“THE BERKSHIRE UFO INCIDENT” and More Strange True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: On September 1, 1969, about 40 people in Berkshire County, Massachusetts reported seeing a UFO — and one boy named Thomas Reed claimed that he and his family were all taken aboard. (The Berkshire County UFO) *** On the south-west corner of Carfax, in Oxford, a small, inconspicuous inscription on the side of an old building marks the site of one of the bloodiest bar fights in history… and I’ll tell you the story. (The Bad Beer Brawl) *** On June 28, 1914, while riding in a limousine, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were killed by an assassin. As if that were not horrific enough, the incident triggered World War One. Ever since, the limousine is considered cursed, and few people who have come into contact with the car since then have survived. But why? (The Cursed Car That Started WW1) *** The radio station is officially known as “MDZhB” in Russia. It’s been continually broadcasting since 1982. And no one knows why. Because, you see… nobody works there… so who is doing the broadcasting? (The Radio Station Run By Ghosts)
TRANSCRIPT FOR THIS EPISODE…
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MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE…
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STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“The Berkshire County UFO” by Natasha Ishak for All That’s Interesting: https://tinyurl.com/ybhqlyh3, and Debra Kelly for Grunge: https://tinyurl.com/y29ha5w5.
“The Bad Beer Brawl” by Kaushik Patowary for Amusing Planet: https://tinyurl.com/y43tnnm8
“The Cursed Car That Started WW1” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages: https://tinyurl.com/y4f36zyy
“The Radio Station Run By Ghosts” by Zaria Gorvett for BBC: https://tinyurl.com/uhyatpu
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Of all the world’s unsolved mysteries, those with a paranormal twist are probably the most difficult — and the most controversial. Are they really mysteries? Is there anything to solve… or are these tales simply that — tall tales? For the Reed family of Massachusetts, their stories of unexplained encounters are anything but tall tales. Instead, they are encounters that span three generations and entire decades, punctuated by terrifying instances of lost time, encounters with alien creatures, and — perhaps even worse — ridicule and harassment from those who heard the stories. The previously obscure case reached a whole new audience when it was featured in the first season of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries reboot in July of 2020. Will anyone come forward to shed a light on just what has been happening to the Reed family? Or will it simply… continue to happen to them? Are they destined to keep having mysterious and unexplained encounters? Or is there a rational explanation for what’s been happening to them for more than 50 years?
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode of Weird Darkness…
On the south-west corner of Carfax, in Oxford, a small, inconspicuous inscription on the side of an old building marks the site of one of the bloodiest bar fights in history… and I’ll tell you the story.
On June 28, 1914, while riding in a limousine, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were killed by an assassin. As if that were not horrific enough, the incident triggered World War One. Ever since, the limousine is considered cursed, and few people who have come into contact with the car since then have survived. But why?
The radio station is officially known as “MDZhB” in Russia. It’s been continually broadcasting since 1982. And no one knows why. Because, you see… nobody works there… so who is doing the broadcasting?
On September 1, 1969, about 40 people in Berkshire County, Massachusetts reported seeing a UFO — and one boy named Thomas Reed claimed that he and his family were all taken aboard.
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On the evening of Sept. 1, 1969, strange lights descended on the town of Sheffield, located in the southern Berkshires. Many who saw these lights said that they were attached to a UFO.
According to witness accounts, the UFO in question was a disk-shaped craft that performed acrobatic maneuvers in the sky above the Berkshires. It’s unclear exactly how long the phenomenon lasted, but many witnesses of alleged UFO encounters describe losing track of time.
The Berkshires is a region of rural highlands in western Massachusetts. It encompasses large swaths of wilderness, making it a popular tourist destination for hikers and nature lovers during the summer. The Berkshires are also made up of mostly small towns, which, in the case of curious extraterrestrial beings, makes it an ideal spot to visit.
However, the seemingly brief UFO encounter was apparently powerful enough to leave a lingering sense of mass confusion in its wake. Schoolchildren were drawing UFOs in class while adults called into the local radio station to explain what they had seen.
“We had listeners call the radio station that evening,” said David Isy, general manager of local radio station WSBS. “At the time they didn’t know it was a UFO, they just, you know, called the station to say something bizarre has happened.”
Many people who saw the strange light vessel that night were left bewildered. Nobody seemed to know what they saw, but they knew that they saw something. The incident has since been dubbed the 1969 Berkshire UFO.
It was later estimated that about 40 people reported seeing the UFO. Some of them who were children at the time still live in the area today.
“Children coming into school, talking about the event,” said Robert Krol, the director of the Great Barrington Historical Society, in 2018. “An old student of mine! One is a local shop owner whose father was the… police chief in town. So these are reliable people. These are not self-promoters.”
