By: Rachel Stewart
Read those all again, but in a women’s completely monotone voice, with some slight static in the background. Now, read them again, knowing that those numbers are actually a code for spies. That’s what you’ll hear if you listen to what are known as “number stations,” this one specifically can be listened to here.
Number stations are a type of shortwave radio station that are usually marked by having unusual content on their broadcasts, such as lists of numbers or random sounds. They are anonymous, meaning no country or organization makes claim to the stations or their purpose. No government has officially denied or admitted to the use of number stations to this day. So even though their true purpose cannot be determined for sure, the general consensus is that they are used in espionage, to broadcast coded messages to agents in the field. They first appeared after World War 2, and were most abundant during the Cold War, but there are still a few operating today. The broadcasts occur periodically, so it could be silent for three days, then randomly break in with some obscure Morse code or human voices. Some of the more famous stations even have their own names, such as the “Lincolnshire Poacher,” and “The Pip & Squeaky Wheel.”
The effect a number station can have doesn’t truly set in until one listens to a broadcast. If you wish to listen to real-time broadcasts, it’s tricky to do but can be done. To see what number stations are currently active, you’ll have to scour the web, but there is a forum-http://www.hfunderground.com/board/index.php/board,7.0.html-, and a website-http://priyom.org/-that posts working number stations. Then you must tune your shortwave radio to one of these stations (or try and find free shortwave radio online), wait, and hopefully you’ll hear something eventually. The easiest option is to just listen to audio clips that others have recorded of these stations. The Conet Project is an initiative to document and inform the public about these number stations, so their full array of recordings can be found here to listen to: https://soundcloud.com/the-conet-project/sets/the-conet-project.
Audio Recordings of Number Stations:
“Phonetic Alphabet NATO”-
“The Lincolnshire Poacher”-
“The Swedish Rhapsody”-