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Numbers station

Numbers stations are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin that broadcast streams of numbers, words, or phonetic sounds. No one knows for sure where their signals originate or what purpose they serve. The voices that can be heard on these stations are often those of children, or mechanically generated. Numbers stations appear and disappear continuously, although some stick to regular schedules. It has been speculated that these stations operate as a simple and foolproof method for government agencies to communicate with spies "in the field", using the transmitted codes as a One-time pad cryptosystem. Although no broadcaster or government will acknowledge or give a reason for their existence, a 1998 article in London’s Daily Telegraph quoted a spokesperson for the Department of Trade and Industry, the U.K. counterpart to the FCC, as saying "These [numbers stations] are what you suppose they are. People shouldn’t be mystified by them. They are not for, shall we say, public consumption."

Numbers stations are often given nicknames by enthusiasts. These nicknames often reflect some distinctive element of the station. For example "Lincolnshire Poacher", one of the best known numbers stations, supposed by many to be run by MI6, plays the first two bars of the folk song of that name before each string of numbers.

In the late 1990s, The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations, a four CD set of recordings of numbers stations was released by England’s Irdial Discs record label.

Recordings of numbers stations sometimes find their way onto records by other musicians, such as Stereolab's song "Pause" or various songs by Wilco. The reclusive Scottish duo Boards Of Canada were influenced by numbers stations at an early age.

See also phonetic alphabet stations.

External Links

  • SpyNumbers.com (http://www.spynumbers.com/) - a good introduction
  • Shortwave Espionage (http://www.simonmason.karoo.net/page30) - a large amount of information, including sound recordings
  • Counting Spies (http://www.salon.com/people/feature/1999/09/16/numbers/) - Salon.com's Article on Numbers Stations
  • The Conet Project (http://1104.ca/a212/the%20conet%20project/) – MP3s of the 4 CD set, made available by Irdial Discs.

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