Edited and prepared by Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU
Interesting Guest post by Fernando Sanchez, see his blog here Life Mirror.
The Mystery of The Buzzer, the Doomsday Radio Station Broadcasting from Deep Within Russian Territory
A buzzing sound, similar to white noise, followed by a foghorn-like sonic blast. That’s it. Repeating itself over and over, endlessly. For the last thirty years, this sound pattern has been broadcasting through shortwave radio, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, from deep inside what once was the Soviet Union. And nobody quite knows why.
Welcome to the eerie world of The Buzzer.
Ghostly Transmissions From Beyond the Iron Curtain
Shortwave radio is a funny thing. Its signal utilises the shorter wavelengths (usually under 200 mts), between the 1,500 kHz and 3.0 MHz bands. Radio waves in this spectrum can be reflected or refracted on the ionosphere, which means that shortwave radio directed skywards at at specific angle can be reflected back well beyond the horizon. This property means that shortwave radio signals can be broadcast over huge distances, making it ideal for long range maritime or airborne transmissions, for example.
There are some less overt uses for shortwave radio. Though never officially confirmed, a number of shady agencies use it for clandestine broadcasts directed at operatives placed all over the world. The so-called Number Stations regularly pop up on the spectrum to broadcast seemingly random stuff, such as blocks of numbers mixed with bursts of music, lines of poetry, and the like.
The concept is hardly new. Prior to the D-Day landings for example, Radio Londres broadcast the first stanza of Paul Verlaine’s poem Chanson d’automne to let the resistance know that the invasion was imminent.
Among these peculiar Number Stations is callsign UVB-76, also identified as UZB-76, MDZhB, or S28, but commonly known as The Buzzer.
Broadcasting in the 4625 kHz frequency, the Buzzer has been on air constantly since at least 1973. Up to 1990, it broadcast a two-second loop of two beeping sounds. From that point on, it began emitting a buzzing tone lasting 1.2 seconds, followed by what sounds like a ship’s foghorn, repeating itself 21-34 times per minute.
The mystery deepens further, as The Buzzer occasionally transmits voice messages spoken in a Russian accent. These messages are broadcast live, not recorded, and always follow a pre-determined format known in Russian military terminology as monolyth messages. These communications are thought to be directed from military HQs to subordinate units, to test their readiness, and for other unidentified purposes.
The Dead Hand Switch Theory
The Buzzer is believed to have been broadcasting since the early 70s, though other sources say it only started sending its eerie signal in 1982-1983. The early 80s saw (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not) a heightened state of confrontation between the superpowers, Russia and the United States during the later years of the long, post-war conflict known as the Cold War. Ronald Reagan’s intentions of deploying Pershing II cruise missiles to Germany (a mere 5-10 minutes flying time to Russia), the shooting down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983, and the Able Archer 83 wargames in Europe, which simulated a coordinated NATO nuclear release, brought the conflict to its most volatile moment since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
The spectre of nuclear annihilation was very much in the public mind at the time, and the Russians, already on edge due to Able Archer, had reasons to believe that the US would use the exercise as a way to mask a pre-emptive strike.
The integration of army branches across the Soviet military had traditionally been very poor, due in part to the sheer vastness of the country, Moscow’s obsession with centralising decisions within the Kremlin, and significantly, technological shortcomings. Though Russia had a nuclear arsenal of comparable size to their American nemesis, the actual communication system to coordinate a retaliatory strike was poorly implemented.
Attempts had been made as far back as 1967 to fully automate the communication process to ensure that the Soviet missiles would leave their silos, even in the event that key officials with the authority to issue such order had already been wiped out.
This is the basic concept behind the Dead Hand Switch. A pre-determined code automatically sent to launch stations to ensure the missiles are fired away.
While most radio experts agree that the constant noise broadcast is simply a marker that the 4625 kHz is in use, one of the existing theories behind the existence of The Buzzer is that its constant droning means ‘peace’. In the event of nuclear annihilation, some believe that the Buzzer will cease broadcasting and trigger Armageddon.
There are other, more mundane explanations for the purpose of The Buzzer. It may simply scanning changes in the ionosphere, some say.
Whatever the truth may be, the creepy, droning tone of The Buzzer continues on, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.
Listen to it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmezUnQpxME