The Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween – Day 27: Real Horror Part 1 – The Creepy Cold-War World of Number Stations

Today we’ll veer just slightly off the pop culture path in search of true-life Halloween scares. If you find yourself disappointed that the horror genre has sacrificed scares, suspense and fear for gore, shock and violence, you might find it worth your while to seek thrills from less conventional sources. One eerie based-in-reality source of chills I discovered comes to us in the form of shortwave radio broadcasts, commonly referred to as “number stations.”

Imagine you’re an amateur short-wave HAM radiophile, up late one night scanning the dial for any signs of life and suddenly out of the static and darkness you hear something odd: a child’s music box melody plays for a while before coming to an abrupt stop only to be followed by a child’s voice, speaking in monotone, reciting a coded message. What language is that? What is she saying? Is she counting? Is she speaking in code? What’s it all about? A shiver runs down your spine as you realize you’re hearing a broadcast not meant for public consumption. This is something else. Something mysterious…maybe sinister. But what?

That’s the cool creepy thing about the number stations phenomenon. No one knows exactly what they are, why they exist, or where their broadcasts originate from. There are some probable explanations, but no hard facts and no authorities willing to cop to their existence. Just a long string of non-denial denials and cryptic warnings that they are best left ignored and none of your damn business. Intrigued? Take it away Wikipedia!:

Numbers stations (or number stations) are shortwave radio stations of uncertain origin. They generally broadcast artificially generated voices reading streams of numbers, words, letters (sometimes using a spelling alphabet), tunes or Morse code. They are in a wide variety of languages and the voices are usually female, though sometimes male or children’s voices are used.
It has been reported that the United States uses numbers stations to communicate encoded information to persons in other countries.
Numbers stations appear and disappear over time (although some follow regular schedules), and their overall activity has increased slightly since the early 1990s. This increase suggests that, as spy-related phenomena, they were not unique to the Cold War.
According to the notes of The Conet Project, numbers stations have been reported since World War I. If accurate, this would make numbers stations among the earliest radio broadcasts.  It has long been speculated, and was argued in court in one case, that these stations operate as a simple and foolproof method for government agencies to communicate with spies working undercover.

Numbers_Conet…that’s the elementary overview, but there is so much to discover about this barely reported phenomenon that has existed in some form or another for ages. The true explanation is certainly not supernatural or extraterrestrial in nature, but it’s the air of mystery that surrounds number stations and the authorities refusal to acknowledge most of them that really tempts conspiracy theorists and basement-dwelling short-wave geeks. Some people, like the obsessive detectives at the Conet Project, treat these broadcasts as found art and that makes sense to me. You can buy a four-disc collection of the oddest and most intriguing examples of number station recordings put out by the Conet Project and it’s worth a listen if you can get your hands on a copy.

My introduction to the concept of number stations occurred when I stumbled upon a blog review of the Conet Project’s collection. The writer had first been exposed to the bizarre recording while driving around at night listening to a college radio station that played all four discs uninterrupted without explanation. The writer, who was chilled to the core by his discovery, thought he’d stumbled upon alien transmissions, and after you give them a listen, you’ll understand why.

While I won’t offer the Conet Project’s full collection, I have put together a “favorite cuts” collection of my own which features a few unlabeled tracks from the CDs mixed in with miscellaneous number station files I’ve dug up from other obscure sources. I dare you to download them, turn out the lights, and settle in for a listen. I drove the girlfriend crazy with these recordings when I first started getting into them a few months ago. I guess what’s thrilling to one person is unnerving to another. But there’s a devious side of me that has a barely-restrainable urge to wake someone in the dead of night with one of these recordings playing at full volume from somewhere in their home. Does that make me evil?


Here are a few video clips put together by amateur videographers, who’ve put number station recordings to their own artistic use in moody, atmospheric videos. There’s nothing too remarkable here, but whenever you put these sounds to any visuals, the visuals are sure to be tainted with a kind of dread normally triggered by half-remembered nightmares.

Listen to samples.
Learn more.
Visit the Conet Project.

~ by Number5ive on October 27, 2009.

One Response to “The Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween – Day 27: Real Horror Part 1 – The Creepy Cold-War World of Number Stations”

  1. Now this is different!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: