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Outside of the United States, shortwave broadcasting has been popular since the late 1920s. Thanks to its ability to cover large areas, government broadcasters often use shortwave to communicate with their most remote areas.
Inside the U.S., shortwave had its greatest popularity following Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Nearly every American radio manufacturer offered several models with at least one shortwave band. (Americans worried about their relatives who lived overseas often tuned into foreign broadcasts to hear the latest news.) After the end of World War II, a wave of isolationism swept over the U.S. As a result, the number of American radios equipped with shortwave bands dropped off significantly.
There's good and there's bad.
 The good
Shortwave radio was traditionally the best means by which you could hear news and interesting radio programming from around the world, because these frequencies bounce off the ionosphere quite handily. Many countries' governments ran their own shortwave stations and some, like the BBC World Service, Radio Canada International (aka CBC International Service and Voice of Canada), and Radio Netherlands were highly respected. In some times and places, shortwave was the only place you could get unbiased news from across the border. For example, international shortwave broadcasting really took off during World War II, when people living in Axis countries who wanted news not censored by their governments tuned in to shortwave broadcasts from neutral or Allied countries, in some cases risking criminal prosecution for doing so (but it should be noted the shortwave broadcasts from Allied countries also smacked of propaganda). Axis countries responded by jamming shortwave radio broadcasts from Allied countries. During the Cold War, shortwave became a hotbed of international intrigue, with broadcasts from Warsaw Pact countries (USSR's Radio Moscow, East Germany's Radio Berlin International) competing with the likes of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe for international audiences, ideological rants from countries with radical governments not aligned with either side in the cold war like Libya and Albania, rebel governments like the breakaway Republic of Biafra, and spy transmissions and maritime activity taking up some of the shortwave spectrum as well, which always made for interesting listening.
Sadly, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of streaming audio on the Internet, these aspects of shortwave have fallen into disuse and much of the shortwave bands have become a quaint bore.
 The bad
What happened after the Berlin Wall fell? It went something like this: Cold War competition in propaganda pretty much ceased, as did most of the spy transmissions although a few can still be heard (most of them apparently related to Cuba, a country still living in the Cold War). Satellites and later the Internet replaced most of the maritime and utility transmissions. After the rise of streaming audio over the Internet, broadcasters like the BBC World Service, Radio Canada International, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and many other respected international broadcasters severely curtailed their shortwave broadcasts, and all but eliminated their broadcasts directed at Europe and North America.
At the same time, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in their infinite wisdom decided to open the floodgates to privately owned U.S. religious broadcasters, starting sometime in the middle 1980s. By 1992 a few of these broadcasters figured out they could make money by selling airtime to assorted kooks and freaks, and the shortwave bands became cluttered with the likes of "God's end-times prophet" "Brother" R.G. Stair; American Dissident Voices, an openly neo-Nazi program produced by William Pierce's National Alliance; infomercials trying to get you to put your life savings in gold bullion or canned food; and more recently an assortment of 9/11 truthers like Joyce Riley, and Alex Jones. The main culprit in selling airtime to these fringe kooks and nutburgers in the early 1990s was originally WWCR ("World Wide Christian Radio") in Nashville, Tennessee, but after other stations (like for example WINB in Red Lion, Pennsylvania and WRNO in New Orleans, Louisiana) noted WWCR's success in becoming an open forum for the lunatic fringe, they started selling airtime to them as well. Eventually stations were started (e.g. WWRB, "World Wide Religious Broadcasters") with the sole intent of selling airtime to the radical right.
One of those broadcasters buying shortwave airtime, Chuck Harder out of Florida, actually had an interesting program (at least if you agree with economic protectionism, buying U.S. made products, and opposition to globalization, enjoy hearing Ralph Nader as a frequent guest, like railroads, and mourn the passing of Elgin pocket watches). Unfortunately given the shortwave milieu he was operating in he got lumped in with the nutters by certain people. He didn't help matters much by having the occasional wingnut as guest on his show. Equally unfortunately, his show is all but defunct and no longer heard on shortwave.
All that aside, the creepiest station broadcasting out of the U.S., hands down, is KJES, located in some place called "The Lord's Ranch" in New Mexico. Programming consists of what sound like heavily medicated and brainwashed children repeating the same Bible verses over and over for hours on end.
To cut a long story short, tuning through the shortwave bands no longer yields as many interesting and intelligent broadcasts from the BBC or Radio Canada International, or international intrigue. Instead it is a frustrating experience tuning across the dial and finding little more than extremist religious and political nutters from the United States.
 The good, or what's left of it today
The good is there are still some interesting international broadcasts to be heard. Radio Netherlands used to be the only western country which hadn't discontinued its English language shortwave broadcasts to Europe and North America, and as it was one of the most highly respected used to be well worth the listen. Otherwise, Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic (Radio Prague) and Asian countries like Japan (NHK World Radio) are still broadcasting to Europe and North America, and if you want a flashback to the glory days of the Cold War, Cuba (Radio Havana Cuba) and North Korea (Voice of Korea, formerly Radio Pyongyang) are still broadcasting and still sound much as they did 25 years ago. All worth a listen.
Voice of America, the long-running US broadcaster, is still on the air, and is worth tuning into. Unfortunately, many of the freebies given out to overseas listeners can't be sent to US addresses, because VOA operates strictly as an external radio service. Armed Forces Network, which serves US military overseas, broadcasts on shortwave, but uses very odd frequencies, and all in upper sideband.
China Radio International (formerly Radio Peking and Radio Bejing), from the People's Republic of China, seems to have modeled itself after the BBC for style, but its content is still very pro-Chinese, although it's nothing like it was during the Cold War. Its separated twin, Radio Taiwan International, broadcasts to the USA over Christian broadcaster WYFR.
What was left of Radio Moscow after the Berlin Wall fell became Voice of Russia, and now mostly tells the world about news, sports, politics, and culture in Russia instead of the glories of Communism.
During the day WRMI on 9955 khz broadcasts international content from the World Radio Network . . . if you can receive it over the noise. Due to some of its other programming, Cuba jams its transmissions, supposedly because of the US government's largely ineffectual Radio Marti. In addition, there's always some good programming on WBCQ (owned by ex-radio pirate Allan Weiner), especially during Saturday and Sunday nights - this usually on 5110 kHz (and less frequently anymore, 7415 kHz, which now has more evangelists and less of the eclectic music and former pirates). There are also the pirate stations to listen to, some which show a rather eclectic sense of humor, especially Commander Bunny railing against the idiot humans who refuse to acknowledge him as overlord. Pirate stations tend to frequent the vicinity of 6925 kHz upper or lower sideband, but this can and does change.
Glenn Hauser produces his own shortwave program Glenn Hauser's World of Radio, which reports on the shortwave scene and can be heard on a number of shortwave and local AM & FM stations.
Time signal stations WWV in Colorado, WWVH in Hawaii, and CHU in Canada all rawk and will give you the bends if you listen to them for more than 10 minutes. Better than Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music!
Or if you're into shipwrecks and disaster survival and the like, just keep it tuned to 2182 khz upper sideband. Once every few weeks, you'll hear something fascinating.
Two good magazines are Popular Communications (known to its readers as "Pop'Comm") and Monitoring Times , which cover the whole world of broadcasting, but have very detailed articles on shortwave. The World Radio TV Handbook (WRTH) is printed annually, and has detailed listings of just about every radio station there is, including contact addresses, frequencies and schedules.
A regularly updated website, Prime Time Shortwave, is a listing of English language shortwave broadcasts. Unfortunately, if you live in North America and want to hear the more interesting stuff, you'll need to tune into the services that are beamed to places other than North America, which requires a very good antenna.
Just beware the nutters broadcasting from the U.S.
 Notable Shortwave personalities
- William Cooper
- Alex Jones
- Mark "from Michigan" Koernke
- Texe Marrs
- "Pastor" Peter J. Peters
- William Luther Pierce
- Gene Scott
- Ralph Gorden "Brother" Stair
- Linda Thompson (of America Under Siege fame)
- Hal Turner
- Coast to Coast AM, via shortwave translators of AM stations
- ↑ You can hear clips from some of these stations here: http://www.simonmason.karoo.net/page467.htm
- ↑ You can still pick up English language broadcasts from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands, Radio Australia and the others. Ostensibly they are beamed toward Africa, South Asia, or Latin America (cough cough yeah right). Budget cuts shut down Radio Canada International in 2012, leaving it available only on the internet. See http://www.primetimeshortwave.com/ and http://swling.com/Resources.htm for current schedules and frequencies.
- ↑ http://myafn.dodmedia.osd.mil/shortwave.aspx
- ↑ http://hfunderground.com/ and http://frn.net/vines/ are good places to keep up with current goings on in pirate radio.
- ↑ http://www.worldofradio.com/
- ↑ http://www.popular-communications.com/
- ↑ http://www.monitoringtimes.com/
- ↑ http://www.wrth.com/
- ↑ There was an excellent annual guide entitled Passport to World Band Radio, also known for its covers by cartoonist Gahan Wilson, but 2010 was it's last issue.
- ↑ http://www.primetimeshortwave.com/