Star Wars sound designer is, indeed, a radio enthusiast

StarWars-LogoSWLing Post readers may remember a post I recently published in which I believed I’d identified a familiar shortwave time signal station in the Battle of Hoth scene from The Empire Strikes Back. If you haven’t read this post, feel free to do so and listen to the embedded video/audio clips.

Upon hearing this, I went so far as to muse that the Star Wars sound designer might be a radio listener. I asked our readers if anyone could confirm this–?

Well, we’ve got our answer!  I’m truly indebted to an SWLing Post reader who passed my post along to his friend, Ben, who could provide this definitive response:

“This is Ben Burtt, sound designer of the Star Wars films. A friend sent me a link to this blog thinking I would like to comment.

Ben and old recorders

Ben Burtt with his recording gear, circa 1980. The mike on the stand at Ben’s feet is one from his grandfather’s ham radio station in the 1950s, or possibly earlier.

“The answer is yes, I have always been a ham radio enthusiast.”

 

“My grandfather, Harold Burtt, operated W8CD out of his home in Columbus, Ohio 1930s-1960s. I was enthralled as a kid listening to the sounds on his receiver. I heard alien worlds and cosmic ‘voices.’

Harold Burtt, (Chairman of the Psychology Dept Ohio State) with his attic gear approximately 1935

Harold Burtt, W8CD. (Chairman of the Psychology Dept Ohio State) with his attic gear,  approximately 1935

“So not only did I record his radio, but continued to do so on the Star Wars series and Star Trek as well.

My memory of the Hoth transmission was that it was WWV but it could have been CHU since I was recording all that interested me on the dial.”

Terrific! Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to respond. As I said, you’ve certainly started off this radio enthusiast’s year on the right wavelength…no doubt some of our readers will agree.

Indeed, the powerful sonic experience of the Star Wars and Star Trek films has, in my estimation, helped shape many of us into the radio/sound enthusiasts we’ve become–myself certainly included. Thank you, Ben, for this!  You’ve sharpened my ear to a greater appreciation of sound, especially filmic sound, and your work in particular.    

For readers who are less familiar with Ben Burtt’s work, check out his Wikipedia page and IMDB profile–you’ll find he’s been the sound designer on numerous influential films including the recently released Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

A special thanks to Ben Burtt for sharing these wonderful photos and kindly giving me permission to use them here on the SWLing Post.  I must say, considering my love of radio in the thirties, I especially like that photo of Harold Burtt (W8CD) in his shack.

Time station CHU in The Empire Strikes Back

Fullscreen capture 12202015 40448 AM

Earlier today, I published a post noting that I thought I heard the time station WWV in a scene of The Empire Strikes Back.

SWLing Post reader, RadioGeek, quickly corrected me: that’s Canadian time station CHU‘s data pips I’m hearing, not circa-1980s WWV.  Cool!

Listen for yourself

Here’s the clip from The Empire Strikes Back, Battle of Hoth: listen at 25 seconds and at 40 seconds (the clip starts at 23 seconds):

Now listen to the recording of CHU I made only moments ago–note the tone and duration of the data pips:

No wonder I mixed up CHU and WWV; I’ve listened to both for propagation since I was a kid.

I wonder which of the Lucas Film sound engineer(s)/artist(s) chose CHU for this scene? Anyone know, by chance? Or can anyone find out?

No doubt, that sound designer is an SWL or ham radio operator. Perhaps this may also explain the SSB-esque radio dialog between fighter pilots throughout the Star Wars films:

Please comment!

Recording the 2015 Leap Second

Fullscreen capture 6302015 115321 PM

Yesterday, I posted a brief article about the leap second that occurred between 23:59:59 June 30, 2015 and 00:00:00 UTC July 01, 2015.

I decided to record the leap second on as many shortwave time station frequencies as possible. The only viable options for me–based on time of day and my reception location–were the WWV frequencies 10, 15, 20, and 25 MHz, and CHU frequencies 7,850 and 14,670 kHz.

I was able to record four different time station frequencies simultaneously on the TitanSDR Pro.

I was able to monitor four different time station frequencies simultaneously on the TitanSDR Pro. (click to enlarge)

Unfortunately, HF propagation was very poor yesterday, so the higher WWV frequencies–20 and 25 MHz–were completely inaudible, as was CHU on 14,670 kHz. There were numerous thunderstorms in our area, so static crashes were prevalent.

Still, since this was a first attempt to record a “leap second,” I didn’t want to take any chances.  I had the Titan SDR Pro monitoring and recording two CHU and two WWV frequencies [screenshot], the Elad FDM-S2 recording WWV on 15 MHz [screenshot], and the WinRadio Excalibur on WWV’s 10 MHz frequency, as well as recording the whole 31 meter band spectrum [screenshot].

In the end, the strongest frequencies I captured were CHU on 7,850 kHz and WWV on 15,000 kHz. WWV on 10,000 kHz was much weaker than normal and the band was quite noisy–still, it’s readable, so I included this recording, too. Recordings follow…

Recordings

Photo I took in 2014 of the sign above WWV's primary 10 MHz transmitter.

The sign above WWV’s primary 10 MHz transmitter (2014).

All of the recordings start just before the announcement of 23:59 UTC.

WWV added the extra second and higher tone, then continued with their top of the hour announcements, including a note about leap second (which begins after the 00:04 announcement). CHU simply injects a one second silence before the long tone.

