by Kevin Strom, WB4AIO
AN ELECTRONICS collector in Germany has created a series of videos showing us the actual hardware used in the at once ubiquitous and mysterious “spy numbers” stations emanating on shortwave from Cuba (even today) and from Eastern Bloc nations (during the Cold War).
Apparently the technology used by the ’80s consisted of digital voice samples on EEPROMs, and paper tape (of the same kind used in my high school computer lab circa 1972) for the actual encoded messages.
Back in 1989, some jokester put on a faux “spy numbers” station on 7425 kHz (and a few other frequencies) that sent messages read by an accented female announcer consisting of Mexican food items instead of Spanish numbers — “Attencion — taco… burrito… tamale… tamale… nacho… — final… final…” Hilarious.
Here are the six videos followed by the original author’s commentary:
Commentary from the video producer:
“This machine pronounces, in a monotone voice, a string of numbers used by intelligence agencies for one-way shortwave radio communication with their agents in enemy countries. This machine belongs to a German collector who has a vast collection of various spy gadgets. There were many machines of this particular model produced in East Germany for usage within the DDR itself or other Communist bloc nations, like the Soviet Union or Cuba.
“The printed circuit boards only contains the voice samples of the lady pronouncing numbers in either German or Spanish. The EEPROMs never contain the actual message. For a message to be put in the machine a paper tape was used that not only contained the actual message intended for the agent, but also (coding that determined) the number of times this message should be repeated by the machine.
“The Speech/morse generator can also change the speed at which the pronunciation occurs, giving the voice a slightly higher or lower pitch.”