The World’s Strangest Radio Broadcasts

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iStock.com/Big_Ryan

We have only the vaguest idea where the broadcasts are coming from, and even less idea where they're going. The sounds are strange—the synthesized voices of women and children mixed with snatches of music, Morse code, or high-pitched buzzing. Sometimes the transmissions appear on a fixed schedule, other times in short random bursts. The only thing they have in common is the eerie recitation of numbers, beamed through shortwave radio signals bouncing across the globe.

These are the "number stations," which have mesmerized conspiracy theorists, radio enthusiasts, musicians and less obsessive members of the public for decades. They’ve been tracked with their own journal, recorded in an influential 4-CD set, and made appearances in lawsuits as well as a Cameron Crowe movie. No government agency has ever explained why they’ve taken over large portions of the shortwave radio dial, and why they’ve done so for years.

One of the most storied of the number stations is "The Lincolnshire Poacher," which began its transmissions with bars from the British folk song. Although it went off the air in 2008, number station detectives believe it was transmitting from a large military site in Cyprus. Another of the best-known stations, the Stasi-connected Swedish Rhapsody, started with a music box rendition of that tune before continuing with the voice of a little girl reciting numbers in German. A station known as the Magnetic Fields opened with the Jean-Michel Jarre's instrumental "Les Chants Magnétique" before broadcasting Arabic numerals and the English phrase "again, again."

The beginnings of the stations are unknown: by some accounts, the broadcasts first began during World War I, although better documentation exists for a beginning during the Cold War. While some suggest that they are the secret communications of drug smugglers, the more likely explanation involves espionage. Court cases, half-admissions, and the memoirs of ex-spies have brought the basics to light—the stations seem to be the broadcasts of intelligence agencies to their spies across the world. Messages are deciphered with a so-called one-time pad, in which a string of randomly generated numbers are mathematically added to text messages in order to encrypt, then subtracted to decrypt them. After each use, the pad is discarded.

While the use of number stations might seem startlingly low-tech for an espionage agency, their one-way nature has its advantages. Listening to the radio can’t be traced the way a telephone call can—because anyone can listen anywhere in the world, no one knows who the message is intended for. Listening to the radio isn’t a suspicious activity (the way carrying around expensive computer gadgetry might be) and doesn’t require much special equipment. Like the use of good old fashioned pen and paper, its simplicity is the key to its utility.

For years, public interest in the number stations was primarily limited to shortwave radio enthusiasts, who communicated with one another via online groups and magazines. A UK-based organization called ENIGMA (European Numbers Information Gathering and Monitoring Association), founded in 1993, tracked the transmissions with its own detailed newsletter for seven years. A radio hobbyist title called Monitoring Times Magazine also wrote about the stations, particularly through the activities of retired naval intelligence officer William Godby, alias Havana Moon. According to the Miami New Times, in the late 1980s Godby used signal-direction-finding equipment to pinpoint several number stations as coming from the "West Palm Beach airport, in nearby Tequesta, and at the Homestead Air Force Base. All were aimed at the Caribbean."

The name most often associated with the number stations today is Akin Fernandez and his Conet Project. In the early 1990s, the London-based Fernandez, who owns an indie music label, discovered the stations late one night while scrolling the dial with his new shortwave radio. When he discovered that no librarian or government agency could tell him what the number stations were doing, he became obsessed. The result, several years later, was a 4-CD set with samples of 150 different broadcasts, and an accompanying 74-page booklet. (Conet, a word Fernandez often heard on the broadcasts, is Czech for "end.") With the kind of treatment usually reserved for aging rock stars rather than secretive government broadcasts, the CDs became cult favorites—sampled by Wilco, who named its 2001 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot after part of a numbers station broadcast, as well as other music groups, and appearing in the Cameron Crowe movie Vanilla Sky.

The Conet Project also prompted one of the first government admissions of the stations, when a UK government spokesperson told the Daily Telegraph in 1998: "These [numbers stations] are what you suppose they are. People shouldn't be mystified by them. They're not, shall we say, for public consumption."

Around the same time, Cuba’s "Atención" station became the world's first station publicly accused of broadcasting to spies. During a federal espionage trial following the 1998 arrest of the "Cuban Five," U.S. prosecutors claimed the spies were using hand-held shortwave receivers to listen to Atención broadcasts, entering the numbers into their laptops to decode the transmissions. The FBI testified that they'd broken into one spy's apartment and copied the decryption program, which they used to decode several messages. Three of the messages were revealed in court:

  • "Prioritize and continue to strengthen friendship with Joe and Dennis,"
  • "Under no circumstances should German nor Castor fly with BTTR or another organization on days 24, 25, 26 and 27,"
  • "Congratulate all the female comrades for International Day of the Woman."

