I do not understand. Is ham radio the only legal way to broadcast on shortwave radio? I mean for a "regular" person, not a million dollar radio station. I saw lots of shortwave broadcasting equipment, but it all looks like it is illegal to use because of the FCC rules. As far as I know, LPFM isn't an option, and I am not interested in a CB. This is for hobby interests.

Edit: Is amateur radio the same as ham radio? I saw a lot of references to AR on here.


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    $\begingroup$ First of all you didn't specify where you are so my answer is based on the laws in the US. Ham radio (which yes, is the same as amateur radio) is not broadcasting, it's communication. Unless the information is of general interest to the ham radio community, or a call soliciting a contact, what you put out over the air has to be directed at someone. You might reformulate your question to clarify what it is you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – Duston
    Sep 6, 2018 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Are you confusing broadcasting with transmitting? Broadcasting means transmitting with the goal of reaching people who are only receiving and not communicating by transmitting back. Transmitting on parts of the shortwave bands is legal with an amateur radio license, but broadcasting isn't. $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Sep 6, 2018 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @rclocher3 Yes. To me it was all the same until y'all cleared it up. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – johnny
    Sep 7, 2018 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ I was interested in broadcasting until I saw all the costs and laws. I have since considered HAM and GMRS (with repeaters). $\endgroup$
    – johnny
    Sep 10, 2018 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ But if you don't want to do a broadcast, then amateur radio is certainly the right way to go :) Find your niche! Many find voice communication exciting, but others find least-power communication around the globe interesting (keywords: WSPR, FT8), others want to at least have the proof that their signal bounced off the moon and back (even if they can't realistically communicate over that channel). There's so many opportunities to just go and have fun! $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2018 at 20:21

3 Answers 3


is HAM the only legal way to broadcast on shortwave radio?

No. An Amateur Radio ("ham") license doesn't even allow you to broadcast.

In most jurisdictions, including the US-American one, amateur radio is restricted to directed communication.

I saw lots of shortwave broadcasting equipment, but it all looks like it is illegal to use because of the FCC rules.

Well, for broadcasting you'll need a license.

This is for hobby interests.

The amateur radio license is meant for exactly that: Hobby communications.

There's generally the tendency to not allow hobby broadcasting, because: broadcasting implies that a single station

  • reaches a lot of receivers at once,
  • doesn't limit itself in occupancy and
  • can't (on short term) share the medium.

It's logical that any part of the spectrum would be instantly "full" if regulatory bodies like the FCC allowed broadcasting without a license.

So, I'm afraid, if you really want to broadcast and not directedly communicate with someone specific, you'll have to get a commercial license for the band you want to use, pretty much anywhere on this planet (including satellites in orbit).


For clarity, I am splitting your question "Is HAM the only legal way to broadcast on shortwave radio?" into two parts:

  1. Is ham radio a legal way to broadcast on shortwave from the USA?
  2. Under what circumstances could I legally do shortwave broadcasts?

Amateur (or, "ham") radio is not a legal way to broadcast on shortwave. The United States FCC's rules for amateur radio (which through ITU agreements tend to be similar to other countries' rules) are very specific and clear on broadcasting:

An amateur station shall not engage in any form of broadcasting, nor may an amateur station transmit one-way communications except as specifically provided in these rules; nor shall an amateur station engage in any activity related to program production or news gathering for broadcasting purposes, […]

So if you want to be the next Art Bell, an amateur radio license is not your ticket — though a ham hobby could be a great introduction to the technology.

That being said, I'm not sure what would legally prevent two hams mutually arranging a frequent "net" and using it for talk show banter, using radio settings that "happened" to be compatible with shortwave receivers. There'd certainly be questions relating to "minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications", limitations on "transmissions to a different country", and remaining in "accordance with good amateur practice". And of course no cussing, vulgaraties, or music/jingles. But as far as I can tell, there's no written requirement that would prevent rag chews from being interesting to listen to.

A more proper route, however, would be to either get a HF broadcasting license which would require a sizable commitment, or explore low power options for small scale fun.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer, +1. It lead me to realize that OP is really asking for shortwave broadcasting license functional substitutes rather than legal considerations; which led to my "alternative-focused" answer. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2018 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ @MarcusMüller I meant legal substitutes in general. I didn't understand the terminology. $\endgroup$
    – johnny
    Sep 7, 2018 at 14:59

the only legal way to broadcast on shortwave radio?

We need to talk about alternatives!

If you're looking into shortwave because he wants to cover a large geographical area, then simple things like web radio could very easily be the solution – at least if the audience has internet access.

Considering current price-per-kB in the US for prepaid cards, you'll get pretty far even with the smallest packages!

Let's run a few numbers, here:

comparison table

First takeaway: the bitrate you'll need for pretty epic sound quality using a "every mobile phone and PC has that installed already" codec easily fits through somewhat decent 2G cellphone data. Cell phone coverage in the US isn't all that bad – you can probably reach of your audience that way!

As soon as you go for shortwave-comparable qualities, things get really easy to transport across the internet. For reference, I've added the last column, which shows you how much internet transfer volume you'd have to have to listen to eight hours of your station every day of a month. It's rather unlikely that, as a hobby, you'll even be transmitting 8 hrs/day of useful programming, but if you did, that's how much monthly volume you'd want your audience to spend on you :) Corollary: if you've got but a dozen to a hundred occasional listeners, you could even completely save on RF equipment and possibly necessary licenses, and invest that in data SIM cards that you hand out to your listeners so that they can listen to you over the internet, for a pretty long time, depending on how much power you thought to push out of your antenna.

  • $\begingroup$ Marcus, What's the difference in this and a Live YouTube or FB? I didn't understand. I appreciate all the answers, btw. $\endgroup$
    – johnny
    Sep 7, 2018 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I don't know what a "Live YouTube or FB" is, but I presume it's a live stream going over Google's or Facebooks infrastructure. There's no principal difference, only that web radios have been a thing for much longer than youtube even exists, and that you can pick your own codec for such – YouTube definitely won't target ultra-low bandwidth voice codecs. So, you don't pay Google or Facebook with your personal data (or ads placed on your content), and you get exactly the technology you want if you do the streaming yourself. That's the difference. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2018 at 15:32

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