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The Really Cool, Spy “Numbers Stations” ……For Spies

Posted by bmac on May 23, 2008

I’ve posted about these before, but I got nothin’ to bitch about today, and it’s Friday, so let’s have some fun with:

The Spooky Numbers Stations.

I love these things. Most of you are probably aware of these, but if you’re not, here’s a Wiki definition of these shortwave spy stations, which were discovered in the 70’s, when short wave radios became popular, and people started to find these bizarre broadcasts that seemed to make no sense. Some of them had been on the air since as far back as WWI.

They generally broadcast voices reading streams of numbers, words, letters (sometimes using a radio alphabet), tunes or Morse code.

The voices that can be heard on these stations are often mechanically generated. 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.

They’re also incredibly spooky sounding, and for some reason, many of them use music, like tinkly music box music, which just adds to the creepiness. Or tinkly music box music with a little girls voice reading numbers in a foreign language, which when combined with the static of shortwave, makes the hair on your arms stand up. Some horror movies have used these things as background to add a disturbing element you can’t quite put your finger on.

Check out this one, called “The Swedish Rhapsody”, but listen to the whole thing, because it gets creepier as you go. This is the one with the little girls voice, and the creepy tinkle music.

This one here, is just fucking disturbing.

Here’s one with just numbers.

This one inspired the title of the band Wilco’s album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

I always picture a spy with a little radio sitting in some dank foreign basement with like a candle on the table, as evil Russian spies are closing in on him, listening to this message and writing it down on a piece of paper he’s gonna eat later when they catch up to him. I also wonder how these messages are translated, and by that I mean, what could 1,5,8,4,2,7, possibly mean? How much information could be in those numbers?

Many of these stayed on the air for 20-40 years, which makes me wonder if the spy ever got it, or was captured.

Even weirder, was that little girls voice and tinkly music an order to kill someone? Did that sequence of numbers lead to one, or many deaths? My simple mind reels with the possibilities.

The other really cool thing about these, and why they’re still in use today, is that these codes are 100% unbreakable. The spy and his handler were (are) the only two people that have the code, known as a “One time pad.” A spy almost anywhere in the world without the use of a trackable phone, could simply pick up a widely available shortwave radio, and receive messages from his handler.

If you’re really man enough, listen to a bunch of these, late at night, in the dark, by yourself.

It’s spooky cause it’s true.

Interesting fact: In the U.K., it’s illegal to listen to them on a radio.

61 Responses to “The Really Cool, Spy “Numbers Stations” ……For Spies”

  1. I forget what those things are called where you have to enter a variation of letters and numbers before you can submit a comment to foil spammers? It’s CAP something.

    Anyhoo, I can never freaking read those things and always screw them up, so I click on the little wheelchair picture so I can hear what the stupid symbols are. Have you ever listened to those? Those are creepy as all get out too and they suck because you can’t even see what the symbols are supposed to be. Anyhoo, they freak me out like your “Numbers Stations”

  2. bmac said

    I haven’t heard those PJ, but I’m pretty computer illiterate.

  3. MCPO Airdale said

    Woooo, Spooky! Scary!

    1,5,8,4,2,7 means “Pick up dry-cleaning, 1 half liter of whole milk and a half kilo of sausages.”

    There, mystery solved!

  4. Ok, somebody has to know what it’s called. I’m going to go crazy. It has all these numbers or letters and they’re written wavy, or there’s a grid in the background and when you want to submit a comment you have to type what you see in that box exactly the way it’s written. You know what I’m saying yet?

    Spambox cannot read these letters and/or numbers because of the grids or the way they’re written all wavy? HELP!?!?! For the love of God you peoople have to know what I’m saying.

  5. spambots, not spambox


  6. bmac said

    Oh, isn’t that Captcha, or something like that?

    You can listen to those?

    I’m confused.

  7. YES!!! Captcha. If you’re like blind or something or like me and are retarded and can’t seem to figure out whether something is a “u” or a “v” on those things there’s a little handicapped symbol, you can click on and it will say the number/letter combination for you, however, there’s talking and music in the background and it’s scary to me.

