Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – September 2018 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Scott – N8SY and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

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Now without further ado…

Read the full edition at: http://arrl-ohio.org/news/2018/OSJ-Sep-18.pdf

Jeff Kopcak – TC

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

Most hams and shortwave listeners know what the letters WWV mean. They are the call letters for the station that broadcasts the time, all the time. If you’ve never listened because you don’t have an HF radio or shortwave receiver, WWV is a shortwave radio station near Fort Collins, Colorado run by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and

WWV transmitter building (nist.gov)

Technology (NIST). WWV is the oldest continuously-operating radio station in the United States. It transmits time signals and bulletins in voice and digital formats on 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz AM 24/7/365.

The time and transmitted frequency of WWV is controlled by atomic clocks which are the most accurate standards due to the use of atoms as a time keeping element. Not only is the time broadcast by WWV the most accurate but the frequency of the transmitters is also the most accurate. WWVH is the Hawaiian sister station to WWV. WWVB is co-located with WWV but broadcasts a constant time code for radio-controlled clocks on 60 kHz. This is the frequency clocks that automatically set themselves listen to. Both WWV and WWVH announce Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) each minute and broadcast other recorded announcements including GPS health reports, oceanic weather warnings, and solar activity bulletins.

Cesium atomic clocks (nist.gov)

Whether you use these stations to calibrate equipment and instrumentation, calibrate ham radio digital software and hardware (Slow Scan TV or Fldigi), listen to bulletins, or use it as a beacon to check propagation, all of that is likely to end. NIST has proposed shutting down, by way of defunding, the WWV stations in their 2019 budget proposal. This means the 2011 NIST estimation of 50 million radio-controlled clocks and wristwatches equipped to receive WWVB will become obsolete. Not to mention it is an instrumental part in the telecommunications field and in scientific research. At first, WWVB was not listed in initial stories which made sense. Continuing to operate it would not obsolete radio-controlled clocks. But it too started to appear in later news stores.

In the ARRL report, the reason given for defunding these broadcast stations would be to “consolidate and focus” on other programs due to reductions in NIST funding. Taking the WWV stations off the air would save $6.3 million. The NIST FY (fiscal year) 2019 budget request for efforts related to Fundamental Measurement, Quantum Science and Measurement Dissemination is $127 million, which, the agency said, is a net decrease of $49 million from FY 2018. The administration’s overall NIST budget request is more than $629 million.

While I was distraught as I think most hams were, it gets more ridiculous when I started to break this down. Most people don’t understand huge numbers like millions, billions, and trillions of dollars because we’ll never see those numbers in our lifetimes and they’re just unrealistic. Let’s convert these figures into numbers most of us do understand. For comparison, I’m adding the published 2017 U.S. federal budget numbers: actual total revenue was $3.316 trillion and actual expenditures were $3.982 trillion. Breakdown is as follows:

15 Mhz WWV transmitter (nist.gov)
  • 2017 U.S. budget total revenue: $3,316,000
  • 2017 U.S. budget total expenditures: $3,982,000
  • NIST 2019 proposed budget: greater than $629
  • NIST 2019 proposed fundamental measurement budget: $127, which was reduced by $49
  • Shutting down the WWV stations saves: $6.30

A whopping $6.30! $6.3 million is almost 1% of the total proposed 2019 NIST budget or 0.00016% (rounded) of 2017 total expenditures. Yeah, it’s a HUGE burden!

I got pretty upset and there was noted concern over the shutdown proposal, especially amongst hams as would be expected since we utilize the service probably more than others. I figured everyone wouldn’t want their wall clocks to stop setting the time automatically. However, reality set in as the petition started at whitehouse.gov didn’t gain much traction. As of this writing, with less than 3 days before it closed, it gained a little less than 19% of the needed signatures for the White House to respond. Note: OSJ publication date will be after the petition closes.

What happens next? I haven’t heard if the dial-in phone numbers for WWV will be shut down or remain accessible: (303) 499-7111 for WWV (Colorado), and (808) 335-4363 for WWVH (Hawaii). Phone systems are converting to data services (VoIP) and there will be slight delays due to network switching, latency, and loss. If the phone numbers remain available, it will be better than nothing.

Canada has a similar time standard called CHU on 3.330 MHz & 14.670 MHz at 3 kW and 7.850 MHz at 10 kW. The 3 MHz station was strong into NE Ohio on one Thursday night as I’m writing this article. I’m also making the big assumption CHU will remain on the air. CHU broadcasts are AM with the lower side-band suppressed. Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t have the equivalent of WWVB and they relied on the U.S. for their radio-controlled clocks. Go U.S.! In other parts of the world, radio-controlled clocks rely on MSF in England and JJY in Japan.

Radio-controlled clocks will switch to some sort of other technology, likely GPS, listen for a cellular signal, or piggyback on WiFi. Radio-controlled clocks I’ve used set themselves in the middle of the night at about 3AM. Figuring most electronic noise emitting devices (like computers) would be off and longwave reception is better at night. GPS will reduce clock setup by one step. You won’t have to tell the clock in which time zone it is located. Ooohhh, yeah – that was so much work! I’m skeptical about using GPS. Any time I bring my car GPS into the house, it “lost satellite reception.” Being internal to a steel building (like an office), I do not see how this works at all without bringing the clock to the window to resync. More skepticism comes in the form of a question: what happens when the U.S. developed GPS system is unavailable? It could be unavailable because of solar flares, software bug, or an act of a nation-state. If you haven’t seen Dr. Tamitha Skov – WX6SWW’s solar reports, GPS is significantly affected by solar flares just like our HF bands, but in different ways. There are commercially available car navigation devices and smartphones that are capable of receiving both U.S. GPS and Russian GLONASS. Consider other parts of the world are developing their own global navigation systems and not relying on one single system, Europe: Galileo & China: BDS.

Computers and other Internet connected devices are not affected by the WWV shutdown. They utilize the Network Time Protocol (NTP) from publicly available time servers for syncing time.

I hope the best for WWV, WWVH, and WWVB. Maybe a private entity will buy out and continue to operate the stations. Nothing is looking too good without outrage from the public or more support than the few that signed the online petition. I’m getting tired of forced obsolescence.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK