The Buzzer

If you have a shortwave radio and are feeling a little bored lately, late (or early depending on your perspective) at night, tune around to 4625 kHz AM.  If the propagation is right, you might hear a peculiar buzzing noise.  That is a Russian radio broadcast station, call sign UVB-76, it has been nicknamed “The Buzzer.”

This shortwave radio station has been on the air since sometime in early 1982.  Its exact purpose is somewhat of a mystery.  It transmits a 0.8-second buzzing sound followed by 1 to 1.3 seconds of silence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The station’s transmitter is located about 25 miles northwest of Moscow (56° 4′ 58″ N, 37° 5′ 22″ E) in an area thought to be near the communication hub of the General Staff of the Russian Army.  It transmits with a carrier power of 10KW into a horizontal Dipole antenna about 65 feet high.

Dipole antenna for UVB76 transmitter
Dipole antenna for UVB76 transmitter

There are only 3-4 times during its almost thirty-year history that voices were transmitted on the station.  They said (from Wikipedia):

At 21:58 GMT on December 24, 1997, the buzzing abruptly stopped to be replaced by a short series of beeps, and a male voice speaking Russian announced: “Ya — UVB-76. 18008. BROMAL: Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa. 742, 799, 14.” The same message was repeated several times before the beep sequence repeated and the buzzer resumed.

A similar voice message was broadcast on September 12, 2002, but with extreme distortion (possibly as a result of the source being too close to the microphone) that rendered comprehension very difficult. This second voice broadcast has been partially translated as “UVB-76, UVB-76. 62691 Izafet 3693 8270.”

A third voice message was broadcast on February 21, 2006 at 7:57 GMT. Again, the speaking voice was highly distorted, but the message’s content translates as: “75-59-75-59. 39-52-53-58. 5-5-2-5. Konstantin-1-9-0-9-0-8-9-8-Tatiana-Oksana-Anna-Elena-Pavel-Schuka. Konstantin 8-4. 9-7-5-5-9-Tatiana. Anna Larisa Uliyana-9-4-1-4-3-4-8.

There seem to be two semi-official explanations; One website claims the station is meant to “Transmit orders to the military units and recruitment centers of the Moscow military district,” and the other is the constant buzzer is the High-frequency Doppler method for ionosphere research.  Both of these seem implausible since the station was on the air for fifteen years before any voice transmissions and the station’s location is not near any known research facilities.

Naturally, there is a youtube video of it:

Other possible uses include some type of dead hand system.  Is Russian, this is called Perimetr or “Hand from the coffin.”  It is an automatic or semi-automatic launching system for nuclear ballistic missiles.  In theory, if an incoming first strike is detected, the system is turned on and it waits for input from the military leadership.  If none is received, as would be the case if all military and civilian leadership were killed in the first strike (as the so-called “decapitation strike,” or more recently “shock and awe”), then the surviving nuclear weapons would be launched automatically in a retaliatory strike.

Think of something like 4 8 15 16 23 42

Is this the true purpose of The Buzzer?  The only ones who really know are the Russians and they, of course, are not saying anything.

If this radio station is used in a system like that, I would imagine that there are radio receivers tuned to 4625 kHz at Russian military installations.  That frequency likely propagates well to most of the Russian landmass.  In addition to an automated launching system, it might also be used as a “communication of last resort” type system.  If the buzzing stops, an alarm sounds, and the speaker un-mutes.  This would be a good reason to use AM vice some other type of pulsed or digital modulation scheme, which would likely perform better for an automated system.

If that is the case, then we each should say a little prayer every night that UVB-76 aka “The Buzzer” keeps on buzzing.

I’ll leave you with this one:

I do not speak Russian.

You speak English.

Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself