Pirates Spammed an Infamous Soviet Short-wave Radio Station with Memes


Image: lanesplit, via Reddit

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Pirates hijacked an infamous short-wave radio station, which dates from the Soviet era but is still online today, and used it to broadcast everything from Gangnam Style to audio that draws memes when inspected under a spectrum analyzer.

For decades the station numbers known as UVB-76 has emitted an enigmatic series of beeps and a voice reading numbers and names, in what people suspect is a long running communications method for Russian intelligence. Since the broadcast is public, pirates are able to use their software-defined radio (SDR) transmitters to effectively flood the frequencies with noise and memes.

The recent barrage of attacks on the station come as Russia prepares to invade neighboring Ukrainewhere radio enthusiasts speculate at least some of the pirate broadcasts originate.

Numbers stations are short-wave radio stations known for their mysterious and cryptic broadcasts, long believed to be a method used by spy agencies to communicate with covert operatives. They typically involve voices reading off sequences of numbers, or timed pulses that can be decoded into messages. While many stations have become obsolete or redundant, several broadcasts remain on the air — much to the fascination of amateur radio hobbyists.

Another poster on Reddit uploaded an image they said was from the UVB-76 broadcast of a V for Vendetta mask. Another broadcast included the trollface meme.

Do you know anything else about this hijacked broadcast? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

In around October 2010, the source of the broadcast moved, and a male voice identified the station with a new call sign: MDZhB. The following year, enthusiasts entered the broadcast’s original location in Povarovo, Russia, and allegedly found a log book which showed messages transmitted on UVB-76.

For now, the excitement appears to be over. At the time of writing, a live feed of the UVB-76 stream shows the station has returned to its characteristic, rhythmic beeps.

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