The witness accounts were so plentiful and compelling that the local Great Barrington Historical Society recognized the encounter as “the first off-world/UFO case in U.S. history” about 45 years later.
But did the 1969 Berkshire UFO incident actually happen?
Whether or not you believe the witness stories, the Berkshire UFO in 1969 was no doubt a remarkable event for the townspeople of Sheffield.
While many have admitted to seeing the UFO vessel or its strange lights, the most prominent eyewitness is by far Thomas Reed.
According to Reed’s account, he saw the UFO when he was 9 years old on Sept. 1, 1969, while he was in the car with his mother, grandmother, and brother.
As Reed recalled, the family was heading home from their restaurant Village on the Green and he was busy giving his brother a little fireball candy. Suddenly, they noticed a mass of glowing lights peaking out from behind the lush trees on the empty road.
The strange lights continued to spill out from behind the trees as the family crossed the covered Sheffield bridge, but they didn’t know what to make of the sight.
“We all looked at it because it was kind of a self-contained glow,” Reed said. “It rose up a little bit. It looked like it followed the dirt road, which I’m sure it probably didn’t, but it appeared that way because we could see it through the trees. The light started to bleed through once we broke into a little bit of a clearing. We could see inside the car so the light was flooding inside the car.”
After an amber glow emerged on both sides of the road, Reed recalled being taken to a hangar-like area that was bigger than a football field.
“We encountered something,” Reed said. “It was definitely not of this world. We had a black and white television at time and the imagery that we saw on this thing was unbelievable. There were lights that looked like fluorescent tubing inside this hangar.”
“This hallway we had seen was circular with a Y-configuration almost to control the flow of traffic. This one room had a bowed-in wall that was rounded. This was not something that you would have seen in 1969 anywhere else. I have no idea where I was, but I know that what I saw was very different than anything I’ve even seen today 50 years later.”
Glimpses of this strange place muddied his brain until he realized they were back inside the car. His grandmother and mother had switched seats.
More astonishingly, there were no more glowing lights, Reed said.
“Everything got really calm. It was like being in the middle of a hurricane. There was like a barometric change in pressure. It was just like a dead silence. Then there was an eruption of crickets and frogs and it got really loud and that was it,” Reed said, adding that it was all “quite confusing.”
Reed has been the most vocal witness to the 1969 Berkshire UFO. He helped convince other witnesses to pool money together to erect a 5,000-pound concrete monument, which was built by the covered Sheffield bridge where he saw the UFO with his family. Benching and lighting decorations were also placed around the monument after it was erected.
Later, Reed formed the non-profit UFO Monument Park Inc. to maintain the plot of land where the monument stood.
Word of the 1969 Berkshire UFO reached beyond Sheffield. In Roswell, New Mexico (the location of another infamous UFO encounter), the International UFO Museum put up a display of the alleged Berkshire craft.
Although the town of Sheffield seemed to embrace the Berkshire UFO incident at first, the novelty of the story has worn off among some residents in recent years.
Disagreements between those who believe the UFO monument marked a significant event in the town’s history and those who saw the monument as an eyesore began to boil over.
In 2019, just about four years after it was erected, the town removed the Berkshire UFO monument. The town’s attorney’s assessment that the monument had been erected on town property quickly paved the way for lawful removal.
According to Reed, there were no issues with the town officials during the plans to build the UFO monument. But officials painted a different story.
“It’s kind of on town property and no one decided it could go there,” said Town Administrator Rhonda LaBombard. “The town has bylaws and if we let one place put something up then why can’t someone else? I don’t want that to happen.”
According to a town land survey, the monument’s location was on a town right-of-way and had to be removed. To add insult to injury, other parties withdrew their public support for the monument as well.
In 2018, a spokesperson for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, whose signature was sealed onto the UFO monument, told the Boston Globe that the signature had been issued in error. The Great Barrington Historical Society, which described the mass Berkshire UFO sighting as a “significant and true” event in 2015, backpedaled on its support, too.
“I think the Historical Society regrets that our words or our decision has been taken out of context,” said Krol, who added that the incident was significant to the town but the organization shouldn’t have focused on one individual (an obvious reference to Reed).
In 2019, after there were no efforts by Reed and his colleagues to remove the structure, the town hauled away the UFO monument for good.
“The monument was removed at considerable expense to the town,” said Selectman Martin Mitsoff, who could not give the precise cost of the removal. “Unfortunately, the party responsible was not responsive.” Meanwhile, Reed said that he and his colleagues would fight the removal.
Despite the human drama surrounding the event, the 1969 Berkshire UFO sighting continues to fascinate UFO enthusiasts from all over the world. Perhaps the Unsolved Mysteries reboot will bring us just a little bit closer to answers — and resolution.
