Things I saw today (number stations and the shipping forecast)

September 6th, 2009 by amy

I remember reading about Number Stations in Simon Singh’s The Code Book (which I highly recommend).

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 women’s, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are used…

Evidence supports popular assumptions that the broadcasts are used to send messages to spies.

(link to an mp3)

Removed from almost any understandable context, listening to the numbers is strangely soothing. It reminds me of another curiously beautiful radio broadcast – the Shipping Forecast:

Being an American, I have no cultural context for the Shipping Forecast but I find it lovely and calming. I’d gladly download an hour or so of these to listen to on my iPod while falling asleep.

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