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Friday, September 09, 2011

Radio By The Numbers

(From an idea by Rob Pastorio-Newman; originally published at on May 25, 2001)

ALTROK scans the farthest reaches of the broadcast spectrum in order to bring you, the ALTROK reader, breaking alternative radio news. Today, we'll focus on Numbers stations.

According to the Numbers page at, Numbers stations are "stations that do nothing but read blocks of numbers, usually using a woman's voice, in a variety of languages and on innumerable different frequencies. All available evidence indicates that some of these transmissions may be somehow connected to espionage activities. These are the numbers stations, the most enduring mystery on the shortwave bands."

Recently, ALTROK had the privelege of speaking with the new program director at a prominent numbers station. Though his name and location cannot be disclosed, he was happy to discuss the new direction he's planning for his station.

ALTROK: Mr. [name withheld], what sort of changes do you expect to bring to the station?

Numbers PD: I have completely severed the station from its past. Before I got here, it was kind of moving forward, but not really letting go of the old numbers. You can't move forward swiftly, if you're looking over your shoulder.

ALTROK: Does that mean a change in your station's sound?

Numbers PD: The old numbers that were too obscure have been dropped, and the station is focused on 25-39 year-olds, with a female lean.

ALTROK: This is as opposed to the previous audience, who were CIA, KGB and Mossad operatives in the field, who depended on the codes within the numbers for their orders.

Numbers PD: Yes. They might be international espionage operatives, but they're not a big enough demo to build ratings on.

ALTROK: You've conducted research to further hone your station's sound.

Numbers PD: The station's old library was too large. We've found out what our demo really wants to hear, and we've trimmed the library to accommodate that.

ALTROK: And what did you take away from that research?

Numbers PD: Well, of all the numbers we tested from "1" to "10", we found the average was "5". So we'll focus on that.

ALTROK: The number "5".

Numbers PD: That's right. Occasionally we'll thrown in old favorites like "8" or "3", but our audience has spoken, and we're listening.

ALTROK: You don't think the audience will get tired of that before long?

Numbers PD: Hey, this is big business now. The numbers don't lie.

©2001 Sean Carolan

[Editor's note: This repost was brought on by my first-ever exposure to the classic parody of radio formatted to the ultimate extreme, "NINE!", which is available in it's monosyllabic glory here.]


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