The History of Shortwave Radio in Fighting Propaganda

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Author of The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices

There are several reasons preppers should consider shortwave radios for improving their post-disaster comms ability. Though I believe that close-range communication ability is liable to be more practical on a daily basis, don’t discount the ability to send and receive messages long distance. Shortwave radio broadcasts are a fantastic way to do so. While it requires a ham radio license to send transmissions out via shortwave radio (at least within the USA), anybody can receive these transmissions without a license. 

Below are examples of when shortwave radio has been used in disaster situations to provide life-saving/altering information. I think you’ll discover why I believe they’re so important.

Defeating the Vichy French

It’s hard to stomach something as disgusting as a traitor to one’s country, and that’s exactly how the Free French felt about the Nazi Vichy French during Hitler’s occupation of their sovereign nation. This move by Hitler had consequences felt around the world – particularly in France’s colonies within the Caribbean.

The Free French regularly used shortwave broadcasts to encourage their fellow countrymen in the Caribbean to never cave into the Vichy French’s demands or reign. These broadcasts also helped to counter the propaganda that the Vichy were simultaneously sending into the Caribbean. [source] 

Anne Frank

The Franks and their fellow members of the ‘secret annex’ hid from the Nazis for years without ever once stepping foot outside. Imagine being locked inside your home without any outside source of information aside from the occasional sympathetic friend who brought food or clothing.

Thankfully, the Frank’s had access to a radio. It was this radio that the family was able to use to listen to BBC broadcasts out of England (BBC still broadcasts shortwave – to the best of my knowledge – and considering that the Frank’s were a long way from England – this would have had to be a shortwave broadcast).

These BBC broadcasts informed the Franks what was happening in the war, where troops were heading, the battles fought, and ultimately, filled the Franks with hope. As Anne would write in her diary, “But where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Eventually, the news of D-day filled the Secret Annex via BBC broadcast. Anne would write that such news gave the entire group of survivors hope.[source]

Without their radio, the Franks would have had little to no information about the happenings in the world surrounding them.

World War II – Where are the POW’s?

American ham radio operators back at home were able to use shortwaves to give semi-comforting news to families of troops overseas throughout the war. For whatever reason, one of the things the Axis powers enjoyed doing was sending out shortwave broadcasts of which of our men were prisoners of war.

Citizens back in the States who were monitoring these shortwave broadcasts would then write down this information and contact the POW’s family – letting them know what had happened to them, where they were, and that they were alive. [source]

The Cold War – Voice of America

The Cold War was the first of its kind. Nowhere else in history will you find anything like it. Communism had thrown millions of people into slavery. Mutually assured destruction loomed over everybody’s heads. Spies readily infiltrated both Russia and the US.

However, it was here that media truly shone as an almost unstoppable weapon of war. And in many ways, it indeed was a weapon here.

As the Iron Curtain descended on Eastern Europe, the Western world sought to bring truth to these people. We’d heard the heart-rending stories of what these collectivists were doing to people. (The rapes, murders, imprisonments, and kidnappings.)

However, we also knew the danger of ever-present communist propaganda. To combat this, several shortwave stations were set up which were able to bypass the Iron Curtain, getting the truth out to those trapped inside.

Voice of America was one such broadcast. We used VOA to tell the Russian people about the benefits of the American way of life and promote dissent within the communist ranks. Russia is a nation comprised of many different groups, and they don’t always get along (e.g., Chechnya). By tailoring broadcasts for each sub-culture (mainly through their home language), we spread fear of a domestic separatist movement throughout the communist ranks. [source 1 source 2

The Cold War – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

America wasn’t the only one to send shortwave broadcasts beyond the Iron Curtain, however. Western Europe had its own form of VOA with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

In essence, both of these broadcasts did the same thing. They also spread the message of freedom behind the Iron Curtain. If someone could not receive the VOA broadcasts, they could search out a Radio Free Europe or Radio Liberty station instead.

These broadcasts gave a voice to dissident movements, showing the people behind the Iron Curtain that communism was not everything it was claimed to be. Even Boris Yeltsin would later admit that these shortwave broadcasts helped end the Cold War. [source]

Operation Cuba Libre

Much like in the Cold War,  the Cuban communists do everything they can to keep uncensored news from reaching their people. To combat this, freedom-lovers throughout America are engaging in NC Scout’s Operation Cuba Libre. Here, ham radio operators are getting onto the 40m ham band and discussing the Cuba situation among themselves. Since 40m radio receivers are common, the Cuban people have a relatively safe way to receive outside news about what is going on in their country, as well as where protests and soldiers are.

In many ways, this is a grassroots version of Voice of America’s original intent.

Shortwave radio is not dead

People have used shortwave repeatedly throughout history to help combat the enemy’s propaganda (which you’ll notice has frequently been collectivists). And there’s still reason to delve into shortwave today. Perhaps in the future, you’ll need a means of accessing truth-giving broadcasts when all that is left is propaganda. You can easily purchase a shortwave receiver for all of $25. Shortwave radios have stood the test of time – they’ve helped untold numbers of people get the information they need.

