Monday 25 January 2016

The Hungary games

Kossuth Radio sculpture, photo 

My hunger for Hungary on medium wave. From one of my February 2016 Radio User columns:

Stations that thankfully appear not to be going anywhere in a hurry and which also provide quality programming with a good signal in the UK include RTBF1 from Wavre in Belgium. It entertained me for hours on a long motorway trip on 621kHz with a miscellany of music, including ballads, blues and comedy. 

Another station that remains at the foot of the medium wave band on 540KHz, MR1 Kossuth Rádió from Solt in Hungary. I heard a bulletin of news, features, commentary and some European Champions League football analysis in a half hour bulletin at 1800 UTC. I think this was part of the drive time programme called Round the Corner. It’s not that I speak Hungarian but I could make out the format and the occasional words. This was followed by a children’s programme at 1830 UTC with a beautiful signature tune. The children’s segment is named Vacka Radio and is set in a fantasy called Snow Pile Couch. Drama is also a station staple and I have had MR1 Kossuth Radio on as background listening throughout many winter evenings. Kossuth is named after Lajos Kossuth, a 19th Century Hungarian national hero, who emerged from poverty to become a lawyer, journalist, politician and Governor-President of the country in the 1848-49 revolutions.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Still buzzin' after all these years- a discovered Numbers station

Photo: Chrissy Brand

Decades have now passed since the frequency of 4625kHz in the shortwave bands was first occupied by a repeating two-second pip. That was back in 1982. In 1990 the sound emanating changed to a strange buzzing sound, in short blasts. 

Its source was a mystery for a long time, but numbers/spy station experts tracked it and discovered the transmitter was located near Povarovo, Russia. Although not strictly a numbers stations, being a buzz most of the time, it still falls into that category of strange and mysterious signals. Occasionally the buzzing would stop and codes would be read out. One that was noted at 2100 UTC on 24 December 1997 transmitted the following message:

"Ya UVB-76, Ya UVB-76. 180 08 BROMAL 74 27 99 14. Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa. 7 4 2 7 9 9 1 4."

Self identifying as UVB76 (Cyrillic: УВБ-76) , in 2010 things got a little spookier. Buzzing temporarily stopped, the sounds of phone calls were transmitted , what could have been engineers were heard, dismantling equipment.

The station then relocated and last autumn (2015) it was believed to be situated near St Petersburg. It also added another frequency to its armoury, that of 7000kHz. We still don't know what its real purpose is, so the mystery continues... Tune to 4625 and 7000kHz for yourself.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Stateside state of radio: New York State and Utah State

Photo by Tim Sutton-Brand

Extracts from some of my Radio User columns in 2015 (July, August & September) and January 2016, amalgamating my tales from a trip last spring to the USA.

2015 was a very good year for me radiowise. I was fortunate enough to travel overseas twice and to be able to enjoy some of the radio scene whilst there. On a trip to the USA I enjoyed the packed FM bands of New York City, Las Vegas, Buffalo and, across the 48th parallel in Canada, Toronto. Medium wave, although heavy on the sports networks and shock jocks, also threw out some more interesting catches. KTNN The Voice of the Navajo Nation on 660kHz being one such example. Another highlight was my impromptu visit to the Cedar City studios of Cherry Creek Radio, an umbrella network of Utah radio stations.

Snowstorms at Bryce Canyon made for a challenging but memorable trek although the radio in that area was less rewarding; however Utah Public Radio was a beacon of quality and included relays of the BBC World Service as well as a thought-provoking series on Utah dialects. Stations such as Eagle "rock revolution" and Planet "Southern Utah's best variety" provided a sound track to that part of our trip. The national park radio station on 1590kHz kept us updated with weather checks and tourist information. You can read other details of my radio observations in the USA in July, August and September 2015's Radio User (for DX International blog readers these are posted below).

Stateside state of radio i

In the spring I was in the USA on a family holiday. We spent a week in New York State, a couple of nights in Las Vegas and a second week exploring the canyons of Utah. I took a new radio with me, a Tecsun PL 360, which is a cheap and cheerful (but also useful) handheld receiver. I won’t go into details of the hundreds of FM stations I heard as FM is not in the remit of this column but suffice to say the band was packed in New York City and Vegas, and there was enough to choose from on FM when I was out in the wilds of Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Cedar City is a town in southern Utah where we had a one night stopover and radio wise it threw me a curveball, as the Americans might say. Not only was the FM and mw band packed with a variety of genres and styles of broadcasting, I even stumbled upon the studios of the local radio station! The small but nicely formed downtown area of Cedar City has been rejuvenated in a tasteful way, with independent vintage shops, cafes and a second hand bookstore. While looking at a Mexican restaurant’s menu I glanced to my right and saw the offices and studios of Cherry Creek Radio. In no time I was in the studio of medium wave station KSUB, watching Programme Director Tim Nesmith at the controls while Bryan Hyde presented an afternoon show on the topic of health. Programmer Andrea Wright then took us into the station office where we discussed radio and took photos.

Photo of Chrissy Brand  by Tim Sutton-Brand

Cherry Creek Radio is an umbrella organisation which consists of several FM and medium wave stations in the Utah region (and seven other western States). However they also use some syndicated programming and I was taken aback to hear the views of infamous shock jock Rush Limbaugh - he certainly let listeners know just what he thought of Hilary Clinton in a diatribe that lasted for a whole programme. I am astonished that this conservative 64 year old’s radio show is aired on more than 600 stations across the USA.

Some of the delights of Cedar City and Cherry Creek Radio

Other mw stations which I logged overnight in Cedar City included KSI on 640kHz which is “More Stimulating Talk in Southern California”, aimed at Los Angeles and Orange County. On 660kHz came KTNN the Voice of the Navajo nation in the native language and the occasional English from a DJ called JJ who was playing requests from listeners which consisted mostly of hour after hour of alternative country music. When I tuned to 1030kHz KTWO from Casper in Wyoming the programming consisted mostly of another of the country’s many conservative shock jocks, Sean Hannity, whose syndicated show is heard on some 500 USA stations.

At Niagara Falls it was very enjoyable to spend a late night session listening to lots of Canadian stations on medium wave and FM, with the cities of Hamilton and Ontario just over the border. A female sports reporter was commentating on the Florida Panther versus New Jersey Devils ice hockey match on WFAN 660kHz. There was more ice hockey with Buffalo taking on Pittsburgh on WGR radio on 550kHz, while I was delighted to hear what I read is the only station in North America on the 530kHz frequency, Brampton Ontario’s multilingual CIAO AM. Classical music, an advert for a benefit concert for Ukraine. Other languages that the station airs in includes Hungarian, Punjabi and Bosnian.

CFTR 680kHz from downtown Toronto gave me news and sport while Zoomer Radio on 740kHz from Toronto had Saturday night Grandstand and a comedy show, Just For Laughs. Other stations included WBEN in Buffalo on 930kHz with news and talk, WJJL on 1440kHz playing 1950s music for the southern (US) side of Niagara Falls. A baseball match featuring the Philadelphia Phillies was also heard on WPHT using 1210kHz. This is a 50,000-watt clear-channel station which broadcasts in an omnidirectional pattern that allows it to cover most of the eastern half of North America at night. Finally for now, there was more ice hockey from Canada on 610kHz where CKTB in St Catherine’s Ontario covered a Toronto Maple Leafs game.

Stateside state of radio ii

As much as I love radio, when you have five days and nights in New York City, there are many other competing interests. This glorious city of bridges and skyscrapers, green spaces and bars catering to every taste, this Gotham city of rich diversity, of art and commerce, needed most of my full attention. However while there I did manage to spend some late nights and early mornings monitoring the bands for local signals. As you would expect, the FM band was crammed full of stations, offering the whole gamut of musical and talk genres, and in several languages: Spanish, Russian and Cantonese as well as English. I am sure there are many more stations which I didn’t get to hear who offer programmes for the 50% of the New York City population who don’t count English as their first language.  With so many stations coming in loud and clear throughout Manhattan (and way beyond) from the antenna on top of the Empire State Building and from neighbouring Queens, New Jersey and further afield, there was no shortage of quality radio.

On medium wave there were a fair few stations but I spent less time on this band, concentrating more on FM in the moments. However, WSNR on 620kHz is a Russian language station based in Jersey City, which at the weekends airs a Caribbean programme called One Caribbean Radio. The station is owned by Gregory Davidzon who is a Russian-American media mogul who also publishes a weekly newspaper under the name of Blackstrap Broadcasting. The fast and furious sports talk radio in Spanish on 1050kHz was WEPN, while country and western music in the big apple could be found thanks to WABC on 770kHz.  WZRC on 1380 and 1480kHz caters for the Cantonese community. Other familiar names I heard included WBBR Bloomberg on 1130kHz and CBS’ WINS on 1010kHz, which included an interesting programme all about pesticides and the types of insects that are to be avoided when you travel way out west. Religion was there of course, for example WLIB with urban gospel music and talk, and WWRV a Christian station in Spanish from Woodhaven in the borough of Queens (another Spanish Christian station was WNYH in Huntingdon). WNSW is a catholic station in English from New Jersey, while WOR “the voice of New York” was an entertaining and informative talk station on 710kHz. Musically my medium wave vote goes to WWRJ in New Jersey’s La Invasora, playing Hispanic ballads and mariachi on 1600kHz.

On the streets, it was sad to see the famous and once financially robust chain of Radio Shack struggling a while back. I thought they had gone under but it seems they have a healthy online presence and some stores still exist in the USA. Although I didn’t look too hard, I only saw a couple of Radio Shacks which had long closed down. I recall my first visits to the chain back in the late 1980s when I took a greyhound bus around the USA. On a six week road trip from Cape Cod to Key West, San Antonio to Chicago, I was grateful for the little Panasonic radio (an RF B10) I picked up in a New Orleans branch. This small and effective eight band radio served me well, especially on the long overnight legs of some journeys. I’ve fond memories of tuning to The Christian Science Monitor’s daily news and feature show from Boston, 1 Norway Street, and music programmes from some Brazilian and Mexican stations.

Stateside in Zion

To finish off my short reports on what I heard on the radio dial while in USA in April, we now take another look at southern Utah. We stayed just outside Zion National Park, in Glendale, which was a great one-road town leading up to the National Park hemmed in by stunning valleys. It was a good base, especially in the evenings after a hard day’s trekking. You could wander the art galleries and eat in an excellent independent Mexican restaurant.

Photo by Tim Sutton-Brand

Radiowise in the short time that I was there was not much to report on medium wave or FM. It was difficult to hear much on FM in the valley we were staying in.  Utah Public Radio with classical music and informative programmes was on 90.7 MHz; KONY from St George on 99.9 MHz played plenty of country music. The public emergency service channel in Orderville Utah was on a loop on 92.9 KUOU, while 105.1 The Planet was a very ordinary FM station with a slogan of “Southern Utah’s best variety”. Medium wave did not fare much better, with KNX from Los Angeles, “Southern California’s news and talk station” on 1070kHz being a highlight. The Zion National Park Information station was on 1610kHz and KSL from Salt Lake City News Radio forewarned us of the eight to 16 inches of snow expected the next day in the mountains. But it’s always fun to tune to the local stations when you are on holiday, although there is rarely time on a road trip like we were on to dedicate yourself to serious listening.

Bryce Canyon National Park radio station on 1590kHz accurately predicted heavy snow 
Photo Tim Sutton Brand

Thursday 7 January 2016

OLX Czech numbers station HQ, & Radio Prague in 2016

Offices of the OLX Czech numbers station!

Radio Prague is still the only radio station I know of that issue QSL cards for reception of its internet broadcasts. 2016’s series will feature Czech religious monuments. Curiously, or coincidently, the only numbers stations/spy station known to ever issue a QSL card (and therefore admit it existed-doh!) was also Czech, or rather Czechoslovakian- OLX. Run by the Úřad pro zahraniční styky a informace (Office for Foreign Relations and Information). The above photo shows the building which part of it was based in – the Operations Department in the Communications Section which would have dealt with those few who managed to contact the numbers station. Quite how they were dealt with is another mystery I would like to resolve...

Radio Prague today can also be heard on medium wave and shortwave as well as online. Thanks to the British DX Club for these times and frequencies. See the website to order a copy of the BDXC’s current Broadcast in English B-15 guide (valid to end of March 2016):

0100-0200 UTC Daily USA WRMI Radio Miami International Am 9955kHz (English/Spanish) (0130 Tu-Sa Radio Prague)

0400-0500 Daily USA WRMI Radio Miami International Am 9955KHz (English/Spanish) (0400 SuMo Radio Prague)

1300-1400 Daily USA WRMI Radio Miami International Am 9955kHz(English/Spanish) (1300 Mo-Sa Radio Prague) (1330 Mo-Fr Radio Slovakia International)

0130-0200 mo R Prague Sunday Music Show 9955kHz

English news bulletins are at 1805 and 1905 UTC on 639kHz but only with a 30kW transmitter meaning they are co-channel with CRo2 from Prague with a massive 750 kW. Oh dear.

Czech Books is one of the best programmes on the air, anywhere, in my humble opinion. This Sunday dose of intelligent literature covers fact and fiction, it can delve into real life dramas, psychological journeys, politics, espionage and corruption, travel and health. Anything and everything in fact.

Last Sunday’s (3 January 2016)  was a repeat from July 2015 which covered the trials and tribulations, the difficulties of a Palestinian-Czech family. Written by Jana Kotaishová this very moving and thought-provoking book, and programme is summed up best by this quote form the programme; “When she saw the level of prejudice and ignorance in the Czech Republic about Palestine and Palestinians she wrote a book about the reality of life for Palestinians over the last eighty years, all from the perspective of a single family. What makes the book so powerful is that members of her husband’s family tell their own stories in the first person, based on her own long interviews with them.”

The other programme on Sunday 3 January's broadcast  was the monthly Mailbag show which gave the answer to the station's last quiz of 2015: The mystery personality being tightrope walker Rudy Omankowski Jr. who was famous overseas too. In fact he tightrope walked across Cheddar Gorge in Somerset UK in 1959 and 1961. An Estonian listener won the quiz this time around.

Thanks to Radio Prague for reading my comments out too- along with thanking them for the past year of excellence I suggested that the wonderful My Prague programme should sometimes decamp to other cities and rural locales.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Making the Link #keepitintheground

Link hosts: Lynn Desjardins, Marc Montgomery, Levon Sevunts

I hope that Canadian national broadcaster CBC may be able restore some services ravaged in the years of hardship imposed by the Stephen Harper government. New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to reverse $115 million worth of cuts to the CBC and to add on a further $35 million. The Trudeau Liberal government promises $380 million in funding for the arts overall. 

I can’t see Radio Canada International being returned to its former glory because its shortwave transmitters were dismantled and its soul all but ripped out by the cuts.  I am hopeful however that there may be funding to expand its current weekly online programme in English (The Link) and maybe even to air on shortwave via relay stations such as WRMI to the Americas or Radio 700 to Europe. There may be a chance to reinstate or expand some of the other RCI language services. What a fantastic gift that would be for us all! 

I was touched to have my email read out on The Link’s 26 December 2015 show (19 minutes in). As well as summarising the points above I commented on an RCI feature on the Canadian oil industry and reminded people that after the Paris climate change talks #COP21, when it comes to oil, be it a glut or scarcity, cheap or expensive- it doesn’t matter. The key thing is to #keepitintheground.

Monday 4 January 2016

St Petersburg EDXC 2015 Conference Report

Extracts from one of my monthly columns in Radio User magazine, PW Publishing, Dec 2015

Broadcast Matters: Long, Medium and Shortwave with Chrissy Brand
European DX Council Conference 2015 in St Petersburg, Russia

We all know that DXing offers the chance to listen to the world (even in these days of cuts and curtailed services there is still plenty to hear) but sometimes DXing can also provide opportunities to see the world as well. This is the case when you attend the European DX Council’s annual conferences. EDXC is an umbrella organisation of European wide DX clubs, with links to similar organisations on other continents. I attended 2014’s EDXC Conference in the south of France (see Radio User December 2015) and in 2015 the 48th conference took place, hosted by the St. Petersburg DX Club.

There is great camaraderie amongst the delegates and speakers, sharing our common love of all aspects of radio. The conference sessions are held at a leisurely pace without dominating the whole day so there is enough time for excursions laid on by the organisers. This year these included a visit to the home of the inventor of radio (according to many Russian sources): A.S. Popov’s apartment and laboratory at the St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University complete with interesting talks from two local experts, Larisa Zolotinkina and Mikhail Partala.

There were also trips to two local medium wave radio stations, one being a newcomer on the dial, Radio Bonch. It is named after Russian radio pioneer MA Bonch-Bruyevich. Housed in the St. Petersburg Bonch-Bruyevich State University of Telecommunications, the station made and aired a programme devoted to the EDXC conference, which went out on a loop on 1593kHz for several hours. EDXC Secretary General Kari Kivekäs was interviewed as were other delegates including the conference host, Alexander Beryozkin. 

Russian Orthodox Christian radio station Pravoslavnoye Radio on 828kHz was the other station visited by conference delegates. It is one of just a few stations in the area that still use medium wave. The others include Radio Maria on 1053kHz and Radio Teos on 1089kHz. In what seems an unholy alliance, but one which appears to work, Pravoslavnoye Radio shares its studio and frequency with communist station Radiogazeta Slovo. 

I experienced the latter in perfect conditions. Sitting on a sofa in the spacious hallway of St. Petersburg DX club member Omar Cheishvili I had a lovely view of their suburban garden in its autumn colours. I was surrounded by about 15 vintage Soviet radios, all lovingly restored by Omar. He tuned two of these, one at each end of the room, to 828kHz and I was regaled by powerful speeches broadcast live on Radiogazeta Slovo booming out with deep resonance. It was a full Soviet Union radio experience but without any of the discomfort or persecution.

