An introduction into the weird world of “numbers stations.”

[This was my column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC}

When I was a kid, I had a fascination with shortwave radio. I successfully begged my parents to give me a multi-band radio that could not only receive standard AM and FM, but the aviation band and a limited number of shortwave frequencies. I dove into the world of DXing, the practice trying to pull in distant radio signals.

Late one winter night, I found my first “numbers station.”

You know one when you hear one. Usually, the transmission begins with some kind of note or sequence of musical notes. Then a voice comes on, reading what appears to be a series of random numbers. The voice might be male, female or even a child. Some even included longer musical pieces.

Numbers stations broadcast coded messages to spies and operatives in the field all over the world. On any given night, you might stumble across a broadcast meant for a CIA spook, a KGB spy or a Mossad agent. What were these messages? To whom were they directed? And what were the results of these communications?

If anyone told you, they’d have to kill you.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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