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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, January 31, 2010

In Touch with Time - The Story of Chronohertz Station ATA in India

A few weeks back, international radio monitors in India drew attention by email to the old chronohertz station ATA located in New Delhi, and the question was asked: Is station ATA still on the air? Another email message made request for a Station Profile. So, as a result of these queries, we decided to take another look at this old chronohertz station that was on the air several years ago from a location on the edge of New Delhi in India.

It is true, some recent radio publications still show station ATA on the air. However, we would state at this stage: No, radio station ATA fell silent long ago, and it is not on the air these days; well, not at least the original chronohertz station. Our topic today, is, In Touch with Time.

It was way back more than four thousand years ago that people in the old middle eastern world were measuring time with what we would call today, shadow clocks. That is, as the shadow from a fixed object moved as the sun appeared to move, then an approximate calculation of local time could be gauged.

According to current historians, the first known specific reference to a sun dial, that is, in the old concept of how they were made, is found in the Bible. It is stated that King Hezekiah was familiar with the progress of the day with a sun dial, and that was back around 700 BC. It is probable that his sun dial was actually a part of the palace structure in his capital city.

A QSL card issued by All India Radio in New Delhi back in the 1980s shows a picture of a similar structure known as Jantar Mantar. This structure, located on Parliament Street quite close to the long time headquarters of All India Radio, was constructed by Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur in the year 1724, though some historians had mistakenly given a date a few years earlier.

A cluster of buildings at Jantar Mantar, large and small, was designed in such a way that the time of day, right down to a second, could be accurately measured from the shadow of the sun as it moved across one of the buildings. All of the fourteen geometric structures at this location were designed to accurately predict the movement of planets and stars, as well as to predict eclipses.

However, as time went by, other methods of measuring time more accurately were needed. It was back in the year 1368 that the first public clock was made in England, and it was more than a century later when the first domestic clock was made in Germany. The first watch was made in the year 1510.

In our more recent electronic era, more accurate methods of time keeping are required, and it was in 1937 that the American chronohertz station, WWV in Washington DC, began to broadcast time signals. It was in 1955 that the atomic clock was invented in England.

Now, back to the story of the Indian station ATA. Just one year after the infinitely accurate atomic clock was developed in England, plans were formulated to establish a chronohertz station for India, based on a concept similar to the American station WWV.

Three years later, the new ATA was inaugurated at the National Physical Laboratory on Hillside Road, Kalkaji, New Delhi on February 4, 1959. A Westinghouse transmitter began a temporary experimental service with 2 kW on exactly 10 MHz, using a horizontal dipole antenna at the height of one wavelength.

However, as time would tell, another sixteen years passed by before another transmitter was installed. This was a 5 kW unit that was rated at 10 kW PEP, and this took over the broadcast service on 10 MHz on August 1, 1975. It is probable that this new transmitter that replaced the original 2 kW Westinghouse unit, was made by Marconi in England.

The third transmitter at station ATA, another 5 kW unit, likewise probably made by Marconi in England, was inaugurated almost a year later. The schedule for this transmitter was part time on 5 MHz and part time on 15 MHz.

Back some thirty five years ago, there was a nice co-operation between the old DX program from Adventist World Radio in Asia, Radio Monitors International, and the chronohertz station ATA. Each year in the DX program, ATA Day was conducted to commemorate the service rendered to the radio world by ATA. In addition, a QSL card was designed, and changes and developments at ATA were announced over the air in the AWR DX program.

However, as Jose Jacob, VU2JOS at the National Institute of Amateur Radio in Hyderabad tells us, station ATA left the air some time around the year 2000, due to ailing equipment. The time signal and frequency service was transferred from radio to satellite and the telephone system.

During its more than 40 years of on air service, station ATA utilized just three shortwave transmitters, not four, as previously thought. The original 2 kW Westinghouse unit was on the air from 1959-1975; and the two later units were inaugurated in 1975 and 1976, and withdrawn from service in the year 2000.

Initially, QSL letters and prepared QSL cards were issued during the first era of on air activity from station ATA. Subsequently, just one batch of QSL cards was prepared for ATA usage, and these were in black print on yellow card.

So, even though there has been some conjecture in recent time that chronohertz station ATA may be back on the air again, this is not correct. However, we should remember that the callsign ATA has at times been in use from other stations in India. For example, the callsign ATA has been in use on shortwave by the meteorological station in Delhi with weather information. Then too, the amateur callsign prefix in use for the Indian Antarctic Expedition a while back was also ATA.