Inside the Russian Short Wave Enigma
October 4, 2011 12:20 PM   Subscribe

UVB-76 is a Russian short wave station that has enthralled and mystified enthusiasts for decades.
posted by reenum (59 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
something something Wilco
posted by nathancaswell at 12:24 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, is it just me or has Wired really come into it's own the past few years?
posted by nathancaswell at 12:25 PM on October 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Previously.
posted by mykescipark at 12:26 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Er, that should have gone to the main FPP, not the comment.)
posted by mykescipark at 12:27 PM on October 4, 2011


Numbers stations are my ghost stories. They creep the shit out of me and yet I keep going back to them. I read any article like this I stumble upon, but there's part of me that hopes to not get too many answers - not knowing is part of the fun. Really enjoyed this article.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:29 PM on October 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Clearly these people did not play COD:Black Ops
posted by smackwich at 12:33 PM on October 4, 2011


Is COD:Black Ops the one that has a mission near the old antenna for the Russian Woodpecker?
posted by rmd1023 at 12:34 PM on October 4, 2011


You would think that with all this new technology something like a numbers station would have no place. You could use twitter, like @Horse_ebooks, craigslist, hell even metafilter. Numbers stations have one great advantage, going back though logs someone can prove I looked at @Horse_ebooks twitter. It would be virtually impossible for someone to determine six months from now that I listened to UVB-76 on a small shortwave radio.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:39 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Numbers stations are my ghost stories. They creep the shit out of me

Me too...but why? It's just a voice reading numbers. It's not like espionage is that scary -- not creepy-scary, anyway. Is it an uncanny valley thing?
posted by PlusDistance at 12:45 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, is it just me or has Wired really come into it's own the past few years?

Wired was alwas good, they had good articles on Id atricles by Neal Stephenson and a million others I don't remember.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:45 PM on October 4, 2011


You would think that with all this new technology something like a numbers station would have no place. ... It would be virtually impossible for someone to determine six months from now that I listened to UVB-76 on a small shortwave radio.

Not just virtually impossible, but actually impossible, unless you were stupid enough to retain the evidence ... which is how the numbers stations keep getting tied to organized espionage in case after case.
posted by mykescipark at 12:46 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought is was pretty well known now. I, mean people have been in the shed. It's simply a
posted by Splunge at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


I LOVE UVB-76 and have read about it on the internet fairly extensively in a casual over-the-years sort of way, and what this post REALLY needs is a way to listen to yourself, streaming live off the web.

*shivers*
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:50 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this bit from the article sums up the thrill of listening to Numbers Stations perfectly:

Even today, listening to UVB-76 is like listening to a world that hasn’t existed for decades. This feels especially true late at night when you’re in a dark basement, headset on, enveloped by all the pops and whirs and snippets of anonymous voices from other signals seeping across the airwaves—”these little trips into fantasy,” as Room641A puts it, that “happen when you are sitting in front of your receiver passing by Radio Havana at 3 in the morning.”
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:53 PM on October 4, 2011


Is it an uncanny valley thing?

Well, two things. One, yes, it is the production values. In our modern Blu-Ray world, shortwave sounds inherently alien. It's the one medium left in which you can feel distance - analog sound waves bouncing off a layer around the earth, collecting sonic dust and artifacts along the way. It has breath and texture and it crumbles almost instantaneously. Even a normal human voice sounds distinctly different on shortwave - it's like listening to the world down a telephone line from the 1960s. The fact that the voices are mechanized adds another layer of displacement - one more degradation away from natural human sound. That the voices are communicating a code - something unknown, deliberately obscured, the sonic equivalent of those thick black strikethrough bars on confidential documents. All of these things combined, when pushed through a susceptible imagination, can produce whole universes of imaginative fancy. And under such circumstances, people like to imagine espionage always leading to murder / assassination / disappearance / other black-helicopter stuff, rather than the mundane aspects it ordinarily involves. The whole thing is a perfect storm for people who enjoy a bit of Cold War paranoia as an exercise for the mind.
posted by mykescipark at 12:53 PM on October 4, 2011 [40 favorites]


As Gibson said, "A secret is the root of cool". Being in on a secret, even if you just see the tip of the iceberg, is cool. There are hundred of strange phone numbers that play various sweeps and tones as well. It is fun to wonder just what they are used for.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:56 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]




Iteration 17294530 : "Si qui que ce soit puisse entendre ceci, ils sont morts. Veuillez nous aider. Je vais essayer d'aller jusqu'au Rocher Noir. Il les a tués. Il les a tués tous."