  8. Try this one!


    click on the little audio symbol. this isn’t as bad as some of them, but it’s still freaky

  9. bmac said


    That is pretty creepy sounding. If I was blind and heard that, I’d run screaming from the house. I can’t even make out WTF they’re saying.

  10. It’s awful. I also happen to be a little bit hard of hearing from scarring on my ears and I can’t understand a damn thing their saying. Captcha is almost as evil as lizards.

  11. MCPO Airdale said

    PJ – Jeez! I think someone in the background said, “I buried Paul”. Super Spooky Scary!

  12. bmac said

    If you listen to it backwards, Aliestar Crowley appears and hands you a Mentos.

  13. MCPO Airdale said

    PJM hears the strains of “Sympathy for the Devil” too.

  14. Stormy70 said

    This post creeped me out enough to know that I will never seek the actual audio out.


  15. PJ – Jeez! I think someone in the background said, “I buried Paul”. Super Spooky Scary!

    See? I actually think I heard it say kill Edward, but that might just be me.

    All this reminds me of when I was a kid and I was crank calling. I dialed a random number and this old lady answers the phone. I tell her in my scariest voice possible, “you will be dead at midnight”. She pauses and then says to me, “well maybe you will too”. Ok, this terrifies me, I hang up the phone and couldn’t sleep that night because I was pretty sure I was going to die.

  16. bmac said

    HaHaHaHa!!! That’s what you get for crank calling!

    We used to play “Stairway to heaven” backwards. When you’re 14, that’s some scary shit.

    Did you do the old “Bloody Mary” in the mirror, in the dark?

    Legend says, if you say it three times, she shows up!!

    *and hands you a Mentos.

  17. Wow. Awesome. Totally awesome.

    I want to write a book about it.

  18. bmac said

    Yeah, it’s fascinating stuff MP.

    One guy got so obsessed he collected all these things and put them on a CD, that you can buy, called “The Conet Project.”


    If you’re interested, there’s some really good info at that site, and more comprehensive stuff at this one:


  19. I did the Bloody Mary, but never said it 3 times cuz I was too chicken.

    You know this whole post you did is so Twilight Zoney.

    do do do do do do do do

  20. bmac said

    You know this whole post you did is so Twilight Zoney.

    Yeah, it’s fun isn’t it?

    It’s raining in Vegas today, so it fits the mood here.

  21. MCPO Airdale said

    It’s a rainy night in Vegas, feels like it raining all over the world.

  22. It’s rainy here in Jacksonville and my sister in San Diego told me it was raining there too.
    do do do do do do do do

    I always liked this song from “The General’s Daughter” soundrack. Kinda trippy in a spooky sorta way.

  23. MCPO Airdale said

    Trippy? I’ll show you trippy.


  24. MCPO Airdale said

    Well, I had one that I thought was even trippier but, it ended up in the spam box.

  25. bmac said

    Saved it for ya MCPO

    Fiona has talent, too bad she’s a loon.

    Cool song PJ, is the movie any good?

  26. MCPO Airdale said

    Bmac- Thanks!
    Travolta is a CID guy and former subordinate of said general, no?

  27. You listen to Fiona Apple, MCPO?
    You can’t be as ancient as you portray yourself. No way, no how. 😉

    Anyhoo, bmac I saw The General’s Daughter eons ago, but I don’t remember thinking negatively about it.

  28. Rosetta said



    Your stock just doubled after reading this.

    bmac, I am the smartest man alive and I have NEVER heard of this. Ever. How is that possible?

    I love horror movies. I love creepy, weird, eerie stuff. How the hell have I lived 39 years and not heard about this???

    I have a feeling that I’m going to obsess about this now. What an odd, odd thing!!

    Plus I like scaring Mrs. Rosetta so this is huge for that reason alone. She’s a fan of yours, bmac, but after a late night playing of some of this, she may hunt you down and kill you. Ha!!

    I LOVE learning about stuff like this.

    I hope you and your woman have a great weekend, buddy.

    Now…how to get this stuff on my i-Pod…

  29. bmac said

    Thanks Rosetta!

    That’s the funnest thing about having a blog, hippin’ people to something you find fascinating, and having them “get it.”

    If I remember, I think of all people, Instapundit did a small post about these a couple years ago, and that’s where I found out about them.

    They’ve seeped into pop culture a little, but kind of under the radar. If you watch Lost for example, the “numbers” concept is kind of based around these, and in the first season they were transmitted from the Island by the French woman.

    They were used extensively in “Vanilla Sky” too. But that movie sucked donkey balls.

    Fuck, I could go on and on about these stupid things……

    Glad you dug it, glad Mrs Rosetta likes me, (for now) and you guys have a great weekend too!

  30. cranky said

    I bought a Ten-Tec RX320 shortwave receiver a few years ago. Get a decent antenna and you can pick up some strong signals in different spectrums (time of the year makes a big difference in what you can receive). The receiver is controlled from your computer. Pretty cool to listen to stuff coming from a long way aways. I can listen to Radio Netherlands, whose main transmitter was very near the town in Holland where I lived, the BBC, Cuban propaganda, some Iranian shit, Voice of America, lots of different stuff in languages I don’t understand. Never was able to pick up Radio Baghdad.

    Bought almost two pounds of beautifuuly marbled rib eyes this morning. I’m grilling Sunday and Monday, baked potato scarfing down, and garlic bread inhaling. Picked up a local brand of ice cream in Dutch Chocolate. Bunch of sweet tea too. It is gonna be a great weekend food wise.

    You all have a great weekend.

  31. S. Weasel said

    Oh, man, thanks for this. I bought a receiver in the mid-90s, after the Cold War was over, so I missed the best propaganda broadcasts. But searching up and down the dial, I tuned into many a numbers station. They are just creepy as all hell. I’d read they were spy activity, but I never got as complete an article as this Wiki.

    Around that time, they sold a peripheral card you could plug into your computer that would constantly scan up and down the frequencies, stop when it heard Morse, and translate it into a .txt file. I always lusted after one. But in those days, stuff like that was marginally reliable at best, and very expensive.

  32. bmac said

    It must be a little chilling when you run across one of those Weasel, but I bet it’s kinda fun too!

    Those cards seem like they’d be illegal, no? Translating Morse code to just anybody? Be cool to have though.

    Oh, and do you still find numbers stations?

    Cranky-What time should we be there?

  33. S. Weasel said

    I haven’t done a full-spectrum scan in years, so I couldn’t tell you. Way back when, there was ALL kinds of Morse translation software. Back when you had to know Morse to get a ham license, I knew somebody who modified a rig with a vibrating ping-pong ball to teach a deaf man Morse so he could get his license.

    Uncle B and I have the same Sangean receiver. Oh, the nights I scanned the spectrum in the US looking for an audible station. In the UK? The bands are so STUFFED with stations it’s not even funny. Or, really, even fun.

  34. PattyAnn said

    bmac, if you pick me up on the way, we should get to cranky’s around dinnertime. But what’s he going to eat?

  35. Drumwaster said

    I think the only reason these things are still kept active (in an age with world-wide cell phone/satellite phone coverage and prepaid access) is because they are extremely low-cost of upkeep, and because they are resources that can be used to force the enemy to waste resources monitoring them. If the transmitting agency/nation decides to “go active”, it might be a while before anyone would notice, and it could be lost in the noise.

    Especially if they just change one repeat and switch back, and then shifted to another frequency for the next broadcast (at a preset time) and then to another, and another, etc. Combine with the one-time pad, and it is as secure a transmission system as can exist in an imperfect world.

    {/not paranoid, I promise}

  36. bmac said

    Patty Ann- We’ll all just have to drink more!

    Drumwaster, I think they’re still in use cause they’re untrackable. Cell phones, even prepaid cell calls, can be picked up. With a one time pad, monitoring these is useless, the best they might be able to do is track where the signal originates, and even then, it doesn’t really provide any actionable info.

    The beauty of low-tech.

  37. Rosetta said

    We had another couple over last night for a little UFC, hot wings and beer. I treated them to a late night playing of The Swedish Rhapsody.

    The were appropriately freaked out and disturbed which was fun.

  38. bmac said


    We went to a friends for UFC last night too!

    It’s like we’re sympatico dude!

