Russia’s New Mystery Shortwave Station

The Buzzer, also known as UVB-76 or UZB-76, has been a constant companion to anyone with a shortwave radio tuned to 4625 kHz. However, [Ringway Manchester] notes that there is now a second buzzer operating near in frequency to the original. Of course, like all mysterious stations, people try to track their origin. [Ringway] shows some older sites for the Buzzer and the current speculation on the current transmitter locations.

Of course, the real question is why? The buzzing isn’t quite nonstop. There are occasional voice messages. There are also jamming attempts, including one, apparently, by Pac Man.

Some people think the new buzzer is an image, but it doesn’t seem to be the same signal. The theory is that the buzzing is just to keep the frequency clear in case it is needed. However, we wonder if it isn’t something else. Compressed data would sound like noise.  Other theories are that the buzzing studies the ionosphere or that it is part of a doomsday system that would launch nuclear missiles. Given that the signal has broken down numerous times, this doesn’t seem likely.

What’s even stranger is that occasional background voices are audible on the signal. That implies that buzzing noise isn’t generated directly into the transmitter but is a device in front of a microphone.

We’ve speculated on the buzzer and the jamming efforts around it before. Not exactly a numbers station, but the same sort of appeal.

36 thoughts on “Russia’s New Mystery Shortwave Station

  1. I keep wondering why it’s so hard to identify the locations of these things.

    GPS time sync signals are accurate to 40 ns. If you have 2 receivers at different locations that time stamp the start of a particular artifact in the data, you can get a distance. Do this multiple times, and you can triangulate on the origin.

    I understand bouncing signals and ducting within atmospheric layers, but would that really be a problem if receivers in different countries is used (with different atmospheric effects)?

    How hard is tracking these things down?

      1. They’re not a mystery as such. They’re part of a larger Russian military commandment network; the Buzzer specifically represents 6-я общевойсковая армия, or Sixth Combined Arms Army, and the repeating sound is indeed a channel marker. Depending on exercises or combat, they will occasionally transmit Монолит messages, or other Russian military radio formats. The meaning of those messages during any given period of combat is generally derived from a codebook distributed to the force in question, like a poor man’s OTP.

    1. Much harder than you think. You’re not getting “the distance”. You’re getting *a* distance (well, if you’re lucky enough that there’s not too much multipath). That distance isn’t the ground distance, it’s the slant-distance from the transmitter to the ionosphere to the receiver. What point in the ionosphere? You can *guess*, but it’s hard to say exactly.

      Difficulty level 1: the reflection height is unknown. By combining computer models and ionosonde data we can guess, but we don’t have much visibility into smaller-scale or faster-moving structures, which can cause errors of tens of km right off the bat.

      Difficulty level 2: I said “the transmitter to the ionosphere to the receiver”, but actually in many cases the path is going to be more than one hop — earth – ionosphere – earth – ionosphere – earth, repeat up to a dozen times. Not only does that amplify the errors, but you don’t know a priori *how many* hops the signal you’re hearing took, so there’s a big ambiguity there. If you guess the hop count wrong then you’ll misplace the landing point by some hundreds of km.

      Difficulty level 3: So far we’ve been kind of assuming that the reflection points in the ionosphere are somewhere along the great-circle path between TX and RX, but if there’s any “tilt” in the ionosphere then this isn’t so; the path taken can be “skewed” significantly off of the great-circle path. This adds, you guessed it, up to hundreds of km of range uncertainty.

      Difficulty level 4: Yeah, that “earth – ionosphere – earth – ionosphere – earth” thing? Doesn’t take into account the possibility of ducting between ionospheric layers, or “chordal hops”, both cases where the signal takes several hops off of the ionosphere without coming down to Earth.

      If you had a *lot* of receivers doing multilateration, and also comparing to known beacons, and those receivers had a nice even geographical distribution, then a clever enough algorithm could resolve most of those ambiguities, but what we (meaning a bunch of internet amateurs) have is too few receivers, mostly clustered in the relatively few places with sufficient numbers of affluent nerds, operating off of way too little information. And so what you get is conclusions that are highly subject to debate.

      1. How to solve difficulty number one. Try validate if known models are responsive and one of the good answer to a complex problem. Here is how we could, I suppose there is some layers that are reflecting much than others, than try. Dropping a probe, that probe should pulse around the opposite harmonic frequence from the source in any direction. Know and discard human voices known by the intelligence at time from ‘the book’. Then once you have resolved that lets got to the other next level.

  2. Ha! What if these are just broken equipment that is accidentally broadcasting out-of-band/unintentionally and/or is unintentionally MICROPHONIC? (unlikely, but it was a silly thought)

    1. Wasn’t there a story (maybe here) about one of those solar powered portable AM transmitters that was used to broadcast something like traffic information? Seems that it continued to transmit for something like a year but no one could find it. It was finally located at a municipal garage in storage and being solar powered it would come alive during the day. (Someone refresh my memory).

