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Sunday, February 6, 2011


When I first heard about Number Stations on an NPR Story of the Day podcast, I was very curious.  Then I listened to some audio files.  Very interesting.  I started this blog a week ago, but I was home alone and listening to the sound bytes made me so nervous I had to stop.  Now my husband is here in the same room and I can proceed.  (Yes, I am a wimp, and I have never denied it!)

Shortwave radio refers to the HF (high frequency) portion of the radio spectrum.  The waves are shorter than those used in ordinary radio.  They can travel a great distance, even to other continents.  It is often used to communicate to ships and aircraft, or to remote areas where the wired communication is either not available or too expensive.  It became popular in the 1920's with amateurs communicating with each other.

During the cold war in the 1980's, shortwave radio stations came into being that have no call letters and are not identified.  They just broadcast letters or numbers 24 hours a day and some of them have music interspersed.  The music sounds like it is coming from an ice cream truck.  The purpose of these Number Stations, as they are called, is to give information to spies.  They are encrypted with something called a one-time pad, which is unbreakable code.

One-time pads are very mathematical, and are only used one time.  If they are done correctly, they cannot be cracked.  If you want to learn the math behind them, or how to make your own, here is a Wikipedia article to read.

There is a man in Britain who came up with The Conet Project, which consists of 4 hours of recordings of these Number Stations on 4 CDs.  They actually became a cult hit.  If you want to listen to any, this is the web site.  Scroll down a bit and you will find links to many audio files of these Number Stations.  (They all have the name irdail in the title.  This is the name of the company who produced the 4 CDs.)  Of those I listened to, the one I found most creepy is the one called the "swedish rhapsody irdial."  It is first on the list.  In it there is a bit of music and then a little girl counting in German.  

There was a news story done in Salt Lake City, Utah that is on Youtube. If you want to see it, here is the link.  In this newscast, they claim that "according to a British Official, Number Stations are illegal to listen to."

Whether or not they are illegal, they have no pull for me.

Now you have heard something interesting.

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