“The NIST budget for WWV, WWVH, and WWVB will remain level for FY 2019.”
As I mentioned in a recent post, this is the feedback I’ve received as well–that the portion of the budget that includes NIST radios station will remain the same as it was last year. Last year, the NIST internally-allocated funds for the stations and it appears it will this will happen again! Brilliant news, indeed.
With that said, I do wonder if the next budget request (which is only a few months away) will include all of the NIST radio stations.
As an amateur astronomer, I knew it was only a matter of time before the astronomical community became involved to save WWV. Specifically, it’s a group of mostly amateur astronomers who observe and record occultations.
What’s an occultation? It’s the term when a solar system object passes in front of, and blocks out a star. Why is this important to observe? Lunar occultations are the easiest to observe (if the star is bright enough, one can do a crude observation with binoculars or even the unaided eye). But there is very valuable science to be had with smaller objects. When a dwarf planet [like Pluto] or an asteroid – passes in front of, and “blinks” out or blocks the light of a star – measurements can be taken that reveal the dwarf planet or asteroid’s size/diameter. We can even determine if an object is round/oval – or maybe cigar-shaped when multiple ground observers record and accurately time how long the star “blinks” (or if the star doesn’t get covered by the asteroid in some locations but does in others). Okay, that is Occultations 101 (if you are interested in learning more, see the link).
Credit: Upcoming occultation – showing the path where the occultation is visible – from IOTA: International Occultation Timing Association
Equipment used to record and document these fleeting events (some graze occultations only last fractions of a second) requires – you guessed it – time stamped video devices. Back in the old days before video and other advanced equipment, astronomers would sit a shortwave radio next to the telescope with a tape recorder to audibly capture & record the time signal with the observer noting the start/stop of the event (we’ve come a long way since then – time stamped equipment has advanced this from “approximately” to “exact science”!).
I feel especially chuffed that NPR would give the topic of WWV some exposure. This piece wasn’t so much a call to action as simply building awareness of what the shutdown of our national pacemaker––in the form of WWVB time station––might mean to the average person who has a self-setting wall clock, or watch (most of us do). (Even at NPR, they’ll be asking, Now, where did we store that stepladder?)
Or what it might mean to the shortwaves themselves, which we in North America may appreciate a source of nostalgia or entertainment––and, yes, handy for keeping time––we have to recognize that there are still pockets of our world, especially in remote, rural, and/or war-torn regions, where shortwave radio is especially vital.
NIST has a long-standing history of providing time and frequency services through our radio stations and we appreciate that many people use these services. NIST’s WWV is the longest continuously-operating radio service in the U.S.At the same time, the proposed NIST budget for FY 2019 required difficult choices about budget priorities.
The President’s full NIST FY 2019 budget request to the Congress is available at the link below, including a brief description of why the shutdown of NIST’s time and frequency radio stations is proposed. The proposal includes shutdown of NIST’s three radio stations, WWV, WWVH, and WWVB, which communicate with consumer clocks, watches, broadcasting systems and other devices. It is important to note that no changes to NIST services have occurred, and if the proposal were to be implemented, public notice would be provided.
Also, for context, it may be helpful to view links to press releases issued in May and June 2018 by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Committees on Appropriations about the FY2019 budget process.
We will keep you posted as this budget moves through the process, but in the meantime I’ll share the feedback and links provided by Gail Porter, Public Relations Director for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Ms. Porter writes:
We are proud of the time and frequency services we provide through our radio stations and understand that these services are important to many people.
As you likely know, the President proposes budgets for executive branch agencies and then the Congress considers that request before determining funding levels for each agency and passing an appropriations law to implement a budget for a given year.
[…]The sentence below, which appears on page NIST 25, is the best description we have available to respond to your question.
“To consolidate and focus work on NIST efforts in quantum science, while maintaining essential core capabilities in measurement science research and measurement dissemination NIST will eliminate efforts that have been replaced by newer technologies, measurement science work that lies outside of NIST’s core mission space, and programs that can no longer be supported due to facility deterioration.”
Also, in case these are of interest, here are links to press releases issued in May and June 2018 by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Committees’ on Appropriations about the FY2019 budget process:
Would there be any way you could perhaps post the link to this so that fellow members of the SWLing Post could sign it? I believe the more folks we have sign the better chance we have of maintaining the radio stations we have all come to rely upon.
Thanks, Tom, for launching this petition–I had planned to do so this morning and am thankful you beat me to it.
SWLing Post readers:please take a moment to sign this petition. It requires only a few seconds to complete and you need only to submit your name and email address. This is an official petition instrument of the White House and, as such, can actually lead to a response and potential review. Please spread the word throughout your radio communities!
WWV Time Code Generator – photo taken at WWV in 2014
Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post readers who have pointed out the NIST 2019 Presidential Budget request which has now been posted online and includes a desired reduction of:
“$6.3 million supporting fundamental measurement dissemination, including the shutdown of NIST radio stations in Colorado and Hawaii“
WWV’s transmitter building in Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)
I’ve always considered WWV and WWVH to be the heartbeat of the shortwaves here in North America–a constant, timely companion and brilliant gauge of HF propagation. Indeed, on a personal note, WWV was actually the first station I ever remember hearing on shortwave.
I assumed both stations would be some of the last to go silent on the shortwaves.
No doubt, I find this budget request very disappointing. Let’s hope, somehow, this does not come to fruition. We will certainly post any/all updates here on the SWLing Post. Follow the tag: NIST
UPDATE: I’ve received a number of questions about Fort Collins-based station WWVB and if it would also be included in the closures. As the budget states, it includes: “the shutdown of NIST radio stations in Colorado and Hawaii.”At the budget’s current iteration, this implies all NIST radios stations including WWVB.
I’ve pointed out WWV and WWVH in particular as they’re the shortwave time stations of the NIST. WWVB, on the other hand, provides a continuous 60 kHz carrier wave that, among other things, is used by self-setting “atomic” clocks used by consumers and industry.
I’ve amended the title of this article to reflect WWVB’s inclusion in the budget cuts.