OBYaVLENIYA KOMANDA 135 [Command 135 initiated]
June 15, 2015 2:54 PM   Subscribe

The radio signal that occupies 4625 kHz has reportedly been broadcasting since the late 1970s. The earliest known recording of it is dated 1982. Ever since curious owners of shortwave radios first discovered the signal, it has broadcast a repeating buzzing noise. Every few years, the buzzer stops, and a Russian voice reads a mixture of numbers and Russian names.
posted by standardasparagus (67 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 


We should all admire the commitment of this dedicated Russian performance artist.
posted by nicebookrack at 2:59 PM on June 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


Sounds like a curated numbers station with a subscription based business model.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:01 PM on June 15, 2015 [27 favorites]


Previously.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:01 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Somebody should sic Starlee Kine on this!
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:06 PM on June 15, 2015 [13 favorites]


That snippet of swan lake was super creepy and hey, wait where am I and why I am covered in blood who gave me this gun
posted by The Whelk at 3:09 PM on June 15, 2015 [71 favorites]


This is all the long game setting up Russia's triumphant 2018 Eurovision entry.
posted by delfin at 3:15 PM on June 15, 2015 [24 favorites]


If you want to hear it live, go to the wide-band SDR site at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, scroll down while looking for the Frequency box on the left hand side beneath the waterfall display (a long blue-purple box with lines running down it that constantly scrolls up), delete the number that's in there and type in 4625 (you don't need to press enter). The site expects either Java or HTML 5, so it works with the sort of browser a modern Mefite would sport, and... that's it. You should be hearing The Buzzer, plucked from the ether as it buzzes. If you click the Max In button on the Waterfall View box (to the right of the Frequency box), you'll see a close-up spectral analysis of the signal too. If everything mucks up, reload the page and repeat.

It's a really useful site, if you have a curious ear, but a bit daunting if you're not used to shortwave listening.
posted by Devonian at 3:18 PM on June 15, 2015 [85 favorites]


Foci for Analysis: "Sounds like a curated numbers station with a subscription based business model."

Don't mock my Kickstarter. I work hard coming up with artisanal, locally sourced and vintage Russian numbers. The radio I broadcast from was the one Stalin used to verbally hook up with troops on the Western Front. I even eat only locavore borscht when I am working so the experience is pure for you.
posted by Samizdata at 3:19 PM on June 15, 2015 [22 favorites]


(Other things to note: you can record what you hear to an audio file, just click the Audio Recording button a little way down the page - I should say that the UI elements tend to jump around about to fit themselves into different sized screens. Once you've got what you want, click on the button again and then the Download link that will appear next to it. The site will say you don't have a browser that can download, but your browser doesn't know this and the file will be downloaded with a unique name as a WAV. Repeat as much as you like.

The thing operates quite close to its maximum user count which is somewhere around 300 simultaneous listeners, so it can get a bit gappy, but it's usually solid.)
posted by Devonian at 3:27 PM on June 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


That's amazing, Devonian. Thanks!
posted by persona au gratin at 3:39 PM on June 15, 2015


So it's HF and far far away but couldn't the transmitter be located over time and careful triangulation, then send in Seal Team Six with a stack of Taylor Swift and Captain and Tennille CD's....
posted by sammyo at 3:45 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is all the long game setting up Russia's triumphant 2018 Eurovision entry.

Gah, as long as it isn't blond and bland this time.
posted by maryr at 3:56 PM on June 15, 2015


Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot.
posted by glaucon at 3:59 PM on June 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


I work hard coming up with artisanal, locally sourced and vintage Russian numbers.
Do you have a 91 in good condition?
posted by Wolfdog at 4:19 PM on June 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


