BCB Listening

BCB Listening ~ last update: 19 Apr 2024

Why would a ham be interested?

A good understanding of propagation characteristics can be very useful to an amateur radio operator for high frequency [HF] operations. There is a rich set (large amount)  of information  about HF radio propagation available. The 160m; 80m; and 40m characteristics share similar characteristics to the USA AM radio bands (530kHz to 1700kHz). Note: Canada, Mexico and 'other countries' have broadcast band stations and depending on characteristics may allow you to hear these stations as well ~ higher chances during solar sunspot maximums (2024-2025).

AM stations operate on each AM channel at 10 kHz separation, that means 118 different channel frequencies. There are  4500+ licensed radio station in the US, thus about 38 stations (average) for each channel frequency are available. There are some channel frequencies that have between 1 and 3 stations {only} which are called 'clear channel' stations - we suggest starting with these. The rest of the frequencies are called "shared channel" stations.

Each station can be used as a "known" radio signal source to check propagation characteristics at the current time. There are HF radio beacon stations, but they are more difficult to use for specific directional testing. Suffice it to say that Broadcast Station listening can add significant skill to a ham's toolbox. With good directional control on an antenna receiving system it is possible to receive 4~6 stations on the BC band channel frequencies - note, it may not be easy but it can be done with a little effort and thought. Many people do this just for the joy of listening to the various stations with no thought to ham radio. A ham uses the information process to further their skill in communication propagation for use in the ham hobby.

Broadcast Band [BCB] Basics - AM Radio Stations

DXing the 'clear-channel' and 'shared channel' giants.

Using your 'communications skills' to listen to the AM broadcast band [BCB] is a fun experience practiced by many hams. You can learn to increase your listening skills by using the AM broadcast band. Low sunspot numbers and actual effects on the ham bands means allowing additional time to follow this pursuit. The following suggested method will allow you to start gaining an understanding of additional propagation characteristics. You get to enjoy listening to many radio signals and form opinions of operating conditions. Many hams start out by DXing the BCB and then add shortwave DX listening [SWL-DX] experience and then jump into ham radio. These experiences add to your propagation understanding and increase your listening skills. Individuals find "like-minded people" and start to form groups and clubs. The internet allows people in a wide geographical area to connect and carry on these specific hobbies. Many people find the 'radio listening hobby' their only interest and do not add a ham license. A radio ham and his basic equipment can quickly start a concentrated examination of these approaches to this exciting hobby area. Typically regional politics, local emergencies and some intensive propaganda campaigns make use of the AM broadcast band as there primary media outlet, which is one path anyone can directly follow.

The 'local' AM stations play a leading role in reporting much of the news and sports entertainment for it's 'local' area. For a DX'er, these stations represent a great source of firsthand news even better than many short-wave bands. The ability to 'directly hear the station(s)' is the key. A good communications receiver system and a little knowledge can get you started on this area of interest. Your abilities will depend on what skills and equipment you choose to utilize.

The hobby can be expanded into listening to some foreign BCB stations (near the border stations) as your skill set and interests start to branch out. During the daylight hours, local stations will fill the entire band, but in the 'dark hours' things start getting very interesting adding many DX'ing stations {further away distance listening is called DX}. Separating 'local stations' and 'DX' on one tuned frequency can be accomplished with directional receiving systems and some operating techniques. Prime DX'ing hours seem (for me) to be between 2:00 AM to 6:00 or 7:00 AM (sunrise). The sensitivity and selectivity of a good communication receiver allow for great listening. Using special directional antennas and electronic filtering (RF and audio) with multiple antennas will increase your capabilities (Loop antennas with 'other' antenna designs and then using special phasing and noise cancelling - see MFJ/DX Engineering and other web sites) . When getting started you should probably target your listening to the "giants of the AM band" - they usually have 50,000 watt transmitters. There are two types of these giants, the 'clear channel' stations (one major station on a 'clear' frequency in the U.S.) and the 'Shared Channel' stations (more than one station on a frequency with many other stations being "daylight only" on a shared frequency ~ then dropping to a single station on the one frequency at night. To assist your search see the table below (list is NOT all inclusive). See the FCC link for 'am-clear-regional-local-channels' with a list of frequencies and the various 'classes' for FCC registration, specifics for Class A and Class B stations.

In the spring/summer of 2023, the sunspots are returning at a faster pace then predicted by scientists. Radio conditions are getting better as we proceed, and this should assist you in your BCB listening. Just remember that time is always short and a 'peak sunspot activity' prediction of 2025 will soon be over and we will start the loss process and declining conditions.

