Originally posted : Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 8:35am
OK. I have something here that will blow your mind, especially for you James Bond types. It’s called number stations. What is it?
Numbers stations (or number stations) are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin. They generally broadcast artificially generated voices reading streams of numbers, words, letters (sometimes using a spelling alphabet), tunes or Morse code. They are in a wide variety of languages and the voices are usually women’s, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used.
Evidence supports popular assumptions that the broadcasts are used to send messages to spies. This usage has not been publicly acknowledged by any government that may operate a numbers station.
According to the notes of The Conet Project, numbers stations have been reported since World War I. If accurate, this would make numbers stations among the earliest radio broadcasts.
It has long been speculated, and was argued in court in one case, that these stations operate as a simple and foolproof method for government agencies to communicate with spies working undercover. According to this theory, the messages are encrypted with a one-time pad, to avoid any risk of decryption by the enemy. As evidence, numbers stations have changed details of their broadcasts or produced special, nonscheduled broadcasts coincident with extraordinary political events, such as the August Coup.
Numbers stations are often given nicknames by enthusiasts, often reflecting some distinctive element of the station such as their interval signal. For example, the “Lincolnshire Poacher”, formerly one of the best known numbers stations (generally thought to be run by MI6 as its transmissions have been traced to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus), played the first two bars of the folk song “The Lincolnshire Poacher” before each string of numbers. “Magnetic Fields” plays music from French electronic musician Jean Michel Jarre before and after each set of numbers. The “Atención” station begins its transmission with the Spanish word “¡Atención!”
Although it is time-consuming and may require costly global travel to pinpoint the source of a radio transmission in the shortwave band, errors at the transmission site, radio direction-finding, and a knowledge of shortwave radio propagation have provided armchair detectives clues to some number station locations.
For example, the “Atención” station was originally presumed to be from Cuba, as a supposed error allowed Radio Habana Cuba to be carried on the frequency. Whether the frequency of Radio Habana Cuba and the frequency of the “Atención” station merely interfered with each other or whether the operator of the station was listening to the radio and it accidentally ended up on the air is unclear. Circa 2000–2001, the United States has officially identified Atención as Cuban.
Also, several articles in the radio magazine Popular Communications published in the 1980s and early 1990s described hobbyists using portable radio direction-finding equipment to locate numbers stations in Florida and in the Warrenton, Virginia, area. From the outside, they spotted the station’s antenna inside a military facility. The station hunter speculated that the antenna’s transmitter at the facility was connected by a telephone wire pair to a source of spoken numbers in the Washington, D.C., area. The author said the Federal Communications Commission would not comment on public inquiries about American territory numbers stations.
On some stations, tones can be heard in the background. It has been suggested that in such cases the voice may be an aid to tuning to the correct frequency, with the coded message being sent by modulating the tones, perhaps using a technology such as burst transmission.
There are a couple of websites I visit were you can listen to these recordings as well as read more about them. They have even been used in music and movies. The way I found out about them was I was reading a wiki article on the movie “Vanilla Sky” and it mentioned that number station recordings were used in a scene.
‘I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. Welcome to the real world.’ – The Matrix
http://www.simonmason.karoo.net/page30.html – Lots of number station info and recordings.
http://irdial.hyperreal.org/ – Look for The Conet Project. You can download the sound files for free.