Category Archives: Numbers Stations

BBC video: “The ‘spy radio’ that anyone can hear”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who writes:

Nothing that an SWLing Post reader doesn’t already know–more for general consumption:

For decades, people around the globe have been able to listen in to mysterious spy broadcasts from all over the world with just a radio.

Gordon Corera has been investigating the strange world of number stations.

Video produced by James Reevell

Thanks for the tip, Mark!

Going By the Numbers

For those who follow numbers stations or, like me, enjoy seeing articles about numbers stations, below are a few paragraphs from a recent article in Radio World by author James Careless:

“6-7-9-2-6. 5-6-9-9-0.” Tune across the shortwave bands (above AM/MW), and chances are you will come across a “numbers station.” There’s no programming to speak of; just a mechanical-sounding voice (male or female) methodically announcing seemingly random groups of single digit numbers for minutes on end.

Congratulations! You are now officially a spy-catcher, to the extent that you may have tuned into a spy agency’s “numbers station” transmitting one-way instructions to their minions worldwide.

Numbers stations are unidentified radio broadcasts that consist usually of a mechanical voice “reading out strings of seemingly random numbers,” explained Lewis Bush, author of “Shadows of the State” a new history of numbers stations and the spies who run them. “These are sometimes accompanied by music, tones or other sound effects.” He said. “There are also related stations broadcasting in Morse Code and digital modes.”

The article goes into some of the history of numbers stations, but also talks about modern stations from all over the world. A worthwhile read for those so interested!

Do Shortwave ‘Numbers Stations’ Really Instruct Spies?

Cheers! Robert AK3Q

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

MDZhB featured in BBC Future’s “Best of 2017”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Golan Klinger, who shares the following article which was elected “Best Of 2017″ on the BBC Future website:

“MDZhB” has been broadcasting since 1982. No one knows why.

In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.

It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.

Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.

It’s so enigmatic, it’s as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as “the Buzzer”. It joins two similar mystery stations, “the Pip” and the “Squeaky Wheel”. As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article on the BBC Future website.

Video: Watch students at KSDB perform a numbers station radio drama

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, James Copeland, who writes:

I have enjoyed reading the SWLing Post for years and appreciate all your hard work. I wanted to share something with you that might interest the readers.

A few months ago, I was inspired to start writing a radio drama about a number station after reading an article on the SWLing Post about someone working at a number station.

I am the program director for the student-run radio station at Kansas State University, and we performed this drama live last Tuesday on our radio station.

The plot follows a worker at the station who has to decide what to do when she learns that the numbers she reads end up killing people and could start a nuclear war.

There are also a lot of short recordings from various active and inactive stations, including one of my recordings of HM01 at the end of the show.

We at KSDB love producing radio dramas and make them just like the golden days of radio with as many live sound effects as possible.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Many thanks for sharing this, James! I love it!

I listened to the audio as I hiked this afternoon–I actually prefer “theatre of the mind” without visuals with the first listen. Now I’ll watch the studio video and enjoy the reading, sound effects and direction!

James, you’re welcome to share your radio dramas here anytime! Bravo for putting together such a cool little radio drama. I love the off air numbers station recordings and clips!

Post readers: If you’d like to learn more about KSDB-FM or to stream their programming, check out their website and TuneIn stream.

Shadows of the State: a photobook about numbers stations

RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus (Source: Lewis Bush)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, James Jordan, who shares a link to this article in Wired magazine:

IF YOU TUNED into just the right shortwave radio frequency in the 1970s, you might hear a creepy computerized voice reading out a string of numbers. It was the Cold War, and the coded messages were rumored to be secret intelligence broadcasts from “number stations” located around the globe.

Photographer Lewis Bush is obsessed with these stations to “an almost irrational degree” and hunts them down in Shadows of the State, featuring 30 composite satellite images of alleged number stations from Germany to Australia. The series took two years and endless research. “It’s a difficult project to quantify in terms of man hours wasted on it,” he says.[…]

When Bush finds what he believes to be a station, he takes up to 50 close-up screen grabs and stitches them together in Photoshop to create one high-resolution image. He also listens to frequencies where broadcasts supposedly still happen on radio listening software, taking screen shots of the software’s spectrograms, graphics depicting the sound spectrum.

The final images try to visualize something largely intangible. No government has ever confirmed the existence of numbers stations, and Bush himself isn’t completely certain of their locations. No one can be sure what these scratchy codes really are. And that’s precisely what makes them so intriguing.

Shadows of the State will be published by Brave Books in December 2017. Bush is also raising funds on Kickstarterfor an interactive companion website.

Read the full article at Wired.