TWENTY-THREE.NINETY-TWO.[DING]THIRTY-THREE.SIXTY-SEVEN.EIGHTY-EIGHT.FORTY-ONE.FORTY-ONE.FORTY…I…I…
I want to talk about freedom as a drum set being thrown down a hill, as opening a book one night, and water gushing from the pages until my life is a lake and I swim away. Or as a bird in flight! With all the dependence on physics, and exhaustion, and food supply, and merciless gravity that the actuality implies. I just don’t want to talk about freedom in terms of numbers. Anything but that! I'm so tired of numbers! I'm so tired....
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:37 PM on June 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


what was the first thing that made you say "wow, this isn't just a place for freaks after all?" It really is a place for freaks/ geeks. In the nicest possible way.
posted by theora55 at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I assume the Welcome to Night Vale podcast followed the NPR piece on numbers stations?
posted by Peach at 5:18 PM on June 15, 2015


I think the NPR piece was a quite a bit earlier than the WTNV numbers station episode.
posted by sio42 at 5:23 PM on June 15, 2015


Welcome to Night Vale followed everybody and their mother talking about numbers stations....
posted by mykescipark at 5:24 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Man, my favourite numbers station is too obscure. You won't have heard of it.
posted by Devonian at 5:25 PM on June 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


I was into numbers stations when they were all like I VI VII XII.

That's when they were the best. They've really sold out now.
posted by sio42 at 5:31 PM on June 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Command 135?? Are you sure? Where the hell am I going to get that many accordions at this time of night?
posted by briank at 5:38 PM on June 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


Oh man I love stuff like this. Anything that puts me in the mind of STALKER/Roadside Picnic and A Colder War is just the best of all things.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:50 PM on June 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


(For me, the sudden appearance of numbers stations in the public consciousness really WAS a case of my favourite (shortwave) band suddenly losing its savour. It was my secret, OK? I had been that kid in the 70s with a government surplus receiver he'd fixed up (a Marconi CR-300/1, since you ask) in his bedroom, glomming onto all manner of odd things in the middle of the night. Nobody knew what I was on about. I had heard things you people wouldn't believe. And then came the Conet Project, and then came the Internet, and then the darn things are everywhere. It'd been Vladimir Ussachevsky, now it was bloody Wilco.

But that's OK. I've moved on. Not very far, obvs.)
posted by Devonian at 5:50 PM on June 15, 2015 [15 favorites]


Wolfdog: "I work hard coming up with artisanal, locally sourced and vintage Russian numbers.
Do you have a 91 in good condition?
"

Let me talk to my guy. I'll send you a link to my Etsy shop if he can come through.
posted by Samizdata at 6:18 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Now I just want to set up my own even more powerful transmitter, so that in the middle of their numbers broadcast I can stomp on it with the words "THAT'S NUMBERWANG!"
posted by um at 6:52 PM on June 15, 2015 [47 favorites]


Devonian: If you want to hear it live, go to the wide-band SDR site at the University of Twente in the Netherlands ... you can record what you hear to an audio file.

Thank you, Devonian - this will make for awesome (and creepy) alarm ringtones.
posted by RedOrGreen at 6:59 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This may be a super-basic question: I know approximately nada about shortwave. Is it not possible to find the transmission source? Like triangulate-[a miracle occurs]-oh it's coming from a small house in Vladivostok?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:02 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I know it isn't exactly high literature, but this totally reminds me of the random numbers from Call of Duty: Black Ops. Maybe this was inspiration for that.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 7:37 PM on June 15, 2015


Ohmygod it's an Imperial scout droid!

Seriously, this sounds just like the droid that finds the Rebellion on Hoth at the beginning of Empire Strikes Back.

Oh wait, wrong frequency. Dammit. Now it just sounds like a printer.
posted by inparticularity at 7:37 PM on June 15, 2015


Command 135?? Are you sure? Where the hell am I going to get that many accordions at this time of night?

not 153, dude! 135! Tacos. Get tacos!
posted by eriko at 7:47 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


See also THE CONET PROJECT. I love listening to this while I work. It's so soothing and I periodically get to weird somebody away from my cubicle when they ask what I'm listening to.
posted by boo_radley at 8:16 PM on June 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is it not possible to find the transmission source? Like triangulate-[a miracle occurs]-oh it's coming from a small house in Vladivostok?

The most current guess as to its current transmission location (which changed in 2010) can be found at the UVB76 blog.

The science of tracking down an unidentified transmission source is called Direction Finding, and there are many subcategories of this, specifically HFDF (or "huff-duff") for shortwave frequencies. But, much like the numbers stations themselves, there's a clear divide between the amateurs who want to hunt the transmitters for sport, and those in the intelligence community who likely already have that information ... and why should they tip their hand?
posted by mykescipark at 8:29 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


" Is it not possible to find the transmission source?"

Oh, fun, I never get to talk about this: shortwave radio will bounce off Earth's ionosphere and scatter, which is what allows it to travel ludicrous distances, including over the horizon (!). This bouncing also makes it really difficult to locate the source, because it means that signals don't follow consistent paths.

And, if I recall correctly, the wavelengths of some shortwave stations would require that you have minimum triangulation distances that are physically impossible to satisfy.
posted by boo_radley at 8:33 PM on June 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


Top one, nice, get sorted!
posted by fallingbadgers at 9:15 PM on June 15, 2015


Cool! Thanks!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:17 PM on June 15, 2015


The science of tracking down an unidentified transmission source is called Direction Finding

I used to do this professionally back in 1974 or so. That big round antenna in the picture is a AN/FLR-9. It's pretty useful for this sort of thing, being able to pick up a walkie-talkie from about 3000 miles to within an arc-second of accuracy. To give you a sense of scale, you could set an aircraft carrier in the middle and have room around it for two cruisers and half a dozen destroyers.

Our motto was "From DC to Daylight". Very sensitive thing, that antenna, and it was all discrete transistors, resistors and diodes. It was roughly 1440 feet in diameter. Oh, and miles upon miles of cables and Teletype machines for control. IIt was so sensitive that the teletypes etc in the ops building had to be shielded in Faraday cages.

I can tell you stories.
posted by pjern at 9:46 PM on June 15, 2015 [35 favorites]


Please, please tell us stories.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 9:49 PM on June 15, 2015 [18 favorites]


Please, please tell us stories.

OK,here's one: To the right of the antenna array in the picture, you can see the large white-roofed Operations building where we all worked. (Or pretended to, at any rate :)

Between the ops building and the intersection with the road out to the antenna there is a small shelter just to the left of the main road- this was our bicycle parking shelter, having racks for maybe 100 or so bikes. One night, I was coming in for a midshift during monsoon season, and happened to feel a peculiar tingling sensation and an ozone smell. I ducked back into the bike shelter just as a gargantuan static discharge (think lightning bolt) erupted from the entire 4500-foot diameter of the antenna, turning night into day and deafening everyone outdoors. It was better than any movie special effect I have ever seen. Of course, I did spend the entire shift changing fuses and bringing stuff back on line :)
posted by pjern at 10:04 PM on June 15, 2015 [36 favorites]


I briefly got into shortwave radio a few years ago, and the Buzzer was one of the first stations I managed to find. It's like a creepy espionage-themed heartbeat of the world.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:05 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Could “command 135’ be related to the interventions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine? Jan. 24, 2013, when the broadcast mentioned in the article took place, was just over a month before Russian troops appeared in Crimea.
posted by misteraitch at 2:31 AM on June 16, 2015


Could “command 135’ be related to the interventions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine? Jan. 24, 2013, when the broadcast mentioned in the article took place, was just over a month before Russian troops appeared in Crimea.

It's highly unlikely. These numbers stations are generally assumed to be for communicating with individual agents rather than between large military units. Most of them also run for a very long time. The Lincolnshire Poacher, running out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, ran for twenty years between 1988-2008 before it was shut down. Having one specific message that could be tied to such a major geopolitical event is the anthithesis of good intelligence work.
posted by longbaugh at 4:42 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


441 1597 819 2282 984 1983 330 117 2507 812 1743 88 581 1974 428 1695 1182 1519 909 2379 208 207 1601 46 2336
posted by charred husk at 5:07 AM on June 16, 2015


I've done direction finding as an outdoor sport, which is great fun. In cities, it's like playing spy (although the real thing, funkspiel, was not so much fun for the hunted), and in the countryside it's more like orienteering. Causes some confusion when I tell people I've been foxhunting.

