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)?
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!
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.
Photographer, 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.