Tag Archives: WWVB Closure

Synchronizing “atomic” clock’s final tock? Time may no longer be synchronous

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.

Here’s the issue: WWVB, the atomic clock time signal station that synchronizes time devices, may be shut down next year if a presidential budget request passes as proposed.

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.

Per the NIST:

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.[…]

Regular readers of the SWLing Post are already aware that the NIST Fiscal Year 2019 Presidential Budget Request includes a call to shutdown WWVB and two shortwave radio NIST time stations, WWV and WWVH.

What happens if WWVB is shut down?

This budget was not approved by Sir Topham Hatt!

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.

The bottom line…

Something that belongs to all of us, and that we all rely upon to help us keep accurate time, may soon be taken away.  If you feel strongly about keeping the atomic clock signal on the air, I urge you to contact your local representatives,and sign this White House petition.

Otherwise? Time will tell. Or not, as the case may be.

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Information from the NIST regarding possible closure WWV radio stations

WWV’s transmitter building in Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

Regarding the NIST FY2019 budget which includes a request to shutdown WWV, WWVH, and WWVB, many of you have been asking if there has been an update.

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 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 the radio stations is proposed: http://www.osec.doc.gov/bmi/budget/FY19CBJ/NIST_and_NTIS_FY2019_President’s_Budget_for_508_comp.pdf. see page NIST-25.

[…]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.”

[…]Here is a link to the NIST Budget Table for the FY2019 Presidential Request.

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:

House

Senate

Hope this information is helpful.

Many readers have been asking if all NIST stations are included in these cuts–the answer is yes.

If this budget passes as written, WWV, WWVH, and WWVB will all be closed.

If you value these NIST time stations, I would encourage you to contact your local representatives, and sign this White House petition.

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Lennart’s WWVH 5 MHz QSL and a quick NIST update

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Lennart Weirell, who writes:

I saw the recent posting of a QSL card from WWV. Here is my QSL card from WWVH,
Hawaii 5 MHz from 2006 [above].

Thanks for sharing this excellent QSL, Lennart!

Update on shutdown of WWV, WWVH and WWVB

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

Post Readers: please keep in mind that the NIST 2019 Presidential Budget request includes a desired reduction of, “$6.3 million supporting fundamental measurement dissemination, including the shutdown of NIST radio stations in Colorado and Hawaii.“

This would equate to the closure of WWV, WWVH and WWVB. 

Unless enough people protest this budget proposal, these sites will be closed.

If you value these services, I would encourage you to contact your local representatives, and sign this White House petition.

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