In the hotel I also heard most of the 35 or so FM stations in the city and will mention some of those in this month’s Radio Website column, so that you too can listen to them, albeit online rather than direct from a radio. Over breakfast one morning I was delighted to be interviewed for the Rhein-Main Radio Club (RMRC) by Dr Harald Gabler. This  formed part of a one hour broadcast in English about the conference, to be aired in December (they have done the same in previous years) followed by a special one hour broadcast in Russian, in cooperation with the St. Petersburg DX Club, targeted to Russia and the Far East. Keep an eye on the Rhein-Maine Radio Club website and for details.

The EDXC conference sessions themselves were also a real treat. Presentations included Andrey Fyodorov talking about shortwave broadcasts in Russian. Before World War II there were almost no Russian radio broadcasts at a time when the Third Reich aired 31 languages. Interestingly the BBC, who began broadcasts to the USSR in 1942, were not popular to begin with as they were perceived by Russian audiences to sound unfriendly. By the 1950s specialist programmes in Russian included those targeting youth with music and some aimed at a female-only audience. In the 1970s there was a battle of the airwaves with Chile, when General Pinochet’s Voice of Chile aired in Russian via a powerful transmission network. 

Nearer to home there was an agreement between the USSR and its eastern European satellite countries that no shortwave transmissions were to beamed by the latter to its big brother. However, once a month the eastern European stations were permitted to send programmes to Moscow to be broadcast directly from the Soviet capital. Romanian resisted this and stared broadcasting in Russian in 1975 under the dictator Ceausescu’s direction. In the 1980s other cracks in the agreement had appeared, with radio stations in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest all transmitting Russian to the USSR. By this time Russian language services on shortwave were commonplace from many international broadcasters including two who remain on shortwave today, namely the state broadcasters of Turkey and Korea.

There were interesting discussions and debates after many of the presentations and I empathise with Mikhail Nevolin when he stated that music radio will die out before talk radio, as that provides the more popular shows. Mikhail, of the St Petersburg DX Club and also the city's Naval Academy, also gave a presentation on Christian radio stations in St Petersburg. Other talks included Victor Rezunkov from Radio Liberty talking about transmitting pirate radio stations back in the 1970s, with the engaging title of “Radio hooligans of the 1970s in a USSR province: a sip of freedom”.

Technical topics were also on the agenda with talks by Alexander Gromov on “Modern SDR techniques in amateur radio and DXing” and “Receiving antenna: electric or magnetic?” by Dr Anatoly Bobkov. There were also presentations from Alexander Beryozkin on his experiences of radio while holidaying on the Costa del Sol and Harald Gabler spoke of his DXing home on the Portuguese Algarve coast, which is available for DXers to rent at a very reasonable rate. Risto Vähäkainu gave a good overview of DXing in Finland today, which also touched on the past. I was fascinated to learn that Finnish composer Sibelius was an early DXer who listened to German stations in the 1920s and 30s. Over 70 countries have been logged on FM in Finland, quite an achievement, and when you put that alongside the 3,000 medium wave stations from North America which have been heard (2,100 of which have been verified) you realise why Finland still has such a thriving DX community.

There was good news from Alexander Beryozkin who announced that the Russian government has plans to resume shortwave broadcasts in 2016, probably funded from the Russian Ministry of Defence. This could include the Voice of Russia. Perhaps the most defiant quote of the conference also came from Alexander: “Radio will never die and DXing will never die!”

Every EDXC conference has an elegant evening banquet which seemed even more convivial this year, undoubtedly due to the excellent company, good food and wine and the many vodka-fuelled toasts. Each delegate rose in turn to tell their own radio story and how they became involved in the hobby and the evening flew by. Part of my own tale, translated expertly by the much called upon Alexander Smulsky, was from my days at the BBC World Service Information Centre and Shop in Bush House. It concerned a Norwegian lady who came in one day having missed the end of play on the radio due to the vagaries of shortwave propagation. I tracked down the script from the drama department, she sat and read the play right through and then announced she didn’t understand the ending anyway!

The day after the banquet there was another fabulous feast which lasted from about 1pm to 8pm at the home of Omar Cheishvili and Svetlana Kuzmina. We experienced their generous Georgian hospitality and also got to see the St. Petersburg DX Club's new headquarters which is being built in the house. Along with talk of radio and much more besides we also heard more about Omar’s passion of collecting Soviet and Russian vintage broadcasting receivers.

I left a little of my heart in St Petersburg but returned with a winter’s worth of memories - this wonderful city has so many museums and galleries, palaces and churches, impressive statues and 300 years of eventful history. Although tempted by the 19th century art I was more drawn to 20th Century history and the World War II siege of Leningrad. I was also fascinated by the legacy of the Soviet past, visiting a museum on the subject (The State Museum of Political History of Russia) plus the A.S. Popov Central Museum of Communications packed with vintage radios and some lovely old post boxes too.

Dotted around the city some statues of Marx, Engels and Lenin still remain. Although Lenin died just as radio broadcasting was taking off, he could see its power and potential. He followed closely the work of the aforementioned Bonch-Bruyevich and wanted a radio network to be implemented with some urgency, writing that “the newspaper without paper and without distances that you are creating will be a great thing”. He lived to hear some of his own speeches broadcast on Russian radio in 1922.

Back to modern day St Petersburg and added to all of the above were some cool cafes (Café Singer and Bolshe Kofe) and bars (Brew Craft Café) and some great vegetarian restaurants (Café Ukrop and Botanika) so you can see why I had a great time. Fortunately there is not enough space to tell you in detail about the night I was partying until dawn with a Finn, four Russian DXers and a bottle of cognac…

Flights from the UK are reasonable (Manchester to St Petersburg via Frankfurt was £200 return, plus you need a visa) and a hotel such as the Hotel Russ is only around 40 Euros a night. Next September (9-12) the EDXC Conference is going to head west. To Manchester in fact where I would be the local organiser on behalf of the British DX Club. I will keep you informed of developments on that one, dear readers.

Saturday 2 January 2016

Marconi Radio International's 30th Anniversary - Special broadcasts on 3 and 4 January 2016‏

From MRI's media release:
Marconi Radio International (MRI) began its shortwave transmissions on 4th January 1986, with the aim of being a radio for DXers. That's why we have planned a special 30th anniversary broadcast on the following days and times:

3rd January 2016 from 08.00 to 16.00 UTC;
4th January 2026 from 13.00 to 16.00 UTC.

