The two texts this week—Stuart Hall’s “Encoding, Decoding,” and Bell Hooks’ “The Oppositional Gaze,” focused on semiotics, communication, and interpretation. What are the various forms of media and communication? What is language? This is something we have focused on throughout the quarter, yet it was Hall’s text which brought to mind a more mysterious, cryptic form of language: frequencies. More specifically, the eerie UVB-76 frequency.
UVB-76 is a Russian shortwave radio station that has been broadcasting a buzzing tone since 1982. Its origins are ambiguous, and its purpose is unknown. Some believe it is a secret radio station broadcast for the military; but when its location was traced a completely abandoned military building was discovered. Some believe that it is a type of ghost signal still going from the Cold War era. And others believe it is extraterrestrials trying to communicate with us. Hall argues that communication is not “perfectly transparent,” and this is most certainly the case with UVB-76. Even though the station broadcasts a consistent buzz tone, the pitch of the tone changes from time to time, a clear indication that there is a message behind it. Once in a while the buzzing tone will stop and a voice will come on the station—and start listing names and numbers. What is the voice, and tone, trying to communicate? 30 years later, this question remains unanswered.
The station is an intriguing look into one of the more bizarre forms of communication. UVB-76 shows us how many forms of “language” and messages there are. We can never overlook even the simplest forms of communication or dismiss them as unimportant. From a word, to a movie, to a tone, there is always a deeper meaning.