Atomic Time

My friend Jonathan asked if it is true that the atomic time signal out of Colorado will shut down next year. I replied that I had only heard rumors to that effect, but couldn’t say for certain.

Jonathan, like me, is obsessed with precise time. Both of us own several wall clocks that use the time signals from WWVB to synchronize with the nation’s atomic clocks. Furthermore they coordinate changes from standard to daylight savings time so enabled clocks switch automatically.

As a side note, Jonathan and I have matching Casio “G-Shock” wristwatches that use the WWVB signals to provide the exact time. When the lower right pusher is pressed, the time of the latest update is displayed. I just checked mine. The last update happened this morning at 12:04.

My friend and I found the story about the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST. It turns out that the Trump administration is eager to shutter not only the two shortwave stations that broadcast audio time announcements, WWV and WWVH, but wants to close down WWVB, the special signal that our clocks and watches receive.

The decision is the result of politics, of course. The administration is cutting corners in order to justify the fiduciary payout that was promised to billionaires. The closing down of WWVB, WWV, and WWVH will not only inconvenience Americans, but will be a slap in the face of the world’s longest continuously broadcasting radio station–WWV. It will have been on the air 100-years next October.

My introduction to shortwave broadcasting began when my father gave me a Radio Shack “Time Cube” that picked up either the signal from WWV out of Colorado, or WWVH out of Hawaii.

If you have a shortwave radio receiver, you can hear continuous time and frequency updates on WWV at 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz. WWVH broadcasts from Hawaii to the Pacific area at the same frequencies.

Although many people are unaware of WWV and WWVH, millions of Americans do receive signals from WWVB. You might own a radio controlled  “atomic” clock, clock radio, or watch that syncs with WWVB. The time-sync signals are utilized by consumers and industry. There are other applications that also utilize the signals like some appliances, cameras, and even farm irrigation system controllers.

The shut-down of WWVB would make our atomic clocks, watches and industry devices instantly obsolete just so the government could save $6-million dollars–a drop in the bucket compared to other government expenditures.

As a short-term remedy, some experts have suggested that we can manually set our clocks and watches by looking at our phones or the Internet clocks on our devices. That defeats the idea of having automatic clocks in the first place. This will require us to set the clocks more frequently because the accuracy of clocks has decreased due to reliance upon WWVB and other signals elsewhere in the world.

Other experts recommend that everybody should switch over to GPS clocks. There are at least two problems with that solution. First, GPS signals do not penetrate walls and windows, so there would be the need for some sort of antenna to receive the signals. Second is cost. GPS clocks are expensive to buy. There is also the cost of replacing industry clocks and updating circuitry that now uses WWVB signals.

Insofar as GPS is a satellite communications system, GPS is vulnerable to solar flare-ups. A severe solar storm such as the “Carrington Event” in 1859 could wipe out all satellites. Without the backup of more conventional communications, national security and industry would become crippled.

For the sake of the economy and national security, we should be cautious about depending on GPS and other methods to provide backup and replacement time services. As a consumer who is concerned about my personal budget, buying an expensive new GPS clock and GPS enabled wristwatch are unattractive options. There is also the problem of disposing or recycling the old “atomic” wall clocks that won’t be satisfactory anymore.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Earl Nightingale. “Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Controversy, cultural highlights, Gadgets, Politics, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Atomic Time

  1. Doug says:

    I’ll show them. . If WWV (H)(B) go off the air, I’ll pull out my old rotary phone, dial “0” and ask the operator for the time 🙂 That’ll show ’em! In all seriousness, if we should get hit with an EM pulse, depending on the strength, WWV won’t be on the air anyway. Their transmitter circuits will be fried, just like all the other radio stations around the country. Accurate time won’t mean that much as we will be thrown back to the 1700’s. I wish they’d spend the money to protect our power grid from an EM pulse.

    • swabby429 says:

      Oh yes, I thought about the EM effect, but so many experts have been using the solar flare storm in their arguments. The current regime couldn’t care less about infrastructure as much as pleasing the Kremlin, so I’m not holding my breath. I see ruining NIST as a national infrastructure/security priority for Mr. Putin. That’s just one of my snarky opinions.

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