On the south-west corner of Carfax, in Oxford, a small, inconspicuous inscription on the side of an old building marks the site of one of the bloodiest bar fights in history… and I’ll tell you the story.
Plus, how could a limousine cause WW1? Well, what if I was to tell you it was cursed?
That story is up next when Weird Darkness returns!
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It soon became obvious something was very wrong.
Few people who came in contact with this very strange car survived. Is it really possible that certain objects are cursed?
Are we dealing with supernatural forces or a series of remarkable coincidences? Can a new theory about energy shed more light on why this particular car brought so much tragedy?
I’ll present to you the mystery but I’ll let you decide what to think of these bizarre incidents and rest assured these events will give you plenty to ponder.
When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria visited Sarajevo, former Yugoslavia he wanted a magnificent car that would make an impression on people. The political instability in Europe was one of the reasons why the Archduke considered it necessary to arrange a huge parade.
On June 28, 1914, while riding in a limousine, an open touring car Archduke and his wife Sophie were killed by an assassin, who was a young nationalist by the name of Gavrilo Princip.
This event triggered World War I in which approximately 20 million people died.
According to the legend, the limousine carries a curse from that fateful day.
The car was not put away or set on display. Instead, it became the property of General Portiorek, one of the original riders on the assassination day. The car did not bring Portiorek much luck though. After an embarrassing military defeat, the General was summoned to Vienna where he was deeply humiliated. Soon after that, he began having mental problems and died in an insane asylum.
The next owner was an Army Captain. While he was driving the car, two peasants walked out on the road in front of him. He swerved, but hit them and crashed into a tree. Everyone was killed.
After the end of the war, the Governor of Yugoslavia acquired the car and restored it.
However, the car was involved in four accidents over the course of four months and the Governor lost his right arm in one of the mishaps. He considered the car bad luck and wanted to get rid off it. His friend, Dr. Srikis, who did not believe in curses and said this notion was silly, bought the car and drove it for six months until the car overturned and killed him.
The next car owner was also a doctor, but when his superstitious patients refused to visit him, he sold the limousine to a Swiss racing driver, who later died in an accident involving this same vehicle.
According to some sources, he met his death by being thrown over a stone wall.
Then a wealthy farmer bought the car. One day, the car would not start. He asked his neighbor for help and they hitched it to a wagon to tow it. Suddenly, the car started and fell on the farmers, killing them both.
Tiber Hirshfield was the last owner of this frightening car. One day, he was on his way to a wedding party with five of his friends. The driver tried to pass a long row of cars.
Suddenly, without any obvious reason, the car mysteriously spun out of control and crashed. Four people, including Hirshfield, were killed. Only one person survived the accident.
Finally, this deadly limousine was transported to a museum in Vienna. A man called Karl Brunner was responsible for the car. He used to tell stories of all accidents and people who died when they came in contact with this car. He forbid visitors to even sit in the limousine.
During World War II the museum was hit and ruined by bombs. This was the end of what was once the limousine of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The car was destroyed and Karl Brunner died during the attack.
Curses can be both spoken and written. Some incidents indicate that objects can be cursed and affect anyone who owns the object. People who possess a cursed object can experience bad luck and misfortune. They can become ill and even die.
According to a rather new theory that most mainstream scientists still question, it’s possible that humans can pick up good or bad energy from a place or other people. Basically, what we sense is linked to our perception of positive or negative chemosignals leftover in that particular environment.
This means that if you enter a room where something horrible causing fear has happened, you may actually feel bad vibes. Those who were present in the room left negative chemosignals that you pick up.
What is unknown is how long such chemosignals are present in the environment. It is also unclear how the human brain processes chemosignals and while a reaction evolves quickly, it’s undetermined how long it lasts.”
Having this theory in mind, we may ask whether bad energy was somehow still present in this dangerous car. Could people who entered the car have picked up bad vibes?
Most listeners would agree that the story about Archduke’s red limousine is rather strange.
One does not necessarily have to believe in curses and the involvement of supernatural forces to understand something was wrong with this car from the beginning.
But was it a curse or pure coincidence? That’s up to you to decide.
On the south-west corner of Carfax, in Oxford, a small, inconspicuous inscription on the side of an old building marks the site of one of the bloodiest pub brawls in history. Before this building was sold to the Abbey National Building Society, it was occupied by the Swindlestock Tavern, a popular watering hole among Oxford University’s students and the townsfolk alike.
On 10 February 1355, the entire town was celebrating the feast day of Saint Scholastica. Some students were drinking at Swindlestock Tavern, when two of them complained about the quality of the wine served. The landlord and the tavern’s owner, who also happened to be Mayor of Oxford at the time, allegedly responded to their complaint with “stubborn and saucy language”; whereupon a student threw his drink on the owner’s face, followed by the empty wine jug that landed straight on the tavern owner’s head.
