Here’s a timely reminder for all you would-be revelers out there: Be careful with your countdowns this New Year’s Eve. There will be a little extra time to bask in the glow of a retreating 2016 — or curse its name, as the case may be.
Whatever your inclination may be, one thing is certain: Before the year is out, the world’s foremost authority on time will be adding one more second to the clock.
In a bulletin released this summer, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, or IERS, said it would be necessary to introduce a “leap second” at the end of December. Timekeepers use this added second much as leap years are used — to bring the world’s atomic clocks in sync with the Earth’s own distinctive rhythm, which in this case is determined by its rotation.
This leap second isn’t the first. Since 1971, the world has added leap seconds with some regularity — typically every two to three years — and the latest leap second was added only last year, in June.
Last year, I recorded the 2015 Leap Second via WWV–click here to read that post. Though such a subtle change, it is fun to hear that extra second added. I plan to record the full 31 meter band New Year’s Eve–hopefully, I’ll also catch the 10,000 kHz WWV Leap Second!
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 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, 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.
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.
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 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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…”
Matthew 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!
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