There is a mysterious shortwave radio station that broadcasts on the high-frequency 4625 kHz band. Apparently originating from within Russia, it's nicknamed “The Buzzer”, due to its distinctive short buzzing noise, which plays over and over again. Occasionally, the buzzing is interrupted by a voice reading out a short string of numbers and words.
No one has figured it out — yet — but here’s what we know so far.
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What Is UVB-76?
UVB-76 was the identification given by the station commonly known as “the Buzzer”, in the short voice messages that occasionally interrupted the buzzing. The Buzzer was first identified in 1982, and can still be heard today, though the sound of the buzzer has changed over the years. It was first identified as a two second repeating beep in the 80s, and changed to the familiar buzz sometime in the early 1990s. The tone changed once after that point, on January 16 2003, swapping to a higher tone with a longer duration, though it has since changed back to the original pattern. At this link, you can download a file to listen to UVB-76's distinctive buzzing in real time, or listen to a snippet of its distinctive tone here:
For a while, the station just seemed to be the same monotonous buzzing again and again. But soon, something was identified that put UVB on everyone's (or at least shortwave radio enthusiasts') radars. The buzzing stopped, and a voice read out a short encoded message in Russian. Initially, these messages were exceedingly rare — either that, or there weren't enough listeners to catch all of the messages that were transmitted. The following is an example of a message broadcast on December 24, 1997:
Ya UVB-76, Ya UVB-76. 180 08 BROMAL 74 27 99 14. Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa. 7 4 2 7 9 9 1 4.
While the signal was discovered during the epoch of the Soviet Union, the strange messages didn't cease after the dissolution of the USSR. On the contrary, The Buzzer's activity increased in the 1990s. While this might also be linked to an increase of listeners, we know for sure that the station didn't fall into disuse when the USSR was no more.
After a while, listeners started to pick up sounds other than the messages and the buzzing. Muted conversations and noises were heard behind the buzzing, leading UVB-76's researchers to conclude that the tone wasn't a recording, it was a manually produced sound, made by a speaker placed near the radio's microphone. In early November 2001, a conversation in Russian was heard:
"Я – 143. Не получаю генератор." "Идёт такая работа от аппаратной." ("I am 143. Not receiving the generator (oscillator)." "That stuff comes from hardware room.")
Activity only increased in the new millennium. Not only were more mysterious coded messages heard, but also the strange interruptions and conversations grew only more frequent. The peak of activity occurred in 2010, with oddities occurring on almost a monthly basis. Compared to the station's previous relative inactivity, this flurry of messages excited enthusiasts all over the world, who often listened in on the signal.
Nothing that was broadcast over the station was quite as exciting to theorists as the few times over the later months of 2010 when UVB-76 simply stopped transmitting. Despite fears (and probably just a small bit of excitement) that UVB-76 was a part of Russia's Dead Hand system — designed to deploy nuclear weapons in an automated retaliative strike even if those in command were wiped out — UVB-76 always started transmitting again.
The interruptions were no less odd as they continued — one day in September 2010, the buzzing was even disrupted by a short instrumental from Swan Lake:
In October 2010, an odd peak in the number of messages, overheard conversations and even bursts of Morse code coincided with the location of the signal moving abruptly. Followers of the signal had previously triangulated the location of the signal to a remote Russian village called Povarovo — but UVB-76 was in Povarovo no more. In fact, UVB-76 itself no longer existed.
The Rise Of MDZhB
After the move, a male voice once again interrupted the buzzing noise, identifying the station with a new callsign:
Mikhail. Dmitri. Zhenya. Boris. MDZhB.
The new location of the signal was harder to triangulate — indeed, enthusiasts identified a number of different locations that the signal was coming from. The former location, however, was known. In 2011, a pair of urban explorers (or possibly more) went to the now abandoned base at Povarovo to sate a little of their curiosity about UVB-76.
There they had to dodge a guard dog, but the old buildings were otherwise unguarded. Local villagers still resided in the buildings that ringed the inner sanctum of the military base, and have described the night when the base was quickly and efficiently evacuated under cover of heavy fog.
The bunker has been described as "a typical Russian military base". The same explorer, who answered questions about the bunker in a Reddit AMA described his experience:
We sort of went underground under one of the buildings. As we descended into the basement of one of the buildings and ventured to a door that lead outside of the area of the building, when we opened it we were hit with a very vile chemical smell... it smelled very... acidic... I guess. Not prepared to die of poisoning we turned back. In the room that was underground the building itself there was not much of interest. A few desks and filing cabinets filled with more useless papers. A few broken electronics and a bunch of other general crap.
While most of what was found was "useless", "broken" and "crap" as described in the post above, one Russian explorer found a log book of the messages transmitted on UVB-76 between October 3, 2005 to December 7, 2005. The book was labelled "sample" on the front cover and was most likely used as a template for filling out later log books, but it was concrete evidence that Povarovo had indeed transmitted UVB-76, and that its origin was the Russian military.
For the explorers who had dodged the guard dog on the way in, there was also an entry on page 8 of the book, October 4 2005:
18:30 Guard dog has put on place on post 173.
For the dog to still be there when the explorers returned, it means that someone still comes by Povarovo — if only to feed it.
So where is the station based now? The new signal has been harder to triangulate, though followers of the station now known as MDZhB found two locations that they believe that the new UVB-76 is transmitting from, with the following coordinates:
60°18'40.1"N30°16'40.5"E 55°25'35"N 36°42'33"E
The first site is much more well documented than the second. It's in a place called Kerro Massiv, in Leningradkaya Oblast, and it's part of Russia's 60th communication hub, codenamed Vulcan. The site boasts 30 different antennas, but is largely just a transmission site — meaning the actual content is transmitted from a communication hub inside of St Petersburg itself. The secondary site belongs to the 69th communication hub, in a place called Naro Fominsk — but very little else is known about this location.
So What Does It All Mean?
No one has ever been able to crack the code of The Buzzer's mysterious messages, though it is at least known that the signal is military in origin. While theories abound as to the purpose of this station, not many of them hold water. One of the most popular among those who love a good conspiracy is that it's a part of Russia's Dead Hand nuclear failsafe system. The theory there is that UVB-76 itself is like a dead man switch — where, if it ever stops transmitting that tone, it would activate an automatic nuclear retaliation from Russia's nuclear missile silos. This theory, while sensational, is still highly unlikely.
Because of its similarities to numbers stations it's also been suggested that UVB-76 fills the same purpose, transmitting a secret code to spies stationed overseas. While similar, however, UVB-76 has a number of major differences to traditional numbers stations, and most have theorised that it's far more likely to be a coded communication for military forces within Russia, rather than outside.
While one official source from the Borok Geophysical Observatory refers to a signal transmitting on 4625kHz, the same as UVB-76, being used to measure changes in the ionosphere. Others have pointed out that a signal on this frequency would not be ideal for measuring the ionosphere without interference, however.
After a photo came to light of a sign in a Russian enlistment office referring to the 4625kHz frequency, it's become more and more likely that the signal is used to broadcast military communications across Russia. This doesn't stop a legion of enthusiasts still tuning in to this day. Despite how outdated short wave radio is in this age of high-speed internet and mobile phones, UVB-76 still seems to be buzzing along quite happily. In fact, some long-time followers have said that the station almost seems more active than ever, still transmitting its terse messages at unpredictable moments.