Number Stations: Mysterious Broadcasts

30Aug09

NumbersNumbers stations (or number stations) are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin. They generally broadcast artificially generated voices reading streams of numbers, words, letters (sometimes using a spelling alphabet), tunes or Morse code. They are in a wide variety of languages and the voices are usually women’s, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used.

Numbers stations appear and disappear over time (although some follow regular schedules), and their overall activity has increased slightly since the early 1990s. This increase suggests that, as spy-related phenomena, they were not unique to the Cold War

Evidence supports popular assumptions that the broadcasts are used to send messages to spies. This usage has not been publicly acknowledged by any government that may operate a numbers station, but in 2001, the United States tried the Cuban Five, a group of individuals, with spying for Cuba; they had received and decoded messages that had been broadcast from a Cuban numbers station. In June 2009, the United States similarly charged Walter Kendall Myers with conspiracy to spy for Cuba and receiving and decoding messages broadcast from a numbers station operated by the Cuban Intelligence Service to further that conspiracy.

Dorchester Antenna CloseupGenerally, numbers stations follow a basic format, although there are many differences in details between stations. Transmissions usually begin on the hour or half-hour. The prelude or introduction of a transmission (from which stations’ informal nicknames are often derived) includes some kind of identifier, either for the station itself and/or for the intended recipient. Finally, after all the messages have been sent, the station will sign off in some characteristic fashion. Usually it will simply be some form of the word “end” in whatever language the station uses.

There is no real “offical” explanation for the purpose or content of these stations. The US Government has stated in writing that they are aware of these transmissions, but won’t elaborate on. A FOIA (freedom of information act request) was sent to the government but then denied. In the United Kingdom, the government passed a silencing act to reduce/eliminate discussion of such transmissions that possibly may be originating from the UK. There is some good evidence supporting that a well-heard number stations known as the “Lincolnshire Poacher” is transmitting from a RAF site in Cyprus.

You can listen to a sample of a number station here.

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69 Responses to “Number Stations: Mysterious Broadcasts”

  1. 1 totalstranger

    very interesting. makes me wish I had a shortwave kit just to hear these voices.

  2. 2 figaro

    Has anyone ever heard a broadcast from a number station? I’m not sure why but I have the impression it would sound quite sinister!

    • 3 Hojahelten

      I hear number stations almost daily, i have dx’ing as a hobby. They are usually very boring and of course totally meaningless for others than the one recipient. But fun to receive anyway. I think i have logged about 6 different stations now.

      • 4 Steve

        When I was in the U.S. Navy, I was on deployment in the Persian Gulf. One night, probably about April of 2000, we heard over a military only frequency a woman’s voice saying “Hello…..Hello…………..Hello?” Then it stopped. Everyone in the Combat Information Center that night was completely freaked out. I even remember one guy turning around and saying ” What the f*** was that??” Its still sends shivers up my spine today.

        • 5 Travis

          I would have tx’d back to that voice. But that’s very odd what happened. This one time I was listening to my cb and I heard russian numbers being broadcast. It’s rather odd because I have not modded my cb at all and I bought it brand new. It’s a Midland 75-785 Handheld CB Radio and everyone who was on the frequency had the same response to it “What the F***?”

  3. 6 Zenayda

    The silly child inside me wants it all to be part of a James Bond/ninja type espionage perpetrated by men with strange accents wearing cravats controlling the Terminators that walk inconspicuously among us….

    I digress. This sounds so cool. (I can’t seem to quiet the silly inner child.) Listening to the clip though, I wonder how it’s possible to decipher the code when the numbers are limited from 0-9? Also, would government agencies not be able to figure out where it was being broadcast from and by whom through signals and radiowaves? (Might be a silly question, I know but forgive me – I’m a girl! 🙂 )

    Also, I know this is probably a bit of a stretch but does anyone know where I could listen to one from Ireland? I’d love to hear one in action as it broadcasts live.

    • Well, I once found one by just scanning the radio; I was looking for a station to listen to when I came across random notes and stuff; Just play with your radio and you will find one, evetually.

    • 8 susan

      What do you mean, forgive you, you are a girl?
      WTF?
      Why are you apologizing for being female?
      If you have a question to ask, ask it. Don’t assume stupidity is gender based.

      • 9 BML84

        It was said in Fun- Take it in that Spirit 🙂

      • 10 John S

        You sound FAT.

      • 11 jon-a-thon

        @ susan

        Silly feminist, go make me a sandwich.

        • 12 O.T.O

          Silly misogynist, you are an anachronism.

    • 13 Tsiamon

      I agree with susan, don’t devalue vaginas, please.

