At some point a few months ago I came across the phenomenon of numbers stations. For the most part these are radio transmissions from espionage agencies to instruct clandestine operatives in the field. And you can listen to them. No, I’m not kidding – it’s crazy stuff. They are sprinkled all over the shortwave band (which is used mainly for long distance international variety radio). Principally the communications are long lists of seemingly random numbers (an encrypted message) read by monotonous voices.
As a matter of fact I’m listening to one right now. It’s the “Cuban Lady”, or “Atención!”, classified as V2a in the intelligence community. She’s reading lots of numbers in groups of four, “Zero Zero Quatro Uno Dos…” on 9153 kHz. At the same time, the same message is being broadcast in Morse code on 5883 kHz by M8a, it’s Morse counterpart. It’s usually much clearer than the voice transmissions. Occasionally you get some data files broadcast in this manner as well. They sound like aliens from outer space or something. It’s a good way to creep out your friends.
You can listen to some examples of these transmissions as recorded by The Conet Project . It has some that are really spooky – some of the old cold war stations have musical jingles and creepy voices reading the numbers. It’s an unsettling thing to hear in the middle of the night (that’s when they broadcast). In the US you can’t get many of the interesting ones (such as Israel, MI6, or CIA), but you can get plenty of the Cuban transmissions. Pretty much any day of the week they will have a few transmissions. I enjoy it partly because it’s as close to being James Bond as you’ll ever get. Here these communications are supposed to be tip-top-secret, cloak-and-dagger stuff, and yet you can hear it in the dead of night if you know the time and the frequency.
The sad thing is that these unnoticed communications have major consequences. Ana Belen Montes received instructions via numbers stations and compromised intelligence worth several billion dollars. Yes, billion. The Cuban Five also used it. So the numbers stations are a reminder of the sinister tentacles of communism that still linger long past their time. Isn’t it ridiculous? The Iron Curtain fell over twenty years ago, and we still have these backwards totalitarian regimes that refuse to die and cause nothing but oppression and destruction. It’s ridiculous. Anyways…
The best way to listen to Numbers Stations is to head over to Spy Numbers and check their database. There are thousands of entries, so the way to find out what might be on is to search recent entries based on the day of the week and the time of day. Then check some of the frequencies that come up and see what you can find. Some other good resources to read up are from Simon Mason, DX’ing, and The Spooks Newsletter.
Outside of Numbers Stations, Shortwave has lots else to offer. So far I have picked up programs from: