The Conet Project – Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations (1997)

The Conet Project – Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations (1997)

For years amateur shortwave radio enthusiasts have been coming across strange signals in the global static. These mysterious broadcasts would typically announce themselves with some beeps and blips, then robotic disembodied voices would start reciting groups of numbers (or phonetic alphabet letters) in spooky foreign monotones. ‘Seven, zero, nine, eleven…Seven, zero, nine, eleven…’; ‘Alpha, charlie, lima, delta…Alpha, charlie, lima, delta…’ Then, after a few minutes, they disappeared. This was weird. ‘What the hell is it?!’, was on the lips of many listeners. They became known as Numbers Stations, and no official explanation had ever been given when Akin Fernandez came across them in 1992. So the industrious radio addict started to log the frequencies and the times and the messages of these enigmatic occurrences. And more importantly, he recorded them. Some appeared at random. Some were as regular as clockwork. He had no idea what he was going to do with all the data. But he eventually compiled them into a collection he called The Conet Project, and he made it freely available. Along the way, Fernandez would eventually learn the nature of these numbers, and the answer to the long asked question was sobering. These were covert messages sent to field operatives for all the major espionage agencies over the world: CIA, KGB, MI6, BND, StB, MOSSAD etc. Since WWI shortwave has provided these agencies with a world-wide fool-proof method for communicating with their spies. The encoded message could be received and deciphered by the spy with the use of a “one time pad”, a disposable dictionary key, intended for use only once, then presumably burnt, destroyed, eaten etc. Immediately the broadcasts take on an ominous overtone. The voice of a child eerily reading out numbers could well be instructing a spy to kill someone or blow something up. They’re a compelling listen. I got right into them. I even got myself a shortwave radio and started to scan the late night bands. And Fernandez’s recordings have slowly become a cult thing, popping up in sampled form in film (Vanilla Sky) and music (Boards of Canada), most famously by Wilco on their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It’s still freely available to download from Akin Fernandez’s label Irdial-Discs website, so if you haven’t heard it, get ready to be spooked. Literally.


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