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The Buzzer (wikipedia.org)
227 points by tshtf on June 5, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 55 comments

The article speculates that its use as a way of communicating regular instructions to the military is "unlikely considering the station transmitted the simple buzz tone for at least 15 years before any words or numbers were broadcast." Yet: "The station transmits a buzzing sound that lasts 0.8 seconds, pausing for 1–1.3 seconds, and repeating 21–34 times per minute."

Given that the transmission even of the "buzz tone" isn't entirely regular, couldn't messages merely be modulated into these varying patterns? The rare portions of speech could just be a red herring.

There are a dozen ways to encode a message in that buzz if you don't mind the bandwidth being poor. That is, it will take a long time to send a message of any length. The buzz might also be a cover for the message.

There are other considerations. First, it's essential to have a variety of media for transmitting messages. They need to be set up well in advance, so as to be readily available when an operation is set up. By staking out a multitude of such options, an agency is planning well for the future.

Next, by spreading their operations out over more channels of comm, they also minimize the risk when one is compromised. One never knows when a channel will be compromised, and at some point some of them will be.

By using a variety of channels, including radio, packages (diplomatic and not), tourists, etc., and each channel having sub channels, such as different radio frequencies, different encoding methods, breaking one such method doesn't afford much understanding of the others.

The end result is a plethora of channels with little real traffic on them, mostly "reserved for future use". But to avoid traffic analysis ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_analysis ) dummy traffic fills them.

I know quite a few interesting Wikipedia entries get posted here but this was a particularly fascinating one! I've spent the best part of an hour learning about numbers stations and fail-deadly game theory :)

Great submission.

On topic: does anyone have anything extra (link wise) about "The Buzzer", Google searches are mostly leading to conspiracy sites...

If you haven't heard it, The Conet Project [http://www.archive.org/details/ird059] is a collection of the numbers stations recordings. Pretty neat and eerie.

The Buzzer can be heard on disc 4, track 32 of the Conet Project. The entire collection is a free download.

Wilco's Poor Places uses a sample from track 4 of disc 1, which also gave the title to the album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

#79 is my favorite so far.

These are really creepy and keep giving me the chills.

Going to pass these on to my friend so he can sample them into his music. Wow, these sound so transmundane.

I don't wish to rain too heavily on the potential smug parade that other HN users might be participating in after reading such praise for their collective submission pool, but I thought it might be worth pointing out that this particular topic was posted on 4chan yesterday, subsequently causing quite a stir.

This also accounts for the continued vandalism on the wiki entry, as mentioned in some of the comments beneath mine.

Probably quite a null point (everything has to be come across through some medium); lots of stuff gets posted to 4chan and little of it makes it here... :-)

I'd say it's a pretty good filter.

True enough, but I think that blaming HN users for the vandalism isn't quite the whole truth it the article also made the rounds on sites like 4chan, which are known to house wiki vandals.

http://brix.wikispot.org/ was pointed out to me by a friend - it has a collection of a number of the "weird" articles on wikipedia, everything from the "Baghdad Battery" to the "Ordo Templi Orientis"

curse you. i just came out of a 6+ hour wikipedia binge

Skeptoid has a nice episode on number stations and also “The Buzzer” including audio samples: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4107

Sorry, but I have to be skeptical about any show that declares itself skeptical. Skepticism isn't good science or good logic; it's just reverse religion. True science does not immediately believe or disbelieve. It investigates dispassionately.

You have this beautiful (albeit probably incomplete) definition of what being a skeptic means in your comment – I only have to change one word: “True skeptics do not immediately believe or disbelieve.”

That would be my definition and I’m pretty sure it would also be one that Brian Dunning (author of the podcast) would accept.

What’s wrong with that definition? What wrong with using the word in this way?

I know there are a good many conspiracy nuts who abuse the term (which might explain your harsh reaction) but I can assure you that Brian Dunning is not one of them. Try to read or listen to some of his stuff.

Regardless of the dictionary definition, in practice, skeptics immediately disbelieve and then claim they're willing to believe if shown exhaustive proof. Pro Skeptic Michael Shermer, for example, strongly doubted global warming for years, presumably because he could not observe the molecular activity first-hand. Michael is not a scientist. He's just a skeptic.

Philosophical skepticism implies just that. It's not so much nay-saying as deference to evidence.


"True science does not immediately believe or disbelieve. It investigates dispassionately."

You may not like the label they chose for themselves, but that's exactly what the skeptical movement advocates! (skeptoid included)

Yeah, and that is also what Skeptoid promotes.

