Tag Archives: The Spectrum Monitor

WWVH: “Working at NIST Hawaii”

From left to right: Dean Takamatsu, Dean Okayama, Director Copan, Adela Mae Ochinang and Chris Fujita.
Credit: D. Okayama/NIST

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), who shares a link to the following article from the NIST website authored by Andrew Nobleman, a Grants Management Specialist at NIST. Eric notes that he first discovered this piece from an article in The Spectrum Monitor magazine:

Time on the Beach: Working at NIST Hawaii

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has campuses in Maryland, Colorado, South Carolina and Hawaii.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Hawaiian campus? How do I get a job at NIST?”

Perhaps calling it a “campus” is a bit of an exaggeration. Ensconced within the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on the western Hawaiian island of Kauai (pronounced ka-why-ee), sits one of NIST’s shortwave radio stations, perhaps best known by its call sign, WWVH.

Kauai is a beautiful and remote island with unique climate diversity. In the middle of the island, you have one of the wettest places on Earth, Mount Waialeale (pronounced why-ah-lay-ah-lay), which receives an average of 1,148 centimeters (452 inches) of rain per year. Twenty-five kilometers away, the island’s western coast gets a mere 56 cm (22 inches) of rain per year. This is where you will find the NIST radio station.

WWVH’s main objective is to broadcast Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)—the official time for the entire planet—throughout the Pacific region. Those signals help their audience coordinate, calibrate and synchronize their clocks and equipment, which are vital to telecommunications, internet connections and a whole host of other services.

In addition to accurate time and frequency information, the station also broadcasts weather alerts and space weather reports.

“At the tone …”

From Alaska to Australia and from California to China, if you tune your receiver to WWVH, you’ll hear Jane Barbe speaking to you. If you don’t already know her by name, you may know her voice. It was her recorded voice that in past decades told callers who left their phones off the hook for too long (ask your parents), “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again. If you need help, hang up and then dial your operator.”

Although Barbe died in 2003, her beloved voice lives on.

WWVH actually broadcasts her voice using several frequencies: 2.5, 5, 10 and 15 megahertz. The different frequencies cast a wide net so that users of the broadcast will receive a signal regardless of interference from mountains, atmospheric activity or the time of day. This technique allows users to always have access to the correct time as well as the other information provided by WWVH.

WWVH’s sister station, WWV, broadcasts out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Both stations broadcast on the same frequencies. While WWVH uses Barbe’s voice, WWV uses that of former San Francisco radio host Lee Rodgers, who died in 2013. If the ionospheric conditions are just right, users can hear both stations. In addition to using different voices, WWVH and WWV make their announcements at different time intervals to prevent overlap and confusion.

Why Hawaii?

In 1947, NIST determined it needed to create a second station to supplement WWV and expand its coverage area to the Pacific Rim. The WWVH broadcast station was originally built at Kihei on the Hawaiian island of Maui in 1948. After 20 years, however, the encroaching ocean began damaging the property and equipment. So in 1971, WWVH moved nearly 322 km (200 miles) west to its current home on Kauai. This more-westerly location proved to be ideal, as it allowed the station’s signal to reach even more distant locales.

At one point, there were nine employees at WWVH, including an on-site groundskeeper for the station’s 12 hectares (30 acres). Back then, the station was manned around the clock, but automation has whittled the staff down to four, who are now responsible for all station and land maintenance.

Taken together, engineer Dean Okayama, electrical technician Dean Takamatsu, electrical technician Chris Fujita, and administrative assistant Adela Mae Ochinang, have nearly 100 years of experience operating the facility.

In addition to the staff on location, John Lowe, leader of the Time and Frequency Services Group at NIST’s Boulder, Colorado, campus, manages WWVH and WWV, as well as the long-wave station WWVB, which is also in Fort Collins.

A typical antenna at the station, constructed of fiberglass (to resist corrosion from the salty ocean air) with a copper-wound core. Seen in the distance is the island of Niihau.
Credit: D. Okayama/NIST

The Pros and Cons of ‘Paradise’

“Oh, you’re going to go out to Hawaii. Lucky you, you get the easy work,” is something Lowe has heard often from his fellow NISTers. He says he seldom explains the intense labor he puts in while on Kauai because people don’t believe him anyway. He comes to the station at least once every two years, and the staff capitalizes on the extra set of hands by saving challenging projects for his visits.

In addition to Lowe’s visits, there is a yearly rotation of staff between WWV and WWVH for continuity purposes in case of an emergency. Fujita says the exchange “usually involves more work at the Kauai location than the Fort Collins location due to shorthandedness on Kauai, but nothing a few beers can’t fix after work.”

