Many of you have probably heard of numbers stations at some point (“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is named after and features samples from a transmission on a numbers station). If not, they’re basically short wave radio signals that are mostly static but occasionally bleep and blurp out weird coded signals that are generally agreed to be transmissions from government agencies to embedded spies. The idea is that the spy would know from some other source when to tune in to the station and would have some sort of decoder established to understand what the transmission was telling them.
Numbers stations, like all things spy and radio related, are mostly a thing of the past at this point, but recently there’s been a flurry of activity on a station of Russian origin called UVB-76. You can check out a Wikipedia entry for the station here. Scroll down a little to see all the recent transmissions, and check this one out for an idea of how weird these things are (Russian file-sharing site seems sketchy but it’s legit). There are a couple of levels on which I find this interesting. The primary two are probably that blogs (and by extension, subcultures) like this exist where people who spend their evening hours listening to solar wind and Russians speaking in muffled tones moving boxes around a radio station congregate and share information. It’s sort of like a distant cousin of noise music mixed with the Boy Scout dweebiness of HAM radio enthusiasm. The other level is that somewhere, someone is huddled over a little radio jotting this stuff down knowingly. At this point the information is probably devoid of all the Cold War era intrigue and deception, but there were probably times where it was a matter of life and death to hurry back to wherever the radio was and listen to a disembodied voice repeat numbers over and over.
A few years ago there was a big box set called the Conet Project that compiled tons of numbers station clips from over the years. It’s available for free here. Definitely worth checking some of it out. A lot of them have passages of music before or during the transmissions that are an interesting listen. Some of them are just sort of spooky.
Some more information about numbers stations here.