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UVB-76: The Buzz

Very few things creep me out more than mysterious radio signals. Seriously. I am looking over my shoulder as I type this. I even checked the closet before sitting down.

People pick up all kinds of weird signals with radio scanners, but one that spooks me more than the others are random number stations. These are stations, presumably run by the government, for purposes unknown. It’s obvious they’re broadcasting something in code, but what the code is is anybody’s guess. One of the most famous stations has been dubbed “UVB-76,” also known as “the buzz”. 24 hours a day, the buzz sounds like this:

Well, almost 24 hours a day. On August 23, 2010, the buzz was interrupted by a brief message in Russian.

The source of the signal was eventually traced back to a Russian military compound. Shortly after that, reporters visited the building and found this:

There are tons of number stations still broadcasting today. Exactly what they are for or the message they are sending is anybody’s guess.

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4 comments to UVB-76: The Buzz

  • I think what has everyone so flummoxed about these is that it’s an old technology (radio), and we should have old technology completely figured out, right? And yet with all of the stuff that we have today, we should be able to figure this out, and we can’t. I did get a chuckle about the statement that they’re illegal to listen to.

    I think they missed a trick by not including Lost in their clip of movies/TV using the number station concept, though.

  • Well, we know for a fact that some of the number stations are indeed used for 007 like activities:

    In 2001, nine days after 9/11, the US Defense Intelligence Agency arrested one of its own, senior Cuba analyst Ana Montes. Among a wealth of other evidence against her, she had been using a commercially available shortwave radio receiver to receive coded messages from a numbers station known to be originating in Cuba. This was only strike two of a series of interceptions of intelligence broadcasts from Cuba. One of the best known numbers stations, called ¡Atención!, came into the limelight at the 1998 conviction of the so-called Wasp Network of spies from Cuba. The FBI had entered their apartment and copied a cryptography program off of their laptop computer. It was found that every day, they would listen to the ¡Atención! station, enter the numbers into their laptop, and use the program to decode each day’s instructions using a one-time pad.

    (from: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4107)

    What makes this topic fascinating is that number stations are used for many other reasons, most of them being a mystery.

    One of my favorite theories is that many of these number stations are simply squatters: they broadcast something on the frequency to keep that frequency open for their own purposes. Puts the whole domain name squatting in a whole new light, doesn’t it? Radio squatters have been doing it quite a while before the Internet came along.

    The mistake many make is assuming that all numbers stations have something to do with spy stuff. That may lead to insanity since some might obsess over a station trying to figure out it’s secret purpose when, in fact, it might be nothing more than a oceanic buoy transmitting temperature readings.

    I don’t know if people are flummoxed because it’s “old” technology and we should have it all figured out. New technology always comes along to enhance and improve the old technology (think of the computer technology that’s used on modern radio equipment nowadays). Roads are even older technology and yet we use it every day and still have problems with it. And think of all the new technology we’ve used to supplement it (cars, GPS, different types of pavement, etc).

    I suspect there will still be radio stations broadcasting a hundred years from now, though what they are used for will certainly change. There will still be numbers stations broadcasting too, I expect, though I would think their purpose would change over time.

    Ditto on the missed chance to mention “Lost”.

  • Justin

    So, I know you can’t believe everything you see in movies, but Pump Up the Volume would have led me to believe you can triangulate the source of radio transmissions. Seems to make sense to me go in the direction it gets stronger and look for an antenna. I could walk around with my phone and watch the dBm meter and probably find my nearest cell tower if so inclined. /shrug

  • Justin

    They also need some slick DJ — “You’re listening to UVB-76, The Buzz. All buzz, all the time. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”