London Bridge Has Fallen — By Radio

One of the global news stories this week has been the passing of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Since she had recently celebrated 70 years on the throne, the changing of a monarch is not something that the majority of those alive in 2022 will have seen. But it’s well known that there are a whole suite of “London Bridge has fallen” protocols in place for that eventuality which the various arms of the British government would have put in motion immediately upon news from Balmoral Castle. When it became obvious that the Queen’s health was declining, [Hackerfantastic] took to the airwaves to spot any radio signature of these plans. [Update 2022-09-11] See the comments below and a fresh Tweet to clarify, it appears these were not the signals they were at first suspected to be.

What he found in a waterfall view of the 4 MHz military band was an unusual transmission, a set of strong QPSK packets that started around 13:40pm on the 8th of September, and continued on for 12 hours before disappearing.  The interesting thing about these transmissions is not that they were a special system for announcing the death of a monarch, but that they present a rare chance to see one of the country’s Cold War era military alert systems in action.

It’s likely that overseas embassies and naval ships would have been the intended recipients and the contents would have been official orders to enact those protocols, though we’d be curious to know whether 2022-era Internet and broadcast media had tipped them off beforehand that something was about to happen. It serves as a reminder: next time world news stories happen in your part of the world, look at the airwaves!

25 thoughts on “London Bridge Has Fallen — By Radio

  1. This story is interesting on its face, but there is nothing to back it up now that the Tweet has been deleted plus there are other Tweets painting the data into question as years old. And there is an apology from the author for apparently getting fooled. Alas, this is the first time I’ve seen a Hackaday article that probably needs to be pulled. What do the editor(s) think, pull it?

    1. Thanks everyone for pointing this out. It was written shortly after the Tweet, and in the intervening time overnight I’ve been asleep. I’ve made an update to reflect the situation.

  2. I thought it was pretty sleazy that the press wrote about what happens when she dies a few years ago, as if she’d not notice.

    I’m ambivalent about the monarchy, but she stuck to the job for decades, and she liked her corgis. And she was almost my mother’s age, three years younger, thkugh my mother died in 2016.

    1. Question for the UK contingent – why all the reverence given to the “royals” ?
      What have they done for the working class ?
      Seems the “royals” leech off the backs of the common folk to live a life of luxury.

      (not to mention how PC/open borders has affected crime rates in London proper).

      1. They don’t “leech” anything; the queen pays tax like the rest of us, and the “allowance” she’s given is a small cut on the profit from her estate. They basically work very hard as diplomats and in charities. And unlike almost all other celebrities she has been an example of selfless and faithfulness. We all like her – the working class particularly.

          1. The do largely have a point – the Royals work damn hard at presenting the right public face, promoting ideals and charities etc. Just because they are very wealthy and technically have a great deal of power, doesn’t change that – lots of inherited wealth folks out there that don’t do beans for anybody but themselves, actively avoiding paying the tax they should…

            The monarchy as an institution is largely tradition, with a little useful diplomacy thrown in and on the whole seems to generate more revenue just in tourist spending taxes than it costs the public purse. But even if you get rid of it you still have a hugely wealthy family, and now one that no longer have the pressure of duty to act like royalty and represent their homeland – so may well turn into the superwealthy greedy scum that seem far to common…

      2. I think a lot of it is just tradition, really, and it’s something a lot of people don’t think too much about. Polls by the polling agency YouGov across time show pretty fluctuating opinions of the monarchy, largely with older people being more in favour. Flicking through a few years of data, only the 18-24 demographic has had the largest vote for replacing the monarchy, but this was still less than half of the whole age group, and that opinion dropped the next year. Overall, there’s a gradual downward trend in opinion: in 2022 56% said the monarchy was good for the country, although only 12% said it was bad.

        The same polling company has data showing that people in the UK are pretty overwhelmingly negative about politics and politicians in the UK. An anecdote I’ve heard a few times recently is that people really noticed the response of the monarchy to COVID (e.g. the Queen insisting COVID regulations were followed during her husband’s funeral, despite an offer to have the event made an exception) compared to the behaviour of politicians (e.g. the Partygate scandal where people in Boris’ government very clearly flouted the rules which they imposed on the public). This seems to have reinforced the much more positive view of the monarchy compared to politicians, so I wonder if there’s an element of there being no rush to replace the monarchy with Yet Another Elected Politician.

      3. I am not a Brit.
        But, the Monarchy has presented a stability to the UK citizens, as well as to the world, through the turbulence of the past 50-60 years.
        Something that any Prime Minister du jour is incapable of conveying.

      4. Americans seem to think the queen is like the President – she’s not, she’s more like a very bling football mascot for the country, a figurehead who is there to represent us, lead ceremonies of state, give the tourists something to look at, etc. she doesn’t make any laws or hold any real power.

        In theory she has the power to remove/replace the Prime Minister and tell the armed forces what to do but would never actually do it (the fact she didn’t stop any of the utter clowning the BoJo did shows just how much she put up with).

        And, as Dan explains below, the Royals & crown estate make a net profit for us even before you take into account the huge amount of tourism they help generate and all the work they do representing Britain abroad. It’s silly, but a lot of foreign leaders still put a lot of store in either being invited to Buckingham Palace or having a Royal visit.

          1. And in 2020, the current governor-general of Australia allowed the former prime minister to secretly seize control of five different ministries. Not only were the citizens not informed, even some of the ministers whose jobs he usurped were not informed! The Brits can do whatever they want with their monarchy, but the monarchy’s representatives here have been a sick joke for half a century.

            Links from both sides of the Austrlian media:

  3. I am the author of the tweets about hunting for cold-war signals in question, whilst this was not the signal I intended to find it was an interesting story none the less and I corrected it when further information was presented. I think people should be encouraged to participate in peculiar signals analysis, searching the shortwave broadcasts and digging into digital modes / technologies. Whilst I share my analysis sometimes of technology exploration in real-time always happy to be corrected if I am wrong – disappointing to say the least but happy to learn that the signal is a repeating phenomena and not the signal I was looking for. Shortwave signals are fun, I retracted my analysis and would still discuss again. The article makes little sense with the tweet thread removed and should be removed or updated with this comment, this journalist read my analysis and whilst the signal was not unique – it’s still always interesting to review them, the Signal Identification Wiki, suspect it as a RADAR – some state a digital HF military modem, it repeats periodically and on a few parts of the band. It is not that strange that I might not have heard it before.

    1. Short wave listening is like going into a dark forest. At first everything is weird, but when your “eyes” adjust, you start to see more clearly. It is also helpful to find people who “live there”, so they can explain things. I started the same way, by finding a “weird signal”, that happened to be Russian diplomatic link.

    2. “I think people should be encouraged to participate in peculiar signals analysis, searching the shortwave broadcasts and digging into digital modes”

      This reminds me of the guy who was listening for spy satellite signals and stumbled across the signals from the “lost” IMAGE satellite.
      (HaD covered that story)

      I for one, do not want our evil overlords to pull the story, there is useful information in it and its comments. B^)

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