A fight erupted and other customers present in the tavern, both locals and students, joined in and soon the fight spilled out of the tavern and onto the streets. Somebody rang the bell at the town’s church to summon assistance, and the students rang the bells of the University Church in response. When the Chancellor of the University tried to intervene, arrows were fired at him and he had to retreat.
The next day, about eighty townsmen, armed with bows and other weapons, ambushed the St Giles’ Church in the north part of the town and killed at least one student and badly injured several others. The students attempted to close the town’s gates to prevent outsiders from coming to the aid of the townsfolk. But by afternoon, some 2,000 men from the countryside had broken through the gates. The men raided all hostels and inns and either killed or maimed any student found. The carnage continued the next day. Clerics and scholars were scalped and their corpses buried in dunghills, left in the gutters, dumped into cesspits or thrown into the river.
By the evening of the third day the passions of the townspeople had been spent, but not before some ninety-odd people were dead. The students suffered the most with more than sixty dead, although some historians put the figure at forty. Casualties among the townspeople was no lesser. About thirty or so may have been killed.
The town’s mayor paid the price for the violence—he was sent to the dreaded Marshalsea prison. Four months after the riot, the King issued a royal charter that not only secured the rights and privileges of the university but vastly extended them. For example, the university was allowed the right to tax bread and drink sold in the town, and the power to assay the weights and measures used in commerce.
While this might sound like an unfair amount of privileges for an educational institute, one must understand that medieval universities were very different than they are now. Scholars were akin to a religious order, and when a university took residence in a town, the chancellor negotiated favorable terms on their behalf for facilities such as lodging and lecture halls. The universities received monetary benefits from the Catholic Church, and this financial freedom from the municipality in which they reside gave universities considerable independence from civil authority. The Catholic Church made sure that scholars’ rights were protected, and in many disputes between townsfolk and the students, the Church always took the side of the universities.
The townsfolk resented the scholars and regarded them with disdain. Some students openly encroached local laws with impunity knowing they were immune from civil authorities.
Violent confrontations between “town and gown” were commonplace in university towns, and Oxford was no stranger to riots. In 1209, two Oxford scholars were lynched by the town’s locals following the death of a woman. A fight ensued and several scholars were forced into exile. Some of them settled in Cambridge and they started what is now the University of Cambridge. Eventually, tensions developed between the scholars at Cambridge and the townspeople forcing the king to grant special privileges and protection to Cambridge University, which helped enormously in the survival and future success of the university.
Again, in 1248 a Scottish scholar was murdered by the citizens, and King Henry III fined the town’s authorities. Between 1297 and 1322, twenty nine counts of violence was recorded between the town and the students. Of these 12 arose due to murders committed by students. Many of these went unpunished by the university. In one incident, in 1298, a citizen was murdered by a student and in response the townspeople also killed one student. The townsfolk responsible for killing the scholar were excommunicated and the town was fined, but no punishments were given to the students.
The St. Scholastica Day Riot was by far the worst, but the consequences of it were predictable. The town was punished and the students were pardoned. The King even went so far as to humiliate the new mayor and the bailiffs into an annual penance where they were required to attend the town’s church for mass on each St. Scholastica day and swear to uphold the university’s rights for ever. This ritual continued for an astounding 470 years until it was repelled in 1825.
By the mid-15th century, things started to change when it was realized that universities were growing too powerful. An effort was made to end student power within the universities. Papal legates were ordered to reform the universities and restrict student boycotts and strikes. Over the centuries, the relationship between town and gown improved. Eventually, towns began to take pride in their universities rather than look upon them as adversaries.
When Weird Darkness returns…
The radio station is officially known as “MDZhB” in Russia. It’s been continually broadcasting since 1982. And no one knows why. Because, you see… nobody works there… so who is doing the broadcasting?
The story is up next.
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In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.
It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues. What you are hearing behind my voice is the actual signal from radio station “MDZhB”.
Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.
It’s so enigmatic, it’s as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as “the Buzzer”. It joins two similar mystery stations, “the Pip” and the “Squeaky Wheel”. As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.
In fact, no-one does. “There’s absolutely no information in the signal,” says David Stupples, an expert in signals intelligence from City University, London.
So what’s going on?
The frequency is thought to belong to the Russian military, though they’ve never actually admitted this. It first began broadcasting at the close of the Cold War, when communism was in decline. Today it’s transmitted from two locations – the St Petersburg site and a location near Moscow. Bizarrely, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, rather than shutting down, the station’s activity sharply increased.
There’s no shortage of theories to explain what the Buzzer might be for – ranging from keeping in touch with submarines to communing with aliens. One such idea is that it’s acting as a “Dead Hand” signal; in the event Russia is hit by a nuclear attack, the drone will stop and automatically trigger a retaliation. No questions asked, just total nuclear obliteration on both sides.
