The Phoenix

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mystery Voices in the Air

Growing up, one of my most favorite things to do was to play with my father's shortwave radio. It was rectangular and had this flip up map of the world. The map showed all the different time zones and such, and it was fun to listen to radio shows from across the globe. My father had a CB radio in his van, and was even able to tune my radio to his and he'd talk to me on his way to work.

Often times, I'd hear really strange sounds coming from the radio - very weird transmissions. Morse code, weird music, and the voices. The voices spooked me out the most. Sometimes it was male, more often female. Several times, I swear it was a child's voice.

The voice would often just drone on and on, saying a series of numbers over and over again. Then the whole transmission would repeat itself. My dad's explanation was that it was probably the airport or something. The voices sometimes spoke in Spanish, other times it sounded more like German.

For years, I would just listen to the voices saying their numbers - wondering what the hell it all meant. Who was sending this message? And more interestingly, who was receiving them? Eventually, the shortwave radio wasn't as interesting to me, and I forgot all about it.

Until I started doing some research...

The phenomona of strange transmission via shortwave frequences is called Number Stations. These mysterious transmissions are heard all over the world, and the voices are in a mulitutde of languages. The voices are most often a woman, but can also be male, a child, or mechanically generated. Sometimes the transmission will begin with a little music, or the word "attention" can be heard. Then the voice will be reading a series of numbers, letters, or phonetic alphabet (i.e. "Charlie" for the letter "C"). The transmissions will normally follow a very tight schedule, and each might last hours.

So what exactly are these Number Stations???

The most popular theory is that it's a method for undercover spies to get their orders. To transmit messages via shortwaves is not that difficult, but more importantly, it's cheap and simple for your undercover spy. You can get a shortwave radio from Wal-Mart for $20.

Why use shortwave signals? Why not use cell phones or the internet? With the advent of technology, it's become even easier to intercept messages from a phone or a computer. With shortwave signals, the messages are often coded orders.

If the spy is using a one-time pad to decrypt these numbers, the code is unbreakable. The numbers or letters being broadcast from Toronto to Bejing are easy to listen to, but they're meaningless unless you have the "key" to decoding them and receiving your messages. (Russian spy book of one-time pads pictured left).The spy decodes the numbers into letters, back into numbers, and then into letters once more to get the message. He then burns the one page key. It's random, it's encrypted, and it's impossible for anyone to break.

The world's governments will not admit to using Number Stations, although recently, the US government accused Cuba of having a spy on American soil. The "Atencion" number station was believed to be the method by which Cuba's spies would receive their orders. Ana Belen Montes was accused by the CIA of being a Cuban spy when her laptop was recovered, and the "key" to decrypting those shortwave messages was found.

Click HERE to hear a real sample of the famous "Atencion Number Station."

One of the most famous Number Stations is the "Lincolnshire Poacher." I remember hearing this one when I was in highschool while listening to the shortwave radio. It's pretty cool. It begins with the English folksong, and then goes into it's coded voice message. The voice is female, and you'll notice that at the end of a series of numbers, she will raise her voice on that fifth and final number. This transmission is believed to be from the British Secret Intelligence Service being sent from the island of Cyprus. Listen for yourself right HERE. James Bond indeed!

One Number Station I find a little creepy is one called "Swedish Rhapsody." It begins with a few beeps, and then this little Swedish song would play as if from a music box. I would instictively run for money as it sounds just like the ice cream man. Then this freaky kids voice starts saying numbers in what I think is German. It even says "achtung" between five number sets. Listen to "Swedish Rhapsody" HERE. I've read this Number Station is still quite active, and for those with shortwave radios, you can here it on three frequencies simultaneously at: 4779, 5340, and 6779 on Saturday evenings.

One Number Station is called "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." A rock band called Wilco named an album after this mysterious transmission. I'm not sure about the accent the woman's voice has, but I'm thinking French. She says "yankee hotel foxtrot" a bunch of times, and then says "message, group 1" and says a bunch of other stuff. Listen HERE.

Sometimes, a country doesn't like Number Stations broadcasting secret messages to potential spies. So what do they do? They jam them! An example is the Chinese Firedragon Jammer that was known to originate from the island of Hainan in the South China Sea. You hear the secret code from a female voice, and then you hear music that makes you want to pass the pu pu platter! Listen HERE.

One Number Station is called "Ready Ready." It's interesting because the lady giving the numbers and then says "ready, ready" is talking with a fake British accent. Some believe this one is from Yugoslav Intelligence. Listen HERE.

This final example has been linked to the Israeli Intelligence Service, MOSSAD. The woman's voice is giving the secret code using phonetic alphabets and numbers. It sounds as if the phonetic alphabet is used as some sort of identifier, just before the numerical code. Listen HERE.

