“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.
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.”[…]
The Trump administration wants to shut down two shortwave radio stations that broadcast time signals from the nation’s master clock.
The administration’s budget proposal would eliminate nearly $27 million in funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for the two stations. WWV, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, has been transmitting one rock-steady pulse per second for more than 80 years. Its sister station, Hawaii’s WWVH, has been extending the time signal across the Pacific for nearly 70 years. WWV is also the world’s longest continuously-broadcasting radio station. (NIST doesn’t stream the stations online because signals are often delayed as they stream over the internet. But you can hear the stations by calling (303) 499-7111 for WWV or (808) 335-4363 for WWVH . There are also online recordings of the stations’ gentle announcements.)[…]
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.
Do you have a self-setting “atomic” clock or watch?
Yep, so do I. A number of them. In fact, although I’m a tech geek of a sort, I don’t even know how many of my standard, everyday devices––devices I rely on every day––fall into this category…But I may find out soon.
Many of us own self-setting clocks known as “atomic” clocks. Indeed, a large portion of wall clocks, alarm clocks, and watches, not to mention weather stations, cameras, and potentially a number of other devices, have a built-in receiver that self-calibrates. And all of these sync to a radio station you use more than any other, yet likely have never heard of: NIST Time Signal Station WWVB in Fort Collins, Colorado.
WWVB is a time station operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which derives its time from a system of atomic clocks with frequency uncertainty of less than 1 part in 1012.
Translation: How accurate is this time signal? Crazily, insanely accurate.
And that’s a good thing, as so many of the things we rely on all the time (and often take for granted) rely on it. WWVB provides a continuous 60 kHz carrier wave that, among other things, is employed by self-setting “atomic” clocks used by consumers and industry. WWVB receivers are embedded in so many consumer appliances from cameras to irrigation controllers, these devices depend upon the very accurate timing the station imparts.
For huge numbers of people in North America who spend their days in schools, offices, stores, factories and public facilities, the time of their lives comes from clocks controlled by a single radio station that few people have ever heard: WWVB in Ft. Collins, Colorado, operated by PML’s Time and Frequency Division.
According to the latest estimates, there are at least 50 million radio-controlled clocks in operation (and another few million wristwatches) all receiving accurate time from WWVB’s 60 kHz broadcast—and approximately a million new commercial radio-controlled products are sold each year.[…]
If the budget is passed as proposed, after WWVB is closed your atomic clock synchronized devices will no longer be accurate, nor will they automatically be able to toggle the time between Standard to Daylight Savings Time.
They’ll continue to operate, albeit without a self-setting function…thus eventually leading, in the words of Thomas the tank engine’s ubiquitous station master, Sir Topham Hatt, to “confusion and delays.”
And, unfortunately, should the closure occur, there may not even be any public announcement to that effect.
But what does this have to do with us?
These devices are so embedded in our lives here in North America, we scarcely notice them, and many consumers likely assume they’re set by the Internet.
They’re just an overlooked part of our lives that help keep us ticking––quite literally. Until a shutdown happens, we won’t know how many of the millions of devices that we rely upon will be affected. While there may be (arguably lesser) alternatives to this station’s time-setting provision, such as those provided by the Navy and the Internet, we will be without the one we rely upon most for accuracy.
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: