Shortwave scanner help.
March 20, 2022 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Hi everyone: I have a Tecsun PL-680 and Im a bit frustrated,lol. I have read the owner's manual,but I feel there may be more to this then I know. Living in a 2nd floor apt,with a balcony. When I'm on the SW,I just seem to get one channel cleary,its a religious channel,lol.Can somebody offer me some advice or tips on what I may be doing wrong--I also have a Sangean Reel Antenna that I use,I clip it to the rail on my balcony. Anyhow,advice/tips on how to get more channels? Very new to this stuff,lol. Thank you in advance!
posted by LOOKING to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Unfortunately, shortwave listening in North America can be a pretty dodgy experience. Reception is hugely dependent on the time of day, atmospherics, part of the spectrum, size and direction of the antenna, quality of the radio, etc. Furthermore, stations broadcast intermittently, often dependent on many of the previous factors. The shortwave spectrum is huge, and finding broadcasts traditionally has been a truly hit-or-miss affair.

Here on the west coast of the US, casual sw listening has been a generally poor experience forever. For decades now, the easiest broadcasts to receive in North America have been crazypants religious/political stations blasting out of the US that simply weren't worth the effort if you seek any kind of rational listening pleasure. It was pretty rare to get a broadcast that was actually originating from a transmitter outside North America, and when you do, it's nothing like getting a even a weak domestic AM station. It's really a technical hobby grade activity.

I used to scan slowly with a BFO on, something your radio may or may not have, which would at least alert me to an active carrier as you come up to one, a clue as to an actual broadcast taking place, and then reposition the antenna or fiddle with the gain to try to pull in the actual broadcast. Being out of the city helped a lot, as there's lot of rf noise all over the place wherever there's electrical stuff. The actual radio can be a hindrance, too. Selectivity is a big deal, traditionally. Digital/software based receivers can be sufficient or better than traditional analog equipment, but not always. Tuning in a specific frequency is trivial on a digital display compared to an old analog dial.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:04 AM on March 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: a "Hello, World!" (that is, a boring test example to see if your equipment works) station to try in North America is NIST radio station WWV on 10.000 MHz (and also 2.5, 5, 15 and 20 MHz precisely). If you hear a tick/chirp once per second plus a brief spoken intro then a long beep once per minute, your receiver works.

As I see you're also in Canada, it might also be worth trying the much fainter NRC shortwave station broadcasts (CHU) on 3.330, 7.850, and 14.670 MHz. It broadcasts from near Ottawa, but all I can hear in Toronto is a very faint burble.

As for what to listen to, dunno. The religious stations are usually blasted out at ridiculous power. You might have to wait until evening to hear anything really far away.
posted by scruss at 10:12 AM on March 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Congratulations! That's a great little radio. And it's a hobby filled with people who really, REALLY want to help you!

My quick tips would be:

— If that radio has a "far/local" switch, put it on far. If it has a "wide/narrow" switch, put it on narrow. If it lets you control the tuning steps (that is, how many hertz it goes up or down when you tune it with the knob of up/down buttons), put it as fine as possible, like 0.5 hz or 1 hz.

— Is the metal of the antenna touching the metal of the balcony? If so, try it without it doing that. Don't wrap the antenna around the metal of anything else. Keep it away from power lines, outlets, chargers, power adapters, power strips, fluorescent lights.

— Can you sit outside with the radio? You may find that having the radio *and* the antenna outside works best.

— Make sure the antenna is as straight as possible. If you can fasten it straight along the side of the building (perhaps the length of your balcony window, but not along a metal surface), then great. You could also try weighting it and letting gravity dangle it straight down.

— See if running it off of batteries or wall power gives you better results. Wall power is sometimes a problem if grounding is an issue.

— Try a different tuning band. You can get an idea of their ranges here:

— Since shortwave broadcasters tend not broadcast all the time, unlike the FM/AM broadcasters we are more familiar with, try at different times of day or night.

When I was a beginning shortwave-listener pre-internet, I would get the new edition of "WRTH" (World Radio and Television Handbook) every year. It's basically a directory of what station is broadcasting on what frequencies and when, and it offers good information to help you understand when you should expect to be hearing anything.

We're currently in the upward swing of the solar cycle, which changes how the radio signals bounce off the ionosphere, so you should be able, for the next seven years or so, see best reception on the higher shortwave frequencies. Roughly 15MHz and up during the day (except the middle of the day, which is the worst time to listen). In the evenings and mornings, listen at 15MHz and below A bit more about that here.

A good time to start listening is any evening at dusk. Start listening at 5800 MHz and slowly tune upwards by the time you get to 7800 MHz you should've heard a ton of stations. Then start tuning back down and you may find many more that have started broadcasting since you last scanned.

Here's a great guide for getting better reception with only a few changes. That whole site is very good. Be sure to check out the blogroll to the side for other shortwave sites.

Two blogs that look good because they have reports ("QSLs") of received transmissions, including frequencies are and However, I don't know where the bloggers are located, and shortwave stations don't broadcast continuously, so you may not be able to receive those stations.

Good luck!
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:56 PM on March 20, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Very good advice above. Here are a few other suggestions that I don't think have been mentioned. I'd also second that using WWV or WWVH as the standard when trying out different configurations is a good idea. (Reception in the southern hemisphere and Europe will depend a lot on conditions.) It's always the same and a good indicator of reception, at least in a specific direction.

If the antenna is either parallel to long metal parts of a metal balcony, of if any metal parts of it are in contact with a metal balcony, it's going to make the antenna behave strangely, either by grounding it where it shouldn't be grounded, or coupling it to the random and probably very inefficient antenna that is the balcony. Move it reasonably far away from metal and clip it with something that isn't conductive. For testing, moving it a few feet away and suspending it on chairs or something will work.

Antenna orientation can make a big difference. Try moving the orientation around by 30 degrees in all three axes, either in your apartment or (better yet) outside in a courtyard if you don't mind looking goofy in public. You could also try to figure out the right orientation based on what stations you care about. (Perpendicular to the direction you care about, and probably horizontal if it's tens of feet above the ground or vertical if it's not high above the ground is a good start. Second floor is probably right on the edge in that respect.) But if the question is "are there any stations anywhere," or if there are buildings or metal objects or mountains nearby causing weird reflections, just doing it trial and error isn't a bad idea.

If there's a grounding connection on your radio, use it. A copper wire to a metal sink pipe is almost always reliable. The ground plug on a 3-prong outlet is ideal assuming the electricians actually wired up the ground on your outlets. If there's not a grounding connection and it's got a metal case, you could try pressing a wire to the case and a copper pipe just to see if it makes a difference. (If it doesn't have a metal case or a ground, you can modify it, but how to do so will depend on the details.)

Best of luck!
posted by eotvos at 7:55 AM on March 21, 2022

Best answer: Looking up you specific radio and antenna, which I should have done before answering, it looks like a metal connection to the balcony isn't the issue, and grounding may be tough. (You could *try* clipping ground to the negative part of the DC connector. There's a good chance it won't matter.) With an unbalanced antenna, it's relying on a virtual ground - which is probably not a terrible assumption.

Antenna orientation and moving the antenna away from conductive things is probably a better start. Also, it looks like a neat radio!
posted by eotvos at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone--all these tips are great!
posted by LOOKING at 9:06 AM on March 24, 2022

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