CONET Project: spy "numbers stations" preserved at

Andrea's post on Saturday about idontlikewords, the hypnotic police scanner/ambient music stream reminded me of two things: First, the concept brought to mind experimental composer Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner, who has created many musical works sampling scanned cell phone chatter and police transmissions. But idontlikewords also conjured up the weird Ballardian feelings that I got listening to the Conet Project, a 4-CD recorded collection of mysterious "numbers stations" heard on shortwave radio. (Wilco's album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is named for, and samples, a numbers station.) I hadn't listened to Conet Project in several years and was happy to see it preserved for eternity at the Internet Archive. (As I posted in 2008, you can also download it free from Hyperreal.) The following is from an article I wrote about Conet for bOING bOING Digital back in 1999:
Conettttt Twisting the dial of your shortwave radio, you come across the most "experimental" sounding station you've ever heard. A glockenspiel tune is followed by the voice of a little girl speaking numbers and letters in what sounds like a random order. Performance art? No, the message inside the madness just wasn't meant for you. Perhaps its intended for the ears of a CIA agent. Or KGB. Or MOSSAD. You've stumbled across a Numbers Station.

"Shortwave Numbers Stations are a perfect method of anonymous, one way communication--spies located anywhere in the world can be communicated to by their masters via small, locally available, and unmodified Shortwave receivers," reads the Web site of The Conet Project, an outfit that's compiled 150 Numbers Stations recordings from the last three decades on a four CD set. (The word "Conet" is the sign-off signal on one station.) "Announcers were sometimes heard saying, 'For the benefit of our friends overseas: Peter has painted his fence red. I repeat, Peter has Painted his fence red'," the site reads.

"Spy vs. Spy: The Soundtrack" (bOING bOING Digital)

The Conet Project (


  1. England-based Stereolab twigged to this before Wilco even existed, BTW. Listen to Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements.

  2. Several years ago I was hanging out with a friend in his garage, drinking beer, burning scrap in a wood stove, and messing about with an old shortwave radio long into the night. I asked him if he’d ever heard any “numbers stations” (neither of us had) and as the night wore on, switching channels between the various Dr. Gene Scott owned bands, we eventually found one. It wasn’t as mind-blowing as I was expecting, but then we were prepared for it– I recall being fascinated by the atomic clock “coordinated universal time” station when I got my first shortwave radio, and can imagine how strange it would have been to hear the numbers stations like that with no forewarning.

  3. “Semaphore” by Ben Rubin is a light-and-sound art installation at the Adobe headquarters here in San Jose. It consists of 4 LED discs that spin out a coded message, accompanied by an audio transmission that evokes the numbers stations with tones, letters and numbers.
    It is eerie to drive downtown with your radio tuned to AM 1680.
    (Samples of the soundtrack can be heard on Rubin’s website:

  4. In Dongyang, has already formed such an old custom: the street vendors who sell eggs boy or lad boiled eggs to their own people, would mention a plastic bucket to a school boy to collect the urine.
    Students long ago got used to this, one to three grade boys to urinate, they will align the plastic bucket outside the classroom. School teachers, but also acquiesced in such conduct, they will always remind the children during illness in the cold to the plastic bucket can not pee. The children all came to listen.

    People who are not familiar with the situation should surprise: the boy with the boy in urine egg is boiled eggs, eggs in the spring of stalls selling all over the boy Dongyang streets. The boy a fifty-one eggs more expensive than ordinary eggs, can always sell out of stock.

  5. Wil Wheaton mentioned once on Slashdot thusly : “I am a huge Numbers Station geek, and I’ve been known to listen to the Conet Project just for fun at parties, shortly before I’m asked to leave.”

  6. I’m going to pimp a short film I co-directed on the topic, I think it fits within the boundaries of the comment policy.

    Our film, CLANDESTINE, is about the history of Numbers Stations through the stories of spies who were captured and tried with in court with Numbers Stations used as evidence against them. We played our film in about 30 cities world-wide at festivals and going to put it up online soon, hopefully. Most of our soundtrack is made up of The Conet Project recordings.

    We’d be happy to supply a copy to boing-boing if they are interested in it further.

    There is contact info on our website:

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