  4. 14 Noir M

    I’ve always wanted to try to tune into one of these stations, except they don’t use mainstream frequencys so i can’t! Ah well, good article by the way.

    • The groups of numbers are used in conjunction with one-time pads and (usually) a standard word. Assign a number to each letter of the chosen word, subtract the broadcast number from the numbers on the pad (or the other way around, depending) and match the resulting numbers to the alphabet, with the letters of the standard word leading the sequence. Numbers are frequently read in something other than English.

      Still used in secure business information, probably for other purposes but I wouldn’t know about that.

  5. 16 Omar

    you can find more information and links to a 4 CD-set of recordings here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Conet_Project

    • Thanks for mentioning that Omar – I will definitely check it out.

  6. Jamie- Just when i thought you couldn’t get any cooler…. You produce this!

    • Thanks Nicosia 🙂

  7. there definitly must be number stations in all of the developed countries. there are so many things going on that we do not know about (i.e. spies, government knowing everything we say on the phone, population control.) this is just a way for the governments to communicate with their people and tell them information or what to do.

  8. 21 David

    I’ve had a little shortwave radio for years (you can get a small one pretty cheap). I have spent many an hour just listening. Pretty creepy stuff.

  9. 22 Kreachure

    Wow, very interesting stuff. I must admit the first thing that came to mind was LOST, but I certainly didn’t know this was a thing that happened for real. Cool!

    • 23 melly

      HA! Me too! I was like “It’s Rousseau”.

      🙂

    • 24 Sariah

      haha, totally what I thought of right away too, had to read the comments to see if anyone else thought of it as well. =P

  10. 25 selaka

    My grandmother had an old shortwave radio, and I could spend hours as a kid slowly crawling up and down the frequencies. I once found a Morse code station and was sure I had stumbled upon some major cold war subterfuge. It was thrilling and creepy all at the same time

    Came over a couple of days ago to check out Frater’s new gem – thank goodness I caught it early so I won’t lose several days trying to catch up in the archives. So far another great site!!

  11. 26 Ender

    Love the new site, jfrater. Of course, you’re giving me more reasons to waste all my time looking up strange things on the Net.

    • Thanks 🙂

  12. 28 EARS

    I have heard number stations a few times. I live in S.W. USA.
    The first time I heard one I picked up a vacant pay phone at a highway truck stop. On the telephone there was a recording of a woman reading series of numbers in spanish language. True Story.

    • That would have freaked me out completely.

      • 30 EARS

        At the time there was another traveler using the phones at the rest stop. She actually picked up the phone first before I did and dropped it, and after I picked it up She asked me if I heard that. I did. I also wanted to point out that this was North Florida, farther away from smuggling routes.
        The other time I heard numbers, It was a man reciting numbers in a spanish language, it was recorded, and was playing on a convenience store pay phone on the outskirts of Tampa Florida.

        Each time, I had heard of number stations before so It was a bit exciting, but I didnt listen long, it made me uneasy.

    • 31 EARS

      I meant to say that I heard these in South East USA.
      Lots of smuggling goes on here.

    • 32 dain_bramaged

      A lonely hombre who knew not any words of english and had just been robbed of all his personal affects, used his last quarter to call the spanish speaking clock.

    • 33 Talamasca

      I’ve heard similar on a CB radio. (I’m a pilot car driver). A few months ago I was with some bridge beams going to Eagle Pass Texas. A fairly isolated border town. To make it short, it was after midnight before I got out of there and about 30 minutes out of town I could hear this woman speaking Spanish. Four words, then a number. About 10 seconds of silence, then another, different set of four words and a number. This went on for at least 20 minutes until I was out of range.

      • 34 Travis

        Wow! Someone who has heard it on CB as well!

  13. 35 Bex

    Creepy indeed… Children doing it makes it even stranger though.

    • You are right – that is also the reason that nursery rhymes creep me out sometimes.

  14. 37 Anae93

    Heard about these as a child and it still freaks me out to this day.

    Well anyway great new sight jfrater! lol

  15. 38 NoBody

    (Little girl with pig tails, wearing a dress, skipping rope at night in your driveway and in slow motion)

    la la

    la la la…

    • You should go into horror screenwriting 🙂

  16. 40 Looser

    thank god for jfrater for informing my inner spy!

  17. 41 Jerome

    Jfrater – I enjoy both this site and listverse. But I must say, I think you should cite your sources. This article is lifted almost entirely from wikipedia. While wikipedia provides references, you delete them. In your comment (6), you seem not to be aware of the Conet Project, yet it is discussed in the wikipedia article from which your article comes. May I ask: How could you not be aware of the Conet Project? Perhaps you copied this article from another source that was copied from wikipedia.