Do you own a shortwave radio? Did you get the license to transmit? Do you think it’s a viable option for uncensored media? Tell us all about it in the comments!

About Aden

Aden Tate has a master’s in public health and is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com, TheFrugalite.com, PewPewTactical.comSurvivalBlog.comSHTFBlog.comApartmentPrepper.comHomesteadAndPrepper.com, and PrepperPress.com. Along with being a freelance writer, he also works part-time as a locksmith. Aden has an LLC for his micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

The History of Shortwave Radio in Fighting Propaganda
Aden Tate

Aden Tate

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  • I’ve got a ham general license which allows me to transmit on those frequencies. And I picked up a couple of inexpensive SW radios, though I’m waiting for winter and vegetation to reduce before really trying HF comms or SW receive much. One thing – you can’t do one-way broadcasts without a special dispensation from the FCC (i.e. a license). What ham operators can do, and Cuban Libre does this I believe, is have two or more stations talking between each other but broadcasting things that you would want SW listeners to hear.

      • Oh, yes. FCC and the entire ham radio community are on the lookout for pirate transmissions, and will raid your site, confiscate your equipment and levy a huge fine. But, if you get a ham license you open yourself up to gov’t inspection at any time. Unlicensed transmissions may be allowed in case of emergency (fire, flood, hurricane) but who decides what is an emergency? Angry rioters down the street? That’s just an idea…

  • There is one exception to the requirement for a ham radio license. In emergency situations where you have no other way to communicate, you can legally transmit on the ham radio frequencies without a license. More details in this 2017 article:

    https://www.survivalsullivan.com/can-operate-ham-radio-without-license/

    I’ve been grateful for having a shortwave capable radio for a long time. The classic example was shortly after the 1995 bombing of the federal Murrah building in Oklahoma City. The official government narrative was that a lone truck bombing was solely responsible for all the damage. I was able to hear retired USAF General Benton Partin (who had been a munitions development specialist during his active duty years) explain over shortwave radio that the damage to the vertical columns in that federal building could only have been done with high speed military explosives. He said that the low speed ammonium nitrate explosives (in Timothy McVeigh’s truck) were absolutely not capable of cutting those vertical columns.

    Despite General Partin’s testimony before Congress about a month after the bombing, the lamestream media of that day did not carry his story … that I heard over shortwave. Here is a short article about that episode:

    https://tv.gab.com/channel/starcrest/view/brigadier-general-benton-k-partin-usaf-613c16e3c607bf31eb119632

    –Lewis

  • Governmental jamming of radio frequencies is also a time tested tool of oppression. Anybody remember the Soviet “woodpeckers” blotting out entire bands of the shortwave spectrum in the 70’s and 80’s? Anytime a local PTB (NK, China, Cuba, etc) gets clued into subversive talk coming thru the airwaves, on go the jammers. You can even buy 10kw jammers commercially. That 4w CB radio I just got going won’t make it very far against such a machine, and besides the military hardware available nowadays can track any transmitter within range before you’ve even keyed off mike. So keep it civil (or at least in code) and don’t give them another reason to track you down.

  • The Franks and many others on the Continent were likely listening to the BBC on LF … to this day, the BBC on 200khz is quite easily received across Western Europe. My car radio has LF.

    You need a licence to transmit legally in most countries. You don’t need a licence in many countries to own a SW radio, though in some you do. Getting a licence puts you on the radar. Does one need say more, especially in a SHTF scenario!

  • I have a survival radio that is solar-powered and crank-powered that also receives some shortwave. I highly recommend getting something like it. If bad stuff happens in your area, you’ll be desperate for news about what’s going on.

    I have a project to build an antenna that I can connect the radio to, in order to be able to receive from stations further away. I’d really like to spend some time building some radio kit, but with all the things that have stopped going during the pandemic, it’s a bit hard to find radio events that sell bits and pieces.

  • Being able to acquire information and to exchange information have been part of my prepping plans from the very beginning When I was still a child one of the few Christmas presents I got was a shortwave radio kit. My father knew how important communications had been when he served in Europe in WW II.

    Later on we got into CB radio big time, but I also listened to many foreign stations in the assigned shortwave bands. Including the ‘numbers stations’ that were going seemingly all the time somewhere on the bands.

    When home computers became available we got a Radio Shack Model 1. Shortly after that I found a Morse Code and RTTY decoder for the computer that would take the audio from the radio and convert the dits and dahs of Morse Code transmission to letters and words. The same with the RTTY signals. That opened up several more information sources.

    I listened to US Embassies send routine reports to Washington, D. C. I listened to merchant marine ships at sea and international air flights using their HF band radios. Some of the most interesting things I heard were the international news service reports sent from on-site locations back to the headquarters. I often heard about things that happened as much as a full day before it made the nightly news.