This may not be as wacky as it sounds. The system was originally pioneered in the Soviet era, where it took the form of a computer system which scanned the airwaves for signs of life or nuclear fallout. Alarmingly, many experts believe it may still be in use. As Russian president Vladimir Putin pointed out himself in 2017, “nobody would survive” a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. Could the Buzzer be warding one off?
As it happens, there are clues in the signal itself. Like all international radio, the Buzzer operates at a relatively low frequency known as “shortwave”. This means that – compared to local radio, mobile phone and television signals – fewer waves pass through a single point every second. It also means they can travel a lot further.
While you’d be hard pressed to listen to a local station such as BBC Radio London in a neighbouring county, shortwave stations like the BBC World Service are aimed at audiences from Senegal to Singapore. Both stations are broadcast from the same building.
It’s all thanks to “skywaves”. Higher frequency radio signals can only travel in a straight line, eventually becoming lost as they bump into obstacles or reach the horizon. But shortwave frequencies have an extra trick – they can bounce off charged particles in the upper atmosphere, allowing them to zig-zag between the earth and the sky and travel thousands, rather than tens, of miles.
Which brings us back to the Dead Hand theory. As you might expect, shortwave signals have proved extremely popular. Today they’re used by ships, aircraft and the military to send messages across continents, oceans and mountain ranges. But there’s a catch.
The lofty layer isn’t so much a flat mirror, but a wave, which undulates like the surface of the ocean. During the day it moves steadily higher, while at night, it creeps down towards the Earth. If you want to absolutely guarantee that your station can be heard on the other side of the planet – and if you’re using it as a cue for nuclear war, you probably do – it’s important to change the frequency depending on the time of day, to catch up. The BBC World Service already does this. The Buzzer doesn’t.
Another idea is that the radio station exists to “sound” out how far away the layer of charged particles is. “To get good results from the radar systems the Russians use to spot missiles, you need to know this,” says Stupples. The longer the signal takes to get up into the sky and down again, the higher it must be.
Alas, that can’t be it either. To analyse the layer’s altitude the signal would usually have a certain sound, like a car alarm going off – the result of varying the waves to get them just right. “They sound nothing like the Buzzer,” says Stupples.
Intriguingly, there is a station with some striking similarities. The “Lincolnshire Poacher” ran from the mid-1970s to 2008. Just like the Buzzer, it could be heard on the other side of the planet. Just like the Buzzer, it emanated from an undisclosed location, thought to be somewhere in Cyprus. And just like the Buzzer, its transmissions were just plain creepy.
At the beginning of every hour, the station would play the first two bars of an English folk tune, the Lincolnshire Poacher.
“Oh ‘tis my delight on a shining night
In the season of the year
When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire
‘Twas well I served my master for nigh on seven years…”
After repeating this 12 times, it would move on to messages read by the disembodied voice of a woman reading groups of five numbers – “1-2-0-3-6” – in a clipped, upper-class English accent.
To get to grips with what was going on, it helps to go back to the 1920s. The All-Russian Co-operative Society (Arcos) was an important trade body, responsible for overseeing transactions between the UK and the early Soviet Union. Or at least, that’s what they said they did.
In May 1927, years after a British secret agent caught an employee sneaking into a communist news office in London, police officers stormed the Arcos building. The basement had been rigged with anti-intruder devices and they discovered a secret room with no door handle, in which workers were hurriedly burning documents.
It may have been dramatic, but the British didn’t discover anything that they didn’t already know. Instead the raid was a wake-up call to the Soviets, who discovered that MI5 had been listening in on them for years.
“This was a blunder of the very first order,” says Anthony Glees, who directs the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham. To justify the raid, the prime minister had even read out some of the deciphered telegrams in the House of Commons.
The upshot was that the Russians completely reinvented the way messages are encrypted. Almost overnight, they switched to “one-time pads”. In this system, a random key is generated by the person sending the message and shared only with the person receiving it. As long as the key really is perfectly random, the code cannot be cracked. There was no longer any need to worry about who could hear their messages.
Enter the “numbers stations” – radio stations that broadcast coded messages to spies all over the world. Soon even the British were doing it: if you can’t beat them, join ‘em, as they say. It’s quite difficult to generate a completely random number because a system for doing so will, by its very nature, be predictable – exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Instead officers in London found an ingenious solution.
They’d hang a microphone out of the window on Oxford Street and record the traffic. “There might be a bus beeping at the same time as a policeman shouting. The sound is unique, it will never happen again,” says Stupples. Then they’d convert this into a random code.