    I appreciate the work you put into these sites, but this article could have been replaced by “See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_stations.” It would have been more informative and would have given the reader the original references.

    • I was aware of the conet project – but not the series of CDs relating to it – hence saying I would check it out 🙂

  18. 43 GBSYDNEY

    Very interesting site. I have not heard of these stations before. Reminds me of the movie Orpheus by Jean Cocteau, where the messengers of the Princess of Death would receive coded messages from the underworld by radio.

  19. 44 Mrfakz

    This was on the 1st list i read on listverse an found it interesting. After watching the film Knowing (Nic Cage) its changed my opinion from interesting to slightly worried.

  20. 45 erickarthik

    Wow !!! amazing info

  21. 46 Doc_H0lliday

    If there was ever a prize for the best looker-upper of the weirdest and most unimaginable things that make people feel smarter (or sometimes repulsed), you would win it. For sure.

    p.s. is it jfrater like j-f-rater or is it j-frater?

  22. 47 Jenna

    Great article! I love listverse, but I always wished you would have elaborated on some of the items, without me having to research it myself(forgive me for sounding lazy). This site does all that for me, and I’m loving it! I also think it’s nice that you try to respond to people’s comments. I don’t know where you find the time! But like Jerome, I feel that you should cite your sources more often. Many, many, many times I’ve gone to research a topic of one of your lists to find that what you’ve written is verbatim to the Wiki article, but with no credit to the original source.
    But I love you anyway! =)

  23. 48 Señor Pozole

    About two months ago i was in Mexico and we wee basically in the middle of nowhere going to visit my relatives. My dad was changing the radio station and i hear what i believe was a number station. I heard something like 655864….etc. Apparently i was the only one to realize it because no one else said anything. But as soon as i heard it i remembered reading about things like that off of Listverse.

  24. 49 m

    That’s really creepy. Maybe next time you can write something about hearing ghostly sounds over anything that is audio recorded. (Sorry I forget what it’s called).

    • 50 Cmonster

      Maybe a year late, but it’s called EVP: Electronic Voice Phenomena.

      I have been on several ghost hunts as a skeptic and we always used a digital recorder, a mini cassette recorder, and a regular tape recorder. We were curious and wanted to see how much difference there would be with the three recording devices. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we never had any results and a few picture oriented results that were…well…we couldn’t explain the pictures nor could folks in the camera and video industry that we knew.

      I have to admit, going through the hours of audio often freaked me right out since I live alone and would inevitably start going through digital pictures, video, and audio as soon as we finished and I was home. Often it would be very late at night and having head phones on while concentrating on any sounds can be very unnerving. There is absolutely no way you can sit and not feel like something is behind you and you also tend to feel very vulnerable with the head phones blocking out the sound in your home and neighborhood. It was freaky even during the daytime.

      I had gone to many web sites that claimed they had EVP results and some of the recordings sent chills all over me. Even as a skeptic, some of the evidence given is unnerving.

      These radio station broadcasts are freaky in their own right. As a kid in the 70’s, I would often stay up very late or all night listening to a receiver my grandparents had that picked up the police channels, CB Radio, AM/FM, and God knows what else. I just remember being fascinated with the sounds in between channels and listening to the unusual feedback and weaker stations.

      In hindsight, there is a good chance I was also picking up on radio transmissions from natural events on some of the planets. I have read on several science oriented sites that Jupiter, I believe, transmits some kind of interesting radio wave feedback. I searched Google for “planetary radio emissions” and this was the first link:
      http://astronomyonline.org/Stars/PlanetaryEmission.asp?Cate=Stars&SubCate=ST01&SubCate2=PlanetaryEmission

      The entire radio frequency had fascinated me for years as a kid, especially CB radios being so popular in the 70’s and driving many miles with my grandparents and parents listening to the chatter and occasional weirdness. My last foray into listening between channels and trying to find odd frequency anomalies was 2 years ago under…well…interesting conditions.

      I did long-distance pick-up and deliveries for a mortuary service in Texas. I would get calls from the mortuary to either pick up or delivery dead people to usually small towns in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Louisiana. If it was cheaper to drive the body than fly it, they called me. It was only freaky the first time I did it and very briefly, at that. They are dead and embalmed and, seriously folks, NOT going to do anything to you. It’s the live ones you must worry about.

      I was paid one-way, the time I actually had the body in the back of the Suburban. Admittedly, I was usually hauling ass since I could feasibly be on the road anywhere from 8-20 hours depending on if they had another call come in I could arrange to pick up or deliver after the original job had been completed.

      I loved doing it. I was alone, I could listen to lots of music, and see a lot of very pretty and scenic countryside. I felt very lucky to have the job, even though it was hell with finances…didn’t actually pay that great. Part of my routine when I got tired of my iPod and was deep in the boondocks of any of the previously mentioned states, was to switch to AM radio and see what I could find of interest. Usually not much, but occasionally there would be things heard that would make me a bit twitchy and I’d have to put the happy, shiny, “Weee” music back on.

      Most times it was just the creepy way voices sound when they are too far away to be received well. When it’s 3am, your deep in the waste lands of West Texas, and very far away from any towns or gas stations, the imagination tends to wander. Especially unnerving, too, is when it’s deer season and deer or other large game are darting in front of the headlights of your vehicle. If you’ve already freaked the hell out of yourself with the radio fuzz, suddenly seeing something big with glowing eyes in front of you tends to make you “draw mud” in your pants. I don’t advise it.

  25. 51 waltz

    Number stations have only been in existence since UFOs were detected early in the 1930s. The use of short-wave radio is significant because it is used to bounce signals off the atmospheric layers.

    It was originally employed as a sure-fire method of communication with submarines who would simply drag a long wire behind as an antenna at low speeds to pick up the repeating number groups. These in turn would be programmed into one-time message pads to provide operational instructions and tactical feedback to submarine captains.

    Upon early penetration 91942) by the first UFOs; it was employed as a foolproof way of relaying data around the globe to track UFO events. The number groups were hijacked by the aliens (not difficult really) and subliminal messaging instructions interposed to give mind control over all forces.

    It is believed that nazi u boat crews were under the control of UFOs based in Mexico but the British invention of radar proved deadly to the thin skins of alien craft causing them to revert to their mountain hide outs.

  26. 52 jeff

    Waltz can i buy some pot from you

    • 53 Don

      Probably.

  27. 54 Jonny R.

    Used to hear this a lot in the early 90’s on commercial radios with SW1 and SW2 bands. I always found them errie, recently I found out no one exactly knows why these things exist. I had the chance of listening to the The Conet Project recordings in Archive.com, most of it sound pretty otherworldly disturbing.

  28. 55 the real NSK

    the number stations kill

    http://www.myspace.com/thenumberstationskill

  29. 56 Sharky

    Chills me to the bone to know these things go on and for what reason ??
    show me what lies just beyond my eyes is it all real or a pack of lies?

  30. 57 Jeff S.

    I have listened to many recordings of them in a row. They can be very relaxing in the background, but also somewhat spooky to listen to if you pay close attention, never knowing just what spy in the world may be receiving it, maybe deciding the fate of the world by way of these messages.

  31. 58 S. Lazovik

    I used to liesten to this kind of broadcasts when I was a kid. ( second half of the eighties). It went like :”alpha, bravo, charley, two…india oscar, papa two…” and so on. It used to start around 2200h (former yugoslav time) and would last until around 0400. It was a loop.
    in 1992 I remembered it and tryed to find it again, but with no result. either it chainged the frequency, or it was just some kind of Cold War spy thing that ended with the fall of the Soviet Union.

    • 59 zztop

      too druze balkance.Pozdravljam te.

      • 60 S. Lazovik

        Primi ti meni puno toplih pozdrava od poslednjeg Jugoslovena, zztop! Nece biti druge ko nase bivse Juge!

  32. 61 blaqkxplague

    This is my idea on deciphering them. i mean you have 0-9. but then you notice when playing the recording how there are breaks in between sets of numbers. 540 540 61 61 09014 09014 53993 5399 75163 75163… ect well think of the length each number is spoken, and listen carefully to the overall tone. sometimes it sounds as though the voice gets clearer. it becomes more muffled occasionally. it sounds hollowed out others. and the sounds range all over the place. the static in the background must play in account as well. it becomes clearer and becomes more ecstatic. and so on. well my theory is simply that what if like any language, the tone is what makes the word what it is, but in the hands of a professional obviously they will know what it is all we know is the numbers. but it seems as though every number phrase is repeated i think that either it HAS to be the tones in the behind the scenes is what makes it, why else would there be repeats? now-a-days people can save and replay the message again and again. i’m no specialist at any of this but i just stumbled upon it and thought id give input. if you knew these numbers. you wouldn’t talk the government wouldn’t stand for it. or have surely stopped them before they tried. though who knows with such a shady government

  33. Ever played Metal Gear Solid?

  34. 63 marian

    see and listen this video…

  35. 64 shortestwave

    As a kid in the 80’s & 90’s, I had a small SW radio that I would scare myself endlessly with on nights when I couldn’t sleep! It gives me the chills now to think about, there’s a lot of creepy stuff on those bands… most of it I imagined to be the sounds of aliens landing.