Back in the day, though... in the mid 70s, the UK caught the CB craze on the back of the American one. The difference here, though, was that CB was illegal, so anyone who used one was a radio pirate and the authorities didn't quite know what to do about this. Owning a CB wasn't, strictly speaking, illegal, but connecting it to an antenna and power was... (the law is rather baroque). Anyway, hundreds of thousands of people did buy and use CBs, there was a large countercultural movement with marches on the Home Office, newsstand magazines and a great deal of deliciously naughty business all round.

The Radio Regulatory Division (aka "The Buzbies") didn't have the resources to close everyone down, so it relied on apocalyptic PR and occasional high profile bursts of activity to track people down and take them to court. The courts were never terribly impressed by the necessity of dragging radio hobbyists through the system, so you got a small fine and your equipment confiscated, all disproportionate to the effort to prosecute. But it happened.

Anyway, the young Devonian got involved in this. He wanted to be a radio ham, but the law said he was too young to get a licence. A homebrew CB was constructed and installed in the bedroom and much fun was had when the parents backs were turned. Always in fear of the knock on the door, mind...

Of course, TYD was also a member of the local ham radio club, which had an annual rally (hamfest, in the US). This had the usual stalls, demonstrations and events, and at one of them the Radio Regulatory Divsiion turned up with their Interference Detection Van (which would be worth a FPP in itself). Anyway, TYD was fascinated by this and spent some time chatting to The Man In The Van, looking at the receivers and the spectrum analyser and the thisses and thats. At one point, TYD lifted a small cloth flap on the dashboard of the van, and there was a CB rig. He looked at The Man, The Man looked at TYD, and the flap was gently replaced.

Towards the end of the day, as things were closing up, The Man said to TYD - "I'm off, do you want a lift home?" A ride in the van! Silly question. A pleasant half-hour trip later, a cheery wave and a toot on the horn, and TYD was home.

It was only later that it occured to TYD that he hadn't told The Man his name or his address.
posted by Devonian at 5:29 AM on June 16, 2015 [58 favorites]


2112? Syrinx?
posted by ostranenie at 5:30 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, getting back to the subject of the FPP - in general you'll only hear The Buzzer on the Twente SDR when the path between the transmitter and the receiver is in darkness, so after nightfall in the Netherlands and before dawn at wherever. At that frequency, the ionosphere isn't conducive to the right sort of reflections in sunlight.
posted by Devonian at 6:49 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


And one LAST thing (promise) - I just remembered that you can use this schedule of number station transmissions and the Twente SDR to listen to as many of the things as you like. Ones marked USB or AM are in voice (CW is Morse); you'll have to choose the right mode. The receiver starts up in USB, but the relevant buttons are in the box right beneath the waterfall marked (inaccurately) Bandwidth. The Priyom site is awesome, btw, so don't get sucked in. Or do.

No guarantee that the station you want to listen to will be within range of the SDR at the time you want to listen to it, but that's all part of the fun of shortwave!

I realise now that I should just have done a FPP on WebSDRs and their use...
posted by Devonian at 7:29 AM on June 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


How awesomely timely! I've spent the last two weeks fascinated by packet radio and was seriously thinking of buying a usb TNC. Thanks standardasparagus, for the FPP, and Devonian, for the stories.
posted by eclectist at 9:04 AM on June 16, 2015


It was only later that it occured to TYD that he hadn't told The Man his name or his address.

It's people like you what cause unrest.
posted by yoink at 9:38 AM on June 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


I never seen so many bleedin' aerials
posted by flabdablet at 9:55 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Holy crap I just found a new way to waste my time instead of working. Thanks, MeFi! I played around with WebSDR and found it utterly charming. Here's my first saved recording:

Blurps
posted by Groovymomma at 10:13 AM on June 16, 2015


Groovymomma - that's HF radar, probably a variant of Codar, which is used to monitor wave heights, ocean currents and so on. There's a lot of this sort of thing out there, including a ton of military stuff that mostly sounds like loud buzzing or growling.

No actual aliens yet, although people hear the strangest things.
posted by Devonian at 10:27 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Keep talking, Devonian. I'm really enjoying it.