Listen to the show sometime. The guy actually does a pretty good job of doing the research, and is willing to admit when arguments "disproving" conspiracy theories don't work.

Looks like either someone decided to play a prank or by some odd coincidence The Buzzer went offline just now: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/10/06/06/032235/Mysterious-Ra...

"Chances are, it's a power failure. The area reportedly had a significant storm yesterday. It's possible that the power failed and that they didn't have enough fuel or battery capacity or whatever to keep it running during an extended outage. That would also neatly explain why it reportedly came back and has reportedly died again."


Sounds like it might not be a dead-man's switch if it just takes a large storm to knock it out.

When I heard about this long ago, I assumed it was just a mechanism they used to remotely monitor some equipment was still running without having to have staff on premises there. Probably remotely detecting power outage or damage was precisely what this is sort of thing was for.

"On June 5, 2010 Chuck Norris breached the compound's walls and shut down the transmitter"

don't be a vandal

This is for ionosphere research, leverages doppler shifting of the broadcast signal.


Scroll down to "Doppler Radio Sounding of the Ionosphere", note the broadcast frequency.

You are assuming it is a "Buzz" because that's what your ears "Hear" after it comes out of a speaker and after being processed by radio receiving equipment of a certain design.

Perhaps the "Buzz" is not meant to be a sound anyone hears. Maybe it is something more like a dialup modem tone that is acted upon by something other than a shortwave receiver. Maybe there is more to this noise than just buzzing. Maybe the buzzing is a spurious side effect of some other process going on.

Old dialup in audio and visual waveform: http://www.freesound.org/samplesViewSingle.php?id=16475

Do you guys have any thoughts on this?

Very interesting. The old transmitters used to work on AM only, then they came up with SSB. Maybe there is an even deeper layer available that can be encoded. Like putting the entire Cat-In-The-Hat book on one of the cats whiskers in "Songs about my Cats". Isolate just one whisker and then run another process on it. Maybe use shades of color vs soundwaves. This is intriguing.

What happens if you try to knock on their door? Did anyone try this?

Yeah I thought the same thing. It's not terribly far from major cities and it's been there for 30 years, somebody must have tried.

Clearly they ditched the radio transmission and switched to transmitting secret messages over the Buzz API.

http://www.archive.org/details/ird059 is a great archive of numbers station recordings

http://www.irdial.com/conet.htm is the official page - note the challenge a bit down the page

The Wilco album 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' has one such recording on the title track -- a woman repeating 'yankee, hotel, foxtrot..' Edit: Er, there is no title track. The clip comes at the end of 'Poor Places.' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GanNE5LWF4#t=4m35s

this sounds like viral marketing for JJ Abrams' new movie.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communication_with_submarines is so bad ass. The US and Russian Navy were using the Earth an antenna to communicate with their submarines.

You can also transmit usable amounts of electrical power using the ground as part of the circuit: http://events.ccc.de/congress/2009/Fahrplan/events/3696.en.h...

It will be interesting to see whether use of these stations declines over the next few decades. Surely global adoption of the internet has made it the easiest place to hide clandestine communication?

It's a question of where connectivity is available and how easy it is to track. For example, how do you replace a submarine surfacing somewhere to receive a pre-scheduled radio transmission?

They use VLF/ELF to send "message pending" and/or some other very short predefined signals. Russian military transmitter (ZEVS) is still operating on 82Hz frequency and uses Earth as an antenna.


i remember coming across conet before via wilco, fwiw. curious subject.


This is the sort of stuff that makes hacker news awesome. Thanks for posting.

Why does this keep getting downvoted ? I was fascinated by this article, I've never heard of this before and was expressing genuine excitement.

If you like the article, vote it up. If you have something interesting to say about the article, write a comment.

Comments praising the article without adding anything interesting to the discussion are frequently downvoted.

Telling _why_ you liked the article will likely to get a better response than merely affirming your fascination.

Another fascinating, possibly related link based on the hypothesis that this is a dead-man's switch:


So, which of you wise guys did this? http://imgur.com/HIJCj.png

In the comments everyone is civil here on HN, but as soon as they're on Wikipedia...

Or anywhere else for that matter. I've talked to a bunch of people who have posted apps for review here and had to spend the better part of the next 2 days filtering out obscene submissions on their sites.

did you see this in the description:

On June 5, 2010 Chuck Norris breached the compound's walls and shut down the transmitter.

Yes. It's someone trying (and failing) to be funny. It has been reverted a couple of times already.

No, it's clearly some conspiracy involving spies and movie stars.


Have there been sightings of a polar bear wandering around?

Maybe a crazy French woman?

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