The marine environment, while great for beach relaxation, poses a constant challenge for the station. The salty air and heat have literally caused the transmitters to catch fire! One time when that happened, the naval base’s fire department was alerted before the radio station staff was. Unfortunately, the firefighters put out the fire with a dry chemical agent, a corrosive material that rendered the transmitter useless. Shortly after replacing that transmitter, its backup failed. Fujita says, “It feels like we’re chasing transmitters. Once you replace one, it seems like you have to replace another.”

Despite all the staff’s projects and problems, they maintain a 98 percent on-air rate, which, according to Lowe, is amazingly good. Someone is always on call, and it’s all-hands-on-deck during inclement weather, such as the April 14-15, 2018, monster storm that deluged the northern part of the island with 127 cm (50 inches) of rain in 24 hours, but which thankfully spared the area around WWVH. Checks are done daily to ensure the broadcasts are in close agreement with the UTC.

For Okayama, these major responsibilities translate into a passion for the job. If Monday is a holiday, he has to be reminded on Friday not to come in.

For the staff, the work is both fascinating and challenging. But what about all the fun that comes with working right next to a Hawaiian beach?

Surf’s up?

When the clock strikes noon, Fujita packs up his gear and walks down to the beach carrying a surfboard to catch some killer waves. He and Takamatsu have been excitedly eyeing the waves since the moment they walked in that morning.

At least that’s what would happen on TV.

The reality is much more in line with what happens at the other NIST locations: You go to the lunchroom to eat your packed lunch. When Okayama is asked if they spend their lunch break on the beach, he laughs. “It’s like asking someone who lives next to Disneyland if they go every day,” he says. “We don’t eat outside and lay under the palm trees. It’s hot and humid. There are bugs flying around.”

You would expect Lowe to soak up some rays during lunch on his occasional visits, but he is adamant that he runs for the air conditioning when the clock strikes noon. He believes it’s a unique place to work, but the blistering sun isn’t exactly comfortable.

Not to say that no one has ever surfed during lunch. Fujita tried it once, but says, “It’s too cumbersome to go to the beach at lunch. To change and get all your stuff ready, walk to the beach, wax the board, maybe get one or two waves, then come back and shower. It’s cutting it close.”

A Visit from the Boss

In its entire history, WWVH had never had a visit from the director of NIST. But that changed on March 7, 2018, when newly minted NIST director Walter Copan and his wife, who were on a long-planned Hawaiian vacation, took the opportunity to stop by the site.

“The WWVH team are truly NISTers, and they are our ambassadors of metrology on America’s westernmost shores,” says Copan. “The WWVH team was also recognized by a 2008 NIST Bronze Medal, now on display in their entrance hallway, for the development and installation of a new antenna array by the employees themselves. Their work is a true example of the NIST values, which include perseverance and inclusivity.”

It was a great experience to interact with the NIST director, says Ochinang. Copan shared with them his vision for NIST’s future and some interesting things about himself, like the fact that he is a trained opera singer.

When asked if they took advantage of the extra body to get more work done, Fujita says, “We did not subject the NIST director to intense manual labor, no. That wouldn’t be good … especially not on his first visit.” Fujita adds that, since the Copans’ vacation was not a government-sponsored trip, “We would have to reimburse him for work performed.”

I guess they’ll have to wait until Lowe is back in town.

The Kauai Life

Outside of work, life on Kauai is generally more laid back than the mainland or even the larger islands of Hawaii.

Although it sounds great, living in a tropical paradise is not for everyone. Many of those who move to Hawaii succumb to “rock fever,” the claustrophobia that comes from being on a small island.

Fujita and Ochinang were both born on Kauai, and though they left for a few years, coming back was easy. Okayama and Takamatsu are both from Honolulu, which is on the island of Oahu, the third largest Hawaiian island. Still, they seem to have acclimated well to life on a tinier island. Kauai reminds Okayama of a quieter Oahu in the 1960s when his family used to camp peacefully under the stars at the beach. Takamatsu’s father was from Kauai, so in a way, it feels like he’s returned to his roots.

The Kauai lifestyle and close working quarters have created a family atmosphere. They all take care of each other and no one wants to leave. Ochinang has been at WWVH for 35 years and doesn’t plan on going anywhere. “Sometimes people joke around,” she says, “but sorry, this is a good place to work and I’m not retiring anytime soon!”

So, if you want a job there, you’ll have to hang up and try again later.

