Tag Archives: NIST

KUNC piece features WWV

Chief Engineer Matt Deutch at WWV/WWVB. (Photo: Thomas)

(Source: Southgate ARC via Eric McFadden)

Broadcaster KUNC reports that a little-known radio station in Fort Collins might one day save the world

An array of radio towers sits behind security fences amid farms and pastures north of Fort Collins. This is home to WWV, the country’s oldest radio call letters. The station’s high-frequency broadcasts can be heard around the globe if you have the right kind of radio.

Now playing: pulsing sounds, every second, followed by an announcement of the exact time.

The station is run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, which is home to the atomic clock. WWV is capable of more than telling time. It could, if need be, save the world.

“Could be,” said Elizabeth Donley, chief of NIST’s Time and Frequency Division. “It’s an important part of our work.”

This year the station conducted communications exercises in coordination with the Department of Defense. Thirty-seven states, National Guard units, emergency management agencies and others participated in simple announcements. They were meant to see how many listeners are out there and how far away they can be reached. The answer: there are thousands of listeners as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Mark Jensen, a civilian planner with U.S. Northern Command, the military’s homeland security operation in Colorado Springs, called WWV a “most essential asset to our nation.”

Should an emergency arise, volunteers would jump into action. They’re part of a program the military dubs MARS, which stands for Military Auxiliary Radio System. While jokes abound that the operators should not be confused for Martians, their work is serious. It’s doomsday stuff, like responding to the aftermath of a nuclear attack because the associated electromagnetic pulse could wipe out most communications.

Listen to program and read the full story at
https://www.kunc.org/post/how-little-known-radio-station-fort-collins-might-one-day-save-world

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“NIST Radio Station WWV Celebrates a Century of Service”

NIST radio station WWV from the air. Each of the six frequencies the radio broadcasts in has its own antenna, each one surrounded by a white safety fence. The tall antenna for the lowest frequency has a flashing white strobe on top (in the left foreground) to make it visible to aircraft pilots.
Credit: Glenn Nelson, NIST

(Source: NIST Blog via Eric McFadden)

NIST Radio Station WWV Celebrates a Century of Service

By Laura Ost

What technological application has had musical, timekeeping, navigational, scientific, traffic-control, emergency-response, and telephone applications?

Answer: WWV, one of the world’s oldest continuously operating radio stations.

NIST received the call letters WWV a century ago, in 1919. Since then, it has operated the station from several different locations — originally Washington, D.C., then a succession of locales in Maryland, and now Fort Collins, Colorado.

The programming is rather dry but very, very useful. WWV broadcasts time and frequency information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to millions of listeners worldwide. The station broadcasts standard time (aka Coordinated Universal Time) and standard frequencies (e.g., at 5, 10 and 15 megahertz) for use in calibrating radio receivers, alerts of geophysical activity, and other information.

WWV broadcasts on six different shortwave frequencies because transmission effectiveness and reception clarity vary depending on many factors, including time of year, time of day, receiver location, solar and geomagnetic activity, weather conditions and antenna type and configuration. Broadcasting on different frequencies helps to ensure that the radio transmission can be received on at least one frequency at all times.

Over the years, WWV has had a startling number of applications.

“Historically, WWV will always be interesting because of the huge role it played in the development of radio in the United States by allowing broadcasters and listeners to check and calibrate their transmit and receive frequencies,” says Michael Lombardi, leader of NIST’s Time and Frequency Services Group.

“Today, WWV still serves as an easily accessible frequency and time reference that provides information not available elsewhere,” he says. “For example, along with its sister station, WWVH in Hawaii, WWV provides the only high-accuracy voice announcement of the time available by telephone [by calling 303-499-7111 or — in Hawaii — 808-335-4363]. These phone numbers receive a combined total of more than 1,000 calls per day.  Both the radio and telephone time signals are used by many thousands of citizens to synchronize clocks and watches, and also by numerous industries to calibrate timers and stopwatches. We also know that WWV is highly valued by scientists performing radio propagation studies because it provides them with accurate time markers on six different shortwave frequencies.”

NIST time and frequency broadcasts are also available via the internet, of course, but the internet is not always available. Radio broadcasts can also support celestial navigation (i.e., using the stars to set one’s course) and can provide backup communication of public service announcements during disasters or emergencies.

WWV is also popular with amateur radio (aka ham radio) operators, who use the broadcasts to get geophysical alerts — indicating how far high-frequency radio signals will travel at the current time and receiver location — as well as to tinker with their electronics and teach young people how radio works.

As a ham operator said on NPR, WWV is “the heartbeat of shortwave radio. When something goes wrong, you check WWV to see if you’re picking up their signal. And you know then that everything’s OK. Maritime operators, military operators, amateur radio operators, we all listen to and use WWV regularly.”

Many technical papers and even books have been written about NIST’s radio work. One such book, published by NIST, is Achievement in Radio.

The radio broadcasting craze started after World War I. NIST, then known as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), got the call letters WWV for its experimental radio transmitter on Oct. 1, 1919.

A 1919 newspaper story recounted that NBS experimented with broadcasting “music through the air,” transmitting tunes played on a Victrola record player several hundred yards to an NBS auditorium. That demonstration might have been sponsored by military laboratories then operating at NBS.

WWV began broadcasting in May 1920 from Washington, D.C., at a frequency of 600 kilohertz. The first broadcasts were Friday evening music concerts that lasted from 8:30 to 11. The 50-watt signal could be heard about 40 kilometers away.

Among many other relevant activities, NBS supported the public’s use of the novel technology by publishing instructions on how to build one’s own radio receiver. The agency’s 1922 how-to publication cost 5 cents.

A legacy of impact

WWV and WWVH had a broad impact on the world in their early years, as the 1958 NBS annual report indicated:

The radio broadcast technical services are widely used by scientific, industrial, and government agencies and laboratories as well as by many airlines, steamship companies, the armed services, missile research laboratories and contractors, IGY [International Geophysical Year (PDF)] personnel, satellite tracking stations, schools and universities, numerous individuals, and many foreign countries. They are of importance to all types of radio broadcasting activities such as communications, television, radar, air and ground navigation systems, guided missiles, anti-missile missiles, and ballistic missiles.

NIST has conducted several surveys of WWV users. Many people rely on WWV to set the clocks and watches in their homes, as indicated by regular increases in calls to the telephone time-of-day service whenever Daylight Saving Time starts or ends.

In one interesting example of the NIST radio station’s impact, WWV time codes were used in a 1988 project by the city of Los Angeles to synchronize traffic lights at more than 1,000 intersections. City officials estimated that this project saved motorists 55,000 hours a day in driving time, conserved 22 million gallons per year in fuel, and prevented 6,000 to 7,000 tons of pollutants per year.

“It’s not easy to think of a lot of technical services offered by the government that have stayed relevant for 100 years, but WWV is about to do just that,” Michael Lombardi says.

WWV history highlights

WWV has been very useful to the general public and to many industries and government agencies over the years, as indicated by the newly published article, “A Century of WWV,” by NIST electronics technician Glenn Nelson. Following are some of the station’s highlights:

1919—First public announcement of call sign WWV being assigned to NBS in Washington, D.C.

1923—First WWV broadcast of standard frequencies to help users calibrate their radios. (In subsequent years, the station began broadcasting at higher frequencies, as well, to get better transmission and reception.)

1931—The WWV broadcasting station moves to College Park, Maryland.

1933—The WWV station moves to Beltsville, Maryland.

1936—The FBI asks NBS to conduct tests using WWV to determine the feasibility of using one transmitter to cover the entire country. (Such a system was eventually ruled out.)

1936—In response to requests, WWV broadcasts its first musical note. Such tones are useful to piano tuners, for example, and in later years to the police for calibrating radar used to check vehicle speeds.

1937—WWV begins broadcasting time interval signals.

1939—Pioneering NBS effort to reflect WWV transmissions off the moon. It didn’t work then but the military later accomplished it. (It turns out that bouncing signals off the moon is easier and scientifically more useful if done with lasers.)

1943—NIST begins using quartz crystal oscillators to provide greater accuracy in setting standard frequencies.

1945—WWV begins broadcasting the time using telegraphic code.

1948—NBS’ second high-frequency radio station, WWVH, begins operating in Maui, Hawaii (later moved to Kauai), in order to broadcast to the West Coast and to ships and countries throughout the Pacific Ocean.

1950—WWV voice announcements of standard time begin.

1954—The NBS Central Radio Propagation Laboratory moves to Boulder, Colorado, and the quartz crystals are flown to Denver and driven to Boulder (although WWV still broadcasted from Maryland).

1957—WWV broadcasts its first solar-storm and geophysical data alerts.

1960—WWV becomes the nation’s first radio station to place a digital time code in its broadcasts.

1961—The WWV station moves to Greenbelt, Maryland

1963—NIST’s low-frequency radio station, WWVB, goes on the air from Colorado, to broadcast accurate standard frequencies needed by satellite and missile programs.

1966—WWV moves to Fort Collins, Colorado, and begins broadcasting from there.

1967—The second is internationally redefined to be based on the vibrations of the cesium atom, and NIST’s radio stations begin broadcasting Greenwich Mean Time rather than the local time at the stations. (Several years later, WWV and the other stations begin broadcasting Coordinated Universal Time, as they do today.)