Our frequency remains the same: 11390 kHz and power in the region of 30 watts. To mark this milestone, we’ll broadcast a special programme in Italian with details on the history of MRI and interviews with two well known DXers of Italy: Dario Monferini and Roberto Scaglione.
Also our playlist will have something special as only songs with the word "radio" in their title will be played (the playlist includes also some little known tunes like “Radio Tirana” by the Polish band Kult!).

But that is not all. In addition to our weekly DX programme in English "Italian Shortwave Panorama" and "Studio DX", produced and presented by Roberto Scaglione, we'll be airing two vintage MRI programmes: a DX Show in English of 25th December 1991 hosted by a female speaker, as well as the edition nr. 6 of "Italian Wave", a programme aired during 1986, which featured new Italian bands playing different kinds of rock music.

As usual MRI encourages reception reports from listeners. Audio clips (mp3-file) of our broadcasts are welcome! We QSL 100% and of course a special 30th anniversary QSL verification will be sent to acknowledge reports about reception of above mentioned broadcasts.

Our e-mail address is: but please don’t forget to include your postal address as some lucky listeners will also receive a printed QSL card.

Last but not least, we need your help! If you use social networks, please post an announcement on Facebook or send out a tweet the day before the broadcasts. You can also forward this message to a friend. This should help increase our potential audience.

We hope to hear from a lot of shortwave listeners about these two special 30th anniversary broadcasts.

Marconi Radio International (MRI)

Short wave broadcasts from Italy

on 11390 kHz

From the archives: The numbers station game Part 2

With an increase in interest in numbers stations of late I thought I'd reprint my 3 part article I wrote for Radio Active magazine in 2001. Links and frequencies may be out of date- and it was written when broadband was in a minority of UK homes- but it may still an interesting read for some people ...  Part 2 of 3

The Internet is the ultimate tool. Numbers stations and the covert operations that surround them have tried to maintain their secrecy for years, yet can now be accessed from the comfort of your armchair. True, you can’t decipher the coded information they transmit, but you can hear an audio file of a Numbers station, click to read what information has been amassed on it, including suspected origins and schedules, then click again to sometimes see a photo of the transmitter site.

Whether you missed last month’s introductory piece or not, the following paragraph will give you a flavour of where we’re at. It is from an old website in Florida that has long since disappeared into a black hole.

“My first encounter with these mysteries was fairly innocuous. Time was when I would find an open carrier to see what might develop and just go to sleep with the radio on. One morning I awoke to hear the following transmission: ‘5,4,1...8,7...8,3,2.. 9,1..’. My first reaction was one of utter bewilderment. The obvious question arose: Why is this mechanical-sounding female voice reading numbers? Had I discovered some sort of mechanized math exercise? A shuttle countdown gone completely awry? I had no idea. Intrigued, I continued to listen. Sure enough, they continued for about 10 minutes until...silence. There was no "end", no "fin", no fanfare, just radio silence.  It took me a LOT of reading to find out that these transmissions were known as "Numbers Stations", alleged spy transmissions and one of the many ‘Mysteries Of Radio’.  Radio affords a lot of great opportunities for a variety of illicit broadcasting and traffic activity. It's fairly inexpensive. Almost everyone carries a radio in some parts of Europe, so spy activities don't appear unusual. Because of the great cloak of secrecy surrounding most of these operations, the lack of personnel on active duty at each location, and the ability to place a transmitter in the strangest of places, governments have a hard time in locating either the station or its operators. The numbers have been heard in languages, from Slavic to Chinese, but are most frequently in Spanish or English. They're usually announced by a female voice, thanks to a popular psychological study which found that people are more likely to listen to a female's voice than a man's. The voice is robotic, usually produced by voice synthesis (electronic simulation), although one particularly memorable instance was utter havoc- a supposedly drunken male was heard shouting numbers live on-air, with the sound of crashing, doors slamming, and other violent noises in the background”.

Two experts in the cloak and dagger world of Numbers stations are Simon Mason and Chris Smolenski, both of whom have set up informative websites. Simon’s is in the U.K and Chris’ in the U.S.A.

Chris Smolinski's ‘Spy Centre - Spy Numbers Stations’ is an ideal starting point, although personally I find some of the website layout confusing and hard to navigate, with certain features hidden away.

However, there is plenty of incredible material amongst its pages. Probably its most useful and unique feature is its database with over 35,000 logs. You can email your own loggings, try to identify stations, as well as access a very useful schedule, to see what broadcasts are anticipated on the air.
The world’s premier, maybe the only, Numbers Stations Mailing List originates from this website. Called ‘Spooks’, you simply send an email to join, then sit back and read with intrigue as loggings come flooding in from monitors, and all aspects of the undercover world of espionage are discussed. There can be a lot of traffic, but you can always hit the trusty delete key if it gets too much, or unsubscribe. It is well worth subscribing for a few weeks to get a feel for the subject matter.

The case of ‘The Razzer’ is an example of how no new sound on the short wave bands goes unnoticed by this crack group of monitors.  Last winter a strange signal was heard periodically in the U.S.A on roughly 9500 kHz, although it changed to other frequencies too. The general consensus of the monitoring community was that it is a form of over-the-horizon radar. Two samples of ‘The Razzer’ (not to be confused with ‘the Buzzer’ or ‘the Rasper’, which are other mysterious noise stations) can be heard at:

Conspiracy theorists could have a field day with the implications of Numbers stations, but there is little paranoia in evidence amongst the monitoring hobbyists. Some of them have expressed concern, however, in the U.S.A over the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) software called Carnivore, which is designed to monitor email. It is akin to the U.K Regulatory Powers bill that allows the powers that be to intercept emails via Internet Service Providers. The whole business of snooping on emails and Internet use is a contentious civil liberties one, which is closely related to the covert world of intelligence agencies and espionage. It is a topic often raised on the Spooks email list. For more information on Carnivore you can view a recorded video of a presentation by FBI agent Marcus Thomas, at
You can also get the F.B.I view at their Carnivore page

