Number Stations

I was about 14 or 15 years old when I inherited my first short wave radio. I was incredibly fascinated by the device. It was fairly primitive, but it allowed me to scan the airwaves on two shortwave bands, a medium wave band, AM/FM bands, and the CB band. Late evenings you could find me in my bedroom, wearing headphones, and rolling the dial on the old radio trying to pick up broadcasts from all over the world. I had a little logbook that I used to record the various stations I encountered. One night I came across an odd broadcast. It sounded like a computer generated voice reading off numbers in Spanish. It was quite intriguing. I had no idea what it was or what the significance of the numbers might have been.

A few weeks later there was a show on A&E on mysteries/the unexplained and they had a segment on these things called number stations. They theorized that the stations were broadcasting encoded messages for spies. The idea was that the spies had a book of different schemes for unlocking the messages where certain groups of numbers represent certain phrases or sentences or specific directives. Thinking back to that night when I heard one of those broadcasts, I was pretty excited. I would make it a point that every time I was cycling through the airwaves that I would listen close for the number stations.

Later on, I received a Sangean AT909 receiver. This thing opened up a whole different world. I was able to tune to so many more frequencies and switch from AM/LSB/USB and greatly broaden my listening possibilities. I went to the local library and found a book on antennas. I read through the book learning about different types of antennas, formulas for determining the length of antennas, and so forth. I rummaged through the basement and found hundreds of feed of twin-pair television wire. I crawled up into the attic and essentially created a long-wire antenna. I took it across the top of the house and then fed a line down through the vent to my bedroom. I brought the wire in, soldered on a 3.5mm plug and connected it to my radio. Amazement!


The antenna made a huge positive impact on my listening. As time passed I created various filters and other devices to try and refine the signals even further. It was a lot of fun. I got completely enthralled in the world of radio. I started listening to Gordon West audio tapes to learn CW and got fairly proficient. I remember listening to hams conversing through CW and actually writing down the letters to reveal the messages. I participated with a few different ham groups via email as I didn’t have the ability to broadcast on 80 meters.

I found several great shortwave stations. I remember Radio Free China and their program hosts back then. The two that stick out in my mind are Paula Jo and Carson Wong. Back then, many of the stations would encourage you to send them letters with signal reports and they would send you a QSL card in return.

Of course, I was also listening for number stations. I created a Y connector for the headphone output on my radio so that I could monitor with the headphones and have another line running to my tape deck so that if I came across a number station I would quickly push record so that I could share the mystery with others.

Eventually, the internet would become available locally and my love for radio would dwindle a bit, I would still occasionally pull it out and scan the airwaves listening for number stations and other broadcasts. Radio Free China became the Voice of the Peoples Republic of China. The BBC remained supreme with the most broadcasts. Religious broadcasts still make up the majority of the active stations. There are, however, still number stations out there, occasional pirates, and still a good number of hams. I even caught the hams still doing field days, conversing about conspiracies, UFO’s, and electronics. In fact, last winter I even found that one of the hams I knew from West Virginia was still broadcasting on the same frequency he was 10+ years ago.

Today, I came across this link: The Conet Archive. This is their You Tube channel that contains a variety of recordings of number stations. It was neat to come across this and it really took me back to my childhood and rekindled lots of fond memories.


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