Shortwave Numbers Stations on The Daily Beast

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Interest in shortwave numbers stations seems to wax and wane. We’re currently going through a period of increased interest (again) as I’ve been receiving quite a few messages from new readers asking where to find spy numbers and what type of shortwave radio is needed. Truth is, there are fewer and fewer numbers stations still on the air, though some are still quite reliable (like HM01).

The following article by Shane Harris at The Daily Beast is one of the better, more detailed, articles I’ve read in the popular press.

(Source: The Daily Beast via Southgate ARC)

The Stupidly Simple Spy Messages No Computer Could Decode

by Shane Harris

When I was 10 years old, I found a shortwave radio in a crumbling old leather trunk where we kept family photos and other memorabilia.

As I spun the dial, tinny, modulating noises, like the song of an electronic slide whistle, emanated from the radio’s small speaker. Staticky cracks and pops competed for airtime. The sounds swished and swirled, unintelligible and unremarkable. But then, emerging through the clamor, was a voice.

I might have run right over it with the dial, but the voice’s rhythmic, steady pacing caught me up short. It wasn’t a deejay. Nor a commercial. And he wasn’t singing. He was just speaking. The same line, over and over again.

“7…6…7…4…3.” Pause. “7…6…7…4…3.”

I don’t remember if those were the exact numbers. But they were numbers. A repeated sequence which had no obvious meaning, and was entirely devoid of context. To find him here, amidst the screeches and howls of the shortwave frequencies, was like coming upon a man standing in the middle of a forest, talking out loud to no one.

How long had he been here? Who was he talking to? He had that officious tone of the recorded telephone operators who chastised you for dialing a wrong number. “Please hang up, check the number, and dial again.” And the same distracting static I’d heard in those messages filled the background. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking live, or if he’d been recorded and set loose to play into the air.

But there was an urgency to his tone. And a purpose. As if he were talking to me. Imploring. Listen. Hear me now. 7…6…7…4…3. Did you get that? 7…6…7…4…3.

I was simultaneously terrified and captivated.[…]

Continue reading at The Daily Beast…

Casting radio experts for numbers station TV series

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Many of you may have seen the following announcement/casting call floating around the hamospehere recently. This casting company is seeking radio “experts” of all stripes for a new TV series centered around numbers stations. I was contact by them directly last week. I spoke with a representative from this casting company and can verify that this is, indeed, a legitimate casting call.

Want to be on TV?

If you’re interested in applying for the series, simply read through this announcement and send the required info to the email address provided:

NOW CASTING RADIO EXPERTS (HAM Radio, Shortwave/high frequency, technicians, enthusiasts/hobbyists) AND ADVENTURERS WITH A THIRST FOR SOLVING MYSTERIES FOR A NEW SERIES ON A MAJOR CABLE NETWORK!

Seeking a team made up of radio experts, code breakers and adventurers to embark on a mission to uncover the true meaning behind anonymous radio transmissions – “number stations.”

We are looking for experts who have thirst for solving mysteries, are adventurous & charismatic and have a STRONG knowledge of radio (including shortwave and HAM) as well as an interest in ‘number stations’ to be featured in this new and exciting series. We are looking for our ‘Indiana Jones’ of the shortwave world.

We are ALSO looking for ADVENTURERS – people who are not afraid to explore and investigate a wide range of worldwide mysteries; someone who is persistent, charismatic and fearless! We are looking for people who have EXPERIENCE in travel, research and problem solving. For example: code crackers, techies, radio conspiracy theorists, private investigators, former FBI/CIA, hackers, former military, researchers, history buffs and urban explorers.

To be considered, please email the following information ASAP to: SHORTWAVECASTING@GMAIL.COM

  • Name
  • Age
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Brief bio of you and your relevant experience to this (radio, explorer etc.)
  • 2 recent photos

Hackaday recounts an “An Unlikely Radio Story”

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Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Michael Letterle, who shares this story from the excellent website Hackaday.

The following is an excerpt from Swans, Pigs, and the CIA: An Ulikey Radio Story:

Shortwave radio is boring, right? Maybe not. You never know what intrigue and excitement you might intercept. We recently covered secret number stations, and while no one knows for sure exactly what their purpose is, it is almost surely involving cloaks and daggers. However, there’s been some more obvious espionage radio, like Radio Swan.