Of course, that didn’t stop people trying to break them. During World War Two, the British realised that they could, in fact, decipher the messages – but they’d have to get their hands on the one-time pad that was used to encrypt them. “We discovered that the Russians used the out-of-date sheets of one-time pads as substitute toilet paper in Russian army hospitals in East Germany,” says Glees. Needless to say, British intelligence officers soon found themselves rifling through the contents of Soviet latrines.
The new channel of communication was so useful, it didn’t take long before the numbers stations had popped up all over the world. There was the colourfully named “Nancy Adam Susan”, “Russian Counting Man” and “Cherry Ripe” – the Lincolnshire Poacher’s sister station, which also contained bars of an English folk song. In name at least, the Buzzer fits right in.
It also fits with a series of arrests across the United States back in 2010. The FBI announced that it had broken up a “long term, deep cover” network of Russian agents, who were said to have received their instructions via coded messages on shortwave radio – specifically 7887 kHz.
Now North Korea are getting in on the act, too. On 14 April 2017, the broadcaster at Radio Pyongyang began: “I’m giving review works in elementary information technology lessons of the remote education university for No 27 expedition agents.” This ill-concealed military message was followed by a series of page numbers – No 69 on page 823, page 957 – which look a lot like code.
It may come as a surprise that numbers stations are still in use – but they hold one major advantage. Though it’s possible to guess who is broadcasting, anyone can listen to the messages – so you don’t know who they are being sent to. Mobile phones and the internet may be quicker, but open a text or email from a known intelligence agency and you could be rumbled.
It’s a compelling idea: the Buzzer has been hiding in plain sight, instructing a network of illicit Russian spies all over the world. There’s just one problem. The Buzzer never broadcasts any numbered messages.
This doesn’t strictly matter, since one-time pads can be used to translate anything – from code words to garbled speech. “If this phone call was encrypted you’d hear “…enejekdhejenw…’ but then it would come out the other side sounding like normal speech,” says Stupples. But this would leave traces in the signal.
To send information over the radio, essentially all you’re doing is varying the height or spacing of the waves being transmitted. For example, two low waves in a row means x, or three waves closer together means y. When a signal is carrying information, instead of neat, evenly spaced waves like ripples on the ocean, you’re left with a wave like the jagged silhouette of an ECG.
This isn’t the Buzzer. Instead, many believe that the station is a hybrid of two things. The constant drone is just a marker, saying “this frequency is mine, this frequency is mine…” to stop people from using it.
It only becomes a numbers station in moments of crisis, such as if Russia were invaded. Then it would function as a way to instruct their worldwide spy network and military forces on standby in remote areas. After all, this is a country around 70 times the size of the UK.
It seems they’re already been practicing. “In 2013 they issued a special message, ‘COMMAND 135 ISSUED’ that was said to be test message for full combat readiness,” says Māris Goldmanis, a radio enthusiast who listens to the station from his home in the Baltic states.
The mystery of the Russian radio may have been solved. But if its fans are right, let’s just hope that drone never stops.
Up next on Weird Darkness, we’ll step into the Chamber of Comments.
Here in the Chamber of Comments I answer your emails, comments, podcast reviews, letters I get in the mail, and more. You can find all of my contact information, postal address, and social media links on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com. While you’re there, you can join the very active “Weird Darkness Weirdos” Facebook Group, and hang out with me and the rest of our Weirdo family! And you can drop me an email anytime at: darren @ weirddarkness.com.
(Email from Thomas Duff): Hello darren kinda don’t understand emailing very well hope this gets to u but I love ur shows they keep me on the grind at work I work 12 hour days an I jus got back off lay off from the covid-19 stuff so they kinda stuck me on nights witch makes it a lil more intense lol any how u r awesome man any way I’m looking for a story (hope) u can help. its the truck driver one of the tanker and his dog got killed an ol dude’s truck brakes cought fire and the tanker killed him self trying to get revenge on the other trucker an it was all over his one companion on the highway.
REPLY: Hi, Thomas! I believe you are referring to the story “One Bad Night” by Jason R. Davis. It’s actually an audiobook which you can find on the audiobooks page of the website. But you probably heard it from an archives episode I posted last year, you’re listening to old episodes I’m sure. It was included in an episode titled “Stull Cemetery – A Gateway To Hell”. You can search for that at WeirdDarkness.com, but I’ll place a direct link to that episode in the show notes of this episode as well. I hope this helps!
(Email from Michael P.): Hey Darren! Just discovered your show and have been binging at work and i find it exceedingly comforting and fun. It’s like your a friend talking to me who I can pause when I need to focus. I heard the recent emails you had gotten over a few stories involving extreme subject matter- specifically child murders. I thought you handled those complaints extremely well. But I wanted to send you a quick note to maybe help out with any insecurity you might feel as a result. I survived years of childhood violence which climaxed in the person who was hurting me trying to kill me. They in fact thought they had killed me through strangulation and it was by sheer luck I was able to wake up 10 or 15 minutes later and by that time… they had lost the will. So, in a lot of ways I am probably one of your few listeners who actually was murdered. And I can tell you that I have never had a problem with your content. Even the more dicey stuff I think you handle it well by not dwelling on the violence. If it ever becomes too much for me I just skip that episode- which has more to do with how me and my therapist have decided to handle triggers than anything you create. I wanted to let you know that, at the very least, someone out there who was most likely to be affected by the issue was not harmed by the content choices. I think you do a good job. Respect your listeners and are sincere in caring about those of us out there who have a harder time with some specific topics. I recall I used to listen to a true crime and cryptid cast that was mostly ghosts and werewolves… who one day decided to do an extremely detailed story about things happening to children… and then started raging at their audience for being shocked. Their response was, “It’s a HORROR cast of COURSE it will trigger you!” but… if one day I tune in and it’s fluffy werewolves… and the next it’s detailed assault? These things are not the same and I appreciate someone who gets the difference and doesn’t take the “easy” path out by blaming listeners. You do great work, for a great cause and I have a lot of esteem for you. All my best, Michael P.
REPLY: Thank you very much for the support and encouragement, Michael – I appreciate it! Sounds like you have truly had a nightmare of an experience, so you’ve earned the right to have an opinion when it comes to what is too dark. I’m glad you like what I create and that you aren’t bothered by it. Of course, deeming something too dark, or too light or too gruesome or too religious or too… whatever… it’s all subjective, so it doesn’t really matter what I do, someone is going to be offended. I just have to be okay with that, and know that 99-percent of my listeners continue to be my listeners because they like what I do, and that I shouldn’t worry about it too much. The 1-percent who are concerned will either stop listening, at which point it will no longer be an issue for them, or they will send me a (hopefully) respectful email to bring up their concerns and engage in a civil conversation.
(Email from Joseph R.): Hello Mr. Marlar. I have struggled with depression since my teen years, so we’ll call it about 30 years or more as I am now 46. I was a Corrections Officer for 12 years, but was forced to leave that job when I was struck by a stroke in February 2011, then when I was able to return to work that July, I blew my neck out in September. I was out of sick time, the injuries didn’t happen at work, so my union couldn’t protect me and L&I couldn’t protect me either. I took the opportunity to reforge myself into what I deep down really aspired to be, and that was a chef. I went to culinary school for 9 months, then proceeded on to get my AA then BA in Hospitality/Restaurant Management. I had quite a bit of success in both areas, but I was forced to leave the restaurant business behind as I suffered severe back and hip injuries and I have gradually been losing my ability to move/walk without severe pain and difficulty. This has caused my depression to worsen and the struggle has become much harder. I still take my meds and see my doctor and therapist regularly. Which brings me to a few months ago. I came across your podcast, Weird Darkness, and was floored by the presentation. I have listened to various other True Crime or Paranormal themed podcasts for years. But yours is, in my view, very unique. First, your delivery is superb. But what else should I expect from someone with your background in broadcasting and VO work? Back in college i worked for 2 years in radio as an on air talent and I can very much appreciate your hard work to achieve this level of delivery and skill. Also, having the music beds really add to the presentation and make the stories you tell so much more visceral and dramatic. The content you choose is always varied and, despite some really graphic or disturbing content, entertaining. Much in the way a good horror film is enjoyable. Finally, your outreach and championing of depression awareness is perhaps what has hooked me the most. You see, since I cannot do many activities I took as a given before my health difficulties began, I spend most of my waking time in a lot of pain, and stuck either sitting or laying down. With so much time on my hands, the old saying began to come to fruition with perhaps a twist. “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” should be changed to “Idle hands are depression’s playground” in my case. I got further and further in my head, rehashing what I should’ve or could’ve done differently in my life and careers to be much more financially secure. My wife became disabled after a nasty car accident in 2009, so we were very much dependent on my income, which was quite sufficient as 3 of our kids had already reached 18 and beyond and moved out already and we only had 2 left at home, and those two left a couple of years ago. But with my health issues piling up and suffering from financial and thus sometimes food insecurity, life has been very bleak these last few years. Then came you and the podcast. Since listening to your content and your message that reminds me that I am not alone in the fight with depression, that there are many others like yourself that struggle just like me. Your content reminds me, at the end when you give some scripture to ponder and another message of positive thoughts. It has become my way of getting daily affirmations that I can really connect to, I suppose. I know you receive many messages in a similar vein as mine, but I felt led to share with you a bit of my story and how sharing your gift of storytelling has helped yet another person who has had a really nasty stretch these last few years see a bit more light. Thank you Mr. Marlar. I hope that this message finds you and your family well and that you remain safe and well. Respectfully, Joseph R.