Or a more independent analysis at

Music for Anoraks

There are at least two commercially available CDs of Numbers stations:
In the U.K, The Conet Project was issued in 1997, and consists of recordings of 150 numbers stations dating from 1971. A thorough booklet accompanying the 4 CD set makes an interesting read. It concludes with these chilling thoughts: “ The most worrying feature of the Numbers stations is the implication that we are not truly at peace with the Eastern bloc…When are the sabotage instructions to be sent, and what will the targets be? Will ‘sleepers’ be awakened by a special codeword received whilst on a teabreak from waiting on tables at the Dorchester? How many corporations are being compromised by mailmen who pretend to be listening to football results as they rifle through mail? And is the bus conductor on the no.22 listening to the radio and writing down the results of the horses, or is he being told who his next murder victim is to be? Are all commuters really commuters? What is that buzzing? Is she wearing a walkman or is that a Sony SW-100 E in her pocket? The baby sitter?…The shop assistant…painter.. …accountant..traffic warden..journalist, antique dealer, mechanic…”.

Update 2014, see

Across the pond ‘The Numbers Racket’ is a $25 Multimedia CD-ROM which has recordings and information on stations past and present. Spy stations from all over the world are represented including U.S.A, U.K, Cuba, Russia, Taiwan, Israel and Germany. Background information, how messages are sent, terminology and how to listen are all explained, then you can listen to the sinister sounds of The Babbler, Bulgarian Betty, The CIA Counting Station, The Woodpecker and the Mystery Bleeper, to name but a few.

National Public Radio (NPR) in the States broadcast a programme in May 2000 called ‘Atencion: Seis Siete Tres Siete Cero: The Shortwave Numbers Mystery’. You missed it? No problem, just go to the NPR ‘Lost and Found Sound’ website to read and hear a broad overview with examples. The programme can be heard in Real audio at

To hear some audio files without purchasing a CD, go to The Numbers Game website:

where you will over 30 recordings from this UK based site from the late 1980s and 1990s.

Alongside old favourites such as English Female of presumed Russian/KGB origin and English Female Alphanumeric (presumed MOSSAD), there are a few rare gems; The English speaking station known as ‘Ready Ready’ with a message read by a “nervous" lady and The Tones Station, known as "XPH" with a garbled message. The Buzzer (XB) which transmits its annoying noise through day and night and the C.I.A’s Cynthia with a broken and a jammer. The infamous Swedish Rhapsody with the voice of a child and The Lincolnshire Poacher suffering from some severe and funny audio problems. Just visit the website and have a listen. It’s both humourous yet simultaneously disconcerting enough to make you ill at ease.

Other amusing bloopers can be found back at Simon Mason’s website. It at least makes you feel there is an element of humanity amongst these strange covert activities: Examples of two stations mixing together to make a confusing code even more so,  (E3 Lincolnshire Poacher mixing with G16 "Sierra Bravo", V1 Skylark mixing with E5 Counting station, E3 Jamming transmitter having technical problems, and the final broadcast of V1 Skylark Romanian Transmission.

So if that’s what some of the transmissions sound like, what do the transmitter sites look like? Through painstaking tracking and monitoring, the origins of the Number and Noise stations have been discovered all over the globe. There are a few photo galleries for you to peruse on the web.
The Fylingdale golf balls on the Yorkshire moors are a well-known English landmark. A similar site can be seen on Olympus Hill in Greek Cyprus

Other secretive bases that have been photographed are at Australia's Pine Gap
and there is a Duncan Campbell photo of a dish in Cornwall

Mysterious transmitter masts abound in Frankfurt at
For more photos, mostly from Germany and the USA go to the following site
Click on the photograph of a sign which states ’Photography of this area is forbidden’ then you will have access to plenty of information at

For some great photos of old Soviet Embassies around the world with strange aerials on the rooftops, presumably set up decades ago to receive more than Joe Adamov’s ‘Moscow Mailbag’, there is a selection at Simon Mason’s website:

Secret Agents do of course get caught from time to time, and if caught red-handed they can provide an insight into how their masters operate. The one time pads used by transmitter and receivers of Numbers stations do occasionally come to light. For a revealing picture of a one time pad, and other espionage photos, click on

The one time pads are smuggled through customs in a whole manner of deceptive and ingenious ways. For real-life James Bond type gadgetry have a look at where you can see photos of one time pads smuggled in talculm-powder containers, or hollowed out bars of soap.
Although the location of some Number stations has been identified, many remain unknown. Where are they based? Are they broadcast from a top security military installation, or a down town radio studio?  From secret bases in the distant mountain ranges or from the core of a telecommunications centre? Who actually prepares the material and reads the code into a microphone? Are they agents themselves or a handpicked, security-cleared team of government lackeys? The closest you can get to finding out more details about individual stations is through the analysed material put together by ENIGMA (European Numbers Information and Monitoring Association).

The full ENIGMA designators list referred to last month can be found at, among other websites,

At the second of these you can click on the station of your choice for more information and sometimes an audio recording, to reveal as much as is publicly known. Two examples of old European stations conjure up images of the Cold War, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Numbers stations traffic is as busy as ever in 2001. The ‘Drums and Trumpets’ station (ENIGMA S2) is an inactive station whose transmissons peaked in 1989 and 1990. It broadcast in the Czech language, mostly on 4740, 5500 and 6675 KHz and it’s transmission format is poetically described thus:

“Imagine a scene at a military funeral when the lone trumpeter sounds "The Last Post" and you will have some idea of the musical signal sent by this Czech language number station. This plaintive bugle sounds about an hour before the transmission of the spy messages begins. Just before the actual message starts a different signal is sent. This is played with drums and trumpets and is a very up-tempo military marching tune similar to those played before the beginning of a battle. The woman then announces (in Czech) "Noma 12671, Gruppi 44; Noma 12671, Gruppi 44,  and then goes into the five figure text, ending with the word "Krai". The Czech figures are: "Jedno, Dva, Tri, Ctyri, Pet, Sest, Osm, Devet, Nula."