And while some of the broadcasts might be just as banal as that last one, as Fernandez notes in the Conet Project booklet, part of the thrill of listening (the stations are still going strong) is that you have no idea what messages are being transmitted, or who else might be listening. "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?"

Cleveland’s National Weather Service Issued an Unofficial 'Small Dog Advisory’ Due to High Winds

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iStock.com/eve_eve01genesis

The National Weather Service in Cleveland is reminding people with mini dachshunds, Yorkshire terriers, and other little dog breeds to keep an eye on their pooches this windy winter. According to WTOL 11 News, an unofficial “small dog warning” was in effect in several parts of Ohio and Northwest Pennsylvania Wednesday, as two-legged and four-legged locals alike braced for gusts of up to 50 mph.

This is formally known as a Wind Advisory, and it’s issued when sustained winds reach between 31 and 39 mph, or when gusts reach speeds between 46 and 57 mph. Conditions like these can cause minor property damage as trees fall and untethered items get whipped around in the wind. The list of untethered items that can potentially blow away includes small dogs, too, according to a tweet from NWS Cleveland.

But can your dog really blow away in the wind and end up in Oz like Toto? There are some reports of this happening, but the conditions are typically a little more extreme than what Ohio is expecting right now. In 2009, a 6-pound Chihuahua named Tinker Bell was plucked up and carried away by 70 mph winds. There’s a happy ending, though: Her owners found her unharmed (partly thanks to a pet psychic, they claimed). More recently, a Yorkshire terrier named Toshka was blown away in Siberia during a snowstorm last year. The dog was later found frostbitten, but alive, 3 miles from home.

However, instances like these are rare, and the greater danger is that a flying object could injure your pooch. Plus, if they're outside without a leash, they can run away if they become frightened or break free if a fence in your yard blows over. To keep your pup safe during blustery weather, The Humane Society of Central Oregon recommends bringing them inside, leashing them when they need to go outside, and double-checking all gates and fences.

[h/t WTOL 11]

11 Bizarre Things Done in the Name of Love

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iStock.com/Kemter

Love. It can make you do crazy things, or so the saying goes. And there are plenty of recorded incidents of people doing really crazy things, purportedly in the name of amore, that back that cliché up. Here are 11 of them.

1. Fake your own death

Alexey Bykov must have wanted to be sure that his future bride would take the whole "'Til death do us part” thing seriously. In 2012, the Omsk, Russia native hired a team of filmmakers to help him fake his own death. Right in front of his girlfriend. As part of an elaborately choreographed wedding proposal. “We'd arranged to meet at a certain place but when I arrived there were mangled cars everywhere, ambulances, smoke, and carnage,” Irena Kolokov, his lucky gal pal, told the Daily Mail. "Then when I saw Alexey covered in blood lying in the road a paramedic told me he was dead and I just broke down in tears.” Wait for it ... surprise! Just when Irena thought all was lost, Alexey sprang into action and asked her to marry him. Perhaps most surprisingly, she said yes.

2. Cohabitate with a corpse

A corpse's foot with a toe tag at the morgue
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“'Til death do us part” wasn't good enough for Carl Tanzler. In 1940, the radiologist was charged with “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization” when police discovered that he was in possession of the corpse of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, a young woman who had died of tuberculosis in 1931. (In case you don’t want to do the math, that’s a full nine years earlier.) Tanzler’s obsession with Hoyos began in 1930, when she was a patient at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida. Though there is no evidence that she reciprocated his feelings, Tanzler fought desperately to save Hoyos's life. Following her passing on October 25, 1931, Tanzler became a regular visitor to her above-ground mausoleum, which he had paid for and to which he had a private key. After two years of snuggling with the corpse, he removed her body and brought it home with him, which is where it remained until Tanzler’s arrest a full seven years later.

3. Rob a Waffle House

Forget breakfast in bed—Marquis Baldwin will bring you the entire Waffle House. Well, at least whatever’s in its cash register. In 2013, the then-22-year-old Pensacola resident was arrested on four counts of armed robbery and six counts of aggravated assault after he held up four businesses with a BB gun, three of them Waffle House restaurants. But the money Baldwin stole wasn’t being saved for a rainy day; he used it to pay off his girlfriend’s probation fees. Awww.

4. Register a URL

In the age of online dating, it only makes sense that a twenty-something would take to the Internet in order to connect with the girl of his dreams. In the case of former Vimeo employee Patrick Moberg, that meant registering a website—NYGirlOfMyDreams.com—in order to track down a cute brunette with fancy braided hair, rosy cheeks, and blue gym shorts with whom he locked eyes on a Brooklyn-bound 5 train in 2007. Within 48 hours, Moberg had found the young lady in question, Camille Hayton, and the two began dating. Two months later, the fairytale was over. "The situation was so intense that we bonded in a way that you could mistake for being more romantic than it was," Hayton said of their breakup. "But I wanted to give it a go, so I wouldn't later wonder, 'What if, what if?'"

