The Conet Project


The Conet Project is a wildly popular archive of recordings of what are commonly called Shortwave Numbers Stations. The general patterns which are described for these recordings have been adapted to a codebase which broadcasts them to @cr_conet .

A 4-CD Set of the recordings is available from Iridial Discs. Included with the set is an extensive booklet which describes the Shortwave Number Station phenonenon in spectacular detail. The following excerpts make up as good a description as any you'll find:

Numbers Stations are radio broadcasts that are used to transmit short text messages. There are three different types of broadcast; voices reading groups of numbers or phonetic letters, Morse transmissions sending groups of numbers or letters and noise stations, transmitting several different types of noise.
Numbers Stations send enciphered messages in the form of groups of figures or letters using a cryptosystem known as a one time pad . In this system, two identical sets of random numbers, printed on numbered sheets are generated (the pad); one pad is kept by the sender and the other is kept by the recipient. When a message is to be sent, the original message or plaintext, is mathematically added to one of the random numbers on the pad. The random number used is predetermined by the sender and recipient so that both are in sync ...

And there's so much more. Overall, it is really hard to encapsulate the aesthetic qualities of these wonderful ephermeral recordings in mere text. Fortunately, you can find a complete set of the audio recordings here on the Internet Archive. The sound is cryptic, surreal, ancient and timeless.

For more information, please consult the vastness of Wikipedia. And for the curious, tune into the stations by following @cr_conet .

Technical Concept

The booklet, amongst other things, contains a complete algorithmic description of each station. There is a legend, and then a general breakdown of how the pattern works. These patterns have been implemented in the MadderLib DSL and are composed with random message bodies.

The initial pool is 25 stations, all of the ones from the first disc. A limited number of stations are kept running at any given time. Each station broadcasts on a regular weekly schedule, and will only repeat for a short period of time (2 to 6 iterations) before disappearing back into the pool. New stations are added to meet quota, with logic to minimize redundancy (still, some stations have very similar patterns).

There are two versions of each transmission. The short one goes to @cr_conet . There is also support for the full version. The intent would be to transmit the full version to a blogging service. If there is interest, we could look into that implementation.

As we mentioned, it really isn't the same without hearing the transmission. It's meant to very odd and surreal in your feed, but that's only half of it. In order to capture the true feeling of being hunched over a shortwave radio, twiddling knobs and furiously reading off of a yellowing scrap of paper, each of the transmissions contains a link its audio equivalent from the 4 CD set. Now, the message bodies -- number and letter sequences -- will be different, but the structure will be the same.

Of course some day it would be nice to actually generate the real audio. A shortwave loop running in the background plus screen reader support would be the easiest solution. The blog entry would have to read out in full NATO phonetic alphabet, but that'd work just fine.

Twitter Bots

Additional algorithmic solutions are available as bots ...

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Page last modified on February 19, 2009, at 12:37 AM