Clear Channel Station List ~ USA

You can use online calculators for bearing and distance from your specific location to other latitude/longitude values to determine headings and distance. If you have your location, try putting in the Lat/Long from table into this site: Bearing and Distance Calc at Movable Type Scripts ~ a simple distance calculator site. It gives distance with heading and reverse heading. We have an EXCEL file, Bearing Calculations (SARA file download area) that allows you to enter and calculate bearing information. The time of day, solar conditions, RF propagation characteristics will all play a part in what you can actually hear. Most serious listeners learn to 'log' the information they listen to, again computer logging is a special topic for you to search.

The following is a 'very short' list of clear channel stations to try out, for a complete list go to our friend "WIKIPEDIA". Use the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clear-channel_station (Remember to check the 'reference area' for some other interesting information and links.).

Frequency (kHz)      Call Sign           Location                   Latitude               Longitude

640                            KFI                    Los Angeles, CA         N 33 52' 48"         W 118 00' 12"

650                            WSM                 Nashville, TN              N 35 59' 50"         W 86 47' 32"

660                            WNBC               New York, NY             N 40 51' 35"         W 73 47' 09"

820                            WBAB/WFAA    Fort Worth, TX            N 32 56' 40"         W 96 59' 26"

830                            WCCO               Minneapolis, MN        N 45 10' 40"          W 93 20' 55"

840                            WHAS               Louisville , KY             N 38 15' 40"          W 85 25' 40"

870                            WWL                 New Orleans, LA         N 29 50' 14"         W 90 07' 55"

1040                          WHO                 Des Moines, IA            N 41 39' 12"         W 93 20' 56"

1060                          KSL                   Salt Lake City, UT        N 40 46' 46"         W 112 05' 56"

1200                          WOAI                San Antonio, TX           N 29 16' 03"         W 98 16' 28"

Try tuning to a frequency during daylight hours. Depending on distance you may or may not hear the station. Try again after dark and you should start to hear longer and longer distances. Be advised results vary greatly with solar sunspot activity. We are (2022) starting upwards on the solar sunspot activity on the 25th 'solar cycle'.

The 'USA AM Band' starts at 640 kHz and steps to 1560 kHz with 10 kHz spacing, thus stations are in the 640, 650, 660,... 1540, 1550, 1560 kHz frequency 'slots'. Totaling 93 slots for the U.S. Note: Mexico and Canada go slightly further than these slots.

Shared Channel Station List ~ USA

These generally have other stations on frequency during 'daylight' hours, but own the specific frequency at night.

Frequency (kHz)      Call Sign           Location                   Latitude               Longitude

670                            WMAQ               Chicago, IL                N 41 56' 01"          W 88 04' 23"

700                            WLW                  Cincinnati, OH           N 39 21' 11"          W 84 19' 30"

720                            WGN                  Chicago, IL                N 42 00' 42"          W 88 02' 07"

750                            WSB                   Atlanta, GA               N 33 50' 43"           W 84 15' 12"

760                            WJR                   Detroit,MI                  N 42 10' 07"           W 83 13' 00"

770                            WABC                New York, NY            N 40 52' 50"           W 74 04' 12"

780                            WBBM               Chicago, IL                 N 41 59' 32"           W 88 01' 36"

810                            KGO                  San Francisco, CA     N 37 31' 39"           W 122 06' 05"

880                            WCBS                New York, NY            N 41 51' 35"           W 73 47' 09"

890                            WLS                   Chicago, IL                N 41 33' 21"           W 87 50' 54"

1020                          KDKA                 Pittsburgh, PA           N 40 33' 25"            W 79 57' 08"

1030                          WBZ                   Boston, MA               N 42 16' 41"            W 70 52' 36"

1100                          WYW/WWWE    Cleveland, OH           N 41 16' 50"            W 81 37' 22"

1120                          KMOX                 St. Louis, MO            N 38 43' 20"            W 90 03' 16"

1180                          WHAM                Rochester, NY           N 43 04' 55"            W 77 43' 30"

1210                          WCAU                Philadelphia, PA        N 39 58' 46"             W 74 59' 13"

 Use these stations to check out your phasing and noise cancelling equipment - great for daylight testing. Also great to use with a K9LAY directional antenna as your 'main' receiving antenna. This will start to give you some good capability tryouts for your equipment/techniques. Enjoy your AM band experiences and good luck. You can then gain better daytime reception of many other stations. My experience is that the directional phasing and noise cancelling works okay on the BCB {Higher HF hanbands - not so much}. Let us know your results with a quick email !

