Numbers Stations

Photo Courtesy of NPR

I promise, I never thought I would be the guy sitting in the corner with his tin-foil hat on, but here we are. Asking a young Matt and once I would have scoffed at the idea of massive government conspiracies, why would the government do things behind our backs? My God I was an idiot. Governments from all countries small and large have massive programs running behind the scenes to achieve their goals. One of the most interesting time periods for government-sanctioned espionage and back-handed tactics was the Cold War Era. The Cold War Era refers to the four decades following the end of World War II to the Fall of the Soviet Union. The world was separated between capitalists and communists, with countries on both sides doing everything in their power to get the upper-hand on their adversaries. Full-blown spy networks evolved during the time that led to countless pop culture phenomenons such as James Bond and every fucking spy novel written in the last sixty years. Before the advent of mobile telephones, communication was a problem for these networks; when operatives were in the field it was quite difficult to relay messages and get vital information into their hands. World governments developed a sophisticated method to fix this issue, spy radio stations. I know you are asking yourself, “how is a radio station a secret”? Great question, the station themselves are not secret in any way, anybody with a shortwave radio could listen in to these stations, but to the average listener the broadcast wouldn’t make any god damned sense. These stations, now known as numbers stations, sprung up around the world and broadcast coded messages to their operatives. These codes came in a variety of methods, some came as a series of numbers read off by a live reader, or sometimes a mechanical beep would give off different tones that only a person with the codebook could decipher. The maddening aspect for anyone listening is that the code changed every 24 hours, it was impossible to crack these one time codes no matter how hard a foreign government would try. Some of these stations are still broadcast today and you too can waste your life listening to random numbers being read off in a monotone just like they could in the eighties. World governments don’t even bother with lying to the people about these stations, they are an open secret, because they know and we know that cracking the code is impossible. If you are interested, there are examples of audio from the famous stations like the Lincolnshire Poacher and others in the links at the bottom of the article.

Sources:

https://priyom.org/number-stations,

https://warontherocks.com/2018/05/explaining-the-mystery-of-numbers-stations/,

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24910397

The Last Podcast on the Left episode “Mysterious Sounds and Recordings”

Published by TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website www.theoddpast.com and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere

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