UVB-76: Russia's mysterious radio station
Posted on Tuesday, 21 March, 2017 | 4 comments
Columnist: Joseph Devine
The late Winston Churchill stated: "Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". This is still true today, at least concerning Russia's mysterious radio station commonly known as UVB-76, or "the buzzer".
In early 2015 I discovered UVB-76 when I stumbled upon it by accident. I was doing some research on unexplained radio broadcasts and came up with several mysterious broadcasts from unknown sources. Through the search I learned of radio station UVB-76.
The transmission comes from Russia on frequency 4625 kHz. It is unknown for certain who is operating the station or why. The station broadcasts for 24 hours per day a short, annoying buzz tone that sounds similar to a truck air horn or a foghorn. This has been ongoing for over 30 years. The earliest confirmed recording of the broadcast is from 1982. Rumors suggest the station may have been there as far back as 1976. I have seen posts online from older short wave and amateur radio operators that claim they heard the buzzer or something similar as far back as the mid 1950s.
The buzz tone sounds approximately 25 times per minute and lasts for 1.2 seconds with a 1-1.3 second pause. The signal broadcasts on AM with a suppressed lower sideband. The buzz tone has changed several times throughout the years. In 1982 it was more of a 2 second pip, or beep. In 1989 it changed to a higher pitched beep, and around 1990 it changed to the air horn type buzzer currently used, though the pitch of the buzzer and the length of the tone has changed over the years. If it is not strange enough that someone should broadcast a 24-7 buzz tone, the facts gets stranger. Occasionally, a ringing phone or background conversation can be heard behind the tone. This indicates that the buzzer itself is not an internally generated electronic sound, but a devise placed before a continuously open microphone and is likely a live broadcast. On November 3, 2001 a conversation was heard in Russian as follows:
"I am 143. Not receiving the generator. That stuff comes from the hardware room".
On November 11, 2010 background phone conversations were heard and recorded by a listener for approximately 30 minutes. The conversations mention a brigade officer on duty, and a female voice stated: "Officer on duty of communication node Debut senior ensign Uspenskaya, got the control call from Nadezhda OK".
From at least 1982 until 1997, the station continuously broadcast the buzzer. On December 24, 1997 the buzzer stopped. A male voice broadcast the following message: "UVB-76. 180, 08, BROMAL. 74, 27, 99, 14, Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa, 7,4,2,7,9,9,1,4.". This message was repeated once before the buzzer resumed. BROMAL is a common code word used on UVB-76. Bromal by definition is an oily colorless liquid used in medicine as an anodyne and hypnotic. After 1997 the buzzer will occasionally stop and a male or female voice will read off any combination of names and numbers as well as other code words.
A few messages per year were reported until 2010 when UVB-76 went off the air for approximately 24 hours and was apparently moved to a new location and upgraded. Since then there has been increased message activity on the station, and the call sign was changed from UVB-76 to MDZhB (???? in Russian). Read phonetically: "Mikahil, Dimitri, Zhenya, Boris", which preceded the sporadic messages. The following typical voice message was broadcast on March 11, 2012: "Mikhail, Dimitri, Zhenya, Boris. 93, 343, Avtokod 03, 09, 36, 91" (auto code in English).
The arcane messages have become even more unsettling during the past few years. On January 25, 2013 a chilling message was announced: "Command 135 initiated". Though it is impossible to know what it means, this message likely meant something very important to someone. On March 18, 2014 less than 10 hours after Crimea voted to join the Russian federation following the invasion of Ukraine this message was broadcast: "M-D-Zh-B, 81, 26 T-E-R-R-A-K-O-T-A".
In late 2015 the call sign was changed again to ZhUOZ, (???? in Russian)phonetically read as "Zhenya, Ulyana, Olga, Zinaida. It has been reported that other call signs are occasionally used as well. Still, the station is most commonly referred to when spoken of as UVB-76.
Tuning in to UVB-76 is possible with a short wave radio but is only likely in eastern North America on winter nights when conditions are right. An easier way to tune in is through several Internet repeaters linked to Software-defined radio (SDR) that operate like a traditional short wave radio. The repeaters are set up in Europe, and can be tuned to multiple frequencies by several people at once. Interested parties can find one of many online and enter 4625 into the tuner. I monitored UVB-76 for much of 2015. Listening to UVB-76 is eerie and stirs the imagination. I have heard Morse code mixed with the buzzer. On one occasion the buzzer stopped and I caught a voice message. On two occasions I heard background conversation behind the buzzer. Though none of my monitoring of the station has answered any questions.
The main station was located in or near the town of Povarovo outside of Moscow until 2010. Student explorers claim to have visited the abandoned sight and posted pictures and even a video on the Internet. One group claims to have recovered a station log from the former sight, a copy of which can be downloaded. There is no way to prove the authenticity of the log, but I have a copy in my possession that I carefully reviewed and I am convinced that it is legitimate. The new transmitter has been triangulated and is located somewhere close to the Estonian border possibly in or near the town of Pskov. It is possible that there is more than one transmission sight. The approximate location would suggest that the station serves the Western Military District of Russia. Let us examine some possible purposes for UVB-76.
Some believe that the station is something left over from the cold war era. This is not likely as the station was upgraded in 2010 as mentioned earlier. Another theory that does not hold up is that the station is a "Dead Hand Switch", meaning that if the station were to go off the air in the event of a nuclear strike in the region, nuclear weapons would be automatically launched against Russia's enemies. In reality UVB-76 has gone off the air due to equipment failure many times over the years and no weapons were launched. I have heard the buzzer break down since I have begun monitoring. Moving the station away from Moscow, the likely target of a strike does not support this theory either. The buzz tone could be used by the military to jam the channel to keep others from using it. If this were the case I would think there must be an easier, internally generated electronic signal that can be used to do so. Ufologist types believe that the signal is meant to be intercepted by extra-terrestrials.
The names and numbers broadcast by the monotone voices are likely meant for military orders in code or contact with government agents outside of Russia. The Russian government has never commented on the existence of the station. What puzzles me is why the buzz tone? What purpose could the buzzer serve concerning Military personnel or government agents? And why did it broadcast the buzz tone for 15 years before the first message came through? A possible explanation stems from a Russian research magazine article published in the spring of 2008 which reports a radio station used by the Borok Geophysical Observatory to conduct Ionospheric research. I was able to find the Borok Observatory web site. My intention was to send them an Email inquiring about their possible use of a short wave station on 4625 kHz, but they do not have an Email address on their web site.
Another question arises if this is the case; Why combine a government military numbers station with Ionospheric research? Do government or military personnel actually listen to the irritating buzzer for several hours or days in anticipation of a sporadic message?
UVB-76 has been on the air for at least 34 years and obviously serves an element of great importance and purpose for something. It will likely remain a mystery forever. Tune it in on the web and experience for yourself the strangest radio station in the world. Article Copyrightę Joseph Devine - reproduced with permission.