The “numbers stations”. DXing.

Evening all. I’ve just recently taken receipt of THE FINAL SHIPMENT of books, keepsakes, and bric-a-brac from back home. Having moved to Europe over seven years ago, I finally decided that it was time to get my beloved library over to this side where I can actually use it! One of the boxes contained my granddad’s shortwave radio, an old Kenwood R-600, which amazingly has a voltage selector switch, allowing me to use it on the UK’s 240v supply.
Back in Montana, I used to (very) occasionally surf through the bands and would often come across reasonable-quality signals from Australia, Western Europe, and beyond. I’ve now got the thing set up in my studio with an antenna-wire running around the edges of the ceiling, and I’m finding all sorts of interesting stuff; broadcasts from Eastern Europe, the subcontinent, China, Japan, and heaps from all over western Europe. I’m also finding lots of high-speed morse code-y sounding things, which apparently could be Navy traffic. Doing some research the other night, I also learned about the mysterious “numbers stations”, frequencies where voices simply read out lists of numbers (or, less often, letters), sometimes preceded by identifying signature melodies which are always the same. Many of the most commonly known broadcasters have become known by their theme tunes, so you’ve got people scanning the airwaves trying to find “Lincolnshire Poacher” (thought to be MI6 broadcasting from Cyprus), “Cherry Ripe”, “Swedish Rhapsody”, etc. The theory (widely believed) is that these stations are still being used by governmental security services to communicate with their agents in the field, as this type of one-way communication is still extremely secure even in our internet age. Unlike receiving or sending data on the web, no one can tell if you’re listening in to a broadcast, and shortwave sources are extremely difficult to trace, as they bounce off the ionosphere and back down to earth quite randomly, with weather and solar activity increasing the variability. The spy has no need of a laptop, only a cheap, widely-available shortwave radio, which is unlikely to attract attention. I’ve been trying to find some of these stations over the last few evenings, but so far no success….

One response

  1. Hey Chad, remember me from Bozeman? Way back in high school I was all a-flutter over ham radio, and remember staying up all night to pick up McMurdo station in Antarctica. There’s a certain romance to the sound of distant stations fading in and out, the glowing tubes in the radio…

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