I'm a former CBer myself, and if I ever get a single-family house, I'll get my ham license.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:35 AM on June 16, 2015


Devonian: I should just have done a FPP on WebSDRs and their use...

Oh please, please, please? I have a few astronomer friends who are really getting into SDRs for their undergrad classes, and it sounds really interesting. I keep wanting to try it out - if only I had the time.

And pjern: That big round antenna in the picture is a AN/FLR-9 ... you could set an aircraft carrier in the middle and have room around it for two cruisers and half a dozen destroyers.

I haven't met many people who could trump observing with Arecibo (1000 ft diameter, and a running track around it that's almost exactly a kilometer) but here you are on MeFi. Nice. I have a vague idea that I've come across the Elephant Cage in one of the Charles Stross Laundry novels - or maybe a Cold War / Lovecraft crossover? If it isn't in there, it should be!
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:14 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Previously
posted by Smedleyman at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2015


CB around here had a bit of resurgence 15 years ago and we used to play "rabbit" in our cars which was a direction finding game. Expect we didn't have any actual direction finding equipment; just the signal strength meters built into our CBs and the different signal strengths that you get from car mounted antennas depending on orientation.
posted by Mitheral at 5:24 PM on June 16, 2015


Ditto, Mitheral! I miss those days. :)
posted by xedrik at 6:48 PM on June 16, 2015


TWENTY-THREE.NINETY-TWO.[DING]THIRTY-THREE.SIXTY-SEVEN.EIGHTY-EIGHT.FORTY-ONE.FORTY-ONE.FORTY…I…I…

"That's NumberWang!"
posted by wenestvedt at 10:33 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Damnit, Um!)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:34 AM on June 17, 2015


I have some n00b questions: I know that the 14000 range is kept open for amateur HAM or DXing or something, right? So what am I hearing in this clip that I recorded at 14590.14 khz?

On CW-wide and LSB, it sounds like consistent static with an occasional "pew!!" noise. On USB it sounds like intermittent clicking with an occasional chirp. On AM it sounds like a helicopter. But it's coming at very regular intervals and the bursts are only about 5 seconds long. It's very pleasant, kind of like the shortwave version of a cicada.
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:43 PM on June 17, 2015



The science of tracking down an unidentified transmission source is called Direction Finding, and there are many subcategories of this, specifically HFDF (or "huff-duff") for shortwave frequencies.


HURF DURF DIRECTION FINDER
posted by Rock Steady at 6:07 PM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I found a bot at 407.57 that just keeps saying BOT over and over in morse code. I think it's lonely.
posted by moonmilk at 8:10 PM on June 17, 2015


> I've spent the last two weeks fascinated by packet radio and was seriously thinking of buying a usb TNC.

It's pretty dead these days. The only activity you'll hear regularly is APRS.
posted by scruss at 11:30 AM on June 18, 2015


If Devonian or someone manages to get a WebSDR post together, hopefully they'll mention that you can recieve APRS from WebSDR, and that the hardware for your own WebSDR setup is relatively cheap and multi-purpose if you're into that sort of thing. You can't send as you would with much more expensive USB TNC hardware, but it's still quite fun.
posted by fragmede at 3:05 AM on June 19, 2015


Goddammit. There's nothing more unsettling to me than numbers stations. As a child in the 80s I was TERRIFIED every time the local TV station would put up their "technical difficulties" bumper. The disembodied, repeating voice that said "please stand by" for minutes on end would send me hiding behind the couch. It really always seemed like the first harbinger of REALLY BAD THINGS - if things aren't right at the TV station, what's going to happen to US? It didn't help that I lived in Michigan with constant tornado warnings during the 80s.

Any kind of disembodied, repetitive voice like the ones on these frequencies, ESPECIALLY when they're unexplained actually makes my heart rate increase. And yet (or as a result) I'm totally fascinated by every story about numbers stations that I come across. There's a great existential thriller to be made with this material, and I will probably watch it even while knowing fully well that it will give me a heart attack.
posted by Dokterrock at 3:40 AM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes please WebSDR (and really any SDR) FPPs please yes.
posted by Songdog at 5:02 AM on June 21, 2015


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