1971—WWV begins offering the time of day by telephone, gets 1 million calls per year by 1975.

1980s—GPS and the internet are introduced, offering new and more accurate ways to distribute time and to support navigation, and NBS is renamed NIST.

[…]

Click here to read this full post with accompanying photos via the NIST Blog.

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Please Take Action: DOD Broadcast and Listener Survey on WWV and WWVH

A WWV Time Code Generator

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dennis Dura, who shares the following note from Paul English (WD8DBY), Chief, Army MARS:

DOD Broadcast and Listener Survey on WWV and WWVH

From 14-24 August, WWV and WWVH will be broadcasting a DOD message at 10 mins past the hour on WWV and 50 mins past the hour on WWVH. As part of the message, all listeners are asked to take a listener survey at the URL specified in the message.

www.dodmars.org/home/wwv-survey

The results of this survey are shared with WWV/H personnel to show their NIST chain of command how often their stations are monitored and how the various timing signals and messages are used by the listeners.

Please take a listen to this message and take the survey…as the saying goes, “every vote counts” and your input to this survey is being used to help demonstrate the importance of these stations.

Thanks for your consideration in this effort.

Paul English, WD8DBY
Chief, Army MARS

Many thanks for sharing this, Dennis. Readers have also shared this ARRL News item urging listeners to take the DOD survey.

If you appreciate WWV/WWVH, please take a moment to complete this short survey.

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NIST Radio Stations: MARS COMEX asks for reception reports and suggestions in survey

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Skip Behnke (W2OZ), who notes that MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System) COMEX website is asking for your reception reports, notes, and suggestions regarding the NIST radio stations WWV, WWVH and WWVB.

This survey is being conducted while WWV and WWVH are announcing military communication exercises.

Click here to take the survey and submit your report at the DoD MARS COMEX website.

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HF military communication exercise announcements on WWV/WWVH

(Source: ARRL News via Eric WD8RIF)

The US Department of Defense (DOD) plans to start making use of a provisional time slot on WWV and WWVH to announce upcoming HF military communication exercises and how the Amateur Radio community can become involved in them. The announcements will occur at 10 minutes past on WWV and at 50 minutes past on WWVH. WWV and WWVH transmit on 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz.

“DOD’s use of the broadcast time slot on WWV/WWVH will benefit the MARS program’s mission of outreach to the Amateur Radio community,” said US Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) Program Manager Paul English, WD8DBY. “The actual messages to be broadcast are coordinated by the DOD Headquarters that the MARS program supports.”

The initial announcements are set for the period April 20 – May 3, which coincides with the “Vital Connection” interoperability exercise to be held in Wisconsin. Future time slots will coincide with the Vital Connection exercise Ohio in June; DOD COMEX 19-3 in August, and the DOD COMEX 19-4 in October. Following the proof of concept this year, DOD anticipates making use of the WWV/WWVH broadcast time slot full time, year-round.[…]

Click here to read the full article via the ARRL News.

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FY 2019 NIST budget looks good for time stations

WWV Chief Engineer Matt Deutch. (Photo: Thomas Witherspoon)

Many thanks to the number of SWLing Post readers who have forwarded this article from the ARRL News that notes the WWV Special Event Station, planned for later this year, is a go. This is great news indeed.

With regards to the FY2019 budget uncertainty surrounding NIST radio stations WWV, WWVH and WWVB, the ARRL notes:

“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.

Time will tell…

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End of WWV weather information

Photo taken in 2014 of the sign above WWV’s primary 10 MHz transmitter.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who writes:

As monitored here in NB on 15 MHz today (31 January), WWV ended the National Weather Service Atlantic and Pacific marine high-seas and storm warnings after 19:00 UTC. Before that time, announcements about the ending of the warnings were transmitted during minutes 4 and 7 after the hour with the Atlantic information in minutes 8 and 9 and the Pacific information in minute 10. So, the last storm warnings were during the 18:00 UTC hour. After 19:00 UTC, the announcements in minutes 4 and 7 were discontinued and the storm warnings in minutes 8, 9, and 10 were replaced with an announcement about the ending of the warnings. Presumably, there was a similar transition on WWVH.

Thanks for the report, Richard!

In terms of an overall update about WWV in the 2019 NIST budget, there has been no real news to report. It seems the funding level for the Laboratory Programs (where the radio stations reside) will be funded at the same level as it was in 2018. Of course, NIST can internally-allocate many of their funds as they wish. Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Cuff, who’s been keeping an eye on this budget process.

I must admit that I find it interesting WWV, WWVH and WWVB all continued to operate as normal during the Federal Government Shutdown.

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