Shortwave vs Longwave Radios: Are There Any Differences?

Shortwave and longwave radios are both popular. But among shortwave vs longwave radios, are there any differences?

Yes, there are a couple of significant differences between shortwave and longwave radios. Shortwave radios have a frequency of 3-30 MHz and longwave radios have 30-300 KHz. The physical wavelength is 10-80 meters and 10-1000 meters respectively. These attributes affect their usage and propagation. Also, shortwaves require high power to send but less sensitive receivers. Long Waves need low power to send but a highly sensitive receiver.

We will cover all the differences between these two radios further in the article.

Shortwave vs Longwave Radios: Key Differences 

Before we discuss their differences in detail, let’s take a look at the key differences. 

Features Shortwave Radio Longwave Radio
Frequency 3-30 MHz 30-300 kHz
Physical Wavelength 10-80 meters 1000-10 meters
Usage International broadcasting, ham radio, emergency communications Broadcasting, maritime communications, navigation
Propagation Skywave, skip propagation Ground wave, skywave
Transmission Power High power Low power
Reception  Less sensitive receivers required Sensitive receivers required

Shortwave vs Longwave Radios: Detailed Differences

Shortwave Radio
Source: radiofidelity

Now let’s discuss their detailed differences.


With longer wavelengths, longwave radios can travel long distances and diffract around obstacles and operate between 30 and 300 kHz. They are used for broadcasting time signals and radio services, although their usage has decreased over time.

Shortwave radios operate in the frequency range of 3-30 MHz. The shorter wavelengths that allow for long-distance propagation through ionospheric reflection and direct line-of-sight communication. They are used for international broadcasting, amateur radio, maritime and aviation communication, and emergency communication.

Physical Wavelength:

Longwave radio waves have longer physical wavelengths, reaching up to 1,000 meters. While shortwave radio waves have shorter physical wavelengths, typically a few meters long. This is because the physical wavelength of a radio wave is inversely proportional to its frequency. 

The difference in wavelength affects the propagation characteristics. Longwave signals are better suited for long-distance communication and diffraction around obstacles. Shortwave signals interact with the ionosphere for long-distance propagation.


Longwave radios are primarily used for broadcasting time signals, maritime communication, and navigation. Using Very Low-Frequency signals in systems like Omega and eLoran, they transmit accurate timekeeping signals and aid in maritime communication.

Shortwave radios are primarily used for international broadcasting, amateur radio (ham radio) operations, and emergency communications. They enable radio stations to reach remote areas through skywave propagation, allowing for long-distance reception. 

Ham radio enthusiasts use shortwave radios for communication, contests, experimentation, and providing emergency support during disasters. 

The use of shortwave radios also facilitates critical information exchange and coordination during emergencies when traditional infrastructure is disrupted.


Longwave waves primarily propagate through ground waves, traveling in a straight line along the Earth’s surface. They can diffract around obstacles and reach receivers beyond the line of sight. 

This makes them suitable for communication over large areas. However, the range of longwave communication is limited due to higher absorption and attenuation at these lower frequencies.

Shortwave radios use skywave and skip propagation for communication. Skywave propagation involves reflecting shortwave signals off the ionosphere, allowing them to reach receivers far beyond the line of sight. 

Skip propagation occurs when the signals are reflected off the ionosphere and then “skip” back down to Earth at a different location, enabling long-distance communication. These propagation mechanisms are essential for the extensive range and reach of shortwave communication.

Transmission Power:

Longwave radios use low-power transmissions due to the longer wavelengths of longwave waves. This allows them to propagate over long distances even with low power.

Shortwave radios use high-power transmissions because of shorter wavelengths. These are more susceptible to attenuation and signal degradation over long distances. 

The higher power helps overcome these challenges. It also ensures that the signals can reach their intended destinations. Especially when communicating over significant distances. 


Longwave radios require sensitive receivers due to the attenuation and susceptibility to noise interference of longwave waves. The long wavelengths of longwave waves make them more prone to attenuation when encountering obstacles. As a result, it leads to weakened signal strength. 

Moreover, longwave waves are susceptible to various types of noise interference. To overcome these challenges, longwave radios utilize sensitive receivers that can detect and amplify weak signals. 

Shortwave radios require less sensitive receivers compared to longwave radios. Signal strength and signal loss are reduced due to shortwave waves’ shorter wavelengths. 

Additionally, shortwave waves have better resistance to noise interference, allowing for better discrimination between desired signals and background noise. Therefore, shortwave radios can utilize receivers that are less sensitive. But still capable of effectively detecting and decoding signals within the shortwave frequency range.


Longwave radios are less complex and require less expensive components. Shortwave radios require more sensitive receivers and higher power transmitters, which can drive up the cost.

A basic longwave radio can be purchased for as little as $20. A basic shortwave radio will typically cost $25-$50 or more.


So, to sum up, longwave and shortwave radios have different usages. The real winner of this battle will actually depend on your specific needs.

If you are looking for short-distance communication, you need to go with longwave radios. But for long-distance communication, shortwave radios are better.

Also, shortwave radios are way more expensive to buy and operate.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

How Far Can Long-Wave Radio Travel? 

Long-wave signals have been detected at distances exceeding 17,000 kilometers (11,000 mi). However, the exact range depends on various factors. For example, transmission power , the sensitivity of the receiver, atmospheric conditions, and the conductivity of the Earth’s surface.

Can I Listen to Longwave Radio on My Phone? 

Yes, it is possible to listen to longwave radio on your phone. One option is to download the app, which allows you to listen to radio stations around the world for free.

Can I Listen to Shortwave Radio on the Internet? 

Yes, it is possible to listen to shortwave radio online. There are websites and apps that offer internet radio services that allow you to stream shortwave radio stations. To listen to shortwave radio online, you need an internet connection and apps that act as shortwave radio scanners.


Between shortwave vs longwave radios, both are prominent in their own way. That’s because they work with different principles and have different uses. The better choice among these two will depend on how you want to use them.


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