A useful site for AM station information is: FCC List of AM License Classes, look for class of license vs frequency table.  Also a 'general query page' for AM stations is at: FCC AM Query Page. Information here does NOT include all the slots that you may be interested in, but should provide you a starting reference.

Some Other "Giants" Station List ~ non-USA (not FCC Controlled)

Lets try for some 'giant' stations in North America, but outside the United States (mostly). {We continue working to verify current standings on the below information - December, 2020.}

Frequency (kHz)      Call Sign          Location                          Latitude               Longitude

540                            CBK                  Regina, Saskatchewan    N 50 40' 48"          W 105 26' 48"

690                            CKGM               Montreal, Quebec            N 45 17' 43.08"     W 73 43' 18.12"

730                            XEX                   Mexico City, Mexico         N 19 21' 54.18"     W 98 57' 27.73"

740                            CBZM                Toronto, Ontario               N 43.6489              W 79.3817 

800                            CKLW                Windsor, Ontario              N 42.0569              W 83.0028

800                            XEROK             Ciudad Juarez, Mexico     N 31 41' 44"           W 106 23' 01"

860                             CJBC               Toronto, Ontario                N 43 34' 30"           W 79 49' 03"

900                             XEW                 Mexico City, Mexico          N 19 21' 54.18"     W 98 57' 27.73"

940                             CINW                Montreal, Quebec             N 45 23' 34.08"     W 73 41' 53.16"

940                             XEQ                  Mexico City, Mexico          N 19 21' 36.78"     W 98 59' 31.9"

990                            CBW                  Winnipeg, Manitoba         N 49 50' 10"          W 97 30' 46"

1010                          CFRB                 Toronto, Ontario                N 43 30' 39.67"    W 79 37' 48.07"

1180                          {VOA}                 Marathon Key, FL [Inside US]   N 24 41' 58"     W 81 05' 19"

1550                          CBEF                 Windsor, Ontario               N 42 12' 56"           W 82 55' 15"

1570                          XERF                 Ciudad Acuna, Mexico      N 29 20' 52"           W 101 01' 55"

I know we are not supposed to use automatic direct links to Wikipedia, so copy and past this link to look at "clear channel" stations.


Then you can search wikipedia on a stations call letters - look for the little box on the right side for station information - antenna site information, audio feeds, etc. are lots of fun. When you get the BCB stuff down, then expand and look at the commercial shortwave stations. Just the 'listening' hobby catches many people so you can add to your social contacts from that pool in addition to the hams you find. Today's electronic messaging makes it very easy to contact and share information from many people and places.

Radio Locator ~ Another good resource!

So you hear a station and copy the call letters and need more information, then try:

Radio Locator site ~ a web site with information on station location data.

Following a quick search will often lead to the station's web page and frequently the audio feed via internet streaming. Data includes location, maps, and emailing address. These kinds of tools are great additions to you listening skills used for ALL types of radio listening. So try it out.

Some interesting BCB history and sources...

Jim Hawkins, WA2WHV, has collected many pages of broadcast radio history and sorted information by station call letters. He covers some shortwaves and some broadcast band stations. Jim's 'Radio' homepage (which is: http://j-hawkins.com/radio.html) has links already setup leading to many stations. Clicking those links will take you to a technological history for that individual radio station. Stories on the various transmitters, tower sites, studio offices are the mainstay. Great reading and lots of information on the development of the broadcast industry.

Try, https://www.nf8m.com/nf8m/us-medium-wave-pattern-references/  for looking at station radiation patterns (maps of) for your selected frequency of interest. The "Radio Time Traveller" is a very interesting site with lots of information. They had lots of discussion about the solar eclipse of 08 pr 2024, again tons of good information.

Shortwave Stations

Expanding from experiences in the BCB and moving to higher frequencies you will encounter Shortwave [SW] stations and the listening hobby {Shortwave Listening ~ [SWL]}. This is another 'huge' hobby and your ham radio HF experiences require many of the same skills to become good at that hobby!

Generally the frequencies involved are from 3 MHz to 30 MHz, thus "above the AM BCB" towards 30 MHz with 'bands' similar to the ham radio HF bands. Do some internet searching and you will find many, many sources for material and some YouTube videos on the topic. There are still many people in the world that get their news and entertainment from shortwave broadcasts.

Time spent here can offer some great moments and memories. Tune around the frequencies and see what you find.

Checkout the North American Shortwave Association - http://www.naswa.net/ for some more useful information.