At last, after hours of waiting, the amateur sleuth hears what he’s been waiting for: a few short words in Russian. But almost as soon as the voice is heard it’s replaced by a monotonous buzzing – the same sound that’s been broadcast over the world’s strangest radio station for more than four decades.
“The Buzzer” has been on air since the 1970s. Most of the time it broadcasts nothing more than a strange buzzing, which is only ever punctuated by even stranger coded messages. Who’s behind them, and what they mean, has never been revealed.
Over the years amateur investigators have learned a few things about the mysterious broadcasts. Thanks to their work we know the station is officially known as UVB-76, and that the messages used to begin with this name being read out.
It’s also been determined that “the Buzzer” only ever broadcasts on one frequency – 4625 kHz. While the exact pitch of the buzzing has changed over the years the pattern remains the same – 25 short blasts of less than a second are emitted every minute for 24 hours a day.
The transmissions apparently emanated from Povarovo, a village a few miles northwest of Moscow. Despite the Cold War ending and the Soviet Union collapsing, the broadcasts have never stopped. But in 2010 something really weird happened.
On June 5 of that year the buzzing suddenly ceased, but only for the day. The following morning – and indeed the weeks that followed – it continued as normal. But in late August things started to get really interesting.
Followers who tuned into UVB-76 on August 25 were dumbfounded. Shuffling and banging, possibly caused by someone near the microphone, were heard. Some listeners even claimed to have heard classical music punctuating the usual monotony.
What happened a few days later was perhaps even more unexpected. An unknown male voice came on the air to issue a new station call sign. From now on, the mysterious speaker announced, UVB-76 would be known as MDZhB.
The location of the broadcasts also changed. Now the buzzing reportedly emanated from a transmitter near the village of Kerro Massiv, a few miles north of Saint Petersburg. But the long-standing question remained – what did the transmissions mean?
There’s no shortage of theories surrounding UVB-76, some of which are more credible than others. While in the past only a select few could listen in, the station is these days broadcast online, allowing shortwave sleuths around the world to draw their own conclusions.
According to some theorists “the Buzzer” is a Cold War relic serving what’s known as a “Dead Hand” system. If it stops broadcasting then authorities know to take action because nuclear war has started.
Others contend that its communications are used to hide coded messages to spies around the world. The theory is given more credence by the short – and usually unexpected – voice messages that are occasionally broadcast, most notably in 2014 when a burst of messages was sent out hours after the people of Crimea voted to become federal subjects of Russia.
No outsider, however, has come close to deciphering the broadcasts. Ryan Schaum, who manages radio monitoring website Numbers Stations, told the Daily Mail that the messages “cannot be decoded” by anyone they’re not intended for. “Without access to the codebook,” he said, “there is no way to tell what they are sending.”
Could the answers perhaps be found on the ground? In recent years urban explorers have visited broadcast sites to try and unlock the enduring mystery. What they found could have been lifted from the pages of a Cold War spy novel.
Egor Esveev, one of the explorers, took his camera to an abandoned site near the city of Pskov, close to the Estonian border – where some believe “the Buzzer” is now broadcast from. He told the Daily Mail that the experience was “very creepy.”
“There was a man on a bike that came from the road that lead to nowhere other than forest,” he recalled. “He wasn’t carrying anything and headed in the direction of a field which I know has nothing at all for miles and miles.”
After crossing two old perimeter fences Esveev ventured into the abandoned base. There he discovered signs of old cables – evidence, perhaps, of the presence of an old communications hub – as well as documents relating to the ending of operations there.
Despite potentially getting close to the source of “the Buzzer” Esveev can’t say for certain what the purpose of the broadcasts is. Neither can the thousands of people who tune into them and share their thoughts on internet forums.
Curiously UVB-76 isn’t the only radio station sending out signals, and Russia’s not the only country broadcasting cryptic messages over the airwaves. Shortwave radio continues to be used by militaries and spy agencies around the world, often alongside more complex satellite communications.
The Numbers Stations website is determined to uncover the truth behind the mysterious shortwave radio broadcasts, including the infamous “Buzzer.” This is one mystery, however, that may never be solved by those not in the know.