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Lunchtime listen: Numbers Stations from 99% Invisible

99% Invisible is one of my favorite podcasts. You never know what you’re going to get, but I guarantee you’ll look at the world differently after every listen! The Numbers Stations show — and its companion show “Youarelistening.to” combined in the same podcast — is particularly intriguing. Even better is that there are people like David Goren out there who see the beauty in government information (whether they realize it’s govt information or not!) and expand and extrapolate it to make something even better.

David Goren’s piece, Atencion! Seis Siete Tres Siete Cero: The Mystery of the Shortwave Numbers Stations, aired in 2000 as part of the series Lost and Found Sound.  In tuning into these weird little broadcasts, Goren joins a curious community that has been listening to numbers stations for decades, some suspecting that the stations are run by intelligence agencies sending encrypted messages to individual agents in the field.

Enthusiasts have tracked these stations on receivers with digital readouts, compiled schedules through reverse engineering, or  relied on hints from contacts at intelligence agencies and the Federal Communications Commission.  Hobbyists gave stations nicknames like Cynthia, The Babbler, The Sexy Lady, and Bulgarian Betty, and complied a body of recordings that span the era of the cold war. One such compilation has become The Conet Project, a four CD set of numbers station recordings from the past 30 years, released in 1997 by Irdial Discs.

We recently caught up with Goren, who continues to hunt for numbers stations occasionally. Yep, you can still hear them today. David Goren’s current project still centers around the glory of shortwave and long distance listening. It’s calledShortwaveology.

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