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Peculiar Russian shortwave numbers station is an unlikely internet star

Page from the UVB-76 station log dated 2005.

Anyone who has spent some quality time scanning the shortwave radio bands has likely come upon what are known as numbers stations. To the uninitiated the stations air what the name describes, someone reading of a sequence of numbers. They can be in any language, but most commonly are in English, Spanish or Russian. They are believed to transmit secret coded messages to agents overseas, but nobody really knows for sure what they’re purpose is.

The Russian shortwave station UVB-76 is a peculiar example of a numbers station, mostly because it is known to air a wide variety of noises and sounds besides numbers. Thanks to an Estonian blogger (full disclosure: I’m half Estonian) the Russian station has become somewhat of an internet sensation. Or at least more of a sensation than most shortwave stations that aren’t streamed on the internet.

The October issue of Wired magazine features an article on the station and the mystery surrounding it, as well as an interview with blogger and tech entrepreneur Andrus Aaslaid who decided to start streaming the station.

I can really identify with Aaslaid when he tells Wired,

“I’ve spent nights just randomly browsing and sometimes getting really, really drunk,” Aaslaid says. (His drink of choice is Aberlour A’bunadh, a single-malt Scotch.) “In the era of the Internet and corporations, people’s lives are so well planned and predictable,” he says. “In some ways, UVB-76 represents the good kind of unpredictability and mystery.” …

 

“Imagine somebody with a Morse key or a reel-to-reel tape deck in the middle of the Namibia desert, running a shortwave transmitter off a diesel generator and sending music or messages toward the ionosphere. In the middle of the night, it does not get any more spiritual than that.”

Reading that makes me want to stay up late with the lights off, wearing headphones, scanning the shortwave dial.

Damn, I’ve got work in the morning.

More on point, on Tuesday Aaslaid posted that supposed pages from a logbook used at the station in 2005 have surfaced in a Russian radio online forum. It even includes a mention of the station’s guard dog, noted to be on duty at 18:30 on October 4.


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