The Night Watchman: O

Numbers Stations

Numbers stations are short wave radio broadcasts that have unexplained origins and meanings. They are often associated with intelligence and espionage activities and were a staple of Cold War intrigue. Since I made a radio post earlier I thought I would put up some information about a couple of the more interesting numbers stations.

Numbers stations get there name from the encoded messages they would broadcast. Usually a station would have a signon tone, song, or phrase. This was usually followed by a series of numbers, letters, or phrases. The numbers were generally believed to be code that would be deciphered by recipients using a one-time pad to decode the messages.  No government has ever admitted to using numbers stations, but the US has accused Cuba of using numbers stations.

The stations have been picked up all over the globe, but they are difficult to track because they broadcast in short bursts. The stations have been around since WWI making them one of the earliest forms of radio communication. While it is assumed most stations are connected with governments there is also speculation that some stations may be connected with drug smuggling or other types of organized crime.

Here are a couple of sound samples from the more famous stations. If you want a more comprehensive list, visit the Conet Project archive where you can hear 150 different stations.

Atencion: A Cuban station that has been involved in US espionage cases:

The Lincolnshire Poacher is a station that is believed to be connected to British intelligence. I broadcasts from Cyprus and has an apparent sister station (called Cherry Ripe) in Australia that broadcasts the same material.

The Lincolnshire Poacher

UVB-76: A Russian station nicknamed The Buzzer because it runs a buzzing noise between broadcasts (it also uses snippets of Swan Lake). It was dormant for a number of years, but began broadcasting again earlier this year.

The Buzzer

If you have a shortwave radio, you can listen for yourself . It doesn’t take any fancy equipment and you can feel like you are on a secret spy mission behind enemy lines. Certainly more fun than listening to your average drive time DJ.

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