What orders are being given out in this clandestine method? Meeting places for undercover spies? Call to arms for terrorist sleeper cells? Or perhaps orders to assassinate someone is a message being sent over the airwaves.

The funny thing is, one would think since the end of the Cold War, these kinds of secret transmissions would've at least slowed down. But the contrary is true, as Number Stations enthusiasts have noted that it's picked up since 1990.

Exactly what are these mystery voices in the air saying?

The mystery continues...

For more Number Station recordings, go to The Conet Project by Iridial to listen to more.
Or, get a shortwave radio and just start listening.


Blogger Big Pissy said...'re scaring me now.

I've actually heard of these "number stations"....but not in such detail.

Thanks for freaking me out! ;-)

2/16/2007 9:22 PM  
Anonymous the amoeba said...

I did the "radio surfing" thing as a kid too. Though I spent most of my time trying to capture long-distance ham radio voice communications. Especially the guy from Bermuda (or was it the Bahamas) whose wife (I assume it was his wife) was in the habit of doing dishes au naturel.

Seems like a terribly slow and "50s" way to send a message. Though it might make sense if you're trying to contact several operatives in several different locations all at once, without leaving the traces that a computer communication would leave. Al Qaeda cells, f'rinstance ...

2/16/2007 10:28 PM  
Blogger phred said...

How very interesting.
In this age of technology, we use something so basic.
Ones imagination can get a workout with these.
Muhahahaha.( insert Mission Impossible theme music here ).

2/17/2007 5:33 AM  
Blogger Jamie Dawn said...

I can see a great psychological thriller called Number Stations starring Russel Crowe, Reese Witherspoon, Daniel Radcliff, and Lucy Lu.

Very interesting post!

Have a wonderful weekend!
uno, dos, tres... ACHTUNG!

2/17/2007 1:09 PM  
Blogger David Amulet said...

Fascinating stuff, but I think there is an easier thing behind all this ...

Kids just LOVE to read numbers on and on.

-- david

2/17/2007 2:12 PM  
Blogger goldennib said...

This is very interesting. I've never heard of this before. Now I won't be able to sleep tonight.

2/17/2007 6:33 PM  
Blogger KC said...

I've never heard of this before, but then I never knew anyone who had a shortwave radio. Very interesting!

2/17/2007 11:15 PM  
Blogger Grafs said...

I first heard about this on and I really wanted to hear what it sounded like. Thanks! What are all these little countries up to this time? Apparently 23,23,45,77,7!

2/18/2007 11:31 AM  
Anonymous kim said...

REALLY interesting!! It sounds like something out of Lost, actually.

2/18/2007 4:54 PM  
Blogger Jillian said...

Yeah that's the first thing I thought of as well - "Lost". The guy reading the set of numbers and it ending up on the side of the 'hatch'.

Good stuff Phoenix!

Now I'll just be waiting for my radio to go all funny and start transmitting things like on "The Truman Show" did. ;-)

It's interesting how much we have progressed in technology, and yet we will rely on the "old methods" in order to get certain things done.

2/18/2007 6:15 PM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

pissy, it IS freaky, isn't it?

amoeba, I bet it wasn't his wife! Number stations have been around since WWI, and it is such an easy way to get secret messages out without getting caught.

phred, It's cool to let the imagination run wild with this stuff.

JD, You know - this whole thing WOULD make a fantastic movie! Bravo Uniform Foxtrot Tae Kwon Do.

2/18/2007 8:59 PM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

david, the german kid freaks me out. Ice cream man music or not.

goldenib, sorry! Don't think about all the spies out there, getting freaky-do messages from the radio.

KC, a shortwave radio is nothing special. In fact, most people have one without knowing. Many have an FM, AM, and shortwave frequency capability.

grafs, Here in the States, you can hear the Cuban ones all over the radio. I wonder what they're planning to do?

kim, It does...freaky stuff.

jillian, Espionage is one of the oldest trades in existence...second only to prostitution.

2/18/2007 9:04 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Is it bad when I hear these number stations and there is no radio nearby? :)

2/18/2007 10:02 PM  
Anonymous the weirdgirl said...


2/19/2007 12:42 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

dan, yes it's bad, Rainman.

WG, no wonder senior citizens love their radios.

2/19/2007 7:19 AM  
Blogger Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

That's scary stuff indeed.

It DOES sound like something off of LOST!!! ;)

2/19/2007 8:15 AM  
Blogger angel, jr. said...

Okay, scary!
Lions and tigers and bears Oh My!!

When I first started reading this, I thought it was going to be something about the stuff from the movie "White Noise"--a movie which scared me senseless (don't ask me why, it just freaks me out).

2/19/2007 10:23 AM  
Blogger Mr Shife said...

Very cool post. This is a fascinating subject. All I could think about when reading this was the numbers from Lost and maybe they are part of the Numbers Station.

