The Secret Russian broadcasts in Stranger Things are real
Collectively these broadcasts are known as number stations and many countries operate them. Let’s open that curiosity door…
Like most people who grew up on a diet of 1980’s culture, I am a huge fan of Stranger Things Season 3. At the beginning of Season 3 we find out that Dustin has managed to intercept a top secret radio broadcast, which features a strange coded message in Russian:
The silver cat feeds when blue meets yellow in the west…
Admittedly the Russians probably wouldn’t have been so naive as to broadcast directions to their secret base without some form of encryption, but creepy Russian broadcasts using cryptic code words do actually exist. Collectively these broadcasts are known as number stations, and many countries operate them.
Radio transmission provides a time-tested method of communicating secret messages. The broadcasts themselves can be automated by machine, transmitted from any country, and can penetrate far into enemy territory.
Secret agents, army officials and government agencies can listen in at any time to receive messages from command. All your secret agent needs is a simple radio and a one-time pad cipher book to decode the messages. It is super low tech. There are no phone logs or packets for the NSA to trace, and you don’t have to be Dr Alexei to use the system, which makes it suitable for agents from all backgrounds, including Scoops Ahoy!
The Russian Buzzer Broadcast (UVB-76)
One famous shortwave broadcast nicknamed The Buzzer started in 1973 and still continues to this day. The buzzer could be heard on frequency 4625 kHz and features a repeating buzzer sound 25 times per minute, 24 hours a day. Occasionally, every few months the buzzer signal is interrupted and a voice transmission of a coded message in Russian would take place.
You can hear a clip of the Buzzer below:
According to former Minister of Communications of Lithuania, Rimantas Pleikys, the station is allegedly used to confirm that operators at receiving stations are on alert. Others also believe it could be a form of Nuclear dead-man’s switch to be used for counter-attack in the event of a nuclear war.
The truth is that we don’t really know what these weird broadcasts are actually for. Many of these odd broadcasts have been in existence since the 1970’s and were set up during the cold war. They clearly still serve a purpose, be it for spies in foreign countries, operators in missile silos or remote military outposts.
It appears that the station is still active under the call sign MDZhB. We know this because an interesting incident occurred 24 hours after Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation, a computerised voice read out:
‘T-E-R-R-A-K-O-T-A. Mikhail Dimitri Zhenya Boris MDZhB Mikhail Dimitri Zhenya Boris 81 26 T-E-R-R-A-K-O-T-A’
In 2010 Russian student Egor Esveev, 20, tried to explore an abandoned army site which was previously thought to be the source of the strange UVB-76 broadcasts. Not only did he find a creepy abandoned radio station, but he was also spied on by some unusual characters.
“There was a woman in her 40s with 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. Who the hell goes to an abandoned military base with an empty stroller for a walk?” — Egor Esveev
It’s not just the Russians though, these top secret radio broadcasts are operated in many different languages and broadcast from all over the world.
The Creepy Gong Station Chimes
This number station fills me with dread every time I hear it. It is a series of weird gongs and tones which shift in pitch and tone, followed by random numbers in German.
If number channels really do represent the signal that triggers nuclear Armageddon, then the Gong station sounds like the right sound-track. It is hard to describe the sound. More terrifying than any sci-fi or B-movie I can think of, yet strangely compelling. You can listen below if you plan not to sleep tonight:
The Lincolnshire Poacher
Another weird radio broadcast was given this name due to the traditional English folk song used between codes. The transmission was notable because it would feature a cheerful ditty as interval music, followed by a series of seemly random code numbers read out by a female computer synthesised voice.
It would broadcast several times throughout the day and transmitted seven days a week on different shortwave frequencies. Due to the use of the Lincolnshire Poacher ditty, it is widely believed that this signal is operated by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
The broadcast was transmitted from the mid-1970s to June 2008 and, after a bit of amateur triangulation by radio enthusiasts, is believed to have originated from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
According to the Daily Dot, the signal had secretly moved to a telephone number registered in Aldershot. They called the number and found the familiar tune being played back to them:
Soon after publishing a story on the strange telephone number, the signal was taken down and callers were relayed a message:
This number is currently unavailable. Do not use this number at this time, please refer to backup channel Romeo X-ray Three Nine End.
In addition, the reporters were sent SMS messages stating that they should not call the restricted number again!
Thanks to the Dustin’s of this world we have been able to capture these secret broadcasts and preserve them. The truth might never come out as to their true purpose, but they are certainly interesting and strange. The ubiquitous nature of these broadcasts in multiple languages suggest that they tell a great story, and have been an extremely useful tool of spy-craft and the military.
If you are a true nerd who enjoyed this article then I would encourage you to unlock the curiosity door and check out some of the creepy number station recordings on YouTube, oh and let me know what you think in the comments below. Friends don’t lie.