HBM082: MI5 MI6 KGB CIA

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Content Note:

- Language

John Barner spent his entire childhood fiddling with his dad’s shortwave radio, picking up transmissions from all over the world. He like the way the sounds crackled, and the voices speaking foreign languages, and the eerie whine of transmissions coming in and out of static.

One night John got a phone call from one of his friends who also had a shortwave radio. “I think I just found spy stuff,” John’s friend said, “come over.”

John and his friends had found a number station, coded transmissions broadcast on unlicensed frequencies. Number stations are believed to be a form of espionage where intelligence agencies broadcast encrypted messages to field operatives. But no government has claimed responsibility for their existence.

Number stations come in many forms. Some are beeps or sustained tones. Some are repeated bars of familiar folk songs. The rest are strings of numbers and words from the phonetic alphabet.

Spectrograms of suspected number stations. 

John, like countless other shortwave enthusiasts, has been captivated by the mystery ever since discovering them as a teenager. He used to try to crack the coded messages, thinking he’d stumbled on the X-Files.

Henry Cooke at the Electromagnetic Field Festival.

Henry Cooke, a technologist and number stations enthusiast, believes that its the indecipherable code that makes number stations so alluring. He’s found internet forums dedicated to tracking number stations broadcasts and even videos of radio sleuths claiming to have found broadcast locations. Henry believes this to be a type of modern folklore; that shortwave enthusiasts trading theories about the origins and meaning behind the number stations are almost like telling ghost stories around the campfire.

Garrett Tiedemann produced this episode. Garrett also produces the podcast The White Whale. Bethany Denton edited this episode with help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White.

Number Station recordings courtesy of The Conet Project. Full archive can be found here.

Music from John Barner’s new album, Shadow Time.  

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HBM046: Crooked Skirts

Growing up in Queens, NY, Karen Smith had no reason to suspect anything was wrong with her. Even when it hurt to sit for too long, or when her clothes didn't fit right, everything seemed fine. That's because Karen's mother did everything she could to hide the fact that Karen had Spina Bifida.  The condition gave Karen severe scoliosis, a curve in her spine that made walking painful and made her skirts hang crooked.  Her mother removed any full-length mirrors from the house in attempts to keep Karen from becoming self-conscious. But as she grew older, her scoliosis became more severe.  And by the time she was in fifth grade, Karen had to be hospitalized in a children's ward, in and out of a corrective halo.  This was just the beginning of three long years of treatment.

Bedridden and limited in her mobility by body casts and back braces, Karen judged the passing of time by the sounds around her as her vision progressively worsened. She found solace in her AM radio, pulling in stations in from far away in the middle of the night.  She heard sounds of the courtyard below, filtering up through an open window.  She wondered if the other kids would be too old to play with her by the time she's healthy enough to join them. 

Music: Garrett Tiedemann of American Residue Records

This story was produced and scored by Garrett Tiedemann, creator of The White Whale podcast.  Garrett also works for Sister Story, a series that shares the daily lives of Catholic nuns.   Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman edited this piece. Nick White is our editor at KCRW.

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HBM045: Deep Stealth Mode (How To Be A Girl)

Marlo Mack gave birth to a son.  At least, she thought she did.  As a toddler, her son crawled towards dresses, wanted to be a princess, asked to grow long blonde hair.  And at age 3, Marlo's son requested to return to her tummy so he could come back out as a baby girl.  Marlo thought it was a phase--it wasn't.  So she started learning how to raise a very young transgender daughter.  She started keeping audio diaries. 


In this episode, Marlo sends her child to a new summer camp, and struggles with giving her autonomy in revealing her gender identity to other children.  


Marlo faces questions daily about how to best raise her daughter.  How can she stimulate her child while protecting her in a world often unkind to transfolk?  She tells her daughter that there are some people who are like Darth Vader, just too sad to be kind anymore. 


Marlo Mack and her daughter produce a podcast about their life together called How to Be a Girl.  Marlo generously gave us access to her raw recordings for use on this episode.  How to Be a Girl is part of The Heard, a new podcast network.  Marlo also writes a blog called Gender Mom

Marlo Mack is a pseudonym.  She will keep their true identities secret until her child is old enough to understand the risks of revealing her identity.  These risks are real.  2015 has been an especially bad year for trans folk;  2015 has already seen the murders of at least 15 American trans women.  Marlo and her daughter exist in what they call "deep stealth mode." 

So, when do you tell people that you're a girl with a penis? When is it safer to hide?

This episode was produced by Marlo Mack.  Jeff Emtman edited it with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White. 

Music:  The Black Spot 

Resources for trans children and their parents: 
Trans Youth Family Allies   - for families of trans youth
The Trevor Project - specifically crisis and suicide prevention
YouthResource - specifically for trans/lgbt youth
Human Rights Campaign - list of resources for trans youth

Video by Marlo Mack.

Marlo's daughter meets advocate and actress Laverne Cox.

HBM039: A Goddamn Missionary

Terry Crowley understands that he is an imperfect hero. But his efforts to help people in crisis are made possible by his ability to speak their language. That's because Terry himself has Bipolar Disorder and has been treated five times for thinking he was Jesus.

But Terry, who splits his time between the small town of Hoquiam, Washington and Seattle, knows that keeping his delusions in check will mean the success of his mission to help his friends and family and the "crazies" on the street that he checks in with.

The simple fact is that people who live on the street are more likely to have mental illnesses. PBS has a good factsheet about the knowns and unknowns of homelessness

In this episode of Here Be Monsters, Terry often refers to Manic Depression, a condition that, per the DSM-5, has been reclassified as Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy levels, memory, concentration, sleep, sex drive, appetite and self esteem.

The causes of Bipolar Disorder are unknown, but it's thought to be hereditary.

Bipolar Disorder can disrupt personal and professional relationships, but it is treatable. Therapy, medication, support networks can help mitigate its negative impacts.

Bipolar Disorder often goes undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or untreated. If you experience symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, or know someone who does, help is available.

More information about Bipolar Disorder from the National Institute of Mental Health

If you're feeling suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US, at 1-800-273-TALK

For help outside of the US, here is a list of suicide prevention hotlines for almost every country


This episode was produced by Jeff Emtman with help from our Producer in Training, Grant Shprintz, and our story editor, Bethany Denton.

Music on the show from: Phantom Fauna ||| The Black Spot ||| Lucky Dragons

Right now, our friends over at NPR's Snap Judgment are running a crowd funding campaign that is critical to the success of great storytelling on the radio. Go ahead and toss them a dollar and tell them HBM sent you. They have some great rewards, too.

HBM038: Do Crows Mourn Their Dead?

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Crows have really strange habits around death. When a bird dies, crows gather, squawking loudly and gathering as many other birds as they can find to come and look at the dead body.

Much of what we know about crow funerals comes from the work of John Marzluff, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. He and Kaeli Swift (one of his grad students) are trying to get to the bottom of these strange phenomena using taxidermy crows and masks and Cheetos and raw peanuts.

On this episode of Here Be Monsters, We look at and listen to the strange behaviors of crows and how they might be able to teach humanity about the origins of funerals and emotions.

Many thanks to David Kestenbaum of NPR's Planet Money for his help on a short version of this piece made for radio...keep your ears peeled.

Also, many thanks to Brian Emtman for tipping us off to this story.

Some of the crow sounds in this episode came from Cornell's Macaullay Library. Citation: macaulaylibrary.org/audio/45291http…org/audio/45291

In this episode there are some amazing recordings of funeral practices from around the world, including Laos (LukeIRL), Bali (RTB45), Colombia (renatofarabeuf), and Ghana (Klankbeeld). via Freesound.

Music from Flower Petal Downpour, Serocell, and The Black Spot.