    Later on, after I had to change locations due to health issues my father got his Amateur Radio license. I got mine a few years later, though I had the equipment I could use if we were in a WROL (Without Rule Of Law) situation.

    For me it is not just ‘Shortwave Radio’. It is a system for information acquisition and two-way communication. I do have other means besides radios, though.

    I keep an NOAA S.A.M.E. All Hazards Alert radio on all the time to get weather advisories and to receive any emergency messages if the State or Federal governments, all the way up to the President, need to inform the public of some major threat or occurrence.

    I have trunking capable Public Service Bands scanner to listen to the emergency services communications in the area, business band license holders, local utility companies, and VHF & UHF Amateur radio transmission in the area plus a few others. This is one way I have found to stay informed of what is happening locally.

    I have an All-Band/All-Mode HF receiver that I use to listen to actual shortwave broadcasts as well as the other types of communications on the HF bands mentioned earlier. This does include the long-range radios that emergency services, particularly law enforcement use for inter-agency communications. It also, of course, receives the signals from Amateurs licensed to use the HF bands.

    I have FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies for very short-range communications when I do not want a signal going very far. My MURS band radios give me longer-range unlicensed capability when I do not want to use VHF Amateur radios.

    Then I have the Amateur radios I use for two-way communications. HF, as well as VHF and UHF to cover long-range and short-range communication.

    I do not currently have a Citizens Band radio since my last one bit the dust, but it is in the plans so I will be able to monitor communications on that band, which can be very informative.

    There happens to be a linked VHF/UHF linked repeater system in this area that covers the I-80 corridor from Sacramento, California to near Elko, Nevada primarily on the Amateur 2-meter band.

    Each Wednesday night, except holidays, one of the local prep groups does a preppers’ net using the repeater system. It is on the SNARS repeater system, can be listened to with a few second delay through the internet with a computer app, and a recording is posted on nnpg.net two or three days after each net meeting. The site has a chat room where others that cannot get on the repeater system can discuss what is going on in the net, live as people are talking. By listening to the net through the internet and being in the chat room, just about anyone can participate. You do not have to be a licensed operator to listen nor to be in the chat room and post.

    We have nationwide listeners, as well as international listeners that have emailed the nnpg.net site with comments, suggestions for topics, and simply to say they listened. Every Wednesday at 8 pm Pacific time. Except for holidays that fall on a Wednesday.

    It is just one example of how Amateur Radio can be a very useful part of a person’s preps. And every year the group has an NNPG prepper field day the two days before the ARRL international Amateur Radio Field Day in which Amateurs use their mobile and portable gear to make contacts around the world to stay in practice in case they are called upon to assist the authorities with communications during a disaster.

    In a nutshell, information acquisition from all sources possible, and short-range, medium-range, and long-range two-way communication as needed for whatever happens.

    Just my opinion.

    • Nice report. I would be interested in knowing if there are any prepper nets on any of the HF amateur bands. Haven’t found any so far. Most users seem interested in only signal reports and contesting.

  • The Germans in WWIi in large measure complied with the Geneva Conventions on the Treatment of POWs. This a separate issue from the treatment of civilian “undesirables” Jews, gypsies, certain Christin groups etc.

    Reporting the names of POWs is part of that compliance. That is why they Named POWs in Shortwave Radio Broadcasts

  • Having a dependable means of communications is a critical resource, even if its only one way as in SW listening. Having more than one means is just smart. When the internet and cell service is gone and all there is remaining is propaganda on broadcast media, what then? Take the steps required to add a communications abiity if you haven’t already done so. Local, regional, and global.

  • Bottom line, TLDR version is that HF is where it’s at. At the end of the day, being able to throw some wire up in the trees and both receive and transmit across the globe with the power of an incandescent light bulb is where it’s at.

    When the grid goes down, there are no cell phones, there is no internet, there are no (radio) repeaters. HF and that wire in the tree is going to make the difference. Even locally, the concept of NVIS (near vertical incident sky wave) is going to mean communications within a hundred miles or so.

    The thing is, you are GOING to NEED to know your gear and how to use it. It’s not simple, it’s not easy. It’s an art and a science. How many readers understood what I meant by NVIS, point taken.

    Far too many think that they’re going to buy these Baofeng radios snd stick them in their preps and be good to go. The truth is unless you have a plan, and know what you’re doing. It isn’t going to do you a bit of good.

    Ham radio licenses are cheap. You can study for free and take the test for less than $15. Unfortunately, HF radio equipment s not, but the skill and ability are invaluable. It’s also something that takes time and practice to master effectively. Do it now, while you can.

    As a side note, when I put up my first HF antenna, connected my handheld Kenwood HT to it and just dialing through the bands picked up talk radio from China and, get this, a Chinese rap station (popular in western china) from my backyard in central NC.

    I also, one time, had a clear as a bell conversation with a guy driving around Dallas, TX.

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