Number Stations

Club Night on Friday 6th March saw a talk by Tom 2E0TNC, on number stations. He started by giving us a live demonstration of a number station of which there are still a good number in use to this day, the one demonstrated by Tom began transmission on the dot of 20:00hrs, and began with an introduction to allow the intended recipient time to tune in their receiver before the transmission of the coded message. Tom went on to explain the history of the stations telling us that they go back to around the First World War.

He then went on to explain how the secret messages were encrypted and decoded; this is a process involving basic mathematics and a One Time Encryption Pad. The One Time Pad is the key to keeping this method of secret transmission totally unbreakable; to this day only one message has ever been decoded and this was a result of someone using the same One Time Pad twice, a similar situation which lead to the breaking of the German Enigma code by the people at Bletchley Park during World War II. The messages are normally a string of 200 five number blocks and these are sent regardless of if there is a message encoded in the transmission or not so as to confuse other countries agents and listening stations who undoubtedly will be listening in.

The basic principle of these transmissions is to provide a one way contact with agents overseas, the United Kingdom had its own number station called the “Lincolnshire Poacher” which transmitted from an RAF base in Turkey, and was active up to around 2008.

So if you hear these stations you can listen and wonder what is being said, but one thing is for sure, you will never be able to work out what the message is that is being sent or who it is being sent to!

Tom went on to say the modern number stations now use data to get their message across instead of the woman’s or young child’s voice, but they do still use numbers though.

This was a fascinating and thought provoking talk and was enjoyed by all who attended, we have had great feedback from the evening and several members have said that they have heard the number stations on air since listening to Tom’s talk. Thanks to Tom for the talk, I know how much hard work you put into the research for the talk.

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