As improbable as it seems, numbers stations are real. There are probably a few hundred in operation around the world right now. The Department of Trade and Industry, which regulates the airwaves in the UK, has all but confirmed the long-suspected theory -- that numbers stations are used by intelligence agencies for communication with spies. It is entirely possible that they have been in use since World War I. The general format seems to be numbers and codewords repeated over background noise by vocoderized and sampled multilingual voices.

Transmitted between 2MHz and 26MHz on the shortwave band, these messages, transmitted throughout North America and Europe by the likes of the CIA, KGB, MI6, and MOSSAD, have a definite ambient quality. Combining the low-fi cryptic spookiness of Aleister Crowley's 1920s wax recordings with the synthesized German voices and experimental ambience of Werner Meyer-Eppler's 1950s 'Nachtmusik' radio program and Radio-Activity era Kraftwerk, these stations are as haunting as a nursery rhyme played out of tune. In fact, one of the more famous numbers stations transmits a German folk tune played by glockenspiel, followed by the sampled voice of a young German or Swedish girl reading numbers.

If Cold War relics like the Voice of America and Moscow Radio are your kind of thing, or if you're into electronic music of the dark ambient or highly experimental varieties, you'll become as addicted as I am. Most of the North American numbers stations are broadcast out of Cuba. Other ones are broadcast out of Florida and Virginia. One station, known as "The Buzzer", has been transmitting timed buzzing noises for more than 20 years.

I like the idea of an agency publicly broadcasting its most secret of codes, knowing full well that no one else can possibly crack it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if many of these stations are operated merely for intimidation. Cuba can transmit as many of these as they want, duping America's intelligence community into thinking their spy presence is much bigger than it actually is.

I'll leave you with Meyer-Eppler's "Stimme der Energie" poem (ripped off shamelessly and effectively by Kraftwerk's "The Voice of Energy"):

This is the Voice of Power
I make it possible for you to have
Electric light and radio and television
This is a giant generator speaking
I am both your servant and your master
So beware of how you use me
This is the Genie of Power.