2/19/2007 2:11 PM  
Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Spooky! The strangest thing I had happen was when I worked on a train. The platform had speakers and a long wire connection them all. There was a radio transmission tower near by and you could hear the music playing over the loudspeakers from time to time, though they were only connected to an intercom.

2/19/2007 2:58 PM  
Blogger Reiki 4 Life said...

hmmm, we never had shortwave radios as a kid, but my dad did have a cb radio out in the pickup & we had (and still have) walkie talkies.

The closest comparison I have is when I'd turn on the receiving end of the baby monitor before the other one & hear other people talking on it. Pretty freaky...sometimes I think they were phone calls, not other baby monitors. Beware what you say with the baby monitors never know who might be listening.

2/19/2007 3:11 PM  
Blogger cube said...

This was new stuff to me. Scary stuff.

2/19/2007 4:10 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I bet this just makes a lot of people want to get on and recite their own (meaningless) numbers.

2/19/2007 4:11 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...

scary! :(


2/19/2007 6:04 PM  

I didn't know that you can hear other baby monitors on yours. :-)

2/19/2007 7:20 PM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

That is such an interesting post, I will be sure to visit you again. I wondered about them sounds, and I am here in Australia, my brother and azi used to pretend it was a message from Battle Star Galactica..we could have been onto something hey?

2/19/2007 8:28 PM  
Blogger DaBich said...

I've never ever heard of this. What you don't let us in on!

2/20/2007 4:35 AM  
Blogger BrianAlt said...

Interesting info, thanks!

9 14 20 5 18 5 19 20 9 14 7 0 9 14 6 15 0 0 20 8 1 14 11 19 0

2/20/2007 8:00 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

stacy, I wonder how many Cuban spies are there in Flordia.

angel jr, White Noise was a really good movie, up until the ending. Then it was just goofy.

mr. shife, Also Jim Carrey's new movie "23."

phosgene kid, Yeah - that happens a lot. Radio frequences merge and stuff.

reiki, years ago, I had a baby monitor on and could hear my neighbor's phone conversations. It was messed up. Most recently, I could hear what sounded like a radio talk show on the baby monitor.

2/20/2007 9:02 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

cube, it's scary, but so cool. Espionage is the great equalizer.

jay, Maybe they do - it's called misinformation.

keshi, I bet you can hear a ton out there in Austrailia. The SOH's transmissions are always being blocked by mainland China.

bluest butterfly, Oh yeah. You can pick up all kinds of stuff on baby monitors.

cazzie, You probably intercepted a real spy message. Thanks for visiting.

dabich, Glad I could creep you out and inform you.

brianalt, 25 15 21 0 1 18 5 0 23 5 7 3 15 13 5

2/20/2007 9:07 AM  
Blogger BrianAlt said...



2/20/2007 9:15 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

Shit on a stick. I'd make such a crappy spy.

2/20/2007 10:40 AM  
Anonymous stephanie said...

I get the whole thing about technology and stuff. But why use a cell phone when you can be creepy over a short wave radio. Way f-ing cool, man.

2/20/2007 11:39 AM  
Anonymous stephanie said...

PS - Wasn't there a radio situation like this on Lost?

It was plot line to nowehere number bazillion.

2/20/2007 11:41 AM  
Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

A few years ago I had to review a CD from a Ukranian artist who recorded 70 minutes of shortwave squawk and white noise. His theory (I'm assuming) was that something concrete eventually comes out of the abstract. Crazy theory, I can't believe I made it as far as I did.

2/20/2007 4:20 PM  
Blogger Reiki 4 Life said...

oh yeah, I forgot we could hear our old neighbor's cordless phone calls on the monitor, even when Both ends were turned on. Nothing like a few F-bombs screamed with a thick NY accent to Lull your baby to sleep.


2/20/2007 5:56 PM  
Blogger Haley-O said...

That is sooooo cool! I'd have thought they were ghosts or aliens or something....I don't know what's freakier: your theory or my uneducated hunch....

2/20/2007 11:16 PM  
Blogger Cari said...

interesting read - thanks for the info. I will be sure to check out your links

2/21/2007 12:49 AM  
Blogger goldennib said...

I just love the colors of your site.

2/21/2007 4:01 AM  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

Phoenix, that was really interesting.
My Dad was a radio operator during WWII and he continued with shortwave after the war (as a hobby). I have many happy memories as a kid of sitting in the basement with him, talking or doing morse code with people from around the world.

2/21/2007 10:33 AM  
Blogger Tai said...

That's COOL!!

2/21/2007 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have been hearing a weird clown like laughing sound at night through our monitor. Has anyone have an explanation for this?

10/18/2007 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have been hearing morse code often on our baby monitor. What is this? It seems to be the same code over and over.

10/18/2007 1:26 PM  

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