The mystery of UVB-76: Radio station has ‘buzzed’ every second since the 1970s – but no one knows why
Suddenly the piercing buzzing noise that has continued incessantly for months stops. A cold voice takes over.
‘U-V-B-7-6,’ is read out in a thick Russian accent, before listing a series of code words and numbers. Then, just as suddenly, it ends. The buzzing returns, for another few months.
That is what has greeted listeners of a mysterious radio station nicknamed ‘The Buzzer’ – and code named UVB-76, or more recently MDZhB – since the 1970s.
But what the Buzzer is doing, or who is broadcasting it, remains a mystery – with theories ranging from the Russian military to atmospheric research.
The Buzzer is a shortwave radio station of unknown origin.
Although its noise has changed slightly over the preceding 40 years, it has always involved some form of regular buzzing, interrupted by a voice on rare occasions seemingly reading out a message.
Today, 25 times every minute, it spends less than a second buzzing, pauses, then buzzes again – endlessly.
The noise rings out on a frequency of 4625 kHz, which anyone is able to listen in on, including online at one of several live streams.
For years the transmission seemed to originate from the town of Povarovo near Moscow but, in September 2010, the location changed. Now, it is believed to be in Western Russia.
According to the website Numbers Station, the Buzzer ‘works as a communications center within the Western Military District that sends messages to corresponding military units and their outposts.’
The Buzzer has spawned many websites and blogs like this, with amateur radio enthusiasts the world over becoming intrigued by its unsolved mystery.
Ryan Schaum, an engineering student from Pittsburgh who runs the Numbers Station website, said he first became interested in The Buzzer a little over a year ago.
‘I first saw what it was in a YouTube video and became fascinated with its mystery,’ he said.
But he admits he hasn’t attempted to crack the code yet, saying: ‘These messages cannot be decoded by anyone who they do not intend them to be for.
‘Without access to the codebook, there is no way to tell what they are sending.’
Despite anyone being able to listen to the station, depending on their radio coverage where they are in the world, the code used is a complete mystery.
There is no perceptible shift in the pattern of the buzzing, and no indication that a voiced message is imminent.
All the messages, though, are in the same format. They usually began with a collective callsign, which until 2010 was UVB-76 or UZB-76. Four years ago, though, a voice came on the air and changed the callsign, which is now MDZhB (with ‘Zh’ being a single letter in Russian).
Many, though, continue to refer to the station as UVB-76.
The station also once broadcast a time signal, with a one-minute long two-tune buzzer sounding at the top of every hour. This was disabled in June 2010, and no time signal has taken its place.
Interestingly, codes have also been repeated over months or years, for reasons unknown. On 26 January 2011 the operator read out ‘ILOTICIN 36 19 69 46.’ This was repeated almost four months later, on 11 May 2011.
The frequency of the voiced transmission is also not regular. Before 2010 it could take months or even years between messages.
Following 2010, though, messages were heard as often as every few weeks, sometimes occurring on or near significant events.
For example on 18 March 2014, less than 24 hours after Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation, the voice read out: ‘T-E-R-R-A-K-O-T-A. Mikhail Dimitri Zhenya Boris [MDZhB, the callsign of the station]. Mikhail Dmitri Zhenya Boris. 81 26 T-E-R-R-A-K-O-T-A.’