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How do I Choose a Shortwave Antenna?

John Kinsellagh
John Kinsellagh

Choosing an appropriate shortwave antenna depends on many factors, including the listener’s location, what type of receiver is being employed, and which particular broadcasts the listener is trying to receive. In general, an outdoor external wire antenna will provide the best reception results, but this configuration may be unsuitable for those listeners who have portable shortwave receivers, or who live in apartments or communities where restrictions prohibit the erection of outdoor antennas. Shortwave radio waves are refracted off Earth’s ionosphere, and the signal tends to be fainter the further away from the point of transmission the listener is located. The geographic location of the listener will, to some extent, determine which type of broadcasts can be received, and which type of antenna or receiver will provide the best results.

Most of the major international shortwave broadcasters in Europe put out strong signals that can be received without difficulty by most shortwave listeners with portable receivers located in the Eastern United States. A good quality, portable shortwave receiver from a reputable manufacturer will generally provide good reception of most international broadcasters, with its built-in, collapsible, telescopic whip antenna. The further West a listener is located, the weaker these particular signals become, and a more robust shortwave antenna, or a receiver with greater sensitivity, will be needed in order to boost reception.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

For faint signals, reception on a portable can be boosted slightly by clipping on a short piece of copper wire to the whip antenna. Some portable receivers come with a reel-type, insulated wire antenna for this purpose. An external, long wire antenna may overload the circuitry of all but the most robust and well-designed portable receivers.

For receiving faint, low-powered transmissions, an outdoor, long wire, copper antenna of approximately 30-40 feet (9-12m) in length will typically provide the best reception across the entire shortwave radio spectrum. A lead-in wire is wrapped around the end of the antenna nearest the listener’s home, and is attached to the external antenna jack of the receiver. Since they have greater sensitivity than portable models, tabletop shortwave receivers excel at receiving weak, hard-to-hear stations. These particular models have no built-in, collapsible antenna, and usually require an external wire antenna to achieve their full potential.

Many specialty radio electronics stores sell different configurations of outdoor wire antennas that are designed to provide optimum reception across many of the shortwave radio bands. These are more expensive than an all-purpose, long-wire shortwave antenna, but, in general, they provide superior results. These professional antennas are manufactured specifically for use with tabletop shortwave radio receivers.

For listeners who live in apartments or communities with restrictions on outdoor antennas, an active shortwave antenna may be a good choice. Active antennas are designed to be used indoors, and come with a telescopic whip antenna which allows a signal to be amplified by the circuitry built into the unit. Active antennas can be used with tabletop receivers as can those portable receivers equipped with an appropriate external jack that will accept an active antenna connection. In general, the higher priced active antenna models will generally provide the best results.

Discussion Comments


@Markerrag -- Good advice, and I would also point out there are some very good portables out there in terms of reception. That is not true of all of them, but some rival desktop radios when paired with a good shortwave wire antenna.

Remember, there is a difference between portable and ultra portable when it comes to shortwave radios. The smaller the radio, the less likely it is you will get great reception.


Instead of focusing on choosing from among the best shortwave radio antennas on the market, you might consider first picking out the most sensitive and powerful shortwave radio you can find. A good antenna can only do so much. The hardware you choose is far more important than what antenna you match with your radio.

And where do you start? If you are looking at any shortwave radio, check out the external antenna jacks. If there are none, you don't want that radio. If there are more than one, you are probably talking about a very powerful, and sensitive radio.

Have fun and good luck!

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