UVB-76 is an old call sign for a Russian station at 4625kHz known as The Buzzer. It’s been in operation at least since 1973. It has pretty much been continuous for over 40 years with occasional breakdowns and short outages. It buzzes about 25 buzzes per minute but the rate has varied over time. Occasionally it is interrupted by a heavily accented Russian voice reading common first names, Russian phonetic alphabet, and numbers. Many believe it is a peculiar type of numbers station. But why the constant buzzing? Do the shifts in tone and frequency have meaning? Despite the fall of the Soviet Union it continues. Who are the messages for? What do they mean? Is it an apocalypse dead man switch to nukes?
The first documented notice of the channel in the west was in 1973. From 1973 to 2010 (which turns out to a pivotal year for the station) it identified itself as UVB-76 and is still referred to as that today in the west among shortwave radio enthusiasts. Despite often being called the Buzzer it actually started out as a pip and became a buzzer in early 1990. There are two similar Russian stations from they are newer but do the constant noise and messages The Pip at 5448 kHz by day, and 3756 kHz during the night that started in 1986. and The Squeaky Wheel5473 kHz (day) and 3828 kHz (night) which only operated 8 years (2000 – 2008) before someone oiled it I guess.
There are few odd things about it. First off it seems the buzzer is before an open mic. At times footsteps, phone conversations, moving about noises are heard in the background of the buzz. Some think the buzz isn’t automatic but manual. I hate to think of some poor Russian shmoe setting there on his 8 hour shift pushing the buzzer 25 times a minute. Others think it’s automatic and fed to the broadcaster just that sometimes for some reason the mic gets turned on unnoticed.
In September 2010 it changed its call sign to MDZhB and used that until 28 December 2015 when it identified as ZhUOS. Why the changes no one is sure but using triangulation the name changes conincide with location moves. The first location was near Povarovo in Lozhki. (more on that in a bit) then in 2010 moved near St. Petersburg near Kerro Massiv. Finally in 2015 it moved to the 69th Communication Hub in Naro Forminsk Moscow.
On 3 Nov 2001 a snippet of a conversation is heard. “I am 143. Not receiving generator (or oscillator depending on translator).” Then a second voice replied. “That stuff comes from the hardware room.” I tried to find a recording of that on line for you but alas just found many references to it. However here is one from 2012 where you hear a scream. To me and some commenters it sounds like it comes from a tv. I picture the button pushing shmoe sneaking in a bit of TV watching as he sits there buzzing the mic. Oh this does give you a good idea of what it sounds like most of the time.
Another reported conversation was on 11 Nov 2010 it was parts of an apparent phone conversation. Again I could not find a recording of it but it was reported as male voice heard in snippets behind buzzer “brigade operative office on duty” “debut” “hope” “sudak (type of fish)” “volcano”. On phrase from the woman’s voice was “Officer on duty of communication node debut Senior Ensign Uspenskaya got the control call from Nadezhda (Female given name). OK.”
As I said it has gone silent for short periods of time. 1 Sept 2010 it was silent for day then triangulations from Europe shortwave enthusiasts noted the move to St. Petersburg area. Other times it breaks down. Here’s an example of that from 25 July 2016. Sounds sad when it winds down. In the static after I seem to hear clicks as if someone is attempting a reset.
These broadcasts don’t seem intentional except for the move one. Just things that can happen over a 40+ year history. Then there are intional broadcasts that seem to work just like a numbers station broadcast. Only these are live vocal broadcasts as sometimes the voice says error then starts again. It does at times repeat messages for example on 26 Jan 2011 and 11 May 2011 it broadcast the same message between station identifiers “I L T I C I N 36 19 69 46” was the message. The station became more active after 2010 sending messages sometimes multiple times a week. Before 2010 it could be months or years between messages. For sake of being through here’s what a typical message sounds like This one does the MDzhB station identifier Twice. in the Russian phonetic alphabet then goes into the message. “Mihail – Dmitriy – Zhenya – Boris – Mihail – Dmitriy – Zhenya – Boris – 85 – 343 – Konstantine – Roman – Ivan – Nikolay – Ul’yana – Mihail – 01 – 48 – 04 – 95 – Pavel – Roman – Ivan – Olga – Roman – Ivan – Tatjana – Elena – Tatjana – 14 – 08 – 28 – 71 (MDZhBDZhB (МДЖБМДЖБ) 85343 Krinum (Crinum – flower) 01480495 PRIORITET (priority) 14082871)”
There are message broadcasts that correspond to events in Russia. When Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation. A message was broadcast in a different format. The station identifier was in the middle. Again I have from several sources the content but alas could not find the recording. It was reported to be ” T E R R A K O T A Mikhail Dimitri Zhenya Boris Mikhail Dimitri Zheny Boris 81 26 T E R R A K O T A”
Oddly enough Terrakota is an indie band.
Now about the original location near Povarovo Russia. Urban Explorer Egor Esveev from Russia and studying in the US did go there once to find an abandoned military base. He did find papers about the base shutting down and a log for UVB-76. He reported while there he saw strange people. It’s an abandoned place with no village for miles. He saw a man walking carrying a hoe over his shoulder as if going gardening somewhere but no garden near other thing was a woman pushing an empty baby stroller. So he and his friends decided to leave. Good call I think Egor.
So this all interesting but what is it? The predominate theory is that it is a unique numbers station that uses the buzzer as a place holder making it easy for the needed people to find when told to tune in. Why have a station with a marker and other numbers stations without? Maybe this one is for another part of the Russian government. Many think this one is not spies but military, specifically the Western Military District. Fine but why the live mic? I can’t answer that one.
Another theory is it is a deadman switch. If it goes out Russia is gone and the rest of their nukes launch automatically. Now it has gone out a few times, during moves and well like the sad one above. So could it be planned outages are okay. And the person there live we hear in the background is the fail safe for accidental outages they stop the launches fix the buzzer then rest launches to listen then go back to taking phone calls, watching TV, and giving directions to the hardware room. If so why the messages?
Borok Geophysical Observatory suggested it was using that frequency to do ionospheric research in determining signal reflection. Then again okay explains constant consistent buzzing but why the messages?
Another theory is it is an UFO beacon to Russia’s otherworldly friends. The messages are for them. I do hope they didn’t loss their code pads.
For me I tend to lean to the military numbers station. It was and is on a military base. The purpose of the design beyond being a channel marker is beyond me. Why a buzzer before a live mic? or how does the mic be live at times to catch the mundane? I have not clue but you have guesses, ideas, or something let me know.