5. Cry about it on YouTube

Not to be outdone with using the Web to get what (read: who) you want is Kelly Summers. In 2010, Summers decided to pay a surprise visit to the long-distance love of her life, Keith Tallis, only to meet his roommate: his longtime girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, Tallis paid Summers a visit to announce that he was now a single man, but then took off for home again 10 days later. Reeling from the betrayal, Summers set up The Froglet Diaries, which she described as a “self help video series," on YouTube to help deal with the breakup. It didn’t take long for her videos to gain some dedicated followers, Tallis among them. “I watched each video and I couldn’t believe the devastation I left behind,” Tallis told the Daily Mail on September 10, 2010 of his decision to reconcile with Summers. “I’d never seen such raw emotion, and it made me realize how much I loved her.” On October 7, 2010, Workshop Guardian reported that Tallis had once again returned to his ex-girlfriend.

6. Steal a moon rock

“The simple answer’s to say that I did it for love,” aspiring astronaut-turned-convict Thad Roberts told CBS News’s Mo Rocca when asked about his reasons for stealing a safe containing $21 million worth of moon rocks from NASA scientist Everett Gibson. “I did it because I wanted to be loved,” he continued. “I wanted someone to know that I'd literally cared about them that much. And to have the symbol there to remind them of it.” Unfortunately, the “someone” in question was not Roberts’s doting wife, but the 22-year-old intern who aided him in the heist, whom he had met just three weeks earlier. Ben Mezrich, author of Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires, wrote about Roberts in 2011 in his book Sex on the Moon.

7. Set your loved one's crotch ablaze

When Berlinda Dixon-Newbold wasn’t getting the attention she wanted from her boyfriend, Sheldon Gonzalez, she decided to take matters into her own hands … and set the crotch of his pants on fire while he slept. “You tend to, like, get upset when somebody [is] trying to harm the family jewels,” Gonzalez told Fort Lauderdale’s WFOR-TV of the 2010 incident. “I just felt the heat in my groin area and I just reacted and she was right over me.” Gonzalez was able to extinguish his pants before any serious injury occurred. Which is one way to ensure the end of a relationship.

8. Throw lye in your beloved's face

Getting involved with a married man is always a recipe for romantic complications. Which is a lesson Linda Riss learned the hard way. In 1959, the then-21-year-old began dating lawyer Burt Pugach, a married father of one. Riss knew about his occupation, but not about his family, and promptly dumped him. He allegedly retaliated by paying a few thugs to throw lye in her face, blinding her in one eye and causing permanent scarring. Pugach denied any involvement in the attack, but was convicted and served 14 years in jail for the crime, during which he regularly wrote to Riss. Upon his release in 1974, Pugach divorced his first wife and married Riss. Two years later, they co-wrote a book, aptly titled A Very Different Love Story. In 2007, filmmaker Dan Klores made a documentary about their life, Crazy Love. On January 22, 2013, Riss passed away at the age of 75—with Pugach by her side.

9. Escape from jail

One might describe California’s Santa Cruz County Jail as Craig Souza’s second home. In 2012, the then-34-year-old was being booked for his 22nd stint behind bars at this particular penal institution when he made a not-so-bold escape (he rang a door buzzer, and a guard let him out). His reason? He was worried how his wife might react to all the time he had been spending in the clink. “I want everyone to know that I did it for love,” Souza told local television station KSBW.

10. Go on a fecal rampage

We’ll keep this one short, as the phrase “fecal rampage” sort of says it all. But that’s exactly how police and witnesses described what went down in Staten Island in 2011 when aspiring rapper Rasheen “Illuminati” Harrison stripped naked and defecated in the elevator of his pregnant girlfriend’s building, then—errr, ummm—“decorated” her door before setting it on fire. His explanation? “She stole my cell phone. I had a yellow lighter. I set it on fire,” Harrison told police. Sounds reasonable.

11. Cut off your tattoo ... and mail it to him

Gloved hand holding a surgical scalpel
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If Johnny Depp’s romantic history has taught us anything, it’s that getting your loved one’s name tattooed on your body is no way to ensure the relationship will last. While Depp’s solution was to simply morph “Winona” into “Wino,” 26-year-old Londoner Torz Reynolds came up with a more gruesome plan: take a scalpel to her own arm to remove the tattoo entirely. Reynolds then sealed it in a jar, wrapped it up nice and pretty, and mailed it to her ex. The worst part? The tattoo was big—it read “Chopper’s Bitch.” Next time she might want to consider dating an Ed.

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