Before we get into anything, I just want to comment that nothing in this blog is original research, and instead this merely collates the great work done by existing communities such as Priyom, the old ENIGMA mailing lists, and so on. I should also warn that I wrote this blog out of pure pettiness, since I saw another story doing the rounds claiming that the Buzzer is some unknowable mystery (https://hackaday.com/2023/04/08/russias-new-mystery-shortwave-station/), when it's not. Hopefully, here I will have collated enough evidence for the reader to draw the conclusion that any explanation other than "it's military" is garbage.
So, first of all, what is the Buzzer? Well, this is fairly simple. It's a shortwave radio signal broadcasting at 4625 Khz with a very distinctive buzzing tone. It sounds very much like what you'd imagine a very irate quiz contestant to sound like, if they were irate for several decades, and also hooked up to a giant radio transmitter. I'll take bad examples for 500, Alex. Sporadically, there's also random snippets of Russian; sometimes what seem to be announcements of random phrases, and sometimes it's just background chatter.
There's a tremendous amount of speculation around what the Buzzer is in the media, an example of which can be found here: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170801-the-ghostly-radio-station-that-no-one-claims-to-run. This article is actually pretty good by the standards of most on the Buzzer, but still leans into conspiracy theories and doesn't really address what the Buzzer is. However, it does mention the Pip and Squeaky Wheel, which are going to be important later.
Much of the speculation focuses around the "Dead Hand" system, or Perimeter, which is an alleged automated retaliation system in Russia, the idea being that if you decide to glass Moscow, they'll glass everyone else in revenge. Mutually assured destruction and all that. That's an interesting subject in itself, but not what the Buzzer is. Why they've gotten intertwined is something I can't answer, other than speculate that maybe somebody with a lack of knowledge about Soviet mysteries heard about two Soviet mysteries and decided they were related on some rainy day. Perimeter is an interesting subject in itself, maybe reserved for future blogging, but it's not the topic of this blog, which is what the Buzzer actually is, so we'll move on. There are also suggestions that it is a "numbers station"; these happen to be scheduled broadcasts to spies in foreign countries (which will be getting a blog later, too, mostly to discuss some of their oddities), and which the Buzzer is also not.
As mentioned before, the Buzzer primarily manifests as a repeating buzz sound, which is a channel marker. A channel marker serves two purposes: one, it lets everyone know that this frequency belongs to somebody, and also, it gives any prospective listeners a characteristic sound to hone in on for tuning purposes. I'm going to skip to the point here, quickly, and say that surprise, surprise, the Buzzer is a military station, used for command and control purposes. Those sporadic voice messages? Just military communications, which come in a number of formats, which will be explained later. Before, the Pip and Squeaky Wheel were mentioned, and those are two other similar stations, with their names derived from their signature channel markes. A further list of similar channel markers can be found here: https://priyom.org/military-stations/russia#ground-forces. These channel markers are, if their origin story from someone who claimed to be in charge of the Pip is to be believed (https://priyom.org/military-stations/russia/the-pip/origin-story), the invention of a particularly enterprising and bored ensign. That link also, impressively, even contains a rough diagram of how the devices behind these markers were built. These repeating stations are a bit of a signature of the Soviet/Russian forces; their Navy also seems to operate what are called Letter Beacons, which are repeating broadcasts of specific morse letters. Speculation abounds as to their purpose, but it's likely they serve a similar purpose to the Buzzer, dispatching orders every now and again.
The orders from the Buzzer and other Russian Ground Forces stations take various formats, descriptions of which can be found here: https://priyom.org/military-stations/russia/message-format and here: https://www.numbers-stations.com/russia/russian-military-message-types/?utm_content=cmp-true. This latter link happens to be a rather nice breakdown of all the different types of messages used by certain elements of the Russian Armed Forces, translated from a Russian manual from 1985, and augmented by some guy who created a video about the topic some years ago, which has sadly been removed. In addition to this, during the Ukraine War, a Russian codebook detailing modern MONOLIT messages was actually captured, and posted on Twitter. In true social media fashion, I now cannot find the blasted thing, and believe me, I've tried.
Interestingly, some chaps actually explored a former Buzzer transmitter site, which happened to be a military base, and managed to photograph this logbook: https://www.numbers-stations.com/media/sample-uvb76-logbook.pdf. Another set of explorers made a post on the venerable 28DaysLater forum here https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/numbers-station-uvb-76-the-buzzer-moscow-oblast-may-2015.96641/ which comes with photos!
With any luck, this little blog does a good job of presenting enough evidence to explain what the Buzzer and similar stations are, ie not mysteries at all. We can determine where they broadcast from. We have photos of former transmitter sites! We have primary sources describing the message formats! We have accounts from operators!