What are Number Stations?


For a very long time, the paranormal and certain conspiracies typically consisted of stories and eye-witness accounts that were difficult to verify, alongside the occasional jittering low-resolution photo or video. This makes accounts of the paranormal or theories of government and/or corporate conspiracy widely panned by the majority, with only a small few embracing the idea and investigating further. Today, however, the subject matter I present is 100% verifiable by anyone with a short wave radio, and well documented by scores of people across the globe. I’m speaking of course, of the mysterious “Numbers Stations”.

 Numbers Stations are short wave radio broadcasts consisting only of a short interval signal to identify the intended recipient or broadcaster, and then a long string of numbers and (occasionally) letters usually spoken by a monotone voice or sometimes spoken by a rudimentary text-to-speech synthesis. The message is sometimes repeated a few times, the interval signal plays one last time, and the station goes silent until its next broadcast. The stations will sometimes broadcast on varying frequencies as well, making several of them difficult to pattern.

 The prevailing theory regarding these mysterious broadcasts is that they are one-way communications with government espionage agents embedded around the world. Even in a world where technology has allowed us to communicate instantly and various methods are available to almost completely ensure your conversation isn’t leaked to unintended parties, Numbers Stations are still in wide use today. The reason is because the messages simply cannot be decoded without the correct key, which only the recipient has, and these message can be received in remote areas without electricity or even basic necessities. All you need is a hand-crank shortwave receiver, and you’re in business. The method they use for encoding and decoding these messages are based on the “One Time Pad” method of encryption, meaning that each message has its own unique key, and the same key is never used twice.

 Regardless of the almost obvious intent of these stations, no world government has ever admitted to even its existence, much less taking ownership of any one station. However, there is one documented case of a government using a Numbers Station to direct the movements of their agents in the field. The “Atención” station of Cuba became the world’s first numbers station to be officially and publicly accused of transmitting to spies. It was the centerpiece of a United States federal court espionage trial following the arrest of Cuban spies in 1998. The FBI testified that they had entered a spy’s apartment in 1995, and copied the computer decryption program for the Atención numbers code. They used it to decode Atención spy messages, which the prosecutors unveiled in court. Aside from this isolated incident, no other Numbers Station has ever been officially recognized by any government or agency, with the exception of one other, which we will explore in the next paragraph. It has been theorized that they may also be used by drug cartels to direct the movements of their suppliers and dealers.

 Where things get unsettling is in the existence of numbers stations that broadcast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These stations are typically attributed to Russian influence due to their language and triangulated locations (many of which were the result of several hundred man hours of hunting). The most famous example may be the enigmatic “UVB-76” (Recently renamed to MDZhB) station, which is affectionately referred to as “The Buzzer” by short wave enthusiasts. It features a short, monotonous buzz, repeating at a rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, for 24 hours per day. The station has been observed since around 1982. On rare occasions, the buzzer signal is interrupted and a voice transmission in Russian takes place. One minute before the hour, the repeating tone was previously replaced by a continuous, uninterrupted alternating tone, which continued for one minute until the short repeating buzz resumed, although this no longer occurs.

 Despite intense speculation, almost nothing is known of this station, and its purpose remains a mystery. Frequently, distant conversations and other background noises can be heard behind the buzzer, suggesting that the buzz tones come from a device placed behind a live and constantly open microphone. Most Recently, the buzzer changed to a higher pitched buzz on Aug 30, 2012, and 2 Voice messages were heard on Sept 3, 2012 between 0459-0517 UTC. Afterward, the buzz returned to it’s normal pitch.  The purpose of UVB-76 has not been confirmed by government or broadcast officials. However the former Minister of Communications and Informatics of the Republic of Lithuania has written that the purpose of the voice messages is to confirm that operators at receiving stations are alert. Another theory concerns an article published in the Russian Journal of Earth Sciences which describes an observatory measuring changes in the ionosphere by broadcasting a signal at 4625 kHz, the same as UVB-76. However this would not explain the voice and morse code messages.

 Other, more curious listeners speculate that The Buzzer may be a piece of the Russian “Dead Hand” system of nuclear deterrence. The Dead Hand system is a system designed to automatically launch a nuclear payload at the United States should the U.S. deliver a decapitation-style nuclear strike against the former Soviet Union, ensuring mutually assured destruction should the United States succeed in eliminating all of the Russian leadership hierarchy in one fell swoop.

 Regardless of their reasons for existing and the true purpose behind the transmissions, once a person becomes aware of their existence and hears a station broadcast for the first time, it is almost a surreal experience. Several of the stations appear to be intentionally creepy in order to dissuade the average listener from lingering too long. If you’re interested in hearing some numbers stations for yourself, there are plenty of recorded examples available on Youtube, but listen at your risk. Some of these stations are pure unleaded nightmare fuel.