Mysterious Russian radio signal that’s been transmitting for 40 years baffles scientists


For four decades, since the height of the Cold War, a mysterious radio signal has been broadcast out of Russia — baffling ham radio fans, scientists and spies alike.

Some speculate it’s part of the Russian government’s own secret SETI program or even actively communicating with a visiting alien species. 

Others believe it might be a ‘Dead Hand’ doomsday trigger, ready to launch nuclear weapons if Russia’s leadership is knocked out of commission. 

But according to a professor of electronics and radio engineering, who has studied the signal, one thing is certain: ‘It is almost certainly the Russian government that is using it,’ he said.

And: ‘If it is the Russian government, it wouldn’t be for peaceful purposes.’

For four decades, since the height of the Cold War, a mysterious radio signal has been broadcast out of Russia (example above) - baffling ham radio fans, scientists and spies alike

Some speculate that it's part of the Russian government's own secret SETI program, communicating with alien life. Above, one of the towers that broadcast the signal from 19 miles outside of Moscow

For four decades, since the height of the Cold War, a mysterious radio signal has been broadcast out of Russia – example signal at left – baffling ham radio fans, scientists and spies alike. Above, right, one of the towers that broadcast the signal, 19 miles outside of Moscow

Professor David Stupples, who teaches electronic and radio engineering at the City University of London, personally believes that the enigmatic broadcast, nicknamed ‘The Buzzer,’ has likely been kept active as a fail-safe in case of nuclear war.

Broadcast at the 4625kHz shortwave radio frequency, the Buzzer has led some physicists to speculate that its signal is being used to monitor Earth’s ionosphere.

But Professor Stupples — whose expertise is in orbital or otherwise space-based reconnaissance platforms, surveillance, and navigation systems — acknowledges that both incredible and mundane explanations are all still on the table.

‘They may be just reserving the channel for air defense or some form of defense,’ Stupples told Popular Mechanics this week.

‘If they don’t actually use it, someone will poach it,’ according to Stupples. ‘They are keeping the channel available by broadcasting and saying, “this is ours.”‘

In 2010, the source point of the UVB-76 broadcast shifted, surrounded by odd events and new quirks to its seemingly random tones, voices and information - which it has broadcast continuously since the 1970s

In 2010, the source point of the UVB-76 broadcast shifted, surrounded by odd events and new quirks to its seemingly random tones, voices and information – which it has broadcast continuously since the 1970s

Amateur ham radio interest and unclassified scientific interest in ‘The Buzzer,’ officially known by its original call sign ‘UVB-76,’ first spiked in 1982.

Back then, the station was known to broadcast only a coded and baffling series of beeps, but by 1992 the broadcasts got stranger: a series of buzzing noises, 25 times every minute, for less than a second each, and occasionally an ominous foghorn.

During the nineties, UVB-76’s buzzing would also become sporadically interrupted by anonymous male and female voices, who would read lists of seemingly random names, words, or numbers. 

The tones of the noises the station broadcast would vary as well, potentially with secret information packed inside those tonal shifts.

This diversity of odd broadcasts is what caught Professor Stupples’s and other researchers’ attention, because that variety is out of character for a simple ’emergency placeholder’ signal.

According to the surveillance engineering expert, a government or military institution that simply wants to keep control of a certain radio frequency will typically just broadcast a single basic test pattern, over and over again.

Not only does the UVB-76 ‘Buzzer’ broadcast more complex and confusing signals instead — it does so powerfully, with over many thousands of watts of energy transferred, based on Professor Stupples’s measurements, and in all directions.

‘I have put it through my signal spectrum analyzers,’ Stupples said, ‘and I can’t pick any intelligence out at all.’

A Russian student based in Canada, Egor Esveev, tracked down the mystery broadcast to a seemingly abandoned Russian base near Pskov, on the border with Estonia. Esveev told MailOnline.com in 2014 that he found the abandoned location very eerie

A Russian student based in Canada, Egor Esveev, tracked down the mystery broadcast to a seemingly abandoned Russian base near Pskov, on the border with Estonia. Esveev told MailOnline.com in 2014 that he found the abandoned location very eerie

Freelance radio monitor Ary Boender from Holland, who runs the website Numbers Oddities, has heard and entertained many theories about the signal over the years. 

