Encrypted messages, fancy technology, spies use them all to communicate, but sometimes the best way to hide is in plain sight. Right now, broadcasting across the airwaves around the world, are automated, anonymous shortwave AM radio stations that most governments won't acknowledge even exist, much less explain. Best of all, you can hear recordings from them right now, and if you have the right gear, tune in and listen yourself.
Numbers stations are anonymous, shortwave AM radio stations that broadcast messages at pre-set times, sometimes periodically and sometimes random, on specific frequencies. They're notable for their unusual tone and content, as the stations can be silent for most hours of the day or week, then jump to life with a collection of artificial human voices, sounds, Morse code, short songs, or even nursery rhymes. They also broadcast in a number of different languages.
If you've ever listened to a numbers station, it's one of the creepiest things you've ever heard. You won't exactly use these to get more work done or streamline your life, but it's a lot of fun to listen. Another characteristic of numbers station broadcasts is the messages feel like gibberish, or nonsensical words, letters, or songs strung together. In reality, they likely mean a great deal to the right listener.
Numbers stations appeared shortly after World War II, and while they were most plentiful during the Cold War, many still broadcast today. If you ask the FCC about them, they'll say they have no information on them because the frequencies are unlicensed. Ask any specific government agency and they'll usually deny they exist, or at least deny broadcasting on them. Who operates them and who are they for? Most likely they're used by spies, sending and listening for coded messages.
The behavior of shortwave radio in the atmosphere makes it ideal for long range radio transmission. You can send messages on a given frequency all over the world, and most people who use shortwave radio use it to communicate with ships at sea and people in locations all over the world.
You can see how they'd be ideal for spies: transmit a one-way message to someone anywhere in the world—literally thousands of miles away from the origin point—on an unlicensed station so no one knows who you are. Send them a code that can be deciphered using information only they know, or even a one-time pad that's never used again and changes from message to message. It's no wonder they're still in use today. The beauty of shortwave AM radio is that it's blasted through the air, free and clear.
All you really need is a shortwave AM radio you can use to pick up the broadcasts, and an idea of when to listen. Even if you don't have one though, there are some ways you can get an idea what these secret messages sound like.
Here's how:. That's all you'll really need. The site Spynumbers.
Thanks for the tip, Chris! If you have a commercial shortwave radio that can get those frequencies, just tune in. To listen online : Listening in real time online is a trickier proposition, but it's still possible:. Grab your favorite online tuner or receiver, punch in the frequency as long as it's supported at the right time, and as long as your tuner isn't in an area with a lot of interference or noise, you can listen to the broadcasts as they happen.
To listen to recordings : This is probably the safest way, or at least the way that won't creep you out when you've been listening to silence for a half-hour only to jump when you hear a lady's voice speaking in Czech singing a limerick, or a child repeating letters from the phonetic alphabet. Here are some options to get into numbers stations on your own time:.
Once you've explored a few numbers station recordings or even tuned in to a few yourself, you'll never really look at the antenna array on the top of a building the same way again. Here in Washington DC, where I live, the airwaves are full of shortwave AM broadcasts in a variety of languages—some are just news and weather data being broadcast for foreign nationals and from antenna arrays on the tops of embassies, but others are The best part is you never know where they're coming from and who's broadcasting them, but you know they're intended for someone, and they carry an important message.
This post is part of Spy Weeka series at Lifehacker where we look at ways to improvise solutions to every day problems Bond-style.
Want more? Check out our spy week tag page. The A. Shop Subscribe.Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now. And why should you put up with possible crackly audio and some interference when we have now internet, satellites, FM and all forms of digital radio? This holds true if you are in London, Boston, Paris or Toronto. But what if you are on an island in Indonesia, or find yourself in west China, in Kashmir or in Brazilian Amazonia? Because, whether we like it or not, there are several remote places in this vast world, many of which still depend on shortwave broadcasting.
In the past think the Cold War a lot of people were able to obtain free information from the international shortwave program. Shortwave is just short of a miracle, actually. When it is beamed at an angle, it hits the ionosphere. A mirror around the Earth and then it falls like a ball at great distances, beyond the horizon.
Thus these transmissions reach listeners over large areas, continents and beyond. Two or three high-power transmitters can potentially cover the entire world. Shortwave is used not just by international radio stations or radio amateurs but is also essential for aviation, marine, diplomatic and emergency purposes.
Shortwave signals are not restricted or controlled by the receiving countries and, as frequencies change in winter and summer, they need to be coordinated internationally. This group meets twice a year to produce a coordinated schedule for a summer and winter season, ironing out any interference issues among countries or broadcasters. At their recent meeting last month, they also discussed — once again — the future of shortwave. Nobody can deny that shortwave goes beyond geographical, cultural, religious, political barriers, is free and can be consumed anonymously, which few platforms can claim nowadays.
