Category Archives: Communication

Numbers Stations

Remember at the beginning of LOST, Sayid took the aircraft transceiver from the cockpit and got it working?  Remember when Shannon was trying to translate the French distress signal?  Remember a computer voice coming on and announcing some numbers?

For those of you just getting into LOST, hopefully I didn’t ruin anything for you.  For those of you who love the show, then you know what I’m talking about.  The computer kept announcing numbers before the distress call at each loop. 

If anyone is into this weird hobby or found that transmission from LOST cool, you can listen to something similar for real!  All you need is a ham radio scanner and a fairly tall antenna or a high hill.  Just surf around the different bands / frequencies and you might just pick one up.  Listen for a computer voice announcing numbers, letters, strange and creepy music, and / or cryptic phrases.  

Number Stations have been around since the dawn of the Cold War, relaying urgent messages from intelligence agencies to their “agents” abroad.  The spies would use a device called a “One-Time Pad,” to translate the message.  Each time a new message was relayed, the spy would have to use the next pad in sequence to translate the numbers into readable text.  

Nobody, without the spy’s specific “One-Time Pad,” has been able to decipher a number station message since its conception!  Number Stations have proven to be most effective means of spy & intelligence agencies communicating with their agents in the field.  

But now that the Cold War is over, why do these stations continue to broadcast numbers?  Some stations, after the war, closed up shop…until 20 some years later.  The old stations that went dark after the war suddenly became active again and started broadcasting numbers!  Conspiracy theorists have made claims that the Cold War never ended; They believe we still have agents in the field, sneaking around secret military projects, gathering information about aircraft, etc. I don’t buy into this myself.  Some people believe that this is an elaborate hoax, like the crop circles.  I, personally, don’t know what to make of these number stations.  It’s very strange indeed, but who knows if there’s still a use for these stations or not.  So anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s.  

No government agency (US or abroad) has come forward and taken responsibility nor taken action against these number stations, which are not “officially” licensed to operate.  They should take action since they interfere with legit Ham stations around the world.  Although I know they won’t since thanks to signal triangulation, someone found a numbers station broadcasting from an antenna farm owned and operated by the US government.  No independent agency has taken responsibility for broadcasting either.  Whenever someone, whether a private citizen or journalist, tries to get a comment from a government official on these number stations, they either dodge the question or tell people not to even bother with them.  One politician, in the UK, made a bold statement saying that UK citizens shouldn’t be interested in these stations anyway.  It’s illegal to listen to them.  So, to my UK readers, you cannot listen to these strange broadcasts.  It’s illegal!  I personally don’t understand why it is illegal since nobody can own the airwaves themselves.  Once a signal goes over the air, unencrypted, then anybody with perfectly legal equipment can pick it up and should be able to listen since the government will not take responsibility for what they transmit from their property.  Anyway, I digress.  

If you’d like to listen to samples of number stations without a radio, a project called The Conet Project put out a 4-disk album containing different number stations’ messages.  I have had the chance to listen to some of them and there are a couple creepy ones.  There’s one that plays “taps,” then announces the numbers.  That one creeped me out.  There’s one that plays a creepy music box song and then a little girl’s voice starts saying random numbers and letters.  That is especially creepy.  You can buy it, but at the time of this post, they’re out of stock.  They DO encourage you hit up file sharing services and download it that way!  They even have a PDF containing some cool information. If you want to learn more about number stations, head over to the Wikipedia Page to view more.  

Here are some samples taken from YouTube:

Would you listen to number stations?  Have you?  Feel free to comment either way!  I’d be interested to hear what anyone has to say about them!  

Amateur/Ham Radio – A Communication Art-form

When I was in 6th grade, my uncle introduced me to amateur radio.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever since…I don’t know…the tape recorder that Macaulay Culkin uses in Home Alone 2!  I thought it would be so cool to pick up a microphone and talk to people around the world or on the other side of town.  

I remember getting onto the ham radio subject via CB.  I was an avid CBer when I was younger.  I loved to talk to the truckers as they’d come through my hometown.  I learned all the 10 codes, bought different kinds of radios from mobile unites to base stations, and got into the advanced CB sideband a little bit.  But my uncle thought I’d be interested in something else…something that works greater distances…and thus began my journey into amateur radio.  

We talked for several hours about the hobby.  He told me about some of his QSO’s (establishing contacts) that he made with people in his community but also around the world.  Well, being a tech savvy youngster, I decided I’d look into getting my license to operate ham radio.  My dad bought me all the Gordon West (WB6NOA) books and audio cassettes I could get my hands on.  I read the books and studied, but I kept finding it hard to stay focused on studying until I just fell out of the hobby.  I didn’t lose interest, I just found it hard to get my head around the concepts at that time.  

2 weeks ago, I decided that I’d start listening to our local 2 meter linked repeater system (147.160, Grand Rapids Independent Repeater System) via my tiny RadioShack scanner.  I enjoyed tuning in and listening to the local traffic.  And then it hit me…some of these people were talking from a couple hundred miles away!  I was listening to someone about 20 miles away talking to someone about 100 miles away from their current location.  Best of all, I could hear both sides of the conversation clearly right from my basement with no external antennas!  I was very happy!  And this is where my interest was rekindled in the hobby!