REPLY: Hey, Joseph. You are right, you are not alone – although I am sure you feel that way quite a bit, especially lately with the pandemic and the economy compounding the issues you already had to deal with. It’s emails like yours that make me wish I was independently wealthy and could just reach out and give you a bag of money anonymously to help get you by for a while. But that would only be a temporary band-aid, not a solution. The one thing I can do is promise that I will pray for you and your bride tonight – and ask that our Weirdo family do the same, especially the Weirdos in Christ who listen. God can do so much more than I could ever dream, and you never know what might come of the trials you are working through right now. You might be able to show others around you even now how to live gratefully for what you do have, and when the day comes that you come out on the other side, you can tell others how you made it through, being someone they can turn to for advice, counsel, and encouragement.
(Email from Mikey A.): Darren. Came across your podcast a couple weeks ago. After a couple misgivings, I’ve come to really enjoy your show. To the point that when you release a day’s podcast late (Or at least about once a week it seems I get notifications for 2 days episodes at one time), I get kind of bummed. I really look forward to it. At first, I was a little…unsure.. about how I felt about the bible verse at the end. I’m a gay man who was raised without any religion(I’ve found my own personal spiritual path in life) and grew up weirder than most. Like many of us LGBT+ folks, my experiences with Christianity have tended to be fairly negative. But, it seems most if not all of your bible quotes tend to be inspirational rather than preachy, so I don’t feel proselytized. I also at first kept thinking “I wish he delved deeper into this”, and then I realized you’re not the source, but just the narration for these pieces, and decided to appreciate them for what they are. Then, I came across one of your HP Lovecraft episodes. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I love Lovecraft, but reading him is a bit of a trudge. You bring a life to his words that just isn’t there when reading him. Feel free to narrate any of his stories, any time you want. I apologize if this seems backhanded at all, it’s not meant to be, you’re doing a GREAT job. One final note, in “Literally dying of fright” during all the newspaper clips, you mentioned a town in Indiana, Vincennes, just as an FYI it is pronounced ‘vin sins’. Thanks for all you do for us weirdos, and for those who suffer from mental illness. Weirder, and Darker than most, Mikey.
REPLY: Hey, Mikey! I can’t believe it’s pronounced Vin Sins… are you sure about that? If so, then I have some explaining to do to a LOT of people there from a few years ago when I performed there as a standup comedian and mispronounced the name of their town from the stage numerous times. UGH! Oh well… I guess I now know it wasn’t the jokes they were laughing at, it was my stupidity! D’OH! Your email is one of the greatest compliments I have ever received – thank you. Yes, I am a Christian and I do want others to know Jesus – but it is not my place to judge anyone when it comes to their spiritual life or eternal destination. I’ve come to the realization that if God truly wants someone to change something about their life, HE will let them know – he doesn’t need me to point my finger at them. Besides, I’ve got more flaws than most anyone I know and I really need to be spending my time working on my own soul and getting right with God rather than telling others how to live. I’m really glad you liked the Lovecraft stuff I’ve narrated. To be honest, I’ve never read any Lovecraft at all until I started this podcast – and I am so glad to have had the opportunity. If there’s a specific story you’d like for me to narrate, let me know and I’ll add it to the list for a future Creepypasta Thursday! Glad to have you in the Weirdo family, Mikey! And if you don’t mind me saying so… God bless!
I’ll answer more of your emails, comments, and letters next time! Again, you can find all of my social media and contact information on the CONTACT page of the website, or drop me an email at darren @ weirddarkness.com.
Thanks for listening. If you like the podcast, please share a link to this episode and recommend Weird Darkness to your friends, family, and co-workers who love the paranormal, horror stories, or true crime like you do! Every time you share a link to the podcast it helps spread the word about the show, growing our Weirdo family in the process – plus, it helps get the word out about resources that are available for those who suffer from depression. So please share the podcast with others.
Be sure to join me this Sunday for church at the Church of the Undead – and all Weirdos are welcome!
Next Sunday’s message is titled: “Demon Possession 101 (or, Lose Unwanted Devils With Exorcize)”.
You can listen to previous messages anytime by clicking on the Church of the Undead link in the show notes, you can find it at WeirdDarkness.com, or search for “Church of the Undead” wherever you listen to podcasts! Hopefully I’ll see YOU in the Weirdo congregation this weekend!
Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” at WeirdDarkness.com and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“The Berkshire County UFO” by Natasha Ishak for All That’s Interesting, and Debra Kelly for Grunge
“The Bad Beer Brawl” by Kaushik Patowary for Amusing Planet
“The Cursed Car That Started WW1” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages
“The Radio Station Run By Ghosts” by Zaria Gorvett for BBC
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:40
And a final thought… “Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” – Paulo Coelho
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.