IEEE Spectrum: “Long-Running U.S. Federal Radio Stations, Beloved by Hams, in Danger of Shutdown”

A WWV Time Code Generator

(Source: IEEE Spectrum Magazine)

Several public radio stations that have broadcast the time of day continuously for nearly 100 years are on the chopping block

By Julianne Pepitone

Starting in May 1920, the U.S. federal WWV radio stations have broadcast the official time without fail. For ham radio fans, hearing the friendly “National Institute of Standards and Technology Time!” announcement is a comforting old refrain. For others, it’s a service they’ve never heard of—yet in the background, it’s what keeps the clocks and appliances in their daily lives automatically ticking along on time.

But after 98 years, this constant companion could soon go off the air. The proposed 2019 U.S. presidential budget calls for a 34 percent cut in NIST funding; in response, the Institute compiled a budget-use plan that would eliminate the WWV stations.

At first blush it might sound like the natural end to a quaint public service from a bygone era. Do we really need radio-broadcast time signals in an era of Internet-connected devices and GPS?

Many would argue: Yes, we really do. More than 50 million devices in the United States—including wall clocks, wristwatches, and industrial appliances—keep time through the signal from NIST’s WWVB station, operating from a site near Fort Collins, Colo., where it reads the time directly from an atomic clock. These radio-equipped clocks are permanently tuned to WWVB’s low-frequency 60 kHz signal.

“WWVB is the pacemaker for the world around us, even if we don’t realize it,” says Thomas Witherspoon, editor of shortwave radio news site The SWLing Post. “It’s why factory workers and schools don’t need to drag out the stepladder every time we switch between Daylight and Standard Time. Without WWVB, these devices won’t magically update themselves.”[…]

Click here to read the full article including comments from WWVB’s Station Manager.

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6 thoughts on “IEEE Spectrum: “Long-Running U.S. Federal Radio Stations, Beloved by Hams, in Danger of Shutdown”

  1. EC

    I’m willing to write my congressman and senators about this, but is there an exact bill number I can refer to? Some time ago you posted about an issue (forget what it was) and I think it was ARRL who was very organized about a bill number, suggested wording, etc. With this issue, there seems to be no guidance at all.

    And anyway, if this is in the budget proposal from NIST itself, wouldn’t it make more sense to write them directly?

    I’m not just nostalgic about the time stations. My mother is in Assisted Living, and depends on her “dementia clock,” which gives the day, date, and day part, and sets itself. I’m not even sure there’s a way to set it manually. She really doesn’t need the added confusion of having the clock be wrong, and I don’t need the extra task of shopping for another clock if i this one doesn’t work without WWV.

  2. Kevin Hobson

    Regarding the earlier online petitions, I note that they failed to come even close to the required amount of signatures. I signed on the first day that I became aware of them. Considering that there are more than 800,000 licensed amateur radio operators in the U.S. , I have to voice the opinion that it was a monumental failure of leadership on the part of the ARRL and other amateur radio groups, at all levels, to get everyone onboard the petition signing operation. Pretty pathetic. Now we get to wait and see if our dysfunctional national administration will make do on the budget cuts. Since they’ve already (just this month) diverted funds from USCG and FEMA to their ICE agenda, I would find it likely that NIST will fall under the budget axe too. All good things must come to an end, don’t they say ? That may be the ultimate fate of WWV et al.

    1. rtc

      The ARRL has had a problem ever since it started the “incentive license” debacle
      in 1963.
      Then they called 2m FM (which saved the hobby) “CB”.
      Then came 9-11-2001 and they sought to sell ham radio as an
      emergency radio service which unleashed the Whackers on us.
      Lately they have had internal squabbles because some wouldn’t vote
      as instructed.
      The late Tom Knietel said once the “ARRL was a part of history and
      that’s what it should be-history”.

  3. rtc

    Assuming the worst happens and our radio-controlled clocks lose WWVB what is a good
    “Plan B”?
    Consider going back to the plain old battery-quartz wall clock…not as good but but can easily
    be updated every now and then if you can get CHU.
    However the reviews on Amazon for any brand of battery-quartz wall clocks are awful…
    they quit,hour/second hands get crossed up,accuracy is on the order of several minutes
    per day,etc.
    There are a couple of online firms like The Tiny Clock Store who sell (pricey) American
    made name-brand quartz wall clocks that look OK (for $50-70 bucks each they better be).
    Oddly enough the just over three buck Walmart 8 inch wall clocks (despite bad reviews) have
    been within a minute for 5-6 days and the small Sharp brand quartz battery desk alarm clock
    they sell has been too.
    You may have some of these older clocks around your digs,too.


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