The swan didn’t refer to the animal, but rather an island just off of Honduras that, until 1972, was disputed between Honduras and the United States. The island got its name–reportedly–because it was used as a base for a pirate named Swan in the 17th century. This island also had a long history of use by the United States government. The Department of Agriculture used it to quarantine imported beef and a variety of government departments had weather stations there.

…[T]he most famous occupant of Swan Island was Radio Swan which broadcast on the AM radio band and shortwave. The station was owned by the Gibraltar Steamship Company with offices on Fifth Avenue in New York. Oddly, though, the company didn’t actually have any steamships. What it did have was some radio transmitters that had been used by Radio Free Europe and brought to the island by the United States Navy. Did I mention that the Gibraltar Steamship Company was actually a front for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)?

Read the full story on HackADay…

Shortwave Radio Recording: “The Buzzer” on 6,998 kHz

UVB-76-Buzzer

Screen capture of the Web SDR waterfall tuned to 6,998 kHz.

On Friday, Andrea Borgnino, tweeted that he could once again hear “The Buzzer” on 6,998 kHz. Of course, during the day, I couldn’t hear  the signal from my home in North America.

I could, however, easily hear the signal via the University Twente Web SDR in the Netherlands.

Here’s my recording:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty sure this is simply a pirate having a little fun relaying UVB-76 audio on 6,998 kHz.

UVB-76: The Buzzer surfaces on 6,998 kHz

Photo: Andrea Borgnino

Image: Andrea Borgnino

My buddy, Andrea Borgnino, recently heard UVB-76 (The Buzzer) on 6,998 kHz with his Elecraft K3 in Italy. Check out this short video:

While the audio sounds identical to that of UVB-76’s on 4,625 kHz. I strongly suspect this is simply a pirate radio station relay–especially since it’s broadcasting just below the 40 meter ham radio band. Either way, it’s a great catch! Thanks for sharing, Andrea!

Hackaday: “Secret Radio Stations by the Numbers”

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(Source: Hackaday via Andrea Borgnino)

One thing has stayed with the James Bond movie franchise through the decades: Mr. Bond always has the most wonderful of gadgets. Be it handheld, car-based, or otherwise, there’s always something to thrill that is mostly believable.

The biggest problem with all of those gadgets is that they mark Commander Bond as an obvious spy. “So Mr. Bond, I see you have a book with many random five character groups. Nothing suspicious about that at all!” And we all know that import/export specialists often carry exploding cufflinks or briefcases full of unknown electronics in hidden compartments.

Just as steganography hides data in plain sight, the best spy gadgets are the ones that don’t seem to be a spy gadget. It is no wonder some old weapons are little more than sticks or farm implements. You can tell a peasant he can’t have a sword, but it is hard to ban sticks.

Imagine you were a cold war era spy living in a hostile country with a cover job with Universal Exports. Would you rather get caught with a sophisticated encryption machine or an ordinary consumer radio? I’m guessing you went with the radio. You aren’t the only one. That was one of the presumed purposes to the mysterious shortwave broadcasts known as number stations. These were very common during the cold war, but there are still a few of them operating.

Continue reading at Hackaday…

Lewis Bush seeks London radio listening posts

Crosley-Dial-BlackAndWhitePhotographer, Lewis Bush, is seeking ham radio stations and shortwave listening posts in the London, England area. Lewis writes to the SWLing Post:

I’m working on a project which involves trying to locate and map possible broadcast sites for numbers stations (confirmed, suspected, and some highly unlikely) for an eventual book on the subject. These satellite maps (22 in total) are going to be displayed alongside spectrograms of an assortment of shortwave broadcasts and noise, but the final element of the project which I’d really like to include are photographs of ham shacks and shortwave radios themselves.

These photographs would be without people in them and could be as anonymised as the owners like. It’s also not important to me whether the owners are themselves interested in numbers stations. The main thing I’m interested in is really the equipment and the spaces that people listen from.

You can read a little more about the project and see some sample images here: http://www.lewisbush.com/category/numbers-in-the-dark/

If you’re willing to help Lewis, please contact him via email:  lewis@lewisbush.com