“Cherry Ripe” – The Numbers Station

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From the Wireless Institute of Australia News bulletin 27/12/13: In our world of Radio Communications over the years maybe the Weirdest you may have come across are what are known as “The Numbers Stations.”

Many have heard of the Cuban numbers being read by a female, but here in VK Cherry Ripe was the nickname of a mysterious, powerful shortwave numbers station that used several bars from the English folk song “Cherry Ripe” as an interval signal. The station was believed to be operated by the British Secret Intelligence Service and to have emanated from Australia.

It is likely that the station was used to communicate messages to undercover agents operating in other countries, to be decoded using a one-time pad.

Cherry Ripe had a more famous and much more active Middle-Eastern cousin, the Lincolnshire Poacher, which also used several bars from the English folk song of the same name as its interval signal.

Lincolnshire Poacher had long been suspected as being operated by Britain and had been detected as emanating from Cyprus.

Apart from the interval signal, the format and voice of these two stations was identical, though as of July 2008 the Lincolnshire Poacher appeared to no longer be active and December 2009 Cherry Ripe also went off air.

Though most governments probably don’t want to go on record admitting this, shortwave counting stations were set up to enable one-way communications to a spy embedded in an area. Secret messages are encoded as numbers and are transmitted, after a short and (sometimes) snappy musical preamble, via the human voice. Since they probably change the cipher for each message, and because it’s nearly impossible to locate the consumer, this method of information broadcast is supposed to be highly secure.

So why would a person want to listen to this stuff?

Well back in the cold war period, late 50’s late 70’s you couldn’t really tune too far out of band without hearing “Numbers Stations.” Also Cherry Ripe was active as we said until almost 2010.

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