NUMBERS STATIONS. Since World War One, numbers stations have been transmitting coded messages to spies around the world using shortwave radio. And they’re still transmitting right now. We’re going to listen to a few in this episode.
These transmissions sound strange to casual listeners. But to the right set of ears, they contain information that could change the course of history. In fact, numbers stations *have* changed the course of history.
Countless numbers stations are on the air right now — for what purpose, few really know. And the people that *do* know? They aren’t talking. They’re essentially pirate stations — operating illegally. But, nobody shuts them down. And no government acknowledges they even exist.
With a decent radio, you can tune into a strong shortwave signal from the other side of the planet. Now, that’s pretty useful if you’re an intelligence agency and you need to send a secret message to agents and assets in the field.
Many stations have received nicknames that reflect the station depending on what’s being broadcast. Names like The Buzzer, Cherry Ripe, The Spanish Lady, The Russian Woodpecker, Atencion, Yosemite Sam, and Swedish Rhapsody.
Sometimes broadcasts are really clear. Other times, atmospheric conditions can degrade the signals. And sometimes, intentional jamming from other countries creates enough interference on the frequency that makes transmission difficult to understand. To compensate, many stations, like Yosemite Sam, will hop around to different frequencies.
If you just want to binge station broadcasts, you can go down a rabbit hole with the Conet Project. The Conet Project was an independent initiative to record, catalog, and inform the public about the secret transmissions that are around us, in the air every day.
As communication technology continues to evolve; and digital encryption gets harder to crack, we might finally see the end of number stations.
Or maybe the opposite will occur. Maybe some catastrophic digital apocalypse will create a numbers station renaissance. Pushing broadcasters back onto the frontlines of international intelligence. Where random numbers raining down from the ionosphere can, once again, change the course of human history.
Let’s find out why.
00:00 – Numbers Stations Exist, Listen Now
00:44 – Logo
00:49 – Welcome to The Why Files
01:03 – Shortwave, Tools of Spies
01:42 – The Lincolnshire Poacher, Cyprus
02:14 – Swedish Rhapsody
02:44 – Yosemite Sam Station Located
04:16 – What Are Numbers Stations?
06:19 – Old Technology Still Valid
06:39 – Skywave, Skip Propagation
06:52 – Global Transmission
07:43 – Broadcasts Vary
08:11 – Cherry Pie Number Station
09:13 – Encryption and Codes
09:45 – How a “One Time Pad” Works
11:40 – Illicit Uses of Shortwave
12:25 – Recent Spies Caught
13:27 – Listen to Numbers Stations Online
14:55 – Future of Numbers Stations
15:51 – Thanks for watching!
Tinfoil hat stories:
CHECK OUT HECKLEFISH’S CHANNEL
LIST OF NUMBERS STATIONS
NUMBERS STATIONS LIVE
MORSE CODE DECODER
CONET PROJECT ONLINE
SOURCES and FURTHER READING
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