Numbers stations are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin that broadcast streams of numbers, words, or phonetic sounds. No one knows for sure where their signals originate or what purpose they serve. The voices that can be heard on these stations are often those of children, or are mechanically generated.
Numbers stations appear and disappear continuously, although some stick to regular schedules. It has been speculated that these stations operate as a simple and foolproof method for government agencies to communicate with spies "in the field", using the transmitted codes as a one-time pad cryptosystem. Others speculate that some of these stations may be related to illegal drug smuggling operations. Although no broadcaster or government will acknowledge or give a reason for their existence, a 1998 article in London's Daily Telegraph quoted a spokesperson for the Department of Trade and Industry (the department which regulates radio broadcasting in the United Kingdom) as saying, "These [numbers stations] are what you suppose they are. People shouldn't be mystified by them. They are not for, shall we say, public consumption."
Numbers stations are often given nicknames by enthusiasts. These nicknames often reflect some distinctive element of the station. For example "Lincolnshire Poacher", one of the best known numbers stations, supposed by many to be run by MI6, plays the first two bars of the folk song of that name before each string of numbers.
On some stations tones can be heard in the background. It has been suggested that in such cases the voice may be an aid to tuning to the correct frequency, with the coded message being sent by modulating the tones, perhaps using a technology such as burst transmission.
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Recordings of numbers stations sometimes find their way onto records by other
musicians, such as Stereolab's song "Pause" or various songs by Wilco.
The reclusive Scottish duo Boards Of Canada were influenced by numbers stations at an early age.
Recordings and Music
Recordings of numbers stations sometimes find their way onto records by other musicians, such as Stereolab's song "Pause" or various songs by Wilco. The reclusive Scottish duo Boards Of Canada were influenced by numbers stations at an early age.