The Russian Numbers Station UVB-76

Part of the abandoned UVB-76 facility in Povarovo
Part of the abandoned UVB-76 facility in Povarovo

As covered in a previous article, numbers stations are utilized by governments or groups to broadcast a series of names or numbers over the radio waves. The reason why numbers stations are still used today in an age of computers and text messaging is because while the radio station making the broadcast may be found, the people (most likely sleeper cells or spies) receiving the message are impossible to locate, as well as the broadcast itself will be indecipherable to anyone but the sender and receiver. There is one numbers station that stands out among the rest, the infamous UVB-76.

UVB-76, nicknamed “the Buzzer” is a numbers station that began broadcasting at 4625kHz from the Soviet Union at some point supposedly during the late 1970’s, although the first recording of UVB-76 was in 1982. This station initially broadcast a continuous beeping, although after 1992 (which by then the Soviet Union had collapsed and the Cold War was over) UVB-76 began broadcasting roughly twenty-one to thirty-four buzzes per minute. This buzzing sound is how UVB-76 got its nickname “the Buzzer,” because just like with the beeping, the buzzing was continuous and uninterrupted. At least, it was uninterrupted until 1997.

A few hours prior to Christmas Day in 1997, the buzzing stopped and was replaced by a voice that broadcast a series of names and numbers in Russian. While it is uncertain what the message itself means, the names are not actual individuals, but rather the Russian phonetic alphabet used by the Russian military in which names such as “Olga” means “O,” “Nikolai” means “N,” etc. It is similar to the more familiar NATO phonetic alphabet, that uses words such as “Foxtrot” for “F,” “Echo” for “E,” etc. The video below is a recording of the very first voice message broadcast by UVB-76 in 1997.

After the initial broadcast, the buzzing resumed and went uninterrupted until December 9th, 2002. Again, the buzzing stopped and there was another message comprised of “UVB-76” being repeated a couple times, a few numbers and a word “IZAFET” (which can be listened to here). There would not be another message broadcasted until February 21st, 2006 which included “UVB-76,” some numbers and multiple names (which can be listened to here). This was the first time that a broadcast contained so many names, although none of the broadcasts has thus far been completely understood.

Another building at the Povarovo facility, with two antennae towers in the background
Another building at the Povarovo facility, with two antennae towers in the background

Prior to 2010, the buzzing had only been interrupted three times. However, in 2010 there was a noted increase in activity following an unusual period on June 5th where UVB-76’s buzzing ceased for twenty-four hours before resuming as usual the next morning on June 6th. During the buzzing’s absence, it was reported that the sounds of a hydraulic pump as well as conversations and numbers. At multiple times during the beginning of September, pieces of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake were broadcasted. Then according to priyom.org, the month of January saw one voice broadcast, August saw two, September saw twenty-seven, October saw twenty-nine, November saw twenty-two, and December saw thirty-three, making a total of one-hundred-fourteen broadcasts that year. This is in stark contrast to how in the roughly thirty year operation of UVB-76 prior to 2010, the buzzing had only been interrupted with voice broadcasts three times. After 2010, the year 2011 experienced two-hundred-twelve broadcasts, the year 2012 experienced one-hundred-forty-six broadcasts, the year 2013 only experienced thirty-two broadcasts (with thirty-one of them occurring in January and one in September), while the year 2014 at the time of the writing of this article has experienced one-hundred-thirty-eight broadcasts.

A log book discovered at the abandoned Povarovo, dated 2005
A log book discovered at the abandoned Povarovo, dated 2005

No one is certain as to the location of where UVB-76 is broadcasting from, although it is believed to have moved from its original location. UVB-76 originally broadcast from a radio station in the city of Povarovo, nineteen miles northwest of Moscow. In 2010 the facility was abandoned, and a group of explorers who had come to investigate the facility were told by a local that one night there was a dense fog and the military evacuated the complex in roughly ninety minutes. Since then, there are a few different theories as to where the new radio station is; some suggest it is now near Pskov, a town near the Russian-Estonian border, while others believe it is now located in a new military command center in St. Petersburg. Russia Today, or simply RT, the official news agency of the Russian Federation, even did a segment where they visited the former compound that UVB-76 broadcasted from (which can be viewed here).

After the move, UVB-76 began identifying itself in broadcasts as “MDZhB,” although others think that the “V” in UVB-76 may have been misheard or mistranslated, and that UVB-76 was actually “UZB-76.” Listeners have also noticed since the move that UVB-76 is not a recording, as telephone conversations, banging sounds, and people’s voices can be heard in the background, indicating that UVB-76’s iconic buzzing noise is being generated by a speaker being played into a microphone.

An aerial photograph of the UVB-76 facility
An aerial photograph of the UVB-76 facility

Today, no one is sure what UVB-76 is used for, although theories suggest it could be used for communicating with spies, transmitting orders to the Russian military within Russia, or even that it could be connected to Mertvaya Ruka, or “Dead Hand,” the backup system in place during the Cold War which was designed to take control of and launch all of the USSR’s nuclear weapons instantly if it determined that the Soviet leadership had been killed in a surprise NATO attack. It is odd however that during the “hottest” points of the Cold War, UVB-76 had been silent, and only began broadcasting messages after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then suddenly increased its activity following 2010.

Whatever its use, the mysterious UVB-76 has become extremely popular with radio enthusiasts and fans of the unexplained (mostly because of the Internet), and for many represents one of the last great mysteries dating back to the Cold War.

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3 thoughts on “The Russian Numbers Station UVB-76

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