Back when I first started listening to short wave radio I often come across no end of strange sounding stations, usually consisting of some form of repeating ‘musical’ fanfare and then an automated voice reading out seemingly random numbers. These were of course the now infamous ‘number stations‘
There function was a mystery but it is logical to assume they were some form of coded covert messaging system for the security and intelligence community of various countries, or for organised crime.
Some number stations sound more like experimental electronica music or performance art with strange tones and unearthly sounds and have gained a number of enthusiastic monitoring stations and Hundreds of stations have been identified by these numbers-hunters like those in ENIGMA (European Numbers Information Gathering and Monitoring Association), who publish a ‘zine tracking the transmissions.
Sadly despite making many recordings of stations on my trusty cassette recorder they have long since become misplaced and lost, however all was not lost!
Back in 1997 Akin Fernandez and the Irdial-Discs recording label released a four-CD set of recordings of number stations, called The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations. The Conet Project has since become somewhat of a cult sensation and counts many musicians and filmmakers among its fans, often incorporating samples of it in their work.
The project’s name comes from a mishearing of the Czech word konec, or “end,” which marks the end of transmissions on the Czech numbers station.
The Irdial-Discs label has made the entire collection available for download in MP3 form on its web site completely free of charge.
Now Irdial-Dics have re-released The Conet Project in a special anniversary CD edition that includes the four original discs plus a fifth CD containing recordings of the very strange “noise stations.” Called TCP/1111 (1111 being the binary representation of 15, or 16 years if you start counting from 0)
Also back in 2005 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a lovely documentary called “Tracking The Lincolnshire Poacher” all about number stations and The Conet Project, which can be downloaded from many sources (just do a google search) or is available on Youtube with a brilliant visualisation.