Number stations are powerful radio transmitters broadcasting strange sounding transmissions at various times and on various frequencies, most likely for the purposes of clandestine military communication. Yet, despite this concise explanation, these simple but bizarre bursts of shortwave radio are one of the great enigmas of the modern world. This is partially due to the fact that no one will officially confirm that number stations even exist.
Additionally, some number stations are so weird, so utterly creepy in nature, that you half expect an entity of some kind to jump out at you while you’re listening to them. Possibly the most unnerving aspect of number stations is that many of them seem to be impervious to jamming, which is a practice used by communications bureaus to shut down pirate radio stations. In 2008, for example, the number station EZI 1 was jammed on frequency 9130 kHz; however, as the jamming continued, the signal seemed to drift over to 6840 kHz and resume its transmission, undeterred. Many other stations have reacted to jamming in a similar, ghostly way.
There are dozens, possibly hundreds of number stations operating across the world and some of them have been active since the Cold War and even earlier. We’ve assembled here what we believe are the 5 creepiest:
“Achtung!” The Swedish Rhapsody: A Polish numbers station that uses a female child’s voice
Revered by number station enthusiasts as one of the creepiest radio transmissions of all time, the Swedish Rhapsody started broadcasting from Poland in the 1970s. The station features a music box version of Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 by Hugo Alfvén followed by a female child’s voice reciting a list of numbers in German, ending with the word “Achtung!”
The original transmission stopped in 1997, but different variations persisted until 2007. No one knows what the original purpose was, nor what has become of it.
The Backwards Music Station/Whalesong – a numbers station consisting of weird tones and distorted voices
The header says it all. The station, eerily named with just an XM, sounds like a distorted feedback-driven noise through which an altered voice can sometimes be heard.
The signal has been determined to be originating from two sources, one in the United States and one in England. A number of different theories have been proffered to explain XM. Some believe it is just avant-garde art; others say the transmissions are actually instructions for drug cartels; still others maintain the station was established for government agents to receive coded messages while out in the field.
The YouTube ‘Number Station’ with 77,000 Videos of Abstract Shapes
Have number stations migrated online? A YouTube account named “Webdriver torso” has posted over 77,000 videos, each one 11 seconds in length and containing “pitch” sounds and a blue and red rectangle. One theory is that this is a message spy board, a digital online equivalent of a number station. Even though Boing Boing reported on this in 2014, virtually nothing is known about “Webdriver torso,” where the channel came from, who the user is, or what the purpose of the videos might be. But everything about them bears a strong resemblance to the type of information dissemination we see in number stations.
The Unexplained ‘Yosemite Sam’ Number Station
This U.S. numbers station originated from the Laguna Indian Reservation near Albuquerque, NM. Spynumbers sums up the mystery of this number station best:
“Beginning in December 2004, the FCC began getting reports of the Yosemite Sam transmission, which begins as an 800 millisecond data burst, similar to the sound a Blu-Ray player might make when it makes some horrible error. That is immediately followed by a clip of an arch nemesis of Bugs Bunny’s, Yosemite Sam, announcing, ‘Varmint, I’m gonna blow you to smithereens!’ Radio geeks/conspiracy trackers/curious people pinned down the phrase from the 1949 Bugs Bunny cartoon, ‘Bunker Hill.’ Why it’s attached to a burst of compressed information (often used by intelligence community) is mysterious enough. That it is transmitted in on four frequencies — 3700, 4300, 6500 and 10,500 kHz — for a full two minutes without any missed time mark tends to make it all the more mysterious.”
Russian Numbers Station UVB-76: “the most mysterious radio transmission in the world”
The so-called “most mysterious” number station of all time is a radio signal that occupies 4625 kHz and has reportedly been broadcasting since the late 1970s. The earliest known recording of it is dated 1982; since then, it has broadcast a repeating buzzing noise. “Every few years, the buzzer stops, and a Russian voice reads a mixture of numbers and Russian names.”
One of the weirdest aspects of the UVB-76 is that it survived the fall of communism in Russia without so much as a hitch. In fact, since the year 2000, UVB-76 has become even more active and its rare voice messages more and more frequent. Another tantalizing theory is that the transmission is a ‘Dead Hand’ or nuclear failsafe set up by the USSR.
In 2010, a group of explorers went to the remote Russian town of Povarovo and found the military bunker that UVB-76 transmitted from for over 30 years, but it was completely abandoned–except for a conveniently placed ledger with the complete log of messages from the Russian military. The signal has since moved locations and still broadcasts to this day.