Monthly Archives: April 2013

Troy found the perfect gear bag

vespa-ebagTroy writes:

Hi Thomas,

I know, beyond SW Radios, your secondary passion is which ‘bag’ will you use to pack your radios for a trip. I have admired your photos of your Eagle Creek Pack w/ Tecsun PL-380 & Sony AN-LP1. I searched high and low for something like your Eagle Creek pack and I stumbled across this $19.99 gem: the Vespa Mini-Backpack.

It’s sold by eBags on their web site, via Amazon and also via eBay. Despite all three sites being the same vendor, eBay is the least expensive as they offer Free Shipping through that site [though looks like the price just nudged up a bit]. At $19.99 I’m amazed at what I can get into it: A 1st GEN iPad cloaked in a thick leather case with bluetooth keyboard, a PL-390 (I love the ETM for travel) and what I think is the most underrated Grundig of them all – the G6 Aviator (I have the BA Edition). Plus I still have room for my TG34 Antenna, my iSound 4 USB Wall Charger, (2) USB Cables, some spare rechargeable AA Batteries and a dual USB Car Adapter that can recharge my iPad and iPhone.

Oh yeah, the Vespa has a cell phone pouch on one of the pack’s shoulder straps. All for $19.99 delivered from eBay. I have to admit, I haven’t had it long enough to testify to its durability but it seems to be built fairly well despite its price point.

Here are the first two links – you can easily find the eBay links (it comes in a variety of colors though it appears white is out of stock):

http://www.ebags.com/product/vespa/basic-backpack/208461?productid=10120760

http://www.amazon.com/Vespa-Mens-Nylon-Backpack-Black/dp/B004LFX9IA

At twenty bucks I may buy a spare.

Thanks, Troy! You know me well; I love backpacks and travel gear. You probably know eBags have a pretty strong following and good reputation amongst one baggers. I’ll have to check out this little bag. Thanks for sharing!

Shortwave Radio Recordings: Rádio Nacional da Amazônia

Rio_de_JaneiroLast night, Rádio Nacional da Amazônia had a booming signal into North America on 11,780 kHz. Rádio Nacional’s AM signal was very wide; I actually opened up the filter on my SDR to 16 kHz to record this broadcast. In truth, that’s probably too wide, but it certainly made for great audio fidelity.

So, if you’re in the mood for some Brazilian music and commentary today, this 168 minute recording of Rádio Nacional da Amazônia should satisfy.

This was recorded on Sunday, April 28–starting around 22:15 UTC–on 11.78 MHz. Click here to download the full recording as an MP3 file, or listen in the embedded player below:

Want more Rádio Nacional? Click here for other recordings.

Boards Of Canada puzzle: shortwave numbers?

SWLing Post readers: I received the following email request today. Sounds fun and intriguing.  Perhaps you can help solve this mystery…

Boards+of+Canada

Boards of Canada (Source: Last.fm)

Hello, readers of The SWLing Post, and please forgive the intrusion. I admittedly know very little about shortwave radio, but there has been a bit of a puzzle going on for fans of the band “Boards of Canada” recently, and there is the distinct possibility that its solution could involve shortwave radio. A message I posted over on Reddit was forwarded to Thomas, who very graciously offered to post the plea here.

Some background — Boards of Canada is an instrumental electronic music duo from Scotland who are, to put it mildly, somewhat private and aloof, in all the right ways. Their references tend to be very math-heavy and their music has some innovative and fascinating-sounding tape loops, synths, etc. This puzzle has been going on for the better part of a week, and we fans been very impressed with the complexity of it, though we are not even certain of the meaning of it — though we hope and suspect it is a lead-up to a new release by the band.

Someone (presumably the band) has been currently leaving these (for lack of a better word) “clues” in several key places in the media. First, a single album was sold to one person on National Record Store Day in the US — an album containing a “numbers station” style reading of a series of 6 numbers. Then a cryptic YouTube video with another series of 6 numbers also being read like a voice on a numbers station. 6 additional numbers were played (unannounced and without explanation) over a commercial radio station in England. Then on April 25, the band stealthily released 6 more numbers by encoding a link hidden in a gif — a link to two soundfiles that had to be played simultaneously in order to cancel out the phase and reveal — you guessed it — another numbers station-style broadcast.

We have reason to believe that there are 1 or 2 more series of numbers out there — and given the nature of the broadcasts, plus the picture of a radio tower on the band’s Facebook page and the different media by which the band has released some clues, there is at least some reason to believe that perhaps there is another series of numbers being broadcast somehow over shortwave radio.

Here is where I’m hoping the expertise of your readership might come in — as I say, I apologetically have no idea how the world of shortwave radio works. But I’m wondering: in your journeys across the frequencies recently, have any of you stumbled across anything that sounds like this:

http://youtu.be/Qe4UCjjyr8U — specifically something with that same chime pattern at the beginning and then the 6 numbers? (This is obviously not a “real” numbers station broadcast, but something made to sound like it). I would not put it past Boards of Canada to transmit a signal somehow and expect their listeners to find it.