    No Swedish Rhapsody though. (they don’t know I blog)

    Ortiz got his ass kicked! I was glad to see that! If you’re an Ortiz fan, ummm….sorry.

  39. Rosetta said

    I think Jenna Jameson may have sucked all the ass-kicking mojo out of Tito; he looked weak last night. There were still some good fights though.

    Speking of excellent:

    * El Diablo? Excellent.

    * Rosetta? Drunk.

    * Bed? Calling my name.

    I think the Diablo is a retard margarita but the shit is good.

  40. bmac said

    I think the Diablo is a retard margarita but the shit is good.

    Yep, it’s most definitely a retard marguerita, almost impossible to screw up, which comes in handy after like 3 of them.

    Glad you guys liked it, don’t hate me in the morning!

    Caipirinha may make an appearance at the BBQ I’m going to today.

  41. Rosetta said


    Have a good time buddy.

  42. cranky said

    Alright, bmac. You made me get my receiver out of the corner and hook it up. I also got some new software, RxPlus, for a controller (on sale too, $50 versus $80), and my homemade antenna is trying to pull stuff in. I’m sitting at an undisclosed location, which makes it hard for you and PattyAnn to show up for the ribeye that will be mine, scanning different bands. Where’s the number stations?

  43. Rosetta said


  44. cranky said


  45. MCPO Airdale said

    Cranky – Hilarious but, are you allowed to say that about Rosetta on a family blog??

  46. bmac said

    Cranky, Don’t you want to share buddy? Me and Patty Ann Ain’t worth a ribeye? 🙂

    If you’re ever in Vegas, I’ll have a Filet on the grill for you in a heartbeat my friend.

    MCPO, who said this was a family blog?

    PS- shhh…..I’m drunk…..Diablo’s did me in….I blame Rosetta….

  47. Anonymous said

    bmac, the dogs didn’t even get any. They got the baked potato skin divided three ways. Not much for them.

    The rib eye was excellent: tender and moist, almost didn’t need a knife.

  48. cranky said

    # 47 was me. How’d that happen?

  49. bmac said

    I’m just bustin’ your chops Cranky!
    Sounds like some tasty steak though. We had filets from Sams Club. They have some really great meat at Sams, for a great price.

    Our dogs got some of course. Not much though, we inhaled them.

  50. Rosetta said

    # 47 was me. How’d that happen?

    What’s the Winged Dingleberry™ doing commenting here?

  51. MCPO Airdale said

    I had some gristle that the neighbors threw out. That and a six pack of Busch beer was all I could afford.

  52. Rosetta said

    Busch beer is good. That was what I drank about 12,000 cans of in high school.

    I don’t drink it much now but when I do, it reminds me of high school fun.

  53. MCPO Airdale said

    So, puking on the ghey art teacher’s shoes now counts as high school fun?!

  54. Do you mean during high school or during your high school years?

    That’s what I’d like to know

  55. Rosetta said

    MCPO, I didn’t know you were a ghey art teacher?! NTTAWWT.

    pajama momma, high school was what I did when you were having children 3 through 7B.

  56. MCPO Airdale said

    Yeah, I’m the ghey art teacher. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    The only thing I can draw is a good draft beer.

  57. Frank in Florida said

    The law prohibiting people in the UK from receiving the “spy numbers stations”, because they are illegal, I find amusing, if not downright ridiculous! In other words, if I am a patron in a bank in the U.K., and a bank robber comes in and tells me to get to the floor, or he will kill me, I must ignore him, because what he is doing is against the law?!



  58. […] year, bmac put up a post about numbers stations.  It was fascinating and it caught Cranky’s attention.  Cranky had a little experience […]

  59. Though creepy at first, I think they eventualy cary over into a white noise type of situation. They sort of bleed into the sound of the room, and create a tone that puts your mind into a different state. Try it while editing or doing something creative… I find it helps (see!)

  60. Parfume said

    I recall going over a thing concerning this past week indicating that this was not the way it is, just cannot seem to locate the url.

  61. 46 inch tv said

    46 inch tv…

    […]The Really Cool, Spy “Numbers Stations” ……For Spies « A Fine Line Between Stupid And Clever[…]…

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