What is The Different Between Shortwave Vs Long Wave Radio

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According to UNESCO, three billion people across the world live below the poverty line, which is 2.50 USD or less a day. Owing to financial constraints, their main mode of communication is the radio because it’s cheaper than television or a computer.  This underlines the influence radio has on impact on the lives of communities, individuals, and nations around the globe.

Unknown to many, all radio stations don’t transmit their content in similar ways. There are those that transmit via the internet, shortwave, mediumwave, and longwave among others. The shortwave and longwave radios mainly differ on their wavelength and frequencies, which will be explained in detail below.

This article will mainly focus on shortwave and longwave radios, the commonly used devices. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the two radio types and their differences.

What is The Radio?

Before delving into the differences between shortwave and longwave radios, let’s first understand what radio means in order to get a better perspective. Radio is the method of transmitting electromagnetic energy, in the form of radio waves, from one point to the other without using wired connections. The equipment responsible for sending the radio waves is known as the transmitter while the one that receives them is the receiver. The radio tune, on the other hand, is responsible for selecting the program that you want to listen to from the existing radio signals being broadcasted.

Once the transmitter transmits the radio waves, the radio antenna on the radio receiver taps and sends them to the receiver. The receiver then makes the electrons inside it to vibrate thus recreating the original signal in the form of electronic energy.  A powerful transmitter can send radio waves to many receivers, which explains why hundreds of thousands of people across the globe can listen to the same signal at once.

What is a Radio Wave?  

In order to understand what shortwave and longwave radio are, you must first know what radio waves are because they relate. Radio waves are portioned electromagnetic energy generated by transmitters and detected by receivers. They are therefore the building blocks when it comes to radio communication.

Radio waves are the lowest portion of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths ranging from 1 millimeter and 100 kilometers and a frequency between 300 GHz and 3 kHz. They travel on the surfaces of ponds in a series of peaks and valleys, which resembles those of ocean waves.

The radio waves consist of six regions that are included in the EGM spectrum as listed below in order of decreasing frequency and increasing wavelength.

  • Gamma rays: Gamma rays have a frequency range of 10 exahertz and corresponding energy above 100 keV. They have short wavelengths of 10 picometers or less.
  • X-rays: X-ray waves have a wavelength that ranges from 0.01 and 10 nanometers and a corresponding frequency of 30 petahertz up to 30 exahertz. They have shorter wavelengths to UV waves but longer than gamma rays.
  • Ultraviolet: Ultraviolet waves are made up of electromagnetic waves that have a high frequency which the human eye cannot detect as the color violet. Their wavelength ranges from 10nm and 400nm and records energy ranging from 3 eV up to 124 eV maximum.
  • Visible light: Visible light waves are produced by rotations, vibrations, and electronic transition of molecules and atoms. Their wavelength range is 0.39 and 0.75um and has a frequency of 400 to 750 THz.
  • Infrared: Infrared waves are emitted by molecules after changing their rotational and vibrational movements. They have a wavelength range of 0.74um and 1 millimeter and a frequency of 300 GHz to 1 THz.
  • Microwaves: Microwaves are waves emitted by the sun and cosmic background. They have a maximum wavelength of 1 millimeter and frequencies ranging from O.3 GHz to 300 GHz. They are referred to as micro due to their short wavelengths.

Radio waves are generated by both natural and artificial sources like lightning, cell phones, or radio towers among others. They travel at lightning speed and that is why millions of them reach the transmitter each second. They can be used in a wide array of communication fields like television stations, communication satellites, navigation systems, and radio communication among others.

What is Shortwave and Longwave Radio?

Radio spectrum mainly consists of three band branches namely; shortwave, mediumwave, and longwave. The three branches are based on their radio wave’s wavelengths and frequencies. Virtually all radio waves are electromagnetic radiations that undergo alterations whenever they pass through air, rain or objects.

In addition, their speed maintains their stability and they remain constant even in vacuum spaces. Notably, their similar characteristics with light are not that different from each other, even at shorter distances. There are millions of radio waves in the atmosphere at each particular time.

Shortwave and longwave essentially means the number of frequency and wavelength that a radio wave ranges in. Shortwave radio falls under the frequency range of 30 kHz and 278 kHz and 1500 meters wavelength. The longwave radio, on the other hand, has a frequency range of between 1.5 MHz and 30 MHz and 10 to 85 meters wavelength.

The wavelength, just like the name suggests, is the length between one wave peak to the other. The frequency, on the other hand, is the whole number of radio waves that arrive at the transmitter from the transmitter per second. The unit of measuring wave frequency is referred to as hertz represented by Hz, while wavelength is measured in feet or meters.

Differences Between Shortwave and Long Wave Radio

Now that you know what radio, radio waves, shortwave radio, and longwave radio are, let’s now focus on the differences that the two radios have. Shortwave and longwave radio are commonly used devices in the world. The two differ in different aspects of their characteristics and performance as outlined below.