The ‘Tyrolean Music Station’ (ENIGMA G1) may sound like a Julie Andrew’s song from ‘The Sound of Music’, but the truth stark and frightening. It was a 1970s East German Numbers station operated by the Stasi, using a format of cryptic phrases. Broadcasting at weekends on 6650 and 6425 kHZ, it started at 1130 UTC by playing German beer drinking songs, followed by seven notes from the Communist anthem "Internationale". At 1200,a male announcer then read several names, each name was then repeated, followed by "Achtung", and a series of 5FG groups, followed by "Ende". Sometimes, cryptic messages such as "Our hen has laid one egg" or "The sunshine has faded" were read instead of numbers. The transmission closed with "Auf wiedesehen".

Evidently there were often technical problems, with the incorrect music being played, studio noises being heard, and coughing fits. Not the kind of precision and authority you would expect from one of history’s foremost and most feared secret police organisations.

The website also states that  ‘The operation was believed to be tied in to that of pirate radio station "Radio Northsea International", which was backed by the DDR.’ This is certainly news to me and sounds extremely unlikely. I’d be interested if anyone else had information; it sounds like western propaganda of the time.

Next month we conclude the Numbers stations feature by explaining how the one time pads work and whether they are really unbreakable, investigate Papa November and Havana Moon, look at an individual who thinks Numbers stations are fake, examine some of the Asian Numbers stations and look to the future of Numbers stations.

Friday 1 January 2016

From the archives: The numbers station game Part 1

one time pad image:

With an increase in interest in numbers stations of late I thought I'd reprint my 3 part article I wrote for Radio Active magazine in 2001. Links and frequencies may be out of date- and it was written when broadband was in a minority of UK homes- but it may still an interesting read for some people ... Part 1 of 3.

Amidst the cacophony of sound on the short wave bands, a strange and mostly unexplained phenomenon has existed since early last century. On the non-broadcast bands, away from the ears of the average listener, there exists a mysterious set of transmissions. Tune in to certain frequencies on the fringes of the broadcast or utility bands at the top of the hour, and you won’t hear a station identification followed by a news bulletin as you might expect. 
Instead, sometimes preceded with a signature tune or Interval Signal, but as often not, a voice will emerge, reading not a political opinion or sports results, but a series of numbers.

Welcome to the strange world of number stations. This is the first of a series of articles that will give you a flavour of what is probably the biggest mystery on the bands. This month there will be an introduction as to what you might be able to hear on your receivers, and explanations as to what they are assumed to be. Next month we’ll delve further into the field and show you ways to access all the information on numbers stations via Internet sites which have been set up by some of the many individuals and organisations who keep a tab on them. So there should be something for newcomers and Numbers stations veterans alike.

Some ascertain that numbers stations began during World War One as spy chiefs sent coded messages to their agents via radio. So what can you expect to hear at the dawn of the 21st century? The numbers stations are allegedly spy stations and consist of a series of random numbers being read out, in English, Spanish, German, Arabic and other languages, by men, women and sometimes even a child. (the latter being a station known as ‘Swedish Rhapsody’ consisting of a girl reading a list of numbers in German). Sometimes it is in morse code, sometimes just noise. One station has transmitted a continuous buzzing sound for years. Usually the voices are mechanised, sometimes they are read out live. This has led to tales of announcers who are the worse for drink slurring their numbers, and of a Spanish speaking numbers station being intermingled with Radio Habana, supposedly a give-away to the station’s location, or maybe a double bluff? As you would expect in such a sphere of mystery and suspicion, urban myths can spread, adding to a confusing and unquantifiable situation.

If you have been listening to the short wave bands for years, you will undoubtedly have come across a numbers station at some point (also sometimes referred to as spy stations). When I first stumbled across them in the 1970s, I just assumed they were either weather beacons or just another form of the many squeaks, gurgling and static noises that you encounter, assuming them to serve a mundane purpose rather than anything sinister. I’m sure I am not alone in that assumption.

Newcomers to the radio hobby may think that such strange goings on, with numbers being transmitted in different languages across the ether, were a product of the cold war, (which many were), and would have long since faded away. However, over a decade after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the monotonous voices continue as regularly as ever. As well as messages from organisations such as the CIA, MI6, MOSSAD (the Israeli equivalent), some say there is activity in the field of industrial espionage too, with individuals working for transnational corporations maybe taking calculated risks to sell product information to a rival company.

The stations are basically broadcasting a secret code and at first sound or sight they appear to be a random set of numbers harking back to the realms of schoolboys secret agent games, days of home-made invisible ink made of lemons, and simple codes with numbers corresponding to a letter, decipherable within minutes.  However, these broadcasts are assumed to be the work of government agencies, transmitting messages to agents in the field. Each agent is assigned what is called a one-time pad, a series of numbers, one copy for him and one for the transmitter base. Then the agent simply has to tune in to a frequency at the right time, note down the numbers being transmitted, and decipher the message.

In these days of highly developed and diverse forms of communications, the idea of a mechanised voice reading out codes which are to be received via a radio-set must appear incredibly old-fashioned. It is such a hit and miss affair after all, subject to propagation or interference from other signals on the bands. The agent the transmission is aimed at might not be at his receiver at the designated time, may incorrectly transcribe the code or just fail to hear it all. There is no way of knowing if the message has been received correctly.
So why not send an encrypted email, or a text message via phone, or use one of the many other forms of modern communication in this high-tech age? Well, the beauty in using short wave is there is no way of identifying the receiver, or the agent in the field. If you have the resources and the right government organisation behind you, it is easy to obtain details of emails or telephone messages that have been sent. Where telephone lines are monitored by the secret services certain patterns could emerge with a minimal amount of work. For instance, why does a telephone line rented by a plumber in a Johannesburg suburb receive a call originating from a State Office in Copenhagen lasting 20 minutes every third Thursday at 3.30 a.m?

So whilst broadcasters and utility band services, the regular users of short wave, increasingly look towards satellite and Internet to reach their audience, the spy scene continues to make use of a tried and tested medium. Messages are sent often and repeated, giving the recipient opportunity to ensure the message is correctly received.

Messages are transmitted by stations as regular as clockwork, day after day, year after year, and often consist of dummy messages. This is because were a station to transmit only when it had vital information to send, it would be easier to identify in times of crisis or political upheaval.  An increase of traffic on the bands that coincided with a civil uprising in Bratislava could indicate that certain Numbers station frequencies were emanating from Slovakia.

Years of painstaking loggings and recordings by hobbyists has resulted in a highly developed network of monitors across the world, such as ENIGMA, which stands for the European Numbers Information and Monitoring Association, and is not to be confused with the Enigma code breaker machines used to such effect at Bletchley Park during World War II.
Officially the Numbers stations ‘don’t exist’, but those who operate them are aware of  the groups of radio hobbyists who listen in. They are probably considered a mostly harmless group that can be contained without any real threat to security. The proportion of the population that listen to short wave in the developed world is small, fewer still would listen to Numbers stations, and even fewer are likely to develop an interest in them. Even if a transmitter location is identified through piecing together loggings and signal strength, the codes themselves remain next to impossible to crack.  Despite the coverft activities of operators, one unique station that transmits from what was Czechoslovakia, has actually verified a reception report by issuing a QSL card! Maybe this was an act of arrogance, or humour, as a simple acceptance of ‘we know you know but so what?’

In 1997 The ‘Conet Project’ CD was issued. This is a 4 CD set of shortwave Numbers stations recordings assembled by enthusiasts, and gives a fascinating overview. They have a website which gives more information, but we’ll have a look at that next month. As well as giving all the information and links to Numbers stations that you would probably ever want, there is also an ongoing competition which invites you to try and crack the codes of various stations. I’ve reproduced one of them here as an example.

This is a transcription of an E22 transmission, recorded on August 14th 1997, frequency 8024 lower side band. E22 has since been given the designator ‘Arabic Man’.

04090 03403 29286 20356 38122 33628 55375
52145 01500 99398 83458 04554 59754 96338
86434 49249 93679 64770 62798 19244 44996
19794 49378 27271 80437 14363 98605 24798
56999 85443 72665 99182 64776 49871.

It is surprising how rarely Numbers stations are mentioned in the press. When you consider the amount of airtime and column inches given over to ‘unexplained’ phenomena such as crop circles and UFOs, Numbers stations are never investigated to such depth, if at all, yet they can easily be heard by one and all with minimal effort and equipment but go unnoticed.
In 1999 The Daily Telegraph reported a spokesperson for the Department for Trade and Industry as saying the following about Numbers Stations: ‘These are what you suppose they are. People shouldn't be mystified by them. They are not for, shall we say, public consumption’. This in itself is quite revealing.

Another rare piece of mainstream media exposure was when John Walters did a mainly light hearted report for the BBC 1 programme ‘Here and Now’ in April 1997. The most interesting quote came from ex-KGB Station Chief Oleg Gordieiski who stated ‘The messages are a mixture of professional instruction, what to do next, and some personal messages from children, parents and friends. For example, Mr Gorbalov, next week please go to Vienna and use dead letterbox number 13. You will find 8,000 American dollars. It is your salary for the next month, and the rest for your operational expenses.’

In an attempt for fellow hobbyists to identify them, Numbers Stations have been given nicknames by short wave listeners over the years, according to their output style or manner. For instance, two of the best known are run by British Intelligence Forces; The Lincolnshire Poacher and Cherry Ripe, and are named after their prelude tunes. ENIGMA made the identification process easier by assigning each station a designated number, to accompany the commonly used nickname.

Other details in the list include the suspected transmission site where known, description of the announcer (YL- Woman, OM- man), and the Intelligence Agency operating the station.

ENIGMA designators, The following list illustrates some of the English speaking stations on the ENIGMA list. Full lists can be found on the web, of which more details next month. ENIGMA 2000 is a spin off group from ENIGMA, and is on the web at

E01       Ready Ready YL/EE                                     
E03       Lincolnshire Poacher YL, MI6, probably Cyprus
E04       Cherry Ripe YL/EE, MI6, probably Guam                
E05       Counting Station YL/EE                               
E06A    English Man 2 group commencing with stutter group    
E07       English Man OM/EE                            
E09       Magnetic Fields YL/EE                          
E10       Phonetic Alphabet Station YL                         
E13       5 Dashes YL/EE                                        
E14       Count Control YL/EE                                  
E15       Nancy Adam Susan YL+OM                               
E17A    English Lady. Dual message                           
E20       English Lady. Dual msg format of E17 or E6 YL/EE     
E22       Arabic Man 2L/F (FD7, FD9)                           
E23       3 messages per month 100/100/50GC                    
E24       'Allo allo'                                          

Bizarre and intriguing stations in other languages include the Morse ‘Rapid dots tuning signal’, Spanish ‘Bored Man’, Polish 'Zyt Zyt' (Hush hush), German ‘3 Note Oddity’, Romanian ‘Skylark’, ‘Guangzhou calling’ and a whole series of noise stations, such as Bugle, Six Notes, Crackle, Polytone High Pitch and Plaintive mew.                                                                

If this has whet your appetite then try listening in. Here are a few times and frequencies to start you with:
Lincolnshire Poacher, 1700-0000 UTC on 5746, 6900, 6959, 9251, 10426, 11545, 12603, 14448, 16084 KHz

Cherry Ripe: 1300 UTC on 14496, 17499, 18864,19984, 20474, 21866, 22108, 23461, 24644 KHz

Backwards Music station: 2100-2300 on 5178, 6753 KHz

DEA 47 Morse (from Northern Germany): 0800-1000 on 12283, 13510 KHz

More information on recordings that are commercially available, as well as audio samples you can hear on the Internet, will be given next month. I’ll also be investigating some of the websites set up to disseminate information, and sometimes mis-information, on Numbers stations. I’ll take a look at a station known as ‘the razzer’ and an FBI agent’s view on a project named ‘Carnivore’. There are various discussion groups, links to government bodies and sites, societies and clubs set up to discuss the subject and plenty of individual sites which range from the informative to the unbelievable.
 (ENIGMA list with thanks to Ary Boender).


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