WWV on 15,000 kHz using the Elad FDM-S2:

CHU on 7,850 kHz using the TitanSDR Pro:

WWV on 10,000 kHz using the WinRadio Excalibur:

One interesting note about the 10 MHz WWV recording above: I believe I may be hearing BPM China in the background. I’m curious if anyone can confirm this because I don’t know BPM’s cadence/pattern well enough to ID it.

Other recordings…?

Did you record a shortwave time station as leap second happened? If so, please comment, and feel free to share a link to your recording!

Hang on a second…seriously

WWV-TimeCodeGenerator

One of four WWV time code generators in late August, 2014

Tonight, for the first time in three years, we will experience a leap second. What is a leap second?  Wikipedia provides a concise explanation:

A leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to keep its time of day close to the mean solar time, or UT1. Without such a correction, time reckoned by Earth’s rotation drifts away from atomic time because of irregularities in the Earth’s rate of rotation. Since this system of correction was implemented in 1972, 25 such leap seconds have been inserted. The most recent one happened on June 30, 2012 at 23:59:60 UTC. A leap second, the 26th, will again be inserted at the end of June 30, 2015 at 23:59:60 UTC.

Like many of you, when I think of time–or UTC–I think about the NIST radio station WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado.

I had the honor of visiting the facility last year (yes, photo tour still forthcoming!).  During the tour, my guide and Chief Engineer at WWV and WWVB, Matthew Deutch, told me that he’s always going to be on site come Leap Second!

MattDeutch-WWVB

WWV’s Matthew Deutch with WWVB antennas in background

I wrote Matt this morning to ask what were his plans tonight?  His reply:

“The leap second happens at 0000 UTC tonight, which is 6:00 pm here in Fort Collins. All of the programming took place at the beginning of the month, so the equipment is armed…we just sit back and watch for the leap this evening.

Even though it is automated I hang around the station to make sure everything goes smoothly at the critical moment…”

WWV-First-Sign-SMMatthew closed his message by wishing me a “Happy Leap Second.”

Back at you, Matt! We hope that second leaps as smoothly as you’d like!

Not to put Matt on the spot, but you can listen to WWV (or the atomic clock of your choice) make the leap second tonight at 00:00 UTC. As for me, I’ll hop on 10 MHz and 15 MHz to hear (and hopefully record) the extra “tick.” At the end of this post, I’ve provided a list of time stations for your convenience.

Happy Leap Second!

20MHZtransmitter

WWV 20 MHz Collins transmitter

List of shortwave radio time stations

  • CHU Canada: 3330 kHz, 7850 kHz, 14670 kHz
  • BPM China: 2,500, 5,000, 10,000, and 15,000 kHz
  • HLA South Korea: 5,000 kHz
  • BSF Taiwan: 5,000 and 15,000 kHz
  • WWV (Ft. Collins)/WWVH (Hawaii) United States:  2,500, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 and 25,000 kHz

Update

Click here to listen to Leap Second recordings from WWV and CHU.

Grandfather of WWV’s atomic clock

I just discovered a film produced by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) Film Unit in the 1950s explaining the principles behind the first accurate atomic clock. The clock was designed by Louis Essen and built at the National Physical Laboratory in 1955.

This film gives fascinating insight into the physics that run atomic clocks like those behind the WWV and CHU time stations. Better yet, the science is easy to swallow with the traditional “BBC” style voice narration. Enjoy!

Canada’s shortwave time station, CHU, is moving

Press release from the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada:

CHU's QSL card used in the 1980s depicting Sir Sanford Fleming, father of uniform times zones.

1980s QSL card from radio station CHU depicting Sir Sanford Fleming, father of uniform time zones.

Time to change your shortwave radio dial

After seventy years of broadcasting Canada’s official time, NRC’s shortwave station CHU will move the transmission frequency for the 7335 KHz transmitter to 7850 KHz. The change goes into effect on 01 January 2009 at 00:00 UTC.

CHU is a part of NRC’s system for disseminating official time throughout Canada, broadcasting 24 hours a day from a location approximately 15 km south-west of downtown Ottawa. Listeners hear tones to mark the seconds, voice to announce the time in French and English, and digital data to set computers.

The atomic clocks at CHU are part of the ensemble of clocks in the time and frequency research laboratories in Ottawa, at the National Research Council Canada. The NRC clocks are used in conjunction with clocks in the time laboratories of other countries to construct the internationally accepted scale of time, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), which is now the reference for official time used by all countries. UTC is the modern implementation of Greenwich Mean Time.

“Coincidentally, this frequency change comes at a time when NRC is investing resources to refurbish the aging transmitters at CHU in order to provide clear, dependable shortwave services as part of NRC’s mandate to disseminate time to all Canadians.” said Raymond Pelletier, Technical Officer at the NRC-Institute for National Measurement Standards, who oversees the CHU facility. “The shortwave time service is especially beneficial for those in remote locations where there is limited access to internet and telephone communication. CHU also provides a back up against failure of other services.”

In April 2007, the International Telecommunications Union re-allocated the 7300-7350 KHz band from a fixed service to a broadcasting service. Since then, interference on the 7335 KHz frequency has come from many information broadcasters around the world.

CHU listeners in Canada and around the world who have for so long considered the 7335 KHz frequency exclusively for time signals, are very vocal about this interference. We have heard from amateur radio operators, watchmakers, astronomers, and navigators who use the tones and voice signals. As well, comments were received from those who use the carrier as a calibration source at a distance for their equipment.

To give notice to users, CHU will broadcast an announcement in both English and French. More information
about CHU can be found at:
http://inms-ienm.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/time_services/shortwave_broadcasts_e.html
Comments about the CHU change can be sent by e-mail to radio.chu@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca.