old AM radio receive some shortwave broadcasts. I think I may have mentioned it worked pretty easily on one radio, but not so easily on another radio I still have.

    Shortwave has been a lot of fun. Regrettably, the band is not nearly as full in recent years, although at night I still hear a number of things in Spanish. Radio Havana broadcasts in English and there are some Christian broadcasters. I miss things like Radio Canada, Radio Austria, Radio Australia, etc. Thank you for looking.