Pop Music Spells Freedom, Really, In Morse Code!

It's the story of a Columbian colonel, a Miami ad man, long-time hostages and the music of freedom. Colonel Espejo was running out of opportunities to rescue hostages held by the rural FARC, sometimes for more than a decade, so he turned to an ad man with a long-standing grudge against the guerillas to design a way to communicate. In the rural areas, hostages are often allowed to listen to the radio. In fact, there's a weekly show called “Voices of Kidnapping” that allows families 30-second slots for dedications to their captive loved ones. But this was something different. This fascinating story has loads of interesting tidbits, and you should read the whole thing written by Jeff Maysh at The Verge, but here's a bit:

Word quickly got around the studio that the military wanted to produce a song so popular it would enterr the “Lista 40” — Colombia’s Billboard charts. Producer Carlos Portela, 34, thought they were nuts.

“But they were deadly serious, and explained it was a secret project,” says Portela, who wears an eyebrow ring and produces music for beer commercials…

With the help of a military policeman skilled in Morse, they coded the message: “19 people rescued. You are next. Don’t lose hope.” It was a signal to boost morale and indicate that help was nearby. Portela wrote the song and the lyrics with composer Amaury Hernandez, creating a thinly-veiled ballad about life as a hostage: “In the middle of the night / Thinking about what I love the most / I feel the need to sing… About how much I miss them.” He even added the lyric, “Listen to this message, brother,” just before the coded message kicks in. The code sounds like a brief synth interlude just after the chorus.

If you'd like to listen, the code begins at 1:30.

And if you're suddenly feeling you need to catch up on your Morse, here's an online game from Boys' Life game to help.

Illustrations by Allegra Lockstadt.


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    On mobile phones, a ringtone is a brief audio file played to indicate an incoming call. A contemporary ringtone might consist of several bars of a familiar musical tune. Such ringtones are popular because, in a crowd of people with many cellular phone sets, they make it easy to tell whose phone is calling out for attention.

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