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January 08, 2005

More Weird Stuff: "Numbers Stations"

Meanwhile, here's something cool and eerie that's not bunkum at all, but totally real-- the so-called "numbers stations" operating on short-wave radio:

For decades, SWLs have been hearing stations that do nothing but read blocks of numbers, usually using a woman's voice, in a variety of languages and on innumerable different frequencies. All available evidence indicates that some of these transmissions may be somehow connected to espionage activities. These are the numbers stations, the most enduring mystery on the shortwave bands.

Even though they do not operate on any fixed schedule or frequencies known to the public, numbers stations are really very easy to hear. Just tune outside the established shortwave broadcasting or ham radio bands and you'll hear several with patient tuning. While numbers stations can be heard any time on any frequencies, most seem to be heard in North America during the evening and night hours on frequencies from 3 to 12 MHz.

Most numbers stations heard in North America transmit in Spanish. Other languages often heard include English, German, and scattered other languages such as Chinese and Russian. Almost all will use a woman's voice, although on rare occasions a man's voice might be used.

I first learned of these strange signals from reading a review for an album someone had put together, composed entirely of recordings of these seemingly-meaningless, eerie recitations of numbers.

The publisher of this strange CD set, Irdial, explains:

The radio spectrum has been used by the worlds intelligence agencies to transmit secret messages. These messages are transmitted by hundreds of “Numbers Stations”.

Shortwave Numbers Stations are a perfect method of anonymous, one way communication. Spies located anywhere in the world can be communicated to by their masters via small, locally available, and unmodified Shortwave receivers. The encryption system used by Numbers Stations, known as a “one time pad” is unbreakable. Combine this with the fact that it is almost impossible to track down the message recipients once they are inserted into the enemy country, it becomes clear just how powerful the Numbers Station system is.

These stations use very rigid schedules, and transmit in many different languages, employing male and female voices repeating strings of numbers or phonetic letters day and night, all year round.

The Internet, of course, is the place for strange obsessions of all sort, and this site, for example, is dedicated to the Numbers Stations-- and trying to crack the codes they're using. And this site has recordings of these strange signals, available for free listening.

I call this little ditty "5-6-8".

There has to be the makings of a plot in something so weird.

Update: Here's a recording of a "tones station," which may be using tones to communicate coded messages rather than numbers.

The description calls it "spooky." It is.

And this is kind of freaky too.

Update: This one starts off similar to the last one, and then it gets really creepy, with a heavily-modulated "child voice" reciting the numbers.

Weird, wild stuff.


Racist Codes on Message Boards? Personally, I'm guessing these nitwits aren't using any sort of code, but are just making up random-sounding messages in their efforts to play at being survivalist soldier boys. Cynical Nation tells of his own experiences listening in on Numbers Stations (in Paris-- how Ludlum-esque), and also links to racists passing around similarly enigmatic messages.


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posted by Ace at 11:03 PM

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