DigitalAnalogues

The Future = Now x Acceleration

From Top Secret Mystery To Rusting Hulk In 13 Years

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Source of the 'Russian Woodpecker'I was in high school during the height of the Cold War and a lot of pop culture was influenced by technology, secrecy and a fear of the unknown. I was reminded of this during a mental mashup that involved me playing an ancient, but still fabulous-sounding, 1982 recording of Rush Signals in the car as I headed to work recently.

A change in automobiles that has me rediscovering my cache of recorded cassettes and a TDK-MA tape I recorded in 1984. The album was parked on the song Digital Man – the lyrics of which reminded me of the scene from the Frontline show Digital Nation featuring the Predator drone pilots flying missions in Afghanistan from 7,000 miles away in the American Southwest. (See, I told you this was a mental mashup.)

His world is under observation
We monitor his station
Under faces and the places
Where he traces points of view

In July 1976 a strange, powerful radio signal suddenly appeared on worldwide shortwave radio frequencies with wide bandwidth and tremendous power that would obliterate numerous “legitimate” radio stations with its interference. Triangulations placed the signal in the eastern Soviet Union somewhere. The signal seemed to aimed over the North Pole right into the heart of the United States.

Theories abounded. Some thought it was an attempt at weather control. Others though it a mind control experiment. It’s rapid, staccato pulsing earned it the immediate nickname: The Russian Woodpecker. As atmospheric conditions changed, so did the signal’s frequency and pulse rate.

It sounded like this. In this recording, it is wiping out the international time code signal WWVH. The voice says, “10 hours, 27 minutes coordinated universal time.” The ticking clock sound is part of the atomic clock time code signal. The Woodpecker sounds like a fast-pulsing helicopter.

He picks up scraps of information
He’s adept at adaptation
Because for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay

Steel Yard 500-feet UpAmateur radio operators, in particular, were frequently inconvenienced. Many took to recording the signals and playing them back at high power aimed in the same direction the signals came from. Often the signal would abruptly change frequency. Hams formed Woodpecker Hunting Clubs specifically to try to jam the signal. No one knew the purpose of the signal, but they knew whatever it was it couldn’t be “good.” The signal was so powerful, you could buy “Woodpecker filters” you could install on your phone line into your house because many people could hear the signal on their landline phones.

Such was the mystery of the Cold War. There was the Russian Woodpecker and the shortwave “numbers” stations where people would transmit blocks of seemingly random numbers over and over in various languages. (The so-called spy stations – some of which still exist.)

In December 1989, the signal suddenly went off the air. Why, no one was quite sure at the time. But after the fall of the Soviet Union the truth about the signal and it’s abrupt halt became known. The signal was actually an over-the-horizon early warning radar installation called Duga 3. It emanated from a tremendously gigantic antenna array just 10 miles southwest of the failed Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The transmitting antenna array was almost 500 feet tall and more than one-half mile long. The receiving antenna was more than 30 miles away to the northeast. Its purpose was to detect ICBM missile launches from the U.S. silos scattered across the Great Plains. While the U.S. relied on spy satellites and early-warning radar stationed in northern Alaska, Soviet spy satellite coverage was said to be spotty. The Woodpecker apparently went off the air abruptly after the Chernobyl power plant melted down and the 30-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding the reactor was evacuated.

While the Russian Woodpecker was a mystery to the general public, its source, at least was known to the intelligence community. They even had a name for the antenna array.

Steel Yard.

Today, we can trace our own points of view in a way inconceivable when Rush recorded Signals. Take a visit to the Steel Yard on Google Maps or Google Earth.

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Written by digitalanalogues

November 14, 2011 at 5:32 PM

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