Iteration 17294531 : "Il est dehors. il est dehors et Brennan a pris les clés. Veuillez nous aider. Ils sont morts. Ils sont tous morts. Aidez-nous. Ils sont morts."

Iteration 17294532 : "Il est dehors. Il est dehors et Brennan a pris les clés. Veuillez nous aider. Ils sont morts. Ils sont tous morts. Aidez-nous. Ils sont morts."

Iteration 17294533 : "Ils sont tous morts. Aidez-nous. Ils sont morts. Si qui que ce soit puisse entendre ceci"

Iteration 17294534 : "Il est dehors. Veuillez nous aider. Veuillez nous aider."

Iteration 17294535 : "Si qui que ce soit puisse entendre ceci, je vais essayer d'aller jusqu'au Rocher Noir. Veuillez nous aider. Ils sont tous morts. Ils sont morts. Il les a tués. Ils les a tués tous. Je vais essayer d'aller jusqu'au Rocher Noir."
posted by exlotuseater at 12:57 PM on October 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


There are hundred of strange phone numbers that play various sweeps and tones as well. It is fun to wonder just what they are used for.

Oh my, Ad hominem, I've never heard of that! Care to elaborate?

Also, to add my own personal story, I literally just happened to listen to UVB-76 a lot last summer. I'd leave it on in the background while I went about doing other things, and I definitely heard several transmissions in Morse Code, although sadly not any of the other things-- no music, no voices. It was weird and incredible to me, in part, because it made me think of how bizarrely the landscape of knowledge has opened up since my parents' and grandparents' day. UVB is a reminder of the days of ducking under desks in response to nuclear attack, to not know what was happening except by listening in to strange signals in the basement, of sending QSL postcards to distant radio stations and waiting to get one in return, almost as if it's proof of a place really existing. For me, numbers stations are a reminder that the world was not always this small, and that even well into the twentieth century there might as well have been places on the map marked only with, "Here be dragons, and mysterious beeping."
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:08 PM on October 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I used to listen in fascination to CHU Canada on my shortwave radio as a kid, wondering what those chirps and beeps meant. Every hour an announcer would give the station ID in French and then English. I kept waiting for the "show" to start, or for an explanation of what the heck was going on.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:16 PM on October 4, 2011


A few recordings of number stations. Creepy stuff. Thanks for the post!
posted by snsranch at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


They are *mostly* for testing phone network equipment, but there are other things like numbers that identify which switch handles a prefix. I don't know any current ones unfortunately.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:21 PM on October 4, 2011


Because it still represents my best reaction to this, I'm going to repost my comment from last year about 4625kHz:
I'm going to laugh like crazy when they finally track this down, and it turns out to be something totally innocuous, like some guy working in a mundane facility got bored and set up a short wave radio in some back corner, and then, shortly afterward was fired or something, and no one has any idea that, to this day, it's broadcasting some ingress interference from a nearby refrigerator's condenser over a mic that's locked in the transmit mode.
I'm sure I'm wrong, but I'd love to be right.
posted by quin at 1:30 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


..streaming live off the web.

Hmm.. I went to that site, I ran the streaming widget, but all I got was a Coca Cola advertisement.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:36 PM on October 4, 2011


Some numbers stations are creepy just because of the fuzziness of shortwave radio, true. Some, however, are just messed up. Allow me to present to you: Swedish Rhapsody.

(Don't listen to this one if you happen to be the protagonist in a horror movie, unless you want the owner of this voice to suddenly turn up in your room with blank staring eyes.)
posted by ZsigE at 1:37 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm.. I went to that site, I ran the streaming widget, but all I got was a Coca Cola advertisement.

Refresh it.
posted by hal9k at 1:41 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some numbers stations are creepy just because of the fuzziness of shortwave radio, true. Some, however, are just messed up. Allow me to present to you: Swedish Rhapsody.

I'm glad I listened to that. I've been wasting a lot of my time sleeping, and now I've taken care of that problem. Thanks!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:42 PM on October 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Be ... sure ... to ... drink ... your ... Ovaltine.