*June 18, 2018, Editor’s note: Public tours of the WWVH facility are not available due to limited staff, but thank you for your interest and keep tuning in!

Click here to read the full article and view photos of WWVH on the NIST website.

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Video: Listening to Radio Australia via the BST-1 car shortwave radio

Car-Shortwave-Radio

I’ve been evaluating the BST-1 car shortwave radio for a review that will soon appear in The Spectrum Monitor magazine.

I must admit: it’s mighty fun to be able to listen to shortwave broadcasters through my vehicle’s audio system.

Last week, the BST-1 saved my sanity, too. You see, I was in a rush to get to a morning appointment in town when Murphy’s Law stopped me dead in my tracks!

A construction crew began resurfacing a two mile (unavoidable) stretch of asphalt road on my route. As the road crew set up their gear, I was forced to wait a full 20 minutes (!!!!) before being allowed to pass.

Fortunately, I remembered that I had the BST-1 hooked up in the car. I tuned to 9580 kHz and there was Radio Australia. Somehow, hearing my staple broadcaster soothed my nerves. I accepted that I would be late for my appointment and simply enjoyed the moment. In your face, Murphy–!!!!

Here’s a very short video I made while stopped:

Click here to view on YouTube.

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The Spectrum Monitor 2015 Radio Buyer’s Guide

TheSpectrumMonitor

If you’re a subscriber of The Spectrum Monitor (TSM) magazine, you’re in for a treat this month: the November issue is the TSM annual Radio Buyer’s Guide.

Many SWLing Post readers know that I write occasional features and reviews for TSM. Since the November issue will feature my shortwave radio buyer’s guide, I was sent a draft of the November issue. After double-checking my review, I thought I’d glance through some of the other articles–what a rabbit hole that was! Two hours later and I’m still reading. Since I’m primarily a shortwave guy, TSM expands my horizons with articles about parts of the spectrum I seldom explore. That’s a good thing!

TSM Publisher and Managing Editor, Ken Reitz (KS4ZR), has done an amazing job collecting a group of writers who are not only experts in their respective fields, but are effective writers as well. These two qualities do not always go hand-in-hand.

At $3 per issue or (especially) an annual subscription for $24 ($2/issue) I think TSM is a bargain. When the November issue is posted on the TSM website later today, you’ll be able to read through the table of contents online.

It’s hard to believe TSM is almost in its third year of publication–this TSM writer is wishing it many, many more!

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The Spectrum Monitor: only $24 for a year’s subscription

December14Cover.1On occasion, the things you enjoy most, you forget to share with your friends. Not sure why this happens, but this is certainly the case with the Spectrum Monitor magazine (TSM). I’m long overdue to properly pitch TSM to my readers, which I feel is an absolute bargain at just $24 per year.

Why? Many of you may recall that it was only July of last year when we learned about the closure of The Monitoring Times magazine.  I had always loved the magazine–not only were the management and editors a great group, but the magazine content was some of the best in the communications business when I began writing features and reviews for MT. But the owners of MT, Bob and Judy Grove, were ready to retire; ultimately, they decided to close their magazine down rather than sell it off.

Shortly after the announcement, MT‘s managing editor, Ken Reitz (KS4ZR), decided to make a go of a new publication. Albeit wholly digital, this magazine was to cover the same scope and content depth as MT, and would be known as The Spectrum Monitor (TSM).

In January of this year, TSM launched, and like many SWLing Post readers, I was eager to see if the content met the benchmark MT had set for so many years.

I needn’t have worried.  Ken had corralled many excellent contributors, in many cases drawing upon previous writers for MT.  And in the past year, I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say that in many respects, TSM not only met that benchmark, but has actually even exceeded itTSM is now–unquestionably–a good, solid, thoroughly enjoyable publication. 

Each issue is packed with topics covering the radio spectrum: shortwave, ham radio, vintage radio, pirate radio, scanning, public service, satellite, AM/medium wave and host of digital/mobile technologies, as well. Really, everything a listener could hope for.

November2014Cover Initially, I had my doubts.  I frankly wasn’t sure whether I’d like reading a “digital-only” radio publication, or whether other readers would. I confess to being a bit “old school;” as a radio listener, I like to hold a radio in my hands, to physically tune it; as a reader, I prefer holding a printed publication in hand, to turn the (paper) pages…How would I feel with an e-reader or laptop, instead? Would reading that way feel like work?

But TSM soon swayed me toward the digital as both reader and as a columnist. As a writer, there was less stress on word count. If it was a bit short, or lengthy– as my October column was–I soon found it mattered less. In a digital publication, page count is comparatively irrelevant as long as content is worthwhile and captivating for the reader.  And as a reader, I appreciated that the columnists that I was reading would have the freedom to write at length, too.