Other important international broadcasters, including Deutsche Welle, Radio Australia and Radio Exterior de Espana soon copied this model. Twenty years after the first big blow to shortwave, this frequency band and its potential is being revisited. After all, not all the listeners in the world have broadband, smart phones, data plans, connected cars or enough disposable income.
Are there Any Short Wave Stations in Great Britain?
That is 25 years after the first DAB broadcasts started in London inand almost 20 years after the commercial players join in. Shortwave has been put on the agenda again as some of the old transmitters needed to be replaced or upgraded. Meanwhile it has become digital and this means more efficient transmitters and significant energy savings of up to 80 percent compared with the old analog.
No wonder most of the analog shortwave transmitters sold today are DRM-capable or ready.It allows users to communicate in a large geographical location and is safe to use.
Let this quick guide help you develop a deeper understanding of the shortwave radio technology that we use today. Shortwave radio is an audio network that operates on frequencies in between the FM and AM bands. Its primary advantage is that data can be transferred throughout long distances and can reach the masses through one transmitter.
Messages and sound are transmitted through electromagnetic waves that range from 10 to 80 meters long feet. Each wave has a frequency length of about 2. Due to their extended length, shortwave radios are mainly used for international broadcasting, maritime communications, and amateur radio stations.
Shortwave bands are frequencies that can be used inside the shortwave radio spectrum. The effectiveness of the bands depends on the level of solar activity, time of the day, and the location of the station. Shortwave bands are frequencies where a radio station is located. On some radios, the frequencies will appear as kHz, kHz, or kHz. On other radio equipment it will look like Shortwave bands have names such as 41 meters, 33 meters, and 50 meters to note what radio stations are within them.
They are usually abbreviated to 41m, 33m, and 50m. Here are 14 of the most common band frequencies that are used throughout the shortwave radio network. Make sure to have your radio on during the desired time to get an accurate signal and a clear sound.
The signals are made via limited local coverage and line of sight.
On average, FM radio stations have a radius of miles depending on the antenna placement and the power of the antenna. Amplitude Modulated AM bands have frequencies within a kHz and are used to reach local and regional audiences.
Short Wave Radios: An Instructional Guide
The Voice of Hope is a kilowatt station founded in Israel and uses AM bands to broadcast up to miles during the day. During the evening, this reach expands up to miles due to Skywave an enhanced radio signal that occurs in the night. Before shortwave radios were invented, data and information were sent through longwave radio networks. However, this system had a multitude of drawbacks. Longwave radio transmitters required expensive antennas, transmitters, and receivers.When we were first starting out, I was new to radio and shortwave.
The Air Force at the depot at Kelly where I was stationed had all sorts of equipment which I could use when working afternoon shifts. It was a blast to play with. There was no internet. Money was, as it always is, the largest driver. Besides, who needs to monkey with radio and a bunch of wire hanging out your window, only to hear a bunch of static, when you can surf over to Deutsche Welle Radio and listen to clear audio?
Sure, lots of areas of the world, like in China, still routinely use shortwave for domestic broadcasting. Nothing else would cover the distances as effectively. But those signals are hard to pick up in the States and in Europe, and anyway they are in Mandarin and other languages.
Whatever Happened to Shortwave Radio?
I gave a link a short while back of a BBC radio personality handing an AM radio to passersby and asking them to tune to I think Radio 4. Hardly any could. Standalone radios are nowhere common. In English on shortwave, there are not a great deal of good listening options yes, there are some good ones! And I speak as a religious person. Of course, on regular AM much of the programming is tedious, too, or worse.
There is only so much sports talk one can tolerate about thirty seconds with me. I am a ham. You will not hear me on the air, or only very rarely. These signals, as stated above, can reach sans assistance worldwide. Alas, I do not tap out CQ, nor anything else.Searching for an FM radio station on your car radio is quite easy. Shortwave stations, on the other hand, are many and are affected by the ionosphere, space weather, atmospheric conditions, and the sun spot cycle.
Any Of You Still Listen To Shortwave?
That's a lot of variables, right? No worries: shortwave broadcasters have worked around these conditions for decades and know them quite well. That's why they schedule their broadcasts to take full advantage of these conditions to reach their target audience. With just a little skill, you'll know when and where to listen in order to hear your selection.
Before you look at schedules and frequency listings, if you've never used a shortwave radio, you will need to learn the difference between Kilohertz and Megahertz and how to use your frequency display.How I find shortwave stations to listen to
If you already understand the difference between mHz and kHz and how to find frequencies on your radio, then skip to broadcasting schedules! The World Radio and TV Handbook is a fantastic broadcast schedule resource, but to understand listings, you need to undertand how to read shortwave frequencies in both kilohertz and megahertz formats.
Shortwave radio displays usually come in two types: digital and analog. I always recommend that newcomers purchase a radio with a digital display and, preferably, with a keypad for direct frequency entry if they don't already have a radio. That's the reason why you won't find an analog display on my recommended radios page. However, if you're reading this article because you want to learn how to use dad's old tabletop shortwave radio, or you already have a small portable receiver with analog display, fear not!
After you understand the basics below and by studying the dial of your analog set, you will figure out the dial in short order. In almost all guides to shortwave listening, frequencies are given in kilohertz kHz. Sometimes, though, websites and broadcasters themselves may announce their frequencies in megahertz MHz. What's the difference between the two? Only three decimal places. Say, someone gives you a listing in Megahertz--like the example above, 3.
To make it into a kHz frequency, simply move the decimal 3 places to your right. There you have it! One quick glance at this digital display and you know you're on 9, kHz or 9. All I did to make it a listing in kHz was to move the decimal 3 places to the right, which meant I had to add 2 zeros to the end of the number.
If given a frequency in Kilohertz, you only have to move the decimal place over 3 digits to the left to turn it into a frequency in Megahertz. For example:. By and large, though, shortwave broadcast frequencies will be given in kHz. Think of your car radio. In the US, there are two so-called bands, AM and FM AM and FM are not really bands, by the way; they are modulations -- amplitude modulation and frequency modulation --but we won't discuss that here. Your AM display typically shows frequency in kHz.
That's because kHz, for example, would be. To give someone the frequency, you need to say "Point six three zero Megahertz" as opposed to "Six thirty Kilohertz" or "Six thirty".
To use a more dramatic example, your FM dial--without exception--shows frequency in MHz. That's because Imagine how big the radio display would have to be to accommodate all of those extra zeros!
And just imagine how much longer station identification would take: "You're listening to the greatest hits on one hundred two thousand seven hundred Kilohertz! Same thing with the SW bands. It just sounds better in Kilohertz. Indeed, the only time you may hear someone give you a frequency in Megahertz is if it's easier to say in Megahertz.
That's because it's easier to say than, "Check10, 15, and 20, Kilohertz. If you're an amateur in the field, until you've cruised the bands for a while, I'd advise you stick with the Kilohertz formula.Update your browser to view this website correctly.
Update my browser now. As recently as 25 years ago, shortwave radio was a preferred source of breaking international news in North America. At the time, the BBC estimated global shortwave listenership to be in excess of million people weekly.
Granted, most of that audience was outside of North America. But back when there was no awareness of the Internet and no international satellite TV, shortwave was where many news-hungry North Americans went first. In North America and Europe, many of the major broadcasters have disappeared or minimized their presence. It is easy to blame the Internet and international satellite television for the decline in shortwave radio listenership.
But shortwave was in trouble before these new media took hold, said Larry Magne. He is publisher of Passport to World Band Radio, the annual shortwave radio tuning guide that thrived for 25 years but suspended publication in Byford is now BBC deputy director general. Spectrum that once carried international news and programming is now host to U.
He also noted that in a survey in India, 7 percent of respondents said they listened to shortwave radio yesterday, and 7 percent to FM. Bythat changed to 18 percent for FM and 2 percent for shortwave. Today, the BBC and other international radio broadcasters are indeed available on the Web and satellite radio. But most of the attention that went to radio services is now directed toward Web sites and international television stations.
Meanwhile, the attempt to save money by distributing international programs to domestic broadcasters is backfiring, said German shortwave expert Kai Ludwig. Even when domestic stations do carry international radio programs, they cannot match the coverage and reach of shortwave radio, he added.
Meanwhile, the religious stations that have moved onto shortwave do not appear to be making money from it. Webcasts can be filtered or blocked through IP geolocation techniques that block access to sites based upon the IP address of the site or the user. Access to local radio transmitters can be withdrawn by officials. Shortwave advocates argue that their favored platform remains relevant at a time when outside information is as important as it was in the Cold War.
For more stories like this, and to keep up to date with all our market leading news, features and analysis, sign up to our newsletter here. New radio station in southwest Virginia seeks to inform locals about coronavirus, connect the community.Forums Recent Rules My Activity.
Hey there! Welcome to the Digital Spy forums. Sign In Register. Sign up to Digital Spy's newsletter to get the biggest news and features sent straight to your inbox. I was wondering if y'all know what stations I could tune in to. It has an analog scale and it tunes into 49 metre, 41 metre, 31 meter, 25 meter, 21 meter, 19 metre, 16 metre, 13meter and 11 meter bands short wave. I have found Radio China once. I think I heard the BBC on here to before. Rakim Posts: Forum Member. Pemblechook Posts: 2, Forum Member.
We have a sunspot minimum at the moment. Propagation is generally poor particulraly at the higher frequencies above 12 MHz. TeaCosy Posts: 13, Forum Member. Rampisham - MikeBr Posts: 6, Forum Member. To take the title of this thread literally, the Government have never allowed any organisation apart from the BBC to operate a shortwave station from the UK.
An attempt to break this crazy monopoly existed between and when Radiofax started broadcasting on shortwave, however subsequently they lost their court case and had to close. PhilipS Posts: Forum Member. Hmm we seem to be forgetting that shortwave radio is uses skip off the ionosphere.