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SWL Handbooks Remembered

SWL handbooks

SWL Handbooks provided me with a useful reference for broadcast schedules. Equipment reviews really got my attention, though.

The recent passing of cartoonist Gahan Wilson made me think of how much we treasured our annual purchase of SWL handbooks. Paramount of these were the World Radio and TV Handbook and Passport to World Band Radio.

Passport “signed off” around ten years ago, WRTH is still around. But these days, most of us get our shortwave listening information from the Internet.

You may recall the two main features of these SWL handbooks: schedules and equipment reviews. Passport provided its Blue Pages, which was a printed database of shortwave stations by frequency and time of day. You could see a lot of information at a glance, including language, origin, target audience, seasonal variations and transmitter power. These Blue Pages started out in 1984 with Larry Magne’s Radio Database International.

You can read much of the history of Passport to Worldband radio here.

WRTH took a different approach. First, it provided a complete reference of radio broadcasting for each country in the world, including AM, shortwave and FM. Second, it provided Medium Wave listings by region and third, broadcasts by language.

SWL Handbooks – Cartoons and Reviews

Playboy cartoonist Gahan Wilson was a bit of a shortwave listener. One year he ordered Passport, and publisher Larry asked if he would draw something for the handbook. This started a long term relationship that started in 1992 and continued to the end.

My favorite feature of these SWL handbooks was the equipment reviews. While WRTH featured a few reviews and articles, Passport contained current listings and performance ratings of most SWL receivers. These included professional, portable, and table top radios, as well as special features like active antennas.

While WRTH was perhaps the most comprehensive, I found Passport the most entertaining. Many hours were spent reading the equipment reviews which guided my equipment purchases over the years.


  1. Mike Lanoway says:

    Merry Christmas John to you and the family,

    I just wanted to thank you very much for this years past articles. Noted ones are the loop antenna and all the bits (construction to testing) that brought that together, the one on Remembrance Day. lots to share on that one and misc topics like the SWL magazine.
    Anyway sometime at a flea market we’ll need to catch up for a coffee. All the Best for Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
    Mike VE6FX

  2. Frederick Kincaid says:

    ou do a lot of things, which means there is a lot to like. But I find my self pausing to think and reflect more, when you take me down memory lane.

    Have a Happy New Year.
    Fred / KB8VPX

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