Infamous Russian Number Station UVB-76 Begins Sending Strange Messages

A more usual broadcast from the station, though they're all still pretty weird. Image credit: The.doctor.vale/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The infamous Russian number station UVB-76, thought to be a tool of the Russian state to communicate with agents, has begun broadcasting strange messages, including several memes and the song Gangnam Style.

Number stations are the kind of thing you stumble across on Reddit late at night, have a listen, and spend the rest of the small hours searching for some ear-bleach. 

The stations ⁠— which have been around since World War I, but became more prolific during the Cold War ⁠— generally broadcast a tune, or a buzz, or sometimes cartoon character Yosemite Sam saying "Varmint, I'm a-gonna b-b-b-bloooow ya ta'smithereenies" (yes, really) followed by a series of numbers read by a human or synthesized voice, on a bed of static for extra "I may never sleep again" vibes.

They are generally thought (and sometimes confirmed) to be a way of sending coded instructions by states to agents in the field. Sometimes broadcasting on a schedule, sometimes seemingly at random, they have creeped people out all around the world, not limiting themselves to one language.

A particularly alarming theory about one number station ⁠— “MDZhB”, also known as "UVB-76" and "The Buzzer" ⁠— is that it is being used as a "Dead Hand" signal. The station broadcasts a constant monotonous tone, interrupted every few seconds by a foghorn-like sound, and occasionally by a Russian voice issuing messages such as "Ya UVB-76, Ya UVB-76. 180 08 BROMAL 74 27 99 14. Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa. 7 4 2 7 9 9 1 4".

The "Dead Hand" theory suggests that what you really have to worry about is when the signal stops. If it's correct, the monotone is there as a sort of "everything is OK" alarm, à la The Simpsons. Should the signal cease for a certain amount of time because of a nuclear attack ⁠— according to this unverified theory ⁠— an automatic nuclear response would be triggered.

After the station stopped broadcasting in 2010, following a brief flurry of activity, you'll notice that a nuclear apocalypse did not follow. Phew. It then moved to another location, where it continues its intermittent broadcasting.

The station has now been causing speculation once more, after broadcasting songs like Psy's global hit Gangnam Style, and noises that translate into memes when you put them through a spectrum analyzer.

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The cause of it, according to those looking at the messages, is likely pirates that have hijacked the frequency. Following a brief moment where it spewed out messages, it appears to have gone back to its usual beeps and numbers. Let's assume, for now, that Gangnam Style is not some sort of coded message.

 

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