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The Shortwave Numbers Mystery

Training Center, National Communication System, Remington, Virginia.
Training Center, National Communication System, Remington, Virginia.

For much of the last century, shortwave radio was the only way to hear broadcasts from far away. Like many other listeners, producer David Goren fell in love with the sound of the shortwave bands. Slices of uncut indigenous culture collide with wild eyed political propaganda. The hokey chitchat of amateur radio operators contrasts with clipped and cryptic military communications.

Eventually, if listeners dig around long enough, they'll tune across voices reciting endless strings of numbers. These broadcasts have been heard for at least 40 years. The signals are powerful, but they contain no information about location of the transmitter or the intended audience. Most listeners linger for a short time, then tune away, utterly baffled.

Starting in the mid-70's the "Numbers Stations" began to pique the curiosity of a small group of listeners. Numbers enthusiasts began using new receivers with digital readouts to better track these stations. Some, like Simon Mason and Hugh Stegman, spent hours hunting for and recording these stations. They compiled schedules through reverse engineering. Others, like Havana Moon and John Fulford, relied on hints from contacts at intelligence agencies and the Federal Communications Commission. They took to the road with radio direction finding equipment. The shortwave hobby press started to carry reports of stations nicknamed Cynthia, The Babbler, The Sexy Lady, and Bulgarian Betty.

Out of this research has come a body of recordings that span the era of the cold war, and a strong feeling that the stations are run by intelligence agencies sending encrypted messages to agents in the field

This edition of Lost and Found Sound was produced and mixed by David Goren. Number station recordings featured are from the collections of Simon Mason, David Mussell and Tom Sevart Chris Smolinski, as well as "The Conet Project," produced by Akin Frenandez and Irdial Discs.

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