Ovaltine? A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!
posted by jbickers at 2:05 PM on October 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Listening to a sample, and I feel pretty sure I heard this on an Amphetamine Reptile comp somewhere...
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 2:05 PM on October 4, 2011


ZsigE: "Allow me to present to you: Swedish Rhapsody. "

Swedish? I could swear that sounds like a new Björk song.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:09 PM on October 4, 2011


Pink Floyd enigma is enigmatic.
posted by punkfloyd at 2:12 PM on October 4, 2011


llow me to present to you: Swedish Rhapsody

Holy shit! I always wondered where the voice at the beginning of Even the Waves came from! Thank you!
posted by adamdschneider at 2:19 PM on October 4, 2011


Refresh it.

LOL. Coke is refreshing?

Seriously, all I could get was dead air and then a Coke ad. I reloaded over and over and nothing.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:21 PM on October 4, 2011


So soothing. Like the heartbeat of the future we were promised in the fifties.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:35 PM on October 4, 2011


The livestream videos weren't loading for me, but if you fire up VLC or something and open http://uk3-pn.mixstream.net/8026.m3u, you get a very nice regular buzzing. Fairly frequent short bursts of Morse as well - wish I'd got round to learning Morse, as it would actually be useful about now...

(Also, didn't mention it before, but that is a really well-written article about a fascinating subject. Thanks for the post.)
posted by ZsigE at 2:37 PM on October 4, 2011


What? No specific mention of America's most famous Numbers Station? Our answer to UVB-76 and The Lincolnshire Poacher? Varmint! I'm a-gonna blooow to smithereens!
posted by mreleganza at 2:46 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading comprehension is a wonderful thing. The embedded videos on the page do not link to the live feed of UVB-76 (keeping with the current discussion, I have no idea what they're for) -- the links on the left do, however, point toward the live (audio-only) stream.

If you're lazy, here's a link to the streaming .M3U of UVB-76...
posted by schmod at 2:51 PM on October 4, 2011


Pretty sure they are supposed to be the feed - the one on the left is now displaying a spectrogram for me, which shows bursts of noise pretty much synchronised to the audio stream I've got running in VLC. Presumably either there's no audio on the embedded video (why, I don't know) or it's broken right now.
posted by ZsigE at 3:01 PM on October 4, 2011


.. ..-. / -.-- --- ..- / ..-. .. --. ..- .-. . / - .... .. ... / --- ..- - / -.-- --- ..- / --. . - / .- / -.-. --- --- -.- .. . .-.-.- / -. --- / -.-. --- --- -.- .. . / .. ..-. / -.-- --- ..- / ..- ... . -.. / .- / .--- .- ...- .- / .- .--. .--. .-.. . - .-.-.-
posted by Splunge at 3:55 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saved a recording of this back when this was last posted, thinking it would make a brilliant sample. Four months ago, I finally used it to make my first ever track in Reason. MeFi made me into a musician! Now about that second track...
posted by Acey at 3:56 PM on October 4, 2011


You know, having just re-read the Wikipedia article on Numbers Stations before reading this, I'd like to say that a substantial chunk of this article is the Wikipedia entry re-purposed. Which, I suppose is all it takes to write about anything these days.
posted by absalom at 4:00 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Well, alright, just the description of Numbers Stations. But, really, it's such an interesting topic and that's the paragraph you throw together from Wikipedia?)
posted by absalom at 4:02 PM on October 4, 2011


> wish I'd got round to learning Morse, as it would actually be useful about now...

I guess the translated Morse would just turn out to be... numbers, with the message (if there is one) still hidden behind a one-time pad. Though it would indeed be cool if it said "Bring microfilm to улица Калинина, I vill be feeding pigeons. Do not alert squirrel...."
posted by jfuller at 4:02 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sadly, you can't often get both Morse and squirrel.
posted by Spatch at 4:21 PM on October 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


yes, it is the production values. In our modern Blu-Ray world, shortwave sounds inherently alien. It's the one medium left in which you can feel distance - analog sound waves bouncing off a layer around the earth, collecting sonic dust and artifacts along the way. It has breath and texture and it crumbles almost instantaneously. Even a normal human voice sounds distinctly different on shortwave

Voices are somehow more compelling coming over the shortwave, as if the extra effort to get them to you and for you to receive them confer a patina of verisimilitude -- or at least of sincerity -- even if most of what you can hear and understand is basically propaganda of one sort or another.

Even though Gulf War I: The Menacing Phantom was "The CNN War", I didn't have cable. Shortwave radio was my primary means of information. I spent many evening hours listening to the BBC World Service, and many others.

Going back further, I listened to lots of Radio Moscow during the Cold War, particularly during the KAL 007 incident. RM had a distinctive audio profile -- sounded like all their newsreaders broadcast from the bathroom, but I think it was just their preferred mic EQ.

Sadly, the Beeb ended world service broadcasts directed at North Am just 5 weeks before The Events of Nine Eleven ®, Liliberlero and all.

I miss SWL.
 
posted by Herodios at 5:19 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe the transmitter really was shut down, and someone decided to start broadcasting on that frequency as a joke.
posted by delmoi at 5:19 PM on October 4, 2011


Great. Now I'm so hooked I have to get an FCC ham radio license AND start learning cryptography!
posted by snsranch at 5:21 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I miss SWL.

It's still very active. You just have to change your focus a bit. And there's a lot more to it than the Buzzer, that's for sure.
posted by mykescipark at 5:21 PM on October 4, 2011


There are hundred of strange phone numbers that play various sweeps and tones as well. It is fun to wonder just what they are used for.

Those are fax machines.
posted by brenton at 6:05 PM on October 4, 2011 [5 favorites]




snsranch, if you're at all serious about looking into ham radio, start here, 'though you won't need a license just to listen. As to cryptography, you're on your own.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:21 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Splunge: .- -.-. - ..- .- .-.. .-.. -.-- / .. / ..- ... . -.. / .- / .--. .-.. ..- --. .. -. / / .. -- / --- .-.. -.. / ... -.-. .... --- --- .-.. / .-.. .. -.- . / - .... .- - //.. - / -.. --- . ... / .... --- .-- . ...- . .-. / .- .-.. .-.. --- .-- / -- . / - --- / - -.-- .--. . / .. -. / -- --- .-. ... . / ..-. .-- .. .-- / / .... .- -. -..
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:46 PM on October 4, 2011


Yeah, that's cool. And I ate the cookie anyway.
posted by Splunge at 6:55 PM on October 4, 2011


In Fallout 3 you can find these hidden types of radio towers and then "tune in" to their messages.

It was so unnerving I had to stop playing for a while.
posted by bardic at 8:10 PM on October 4, 2011


I would love to know what sorts of messages are being sent on UVB-76, Lincolnshire Poacher, Cherry Ripe, and others, but I feel that the content would disappoint me in the same way that learning what taters were did.
posted by grouse at 10:49 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm also an Estonian who sometimes gets drunk listening to radio at his desk.

Except mine is Pandora.
posted by unigolyn at 11:46 PM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Splunge: I had a moment of great confusion until I realized I'd conflated B and J ("bava? what's a bava?") because it is early and I am tired. It's like morse code dyslexia, I think.

mmmm. cookie.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:56 AM on October 5, 2011


There was an article I read a few years ago about helping a woman and child escape from East Germany and number codes on the radio was one of the tools of communication. I can't remember the details clearly so the codes might have been broadcast on VOA and not a dedicated numbers station.

Anyways, the codes worked with a set of pads and simply told her where to go and who to look for. She had to listen at a particular time of day. I assume if she missed a broadcast, there wouldn't be any repeats.

So there's one small real world example of the sort of thing transmitted. Wish I could find a link to the article but Google and memory are failing me.
posted by honestcoyote at 5:24 AM on October 5, 2011


Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher, BBC Radio 4, 2005
posted by hardcode at 11:12 AM on October 5, 2011


I would love to know what sorts of messages are being sent on UVB-76, Lincolnshire Poacher, Cherry Ripe, and others, but I feel that the content would disappoint me in the same way that learning what taters were did.

Prepare to be disappointed! Three of the coded messages broadcast on the Cuban Atención numbers station were decoded and presented as evidence in a court case. Here they are.

(Actually, looking at the source article, it would seem that "reams" of messages were declassified, but I'm not sure where to find them.)
posted by Kalthare at 5:02 PM on October 6, 2011


I actually knew about the Atención results before, and it's a good example of this. I really have no idea what something like "prioritize and continue to strengthen friendship with Joe and Dennis" means but it sounds much more the content of an interoffice memo than cool spy stuff.
posted by grouse at 5:06 PM on October 6, 2011


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