I started doing searches on Google for other repeaters in the area.  I found plenty in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, which is great.  But what about the Upper Peninsula?  I started doing some research…and boy did I find a lot of local repeaters in the U.P!  And this is when I got really excited.  I was looking for a repeater near our cottage, but I couldn’t find one in the repeater central database.  I did a Google search and found that there’s a repeater being built right near our cottage!  

Done!  Now I really want to get back into amateur radio and start exploring the hobby.  So I started doing various things to learn more about it.  I’ll break it down for you.  

First, I just went around YouTube and found videos of people operating on various bands and frequencies.  But there’s one YouTuber / Operator I’d like to give a big shootout to..and that is David (YouTube, KF7ETX).  He doesn’t know it, but his videos have really helped me along in the hobby over the past week since subscribing to his channel.  Thank you so much David!  Your videos are top notch and you’re doing a good job elmering me into the hobby! 

*(The term Elmer, in Ham Radio context, is a person who teachers people, new to amateur radio, the proper operating procedures, basic skills, and general knowledge about the hobby.  They are very wise individuals in the hobby who take the time to teach newcomers.)

Next, I am getting an information kit from ARRL (American Radio Relay League) in the mail.  The kit will tell me all about the hobby and how I can start getting prepared for a lifetime of fun with this hobby.  I think it’ll include information on licensing and the procedures for that.  I’m still currently waiting for that information to come.  But that website has a ton of information about the hobby about testing locations, field day stuff, local hamfests, etc.  

Next up, I started looking for gear.  I’m still a ways from this aspect yet, but I wanted to see what is out there now so I can get some ideas and “wish lists” started!  I’m looking at a Yeasu VX-8DR handheld for my first radio.  And I’m thinking about buying it from Ham Radio Outlet.  Sadly, I don’t live near one of their physical stores. If you guys could build a store in the West Michigan area, that’d be great! 🙂  I have heard great things about that store and would love to shop there one day, in person.

Lastly, I started to learn all the terminology.  Probably the biggest portion of the Ham Radio jargon are the Q codes.  You saw me use one early to reference making a contact via Ham Radio (QSO).  If you’d like to see a list of Q codes, head over to the Q Code Wikipedia page for more info.  

Finally, I started going to various sites and learning all that you can do with Ham Radio.  

Morse Code – You can communicate with other people all over the world via Morse Code.  It’s pretty cool and will provide you with a fun challenge.  

Echolink – Allows Ham Radio Operators to communicate with other Echolink users using VoIP via either a Ham Radio, computer (downloadable software for Windows, Mac, or Linux), and/or an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and Android devices.  

Communicating with ISS (International Space Station)!  How cool is that?!  

Communicating with other people around the world by bouncing your signal off of amateur radio satellites!  Pretty nifty stuff!  You can even bounce your transmissions off the moon!  It’s called moonbouncing.  

Amateur Radio Television – Yes, that’s right.  You can hook up an old analog TV to your radio and watch TV.  Now it’s not local channel stuff or cable TV  shows like you’d find on traditional television.  Think of ARTV as indie television like PBS only without funding from views like you. (Pardon the terrible pun 🙂 )

Slow Scan TV – Slow Scan TV is a way to transmit one frame of video or one picture at a time.  Think of it like scanning a picture or a document to your computer via a scanner.  The scanner head moves slowly down the picture and the image slowly appears on your screen.  SSTV is very similar to that.  

IRLP – Similar to a linked repeater system, but instead of relaying your transmission over a 440 frequency to the other repeaters on the network, it uses a broadband connection i.e. DSL or cable to link the repeaters together in the system.  An affordable solution.  

There’s just so much you can do within amateur radio!  You need to be licensed to transmit.  There are three different licenses: Technician, General, and Extra.  And you can either go with no-code, or CW (Morse Code).  Personally, I’m going to start off with no-code.  

Hopefully some of you reading this are now thinking great!  I’d like to get into this, but I’d like a way to practice before I get licensed.  No problem!  You have two options.  

First, if you have a licensed family member or friend, ask them if you could get on the air and make some QSOs.  As long as your family member / friend is with you in the room, an unlicensed person may communicate over ham radio.  If you don’t have a friend or family to help you out, no problem.  There’s one other way.  

The only member of my family, my uncle, with a license lives 1,000 miles away!  And I don’t know anyone else with a license.  So I did some research and found a way to practice amateur radio without the need for a license!  It’s called HamSphere!  HamSphere is a program you download to your computer, (Windows, Mac, Linux apps available).  When you open it, it opens up a virtual ham radio on your screen.  If you have speakers and a mic plugged in, you’re good to go!  You need to create an account first.  If you’re a licensed ham radio operator, you can use your personal callsign.  If you are not licensed, they will issue you a callsign (this call sign may not be used for real ham radio operations!)  Once your account is created, you can get on the air, visually speaking.  There are a lot of people on at all times of the day, so it’s easy to get QSOs whenever you are able to jump on.  HamSphere is a lot like Skype, only that anyone on HamSphere can listen to your conversation and hear both sides of the conversation.  The admins of HamSphere want people to treat it like you’d treat normal Ham Radio.  Give out your callsign as soon as you transmit, keep language clean, etc.  You can view their rules and regulations via the link above.  

My callsign for HamSphere is 2HS918.  

I hope you find this post informative.  If you have any feedback for me, please feel free to comment!  Also, if anyone reading this is a ham radio operator, I’d appreciate any advice you can offer and elmer me along!  Thank you so much in advance.