Shortwave in the USA
BROADCASTING TO EVERYONE ELSE (MOSTLY)
SHORTWAVE IS VERY LONG IN its range, and very directional. It reflects off the layer of charged atoms in the ionosphere, so broadcasters point their antenna arrays towards their intended target audience, even if they are thousands of miles away, and angle the signal upwards, so it bounces off the ionosphere at the right point to come back down to earth over the target area, skipping over the curvature of the globe. Shortwave also is affected by interference from near frequencies, and from solar activity, making it advantageous to shift frequencies based on other global broadcasts, and time of day. It is not generally used for broadcasting inside the USA, as we have developed more stable and regionally based systems for this, such as AM, FM, VHF, and UHF. Shortwave, technically HF (high frequency) is used instead to send programming beyond the nation’s borders. For years it was not even permitted to be used for audiences in the United States.
The US government’s Agency for Global Media’s Voice of America facility at Greenville, North Carolina is the largest shortwave radio broadcasting facility in the USA, but it is not the only one. There are dozens of others, including those that come and go with periodic programming. The largest and most powerful ones are for religious broadcasting, operated by Christian missionary organizations, and targeted at places like South America. Indeed, audio and radio equipment companies founded by missionaries, like Crown International, have often led the way in increasing the durability, power, and reach of amplifiers and transmitters.
Since the audience is outside the country, continental US based transmitters tend to be located on the edge of the country that is closest to the overseas target area, though some distance inland also works, given the long reach of shortwave. Stations in the southeastern USA, for example, can have antennas pointed south towards the Caribbean and South America, as well as east, to Europe and Africa.
The largest licensed commercial and religious shortwave broadcasting stations in the country include:
WEWN - Irondale, Alabama
WEWN, the Worldwide Eternal Word Network, is a powerful Catholic shortwave broadcasting station located in Irondale, Alabama, outside of Birmingham. With four 500,000-watt transmitters, broadcasting English programming to Africa, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and Spanish programs to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America, it is owned by Eternal Word Television Network, which was founded by Mother Angelica, a Birmingham-based Catholic nun who became a religious television personality.
WHRI - Furman, South Carolina
WHRI, World Harvest International, operates a large broadcasting facility near Furman, South Carolina, sending Christian programming in English via shortwave to Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, using two 500,000 watt transmitters, among others. It has also operated transmitters in Greenbush, Maine; Hawaii; and Palau, Indonesia, all of which have been closed, concentrating its shortwave power in South Carolina. It is owned by the Family Broadcasting Corporation, a Christian television network, headquartered in South Bend, Indiana.
WTWW - Lebanon, Tennessee
WTWW, We Transmit World Wide, is a Christian shortwave station in Lebanon, Tennessee. It opened in 2010, and uses a 100,000-watt Continental transmitter and a Harris 50,000-watt transmitter to broadcast programming to eastern Canada, Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. It is owned by the Leap of Faith company.
KVOH - Simi, California
KVOH, the Voice of Hope, which broadcasts from Chatsworth Peak, above Simi, California, covers the Caribbean, Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America, with evangelical Christian programs using a 50,000-watt RCA transmitter, broadcasting on 9,975 kHz during Western Hemisphere evenings and 17,775 kHz during Western Hemisphere daytime. It was established in 1986 by the millionaire evangelist Dr. George K. Otis, who founded High Adventure Ministries, based in Simi, which operated missionary stations around the globe, starting with a station in Lebanon in the 1970s, broadcasting the Gospel and country music throughout the Middle East.
WINB - Red Lion, Pennsylvania
WINB is a Christian shortwave radio station in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, with a 50,000-watt Continental Electronics transmitter. It is what they call a brokered shortwave broadcasting station, meaning it broadcasts content generated by others for a fee, rather than its own or other single source programming. This is a common way for shortwave broadcasters not owned by wealthy evangelical or missionary organizations to stay in business. WINB, also associated over the years with WGCB, WLYH, and WBPH, started broadcasting in 1962, and claims to be the oldest private international shortwave station in the USA.
WWCR - Nashville, Tennessee
WWCR, World Wide Christian Radio, is a brokered Christian shortwave radio station in Nashville, Tennessee, with four 100,000-watt Continental Electronics transmitters, broadcasting over 400 religious and talk radio programs, including right wing commentators like Alex Jones. Target regions range from South America to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
WBCQ - Monticello, Maine
WBCQ The Planet, is a shortwave station in northern Maine, that transmits a wide (perhaps the widest) variety of programs on legal shortwave. It is the only licensed (non-pirate) shortwave station dedicated to free speech, and is managed by former pirate radio broadcaster Alan Weiner. In 1986 Weiner became well known for operating an unlicensed radio station on a ship in international waters off the shore of New York City, which was raided by federal authorities within a few days and destroyed. Since then he has built up a powerful free speech shortwave and AM station that broadcasts legally on property he owns in Monticello, Maine. He has a 500,000 watt Continental transmitter, and a few additional 50,000-watt transmitters. Programming, especially religious programming, pays the electric bills, but WBCQ will consider almost any content that is sent to them.
WRMI - Okeechobee, Florida
WRMI, Radio Miami International, is currently the largest commercial shortwave station in the in the USA. Like many of the others, it is a brokered station, meaning it sells time for whoever pays for it. This includes a fair amount of religious programs, but WRMI tries to focus on international news and business programs, selling airtime for as little as $1 per minute, as well as local cultural programs in Spanish and English. It also serves as a relay, boosting the signal for international shortwave broadcasts from the Ukraine, Italy, Japan, and several other nations in Europe and Eastern Europe. In 2013, the station purchased the former WYFR facility in Okeechobee, Florida, and now has 12 100,000-watt transmitters, and antennas pointed at many parts of the world.
There are other federal broadcasting facilities that use the shortwave portions of the radio spectrum, including the American Forces Network, which produces and broadcasts television, radio, and other media content for the US armed forces domestically and overseas, through a system of transmission facilities connected by satellite and cables all over the world, though it apparently does not operate any shortwave radio facilities in the continental USA anymore. It uses Navy shortwave transmitters and relays at Diego Garcia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and other international sites to send programming to ships at sea, while facilities at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Key West, Florida are no longer used.
Strategic military uses of shortwave have been explored for long range communication with ships and submarines, too, including at the experimental “ionospheric heating” facility in Alaska, known as the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Project (HAARP). Generally though these global forms of communication use very low frequencies, with long waves, far outside the higher frequencies of shortwave. Shortwave bands from the 1950s to 1990s were also used for over the horizon radar, to detect rockets and aircraft, including at major antenna arrays at Moscow Air Force Station in Maine, covering the east coast, and two facilities on the west coast (in Oregon and northern California). These have been closed, though their footprint and some outbuildings remain.
The government also operates a shortwave broadcasting station that is said to be the longest continuously operating radio station of any kind, in the USA, if not the world. Known as WWV, in Fort Collins, Colorado, and its sister station WWVH, in Hawaii, these are time stations operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. WWV broadcasts time on several frequencies, and has been doing so since 1919 (though at other locations until the facility was built at Fort Collins in 1966).
In addition to electronic signals used automatically by receivers to synchronize clocks and machinery, the station transmits voice and tones to announce Coordinated Universal Time every minute, and makes other recorded announcements on an hourly schedule. The Colorado station uses a male voice for this, while the station in Hawaii uses a female voice. ♦