Shortly after World War I, mysterious shortwave radio stations began cropping up on long-dormant frequency bands across the globe. These stations, dubbed “Numbers Stations,” are thought to have been created for espionage purposes. Allegedly, government agencies would broadcast encrypted messages to undercover spies, who would then decode the messages using a one-time pad, or cipher key.
At any given time, a radio listener could dial into one of these stations and hear an artificially processed voice reciting strings of phonetic alphabet and numeric code; transmissions intended to be heard exclusively by just one person.
In 1998, Akin Fernandez, owner of London-based imprint Irdial Records, compiled more than 100 unearthed recordings of Numbers Stations into a 4-disc box set entitled The Conet Project.
In the years leading up to the recording of Wilco’s fourth studio album, the Irdial set was a staple in frontman Jeff Tweedy’s car stereo. The singer was especially intrigued by the compilation’s fourth track, “Phonetic Alphabet – Nato,” in which an alleged Mossad agent repeatedly speaks out the abbreviation “YHF.”
The agent’s accent is tough to assign, though she delivers each word in a cold, comprehensible monotone: “Yankee…hotel…foxtrot…”