‘Some say that it is an old Soviet Dead Man’s Switch that triggers a nuclear attack on the west when it stops buzzing,’ she explained.

‘Others say that it is a homing beacon for UFOs,’ Boender continued, ‘or a mind control device with which the Russians can program your mind.’  

‘In the past it was said that it was a remote control station belonging to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,’ she recalls.

Jochen Schäfer, who served for many years as head of a citizen’s group in Germany that spied on professional spies, once maintained that the Buzzer is a numbers station: a radio broadcast that allows agents in the field to transmit coded messages.

‘It’s no typical numbers station, but it is one,’ Schäfer insisted to Wired in 2011.

To this day, according to Stupples, all these theories, even the most outlandish ones, could still prove to be true. 

‘It is always entertaining, isn’t it?’ Stupples told Popular Mechanics. ‘And you never know, one of those crank views may be right, and then we all eat humble pie.’

But the mystery of UVB-76 got deeper in 2010, when it disappeared from its first broadcasting location, which had been tracked down to a Russian army base near the town of Povarovo, 19 miles outside Moscow. 

Most of the buildings, some half underground, were destroyed or abandoned according to Mr Evseev, while cables in some areas had been visibly torn from the ground

Most of the buildings, some half underground, were destroyed or abandoned according to Mr Evseev, while cables in some areas had been visibly torn from the ground 

'We found tons of rubbish documents,' Evseev added. 'One that we found was interestingly enough about ceasing operations of the base'

‘We found tons of rubbish documents,’ Evseev added. ‘One that we found was interestingly enough about ceasing operations of the base’ 

The signal ceased broadcasting for a roughly 24 hours.

When it returned, odd pauses began appearing in the broadcast, and on August 25, 2010 amateur listeners eavesdropping on the station heard something they described as people shuffling around a room. 

Some of these odd new transmissions resembled Morse code. 

Then, one day, the station started blaring out snippets of composer Tchaikovsky’s ballet ‘Swan Lake,’ and the call sign changed from ‘UVB-76’ to ‘MDZhB,’ spoken by a mystery figure saying ‘Mikhail Dumitri Zhengya Boris.’

The station also once broadcast a time signal, with a one-minute long two-tune buzzer sounding at the top of every hour. This was disabled in June 2010, and no time signal has taken its place.

Interestingly, codes have also been repeated over months or years, for reasons unknown. On 26 January 2011 the operator read out ‘ILOTICIN 36 19 69 46.’ This was repeated almost four months later, on 11 May 2011.

Russian student Egor Esveev, 20, who originally comes from Moscow but now studies in Ottawa, told MailOnline in 2014 that he managed to track down the origin of the signal after it moved from Povarovo.

Esveev said he found it near Pskov, on the border with Estonia, which he explored and photographed himself.

‘Like any abandoned building or area it was very creepy,’ he told MailOnline in 2014.

‘Strange people and very strange scenery.’

Esveev said he encountered ‘a mid-40s woman’ who was pushing ‘a stroller.’ 

‘At first I thought that she is a resident of the town out for a walk but as she walked past I saw that her stroller was empty,’ he said.

‘Who goes to an abandoned military base with an empty stroller for a walk?’

He said the station was set up like a ‘typical Russian military base’ with two different perimeters.

Most of the buildings, some half underground, were destroyed or abandoned according to Mr Evseev, while cables in some areas had been visibly torn from the ground.

‘We found tons of rubbish documents,’ he added. ‘One that we found was interestingly enough about ceasing operations of the base.’

Esveev said thinks that the station may be used for some form of internal communication that, ‘while secret, isn’t sensitive enough for them to care about masking or keeping it secret.’

But no matter how hard people try to investigate the mystery of Russia’s 4625kHz signal, according to Professor Stupples, the UK-based electronic and radio engineering expert, any definitive conclusions will likely stay just out of reach without some official confirmation. 

‘I think to find the whole truth—and nothing but the truth—I think it would have to come from the Russian Federation themselves,’ Stupples said.



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