We've all been there. You know that place I'm talking about. The dark, disturbing depths of the internet. Far beyond the cat videos and copyright infringing sitcom streams, there is a place where all the oddest, bizarrest and weirdest internet content resides - whether it's strange hacking forums, insane people warbling at a webcam or something equally weird which defies comprehension and understanding.
However, what if I told you this phenomenon isn't unique to the World Wide Web? In fact, decades before the internet became mainstream, very similar things were happening on the analog airwaves. The radio bandwidths have also had their fair share of strange, amusing and unexplained broadcasts. Here are five of them:
Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion
In 2015, the internet provides many mischievous ne'er-do-wells with their means of causing trouble, however back in the 1980s things were a bit different. If you wanted to mess around with the communications network, you'd probably have to get involved in broadcast signal intrusion.
One of the most famous signal hijackings, the Max Headroom incident, occurred in 1987 in Chicago, Illinois. An unknown man, who was disguised as the strange 1980s 'CGI' TV host Max Headroom, appeared on WGN-TV during their sports news bulletin. He danced around for 15 seconds before the original signal was restored.
Later that day, on the WTTW Network, an episode of Doctor Who was similarly interrupted, although this time the intrusion lasted much longer and had audio. The man made strange comments referring to Coca Cola, WGN pundit Chuck Swirsky, and his piles before getting spanked by an accomplice wearing a French maid's uniform. But don't take my word for it. Watch the whole thing below:
The culprit was never found.
As we've written about previously, the airwaves have also been home to bizarre 'number stations' which no government has ever taken responsibility for. These stations, which often feature monotonous buzzing, synthesized voices and odd musical tones, are believed to be operated by spy agencies to communicate secret messages with undercover agents abroad.
Their numbers reached a peak in the 1980s, but most of the more famous radio stations have no gone offline - with the notable exception of one: UVB-76.
This station, also known as 'the buzzer' is believed to a Russian government number station which broadcasts an open microphone in front of a machine which creates a monotonous buzzing. It has been doing this since 1982 and you can listen to it live, right now. Head to this online radio receiver and '4625' into the 'Frequency' box and you should hear him buzzing away.
However, from time to time this buzzing stops and a human voice can be heard reading out numbers and codewords. This has only happened a handful of times since UVB-76 came on the air and no one is sure what the messages actually mean. Here's an example:
The most common theory is that the UVB-76 is part of the Russian Federation's strategic rocket forces, and could be used to test readiness and alertness of personnel.
Interesting, UVB-76 has actually seen a spike in activity in recent months, especially following the crisis in east Ukraine. For example, one message was heard 24 hours after the Crimea voted for join the Russian Federation. More recently, the buzzing tone of UVB-76 has also been fluctuating.
The Last Words of Vladimir Komarov
There are many conspiracy theories online which purport to tell of 'Lost Cosmonauts' - intercepted radio transmissions which apparently reveal the last moments of failed Russian space missions.
Many of these recordings have since been exposed as fakes (or at the very least remain unverified), however there is at least one example of the real thing. In 1967, the US intercepted radio messages between the former Russian premier, Alexei Kosygin and experienced cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. The latter was attempting re-entry in the Soyuz 1 spacecraft when he realized something had gone terribly wrong. After having trouble aligning the ship for reentry, he also discovered his parachutes had failed to open. Knowing his fate was sealed, he was given a direct line to Kosygin.
Unfortunately, I can find no reliable translations of the final moments. The Russian transcripts only run up to the moment Komarov makes reentry but do not cover his descent within the atmosphere.
Officially, the Russian sources claim he used his last moments to say, "Please, take care of my family". However, other, mostly American sources, claim he flung into a rage, shouting obscenities and cursing the Soviet party for sending him up in a "botched" spaceship.
The Wow! Signal
Strange signals are not just limited to Earth. In 1977, Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope received a odd 'message' from outer space.
Ferry R. Ehman, who was working on the SETI program at the time, was listening to a rather empty part of space when the telescope received a signal of massive intensity. Normal background space usually delivers signals ranging between 1-4 on the alphanumeric scale of intensity. The Wow! signal, however, brought back an intensity of 6EQUJ5 - which is basically 30 times stronger. The immediate conclusion was it was some kind of powerful radio signal of non-terrestrial and non-Solar System origin.
Of course, it was immediately suggested that the signal could be from some kind of extraterrestrial communication, and it generated significant media attention at the time. However, other radio telescopes were unable to pick up the signal, which meant even Ehman had to conclude it was unlikely aliens. He stated:
We should have seen it again when we looked for it 50 times. Something suggests it was an Earth-sourced signal that simply got reflected off a piece of space debris.
Despite this, there are some which still believe it could be extraterrestrial in origin. One piece of evidence is the frequency on which the signal was discovered - 1420 MHz. This is within the "protected spectrum" of radio bandwidths and is limited only to astronomical purposes, meaning no terrestrial signals should be broadcast on this frequency. Furthermore, the power of the signal is beyond that of even the most powerful terrestrial transmitter. Scientists suggest that to generate the Wow! signal you would need a 2,200,000 kW transmitter. The most powerful transmitters on Earth are currently limited to 2500 kW.
The Intergalactic Mission
If the Wow! signal did come from aliens, they didn't exactly say a lot. The Intergalactic Mission message on the other hand was much more verbose. In 1977, British viewers who tuned into the local ITN station, Southern Television, received a strange, if positive, message from an alien ambassador.
Calling himself either "Vrillon", "Gillon" or "Asteron" (it differs depending on who you ask), he introduced himself as a representative of the Intergalactic Mission and urged Earthlings to give up their "evil weapons" if they hoped to live in peace. Unfortunately, no genuine recordings of the incident actually exist, although the Fortean Times did provide the following transcript:
This is the voice of Asteron. I am an authorised representative of the Intergalactic Mission, and I have a message for the planet Earth. We are beginning to enter the period of Aquarius and there are many corrections which have to be made by Earth people. All your weapons of evil must be destroyed. You have only a short time to learn to live together in peace. You must live in peace... or leave the galaxy.
Following the audio transmission, the television returned to normal.
Of course, this is likely another example of broadcast signal intrusion, and the Independent Broadcasting Authority managed to trace the hijacking to one of their transmitters in North Hampshire. However, at the time some were relatively willing to accept it was actually an alien message. One letter to the Times stated: "[How] can the IBA - or anyone else - be sure that the broadcast was a hoax?", while another the Eugene Register-Guard commented, "Nobody seemed to consider that 'Asteron' may have been for real."
Much like the Max Headroom incident, the perpetrator was never found.