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Friday, August 31, 2018

Legendary time and frequency stations may close

"At the tone, 18 hours 37 minutes, coordinated universal time...BEEP, tick, tick, tick, tick...."

American shortwave stations WWV and WWVH could go dark next year, due to budget cuts by their parent agency, the National Institute of Standards. Needless to say, this is bad news for anyone who uses shortwave radio or has dabbled in the radio hobby over the past 50 years or more.
WWV and WWVH transmit the exact time of day and solar flux information from sites in Fort Collins, Colorado and Kauai, Hawaii (WWVH). They are excellent propagation beacons because of their frequencies: 2.5, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 MHz (this last one from WWV only). Each is a harmonic or sub-harmonic of the original 5 MHz broadcast that began in the 1930s while WWV was located in Beltsville, Maryland.
My QSL card from WWV in Colorado.
 In its budget that would begin next July, NIST wants to reduce spending by about $49 million, including savings of $6.3 million by phasing out the shortwave stations and focusing on other work in physics and science.
What is equally bad - or worse - this would also eliminate WWVB, NIST’s 60 KHz low frequency station that synchronizes radio-controlled (so-called “atomic”) clocks from a 70 KW transmitter also in Colorado. On the air since 1963, WWVB uses an embedded binary code that has nationwide coverage during hours of darkness, when longwave radio reaches the farthest.
A whole industry of self-setting watches, clocks and consumer devices has grown up around WWVB. I own several portable clocks that use the WWVB signal and receive it without a problem each night in Connecticut - 1650 miles from Fort Collins.
In 2009, NIST released a guidebook on WWVB time-synced devices, which contains maps and technical details of the system and the amazing coverage of VLF radio.
While WWV and WWVB spent their first decades in Maryland, they moved to Colorado in the 1960s, when the U.S. government sprang for a 390 acre antenna site near the Boulder scientific laboratories, which later became the National Institute of Standards.
WWVH went on the air in 1948, while Hawaii was still a U.S territory. Voice announcements were added in 1964, on the same frequencies as the mainland stations. Due to weather and beach erosion, WWVH moved to its present location in 1971.
WWVB antenna field.
Photo courtesy of
How can listeners tell which station they are receiving since the frequencies are identical? WWV has a male announcer, while WWVH has a female. I find there are times of the day and year when both stations come in at the same time on the same frequency. Neat thing is, the announcers don’t overlap – the WWVH female announcement is slightly ahead the male on WWV.
The ham radio community has launched a petition drive to preserve WWV, WWVH and WWVB, and it has the full endorsement of the ARRL.

Few people may realize that WWV went on the air in its testing stages in May, 1920 - a full six months before American's first broadcast station, KDKA in Pittsburgh. WWV is a proud part of our American heritage and a useful radio utility, so let's fight to keep it alive.

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