1. Shortwave reception is much better after the sun goes down, when the easiest
 frequencies are from 5900-10000khz. When the sun is up, the easiest frequencies
 are from 12000 to 22000.

2. We are currently (Nov 2001) just past the peak of solar activity, out of an 
 11 year cycle. At this time any shortwave radio should work well, especially
 if you extend your antenna. An average shortwave is over 100 feet long.
 A typical portable radio has a built-in antenna of 2 or 3 feet. The very strong
 stations will work fine on the built-in antenna, but the weaker stations will 
 benefit greatly by adding 6, 10, or 20 feet of wire to the built-in. Attach the wire
 (any non-shielded wire will do) to the built-in with an alligator clip or, if your radio
 has an input for an external antenna, use the appropriate jack. If you're up for it,
 an external (outdoor) antenna works the best. Radioshack sells a kit for $10 that
 has simple instructions and is easy to install. There are special antennas (slopers, 
 dipoles) that work best for the critical listener of weak stations, available from 
 companies like Alpha-Delta and MFJ. (Just a note that too much antenna on a
 strong station on a small portable will cause overloading, resulting in audio
 distortion) Also, disconnect any external antenna if there is a lightning storm
 that you can see or hear (a nearby strike could damage your radio, a direct
 strike could be deadly to anyone sitting near the radio) Metal roofs, or foil-faced
 insulation in the roof, will reduce the signal strength, making an antenna extension 

3. Shortwave radios are very sensitive to radio frequencies (RF) that may be caused
 by fluorescent lights, dimmer switches, TVs, computers (even in sleep mode), DC to
 AC inverters, tape recorders, and anything that has an electric motor in it. To
 determine if noises interfering with your radio are caused by appliances in your
 house, try the radio outside. If some or all of the noises are gone, try listening in 
 the house while shutting off one appliance or light at a time. Some appliances will
 put out RF strong enough to completely mask a decent radio signal. Note that
 extending your antenna indoors, as in #2 above, may make these RFs worse.
 Try your radio in different parts of a room or your house. 3 or 4 feet can make
 quite a difference. 

4. Listening to shortwave can make significant changes to your perception of the
 media. Every story is told from a perspective, objective news reporting is a myth.
 Try listening to coverage of the Taiwan-China disputes on China Radio International,
 Radio Taipei (Taiwan), the BBC, and CNN. Most nations of the world produce at least
 an hour of English-language broadcast each day, some do considerably more.
 I believe the idea of international broadcasting is to improve global understanding.
 I know that the governments that support these stations are, to various extents, 
 propagandists. Not unlike whatever country you live in. The goal of listening
 isn't further confusion, but a bigger picture. 

5. In the not too distant future, international news will be widely and reliably
 available on the net. Some industrialized nations are already there. The advantages
 and disadvantages are pretty clear. Shortwave radio will continue until the majority 
 of the worlds population has access to both computers and  internet. That is far away
 in the future.