1. Wavelength and Frequency

Radio wavelength and frequency are inversely proportional to each other. This means that when one increases, the other automatically decreases. For instance, a high frequency automatically means a shorter wavelength and high energy and the vice versa is true. The wavelengths and frequencies of the two types of radios are their main difference.

As indicated earlier, longwave radio has a frequency that ranges between 30 kHz and 279 kHz and covers a wavelength of over 1500 meters. Shortwave radio, on the other hand, has a frequency range of 1.5 MHz to 30 MHz and covers a median wavelength range of 10 up to 85 meters. However, shortwave radio travels long distances due to their ability to transcend through water bodies and continents, thus reaching large masses from one transmitter.

2. Movement tendencies

Radio waves mainly travel in three ways namely ground, sky, and space waves, depending on the wavelength. Ground waves follow the curves of man-made and natural resources as well as land contours. Skywaves on the other hand bounces between ionosphere and earth, which makes them excellent in long-range transmission, while sky waves travel in straight lines.

Longwave radio signals travel from one point to the other over the earth’s surface at a specific amount of power. In addition, they move in a straight line piercing through the ionosphere instead of bouncing off it. They, therefore, have the ability to cover wider terrain areas using less power.

A shortwave radio signal, on the other hand, travels in curves following the earth’s curvature while interrelating with the ionosphere. Shortwave signals travel long distances because they are skipped by air layers to long distances. This explains why shortwave radio signals can be received from anywhere across the world.

3. Antenna and Reception

For a radio station to air its program, its signals must be tapped by the antenna and guided to the receiver. That is why any radio must have an antenna responsible for tapping the surrounding radio signals. Longwave and shortwave radio differ in the size of their antenna.

Longwave radio signals are hard to tap because they travel in straight lines and along the earth’s surface. That explains why longwave radio has a longer antenna when compared to shortwave radio.  However, the long antenna disrupts their operation and ruins their aesthetic value in this era of technological advancements.

Shortwave radio signals, on the other hand, travels along the earth’s contours and curvature while interacting with the atmosphere. This, therefore, makes them readily available in the atmosphere and ionosphere making them easy to tap. That is the reason why shortwave radio has a shorter antenna thus increasing their aesthetic value and making them preferable.

4. Their Usage

As indicated earlier, shortwave radio signals travel long-distance thus covering large areas. Their transmissions are easy to pick because they can be picked by cheap radios. In addition, their signals have the capability of reaching remote areas where there is no radio network.

All you need to do is create content and send it to locations with a radio network, where it is beamed and sent back. A shortwave radio can also be accessed through the internet and that is why they are nicknamed to “world band radio”. Shortwave radio is therefore effective in unifying marginalized communities in remote areas.

Longwave radio, on the other hand, has the ability to send signals over a long distance using low power, which makes them suitable for maritime and sea activities.  The normal power level of longwave radio ranges between 500Kw to 2Mw. This means that its power coverage for each kilowatt is far better than that of an MW band transmitter.

5. Power Usage

Radios use the power to transmit signals from one place to the other. Shortwave and longwave radio have contrasting usage of power. While longwave radio requires less amount of power for transmission, the shortwave radio requires a lot of energy.

Longwave radio has a high broadcasting capability which is far much better per each kilowatt, than that of the MW band transmitter. This enables them to cover a large area using low power ranging between 500 Kw to 2 Mw.  Owing to their ability to use less power, they are commonly used for maritime communication where ships need to conserve energy.

Shortwave radio requires huge amounts of power to transmit its signals as they are more susceptible to blockages by buildings and land. In addition, because they don’t bounce in the ionosphere. Although shortwave radio uses much more power than longwave radio, they are more popular across the world than longwave radio due to their characteristics.

6. Sound Quality

The difference in the quality of sound between longwave and shortwave radio is determined by how their signal is encoded. The signal encoding process not only affects the quality of the sound but also its performance and the broadcast range.

Longwave radios vary the broadcast signal that they receive from the transmitter. This, in turn, changes its power since amplitude stands for the signal strength. Owing to the fact that some transmitters are poor at picking out a weak signal, they produce poor sound quality.

Shortwave radio, on the other hand, uses high-frequency range and big bandwidth. Therefore, it does not change the amplitude of its signals enabling them to remain constant throughout the transmission process. Transmitters are therefore able to pick up shortwave radio signals effectively, hence the good sound quality.

Bottom Line:

Owing to the differences that shortwave and longwave radio have, each has its strong point in its own right. Shortwave radio is more popular across the world because it transcends boundaries, water bodies, and mountains in transmitting signals. Longwave radio, on the other hand, performs exceptionally well in the maritime industry, due to its ability to cover a long distance and use less power.

The standout difference between the two types of radio rests on their characteristics like power usage, strength, antenna reception, wavelength and frequency, and their movement tendencies. While the longwave radio is specialized in maritime communication, shortwave radio is excellent in almost every sector such as defense, weather, and broadcasting. However, when everything is said and done, the choice between the two types of radio rests on how you want to use them.

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