And/or does this series of numbers mean anything to you in the shortwave world:

xxxxxx/628315/717228/936557/xxxxxx/519225

The Xs are gaps where we’re waiting to fill in the numbers, but we have yet to discover them — though one of the series might likely be 699742.

If you’re curious, here is a summary of most of the events that have happened so far: http://2020k.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/boards-of-canada-distribute-new-vinyl-releases-out-for-national-records-day/

Thanks so much, and apologies if this is a waste of your time — this may end up having nothing to do with shortwave transmissions — I just figured it might be worth a shot, and also an opportunity to learn more about this particular passion.

Numbers station HM01…and Ana Montes

Downloads-001Wednesday morning, I suppose I had number stations on the brain.  It was no surprise, as I had just watched The Numbers Station the previous night.  Nonetheless, I experienced a rather strange coincidence:  I was reading an intriguing article about Ana Montes, “one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history,” when my shortwave radio–parked on 5,855 kHz–suddenly began to fire out an eerie series of numbers and data bursts from the Cuban numbers station, HM01.  It was, unquestionably, the perfect accompaniment to the words I was reading.

A reader sent Montes’ story–written by Jim Popkin for The Washington Post Magazine–which made for fascinating reading. And as I read the account of Ana Montes’ rise in the ranks of the DIA, while simultaneously becoming one of Cuba’s most important spies, I remembered that it was actually Montes’ case that reader Dirk Rijmenants’ referred to in his paper, and that we posted earlier this year.

A "cheat sheet" provided by Cuban intelligence that Ana Montes used to help her encrypt and decrypt messages to and from her handlers. (Source: FBI)

A “cheat sheet” provided by Cuban intelligence that
Ana Montes used to help her encrypt and decrypt
messages to and from her handlers. (Source: FBI)

Popkin’s account of Ana Montes’ life, character, promotions within the Defense and Intelligence Agency, and the sequence of events that led to her FBI investigation and imprisonment, are the stuff of spy novels. And of course, he  mentions numbers stations:

[Montes’] tradecraft was classic. In Havana, agents with the Cuban intelligence service taught Montes how to slip packages to agents innocuously, how to communicate safely in code and how to disappear if needed.[…]

Montes got most of her orders the same way spies have since the Cold War: through numeric messages transmitted anonymously over shortwave radio. She would tune a Sony radio to AM frequency 7887 kHz, then wait for the “numbers station” broadcast to begin. A female voice would cut through the otherworldly static, declaring, “Atención! Atención!” then spew out 150 numbers into the night. “Tres-cero-uno-cero-siete, dos-cuatro-seis-dos-cuatro,” the voice would drone. Montes would key the digits into her computer, and a Cuban-installed decryption program would convert the numbers into Spanish-language text.[…]

On a side note, as Rijmenants points out, using a computer to decipher a numbers station was both unnecessary and risky.

The story continues:

Ana Montes

Ana Montes

[…]On May 25, 2001, [an FBI team] slipped inside Apartment 20. Montes was out of town with Corneretto [her boyfriend], and the FBI searched her closets and laundry bins, paged through shelves of neatly stacked books and photographed personal papers. They spotted a cardboard box in the bedroom and carefully opened it. Inside was a Sony shortwave radio. Good start, Lapp thought. Next, techs found a Toshiba laptop. They copied the hard drive, shut down the computer and were gone.[…]The documents, which Montes had tried to delete, included instructions on how to translate numbers-station broadcasts and other Spy 101 tips.[…][…]Later that day, an FBI evidence team scoured Montes’s apartment for hours. Hidden in the lining of a notebook they found the handwritten cipher Montes used to encrypt and decrypt messages, scribbled shortwave radio frequencies and the address of a museum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where she was meant to run in an emergency. The crib sheets were written on water-soluble disappearing paper.[…]

The story Popkin recounts, though, paints the picture of a very complex operative. One who, until discovered, was very successful at her craft.  She pulled the wool over the eyes of the DIA and spied for the Cuban government for many years.

The story is complex, and Popkins’ account somehow maneuvers through the twists and turns.

If you want to experience what I did–if a little less coincidentally–click here to read Popkin’s full article, and meanwhile play this recording I made of the Cuban numbers station HM01, below:

Note that the year Montes listened to the Cuban numbers station on 7,887 kHz, it only contained numbers–unlike the recording here of HM01 (Hybrid Mode 01) which contains both voice and RDFT data bursts (which you can also decode, but not necessarily decipher).

This recording of the Cuban numbers station HM01 was recorded on April 24, 2013, at 10:00 UTC on 5,855 kHz in AM. Click here to download the recording as an MP3.

Again, click here to read Jim Popkin’s full story of Ana Montes on The Washington Post Magazine website.