    One series of transmissions I used to enjoy finding was something that sounded like a message service. This is something I’d love to know the source behind, because it sounded very specific and deliberate, but kind of mysterious. The messages would never include a person’s name (either the intended recipient or the deliverer), and the contents of the messages usually seemed like average answering-machine messages for social calls… “Hi, just wondering if you were coming for dinner tonight” or “Can you pick us up at 3 instead of 2” … there would usually be a period of silence, 1-2 minutes, between each message, and sometimes the noise of a fax machine or modem in between messages. Why would the sound of a fax machine be transmitted on the radio?

    I would also usually be able to pick up a male voice delivering the “coordinated universal time,” that one definitely made me think of aliens… coordinating the time of the universe!

  36. 65 gord

    i have heard these type of broadcasts when i lived in southern saskatchewan in the 1980s i heard the usually in the evening. i heard them quite alot. one i heard was a woman that seemed to have an east indian or pakistani accent, then a sound like a scuffle or scream and another voice saying something like no or off.

  37. 66 BravoBox

    I’m not a radio buff, but what a twisted little web we have here. I just thought you guys (and girls) should know that I came across your discussion after searching a Paul Simon lyric, and very much enjoyed the speculative nature and intelligent exchange found here. Oddly enough, I’m not really even a Paul Simon fan, just verifying a hunch. This was the lyric:

    “when times are mysterious serious numbers will always be heard”

    Seems oddly appropriate – google thought so 😉

    • 67 Cmonster

      BravoBox, things like that are what I really like about the Internet. There are so many different paths any given subject can take you. The amount of information that has been added to the Internet since I first started messing with it in the 90’s is absolutely insane. When my first wife and I were set up with our first IBM computer and a dial-up account, I surfed non-stop for 28 hours. I wound up calling in “sick” at work so I could keep surfing. It was unreal at the time…the amount of things you could find and explore. My friends that had set their accounts up a few weeks before had laughed at me when I cam back to work. They knew what I had done because they had done the same thing.

      It’s interesting how things work sometimes. 🙂

  38. 68 Yack

    Hi,

    First of all, I’d like to apologize if my English may not be totally correct, but my mother tongue is French (I live in Belgium.)

    Number stations are a very interesting topic, but quite frankly, I never heard those broadcasts besides the numerous recordings you can find over the internet.

    On the other side, more than 10 years ago, I was a “feeds hunter”. We used to call a feed a television broadcast which private homes were not supposed to be able to catch, but sometimes it was possible to catch them with several analog and early digital satellite receivers. It was a lot more difficult to catch them with a digital receiver, because most models were all “automatic”, not allowing you to enter frequency values manually. Today, unless you have kept your old digital receiver still working, it’s next to impossible to catch feeds, because on today’s receivers, everything is automatic, from searching channels to software updates and everything, you just turn the receiver on and he does everything for you…

    So, to make it short, at the time, I owned receivers which were allowing me to enter values manually. I just had to type the frequency value on remote, and the receiver would search for it. I was spending hours entering values to catch feeds. Most of the time, I would receive nothing, sometimes, I would catch professional feeds for television channels, mostly sports events…and a few times, I did catch very strange television broadcasts:

    -On a certain frequency, at several times through the day (mostly early morning), I was seeing what was looking like a dark hallway with a white plastic chair. Nothing was ever happening, you were just seeing that white plastic chair for something like 30 minutes (sometimes for longer), I was always like waiting to see someone to finally show up and to sit down on that damn chair, but the broadcast would always stop the same way it had begun. I know, this is nothing, but it was kind of weird, not to say creepy. Just like those number stations, what makes it creepy is that you don’t understand what is going on.

    -On another frequency, I caught two or three times something even more weird and disturbing!
    On a blue screen, you were seeing a yellow drawing of a human skeleton from the back. The sound was a kind of continuous radio buzz and at certain time, some specific parts of the skeleton spine would brighten up just like they were indicating a signal. Those broadcasts were not lasting very long, probably less than two minutes.

    I have recordings of those strange broadcasts on some old VHS tapes.

    Cheers,

    Yack

  39. I worked in signals intelligence in the military. We used to hear these all the time. We always assumed they had something to do with civilian air traffic. Guess we didn’t have the “need to know”.


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