      1. If I recall correctly, it was a transmitter in a trailer intended for traffic assistance around the time of an inauguration, and so that solar power let it live for many years afterwards, broadcasting the same date and info as when it was set up.

    2. The AN/WSC-3 defaults to a test broadcast signal when its turned on and not configured properly. I’ve heard about the FCC and various military units getting into some rather ugly arguments due to techs leaving the radios on for weeks at a time and the Feds wasting a lot of resources tracking down the signal.

  3. Maybe it’s like a dead man’s switch, if it stops broadcasting, someone or something knows the power was lost to the transmitter.
    Then again, there was odd repetitive radio Interference near me a few years ago, taking a broad spectrum radio, with a directional antenna, for a walk around the block soon lead me to a house, the garden of which was illuminated by Christmas lights all year round. The pwm and long lengths of wire made for a rather crude but effective transmitter.

  4. Well, given that that buzzing is being recorded be microphone, my guess would be that it’s tob verify that the microphone is operational, or it’s a mic that must be kept on and the noise is to block out voices from being transmitted

  5. What if it actually is a dead man switch for nuclear wepons, but not that well maintained (like all the other russian stuff). Who said that stoping transmitting from time to time is intentional? Maybe it just take a week or so after the signal stops, but until now every time somebody noticed the transmitter stoped and just gave it a good smack and voila… its working again.

    1. If the signal is a dead man’s switch then there’s nothing stopping someone else from copying the signal and replicating it thereby making it look the same to whatever device may be monitoring it.

      1. I like the dead man switch use. Just because it has another use doesn’t mean it can be part of a dead man system. BBC R4 is part of the british dead man switch/system.

  6. I think its purpose is to help the receiver to check the radio device is operational and the signal is receivable even there is no command in transit at the moment.

    1. Correct answer. One can invent fancy scenarios involving spies and nukes. In reality it could be as simple as conscript serving in Muchosransk-46 military base located somewhere deep in Siberia. For half a year that place is accessible only by plane. Every day when he starts his shift, he has to check the radio and make an entry in a log book, same thing at the end of the day. If the radio is broken they take the reserve one and use sat-phone to call Moscow for a replacement.

  7. JJ Abrams is laying the groundwork for a new TV series he is hoping to sell to Hulu, called Brother of Buzzer, about the hilarious antics of a ragtag crew of soldiers who operate a numbers station, and are unaware of the fact that, for decades, the microphone has been transmitting an annoying sound instead of the intended spy transmission. A storyline every Russian citizen can empathize with.

    1. Since at least 2021. We did some investigation on it and the conclusion was that 4612 are some pranksters / pirates. Just like those who transmit music, sound effects and images over 4625. The marker is out of sync, and fading patterns are different to those of 4625.

  8. A spy listener would have a very inexpensive receiver. The receiver would have an analog tuner.
    Since it’s cheap, it needs a reference, and needs to be a non-marked frequency on a dial. If the dial is marked 0 to 10, the known sound is tuned in, and the dial reset to say 5. at that point, the dial is turned to some plus or minus, perhaps in coincidence with time of day or date, and the real frequency is then
    listened to.

  9. Given the ongoing performance of the Russian military I think we could discount some of the more fantastic suggestions being made here and go with something more in character for them – such as faulty equipment, drunk operator leaving a mic open, etc. rather than some amazing new super-secret doomsday device.

  10. Listening to 4625khz. Behind the noise a voice can be heard at times. Signal level of voice not high enough to determine language of speaker. I am tempted to use a switched capacitor audio filter to play down the noise level and bring the speaker up front. 73

  11. The buzzing is serving two distinct purposes.
    1) Channel markers, keeping the frequencies occupied and marked as in use to anyone.
    2) All receivers in these networks, and they are many, have a specially added squelch system, that has a set of audio filters to extract the separate tones from the buzz. These tones are used to reset a timer. When the buzzing stops for a while before a message, the timer times out and the squelch is lifted, turning the receiver audio on, so the operators on watch can get the message. This way they are spared the constant noise and buzzing.
    This is all there is to it, it’s practical and simple. The buzz is composed of 3 (as far as I remember) tones with different wave shapes, when combined you get the well known sound.
    4643kHz is radio net 43 in Russia’s armed forces. You can see an actual Ishim003 radio receiver in a military unit tuned to the buzzer frequency and marked as working 24/7:
    The radio is actually a translation receiver, those were used in radio-over-wire systems in the eastern world (and are still used in some places) –
    But it has been modified with a squelch module for the Buzzer.

    1. From audio leaked from different stations you can clearly hear other markers not squelched at all. Pip marker was heard when Squeaky Wheel was transmitting a message, and other markers were heard in a room (with echo) of different stations. Also: there are several Buzzer’s marker generators, and frequency of each vary over time so much that squelch would have to adapt. Guess it’s easier to train people to ignore the marker. Making channel busy: yes, the other reason would be: if propagation goes bad they can no longer hear the marker and they start to investigate (heard that when solar flare knocked out HF propagation).

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