Secondly, a digital publication gave its writers an opportunity to infuse columns with a multi-media element–something I’d become accustomed to as a blogger here on the SWLing Post. When I published a review of a radio, I could include actual audio clips in the article. If I wrote about pirate radio, for example, I could embed actual pirate radio recordings. Brilliant! And, again, more fun for the reader.

Also, including links or references to external websites is a cinch in a digital format, and quite easy for the reader to check out. Instead of copying a long gangly URL from a printed page, you simply click on a link as you would on a website, such as on this one. Second nature, really.

FEB2014CoverFinally, in a digital publication, I found writers could use more full-color images in their articles. I really enjoy the addition of the images; they make articles come to life…

So, I soon learned to relax with the e-reader just as I had with the printed Monitoring Times.  No pages to turn, but then again, not so different from reading…well, a blog like this.  I’ve received excellent feedback from TSM readers, too, many of whom admitted their initial bias against a “digital” magazine had since been withdrawn completely.

I continue to enjoy reading TSM every month.  And although–due to time constraints–I’m no longer TSM‘s primary shortwave radio columnist, I still enjoy writing for TSM when time permits, so you will see my reviews and features pop up in TSM now and again.

But why take my word for it?  Check it out for yourself–it’s one of the best magazines for the radio enthusiast, digital or print…And at only $24 annual cost, it’s a terrific and affordable last minute Christmas gift for a friend, family member, or–let’s be honest–for yourself.

Afraid to commit to a one year subscription? Individual issues of TSM are available online for $3 each. If you like what you’re reading (you will), you can then purchase a one year subscription, and the cost of your issue will be refunded.

If you’re lucky enough to receive a subscription to TSM in your stocking, I can assure you that you’re in for a real treat.  Happy reading!

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The Spectrum Monitor: a new radio magazine finds a home in the digital world

The SpectrumMonitorI’m happy to announce that there is a new radio magazine on the horizon: The Spectrum Monitor (TSM).

The Spectrum Monitor, an e-magazine, will cover  amateur radio, longwave and shortwave listening, public service scanning, AM/FM/TV broadcasting, satellites, WiFi radio, vintage radio and more.

I have agreed to be the shortwave radio columnist for The Spectrum Monitor.

Why? TSM is picking up where Monitoring Times (MT) left off, and is being edited and published by MT‘s former managing editor, Ken Reitz (KS4ZR). Reitz has done a fantastic job of retaining the majority of MT‘s excellent writers and columnists. When he asked if I would be interested in taking over the shortwave radio column, his integrity and that of Monitoring Times helped me make a confident decision.

Best yet, I will have free reign to write about in-depth topics that I choose. Like Monitoring Times before it, The Spectrum Monitor will allow their columnists true editorial freedom.

The Spectrum Monitor Press Release

Ken Reitz published the following press release today at noon; if you enjoy the topics here, I encourage you to check out The Spectrum Monitor.

TheSpectrumMonitorPRESS RELEASE

10-23-13
For Immediate Release
Contact: Ken Reitz
e-mail: ks4zr1 [at] gmail.com
Phone: 540-967-2469

NEW RADIO MAGAZINE TO LAUNCH

A new electronic publication, The Spectrum Monitor, will follow the final issue of Monitoring Times, a paper and electronic publication covering amateur, shortwave and scanner-related topics, which ceases publication after a thirty-three year run following the retirement of its publisher, Bob Grove.

Managing editor, Ken Reitz KS4ZR, made the announcement in the November issue of Monitoring Times. “As the accolades poured in, all readers, regardless of how long they had been subscribers, expressed sadness and dismay at the closure of the magazine. I came to believe that there might be enough interest to warrant continuing the publication in some other form. I took it upon myself to explore the possibility of a follow-on magazine, not connected with Monitoring Times or Grove Enterprises, it’s publisher.”

The Spectrum Monitor will debut with the January 2014 issue, on December 15, 2013, and will carry virtually all of the current Monitoring Times columnists and feature writers. Reitz noted, “These are the experts in all facets of radio who have helped make MT the best, full-spectrum magazine available and we are all excited about continuing our work for the new publication.”

The Spectrum Monitor will be available only as an electronic publication in PDF format which may be read on any desktop, laptop, iPad™, Kindle Fire™ or any other device capable of opening a PDF file. Details on how to become a charter subscriber may be found at www.thespectrummonitor.com.

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