Numbers Stations, part 1

When you need to get a message to someone these days, you’re not hurting for options. Between ten billion social networks, e-mail, instant message, text message, or getting real old-fashioned and just calling them, we’ve got it pretty easy. But how secure are those communications? Ostensibly, they’re secure enough for day-to-day use. Realistically, they’re not that secure at all, considering any and all of those things can be hacked and, if you read any sort of tech news, you’ll find that such a thing happens quite frequently.

So what can you do? Well, you can encrypt the message. But what if the recipient is a spy, deep undercover, and the very act of transmitting a message to that person could blow their cover, regardless of its content?

“Bond- Your last physical showed evidence of a sexually transmitted disease. Please contact all previous partners from the past 48 years.”

Well, that’s where governments have to get a bit clever. Did you ever try to talk in code when you were a kid? You could say whatever you wanted in front of everyone, and only you and your friends knew what you were talking about. That, essentially, is the idea behind numbers stations. They’re shortwave radio transmissions that transmit encrypted codes to spies. All you need to listen is a shortwave radio and the knowledge of the station’s frequency.

Of course, the problem is that anyone else can listen to them, too, including ham radio nerds. So, all throughout World War 2 and the Cold War (and from some that still operate today), people listened and recorded the odd broadcasts from these stations, and have since conveniently put them on the internet for everyone to enjoy.

Since there are a lot of these, and they’re all just YouTube videos of the recordings, I’ve decided to post several of them and split it up over two days. So it’s kind of like mashing up a Wednesday article with a Friday video post. Hooray!

Lincolnshire Poacher

This station seems to be a British station, and according to some amateur radio enthusiasts, appears to originate from a Royal Air Force base on the island of Cyprus. It’s named after the snippet of the folk song, “Lincolnshire Poacher”, that plays between numerically coded messages. This particular station is no longer on the air.

It could also be a crazy lady who gets a kick out of reading off financial reports and messing with a Casio keyboard.


This Russian station, known as “The Buzzer” because of its regular buzzing tone, going off approximately once a second, is famous among numbers station enthusiasts. Not because of what it normally plays, of course, which is kind of like someone blowing a kazoo in your ear in short bursts for fucking eternity. Its notoriety comes from the fact that it has played almost the exact same broadcast for nearly 30 years. Notice how I said “almost”. The Buzzer has actually had voice messages relayed on it a mere three times in 28 years, in 1997, 2002, and in 2006. The long gap between the voice transmissions has caused a lot of interest, in addition to the fact that conversations and background noise can occasionally be heard over the signal. The actual purposes of the station and its messages are still unknown. Recently, European hijackers have begun broadcasting over the station, causing some confusion over what is and isn’t a legitimate signal from UVB-76, meaning that several possible transmissions heard in 2010 are now questionable.

This video was oddly hilarious when YouTube had the vuvuzela button.

The Backwards Music Station

Very little is known about this mysterious station that broadcasts over several varying frequencies and has appeared to come from both England and the U.S. at different times. It doesn’t actually play backwards music, but some sort of odd, screeching, grinding, and banging sounds. No voice transmissions have ever been recorded, but it has been theorized that the station is actually some sort of very complex coded message.

I kinda feel like this is the sound will bring my machines to life and turn them against mankind.

Come back on Friday for part two!

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