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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 N499, September 16, 2018

In Touch with Time: Possible Closure of Chronohertz Stations WWV & WWVH

In recent time, the internet has been buzzing with the undesirable news that the two American chronohertz stations, WWV (including WWVB) in Fort Collins, Colorado and WWVH at Kekaha on the island of Kauai in Hawaii are likely to be closed sometime next year. Even though a total of 22 chronohertz stations are still on the air today in 15 different countries around the world, yet both WWV and WWVH are looked upon internationally as the senior partners among all of these many time signal stations.

Multitudes of people around the world have responded to the suggested closure of these two important shortwave stations, deploring the fact that they may disappear altogether from their allotted and so easily found frequencies that encompass much of the usable shortwave spectrum. The reason for their suggested closure is depleted budgeting, which would enable, it is said, the NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to focus their endeavors on other areas of developmental activity.

Although an accurate time standard is seen as the main function of the shortwave transmissions from the twin NIST stations in Colorado and Hawaii, yet they are also useful for other significant purposes as well. Among all of the usages for these shortwave (and longwave) transmissions, we could list the following:

We quote the following historical information about the chronohertz stations WWV and WWVB from the NIST entry on Wikipedia:

"WWV is the oldest continuously-operating radio station in the United States, first going on the air from Washington, D.C. in May 1920, approximately six months before the launch of the famous KDKA. The station initially broadcast Friday evening concerts on 600 kHz, and its signal could be heard 40 kilometers (25 mi) from Washington. On December 15, 1920, WWV began broadcasting on 750 kHz, distributing Morse code news reports from the Department of Agriculture. This signal could be heard up to 300 kilometers (190 mi) from Washington. These news broadcasts ended though on April 15, 1921.

At the end of 1922, WWV's purpose shifted from program broadcasting to the broadcast of standard frequency signals. These signals were desperately needed by other broadcasters, because equipment limitations at the time meant that the broadcasters could not stay on their assigned frequencies. Testing began on January 29, 1923, and frequencies from 200 to 545 kHz were broadcast. Frequency broadcasts officially began on March 6, 1923. The frequencies were accurate to "better than three-tenths of one percent." At first, the transmitter had to be manually switched from one frequency to the next, using a wavemeter. The first quartz resonators (that stabilized the frequency generating oscillators) were invented in the mid-1920s, and they greatly improved the accuracy of the WWV frequency broadcasts.

In 1926, WWV was nearly shut down. Its signal could only cover the eastern half of the United States, and other stations located in Minneapolis and at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were slowly making WWV redundant. The station's impending shutdown was announced in 1926, but it was saved by a flood of protests from citizens who relied on the service. Later, in 1931, WWV underwent an upgrade. Its transmitter, now directly controlled by a quartz oscillator, was moved to College Park, Maryland. Broadcasts began on 5 MHz. A year later, the station was moved again, this time to Department of Agriculture land in Beltsville, Maryland. Broadcasts were added on 10 and 15 MHz, power was increased, and time signals, an A440 tone, and ionospheric reports were all added to the broadcast in June 1937.

WWV was nearly destroyed by a fire on November 6, 1940. The frequency and transmitting equipment was recovered, and the station was back on the air (with reduced power) five days later on November 11. Congress funded a new station in July 1941, and it was built 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of the former location, still referred to as Beltsville (although in 1961 the name used for the transmitter location was changed to Greenbelt, Maryland). WWV resumed normal broadcasts on 2.5, 5, 10, and 15 MHz on August 1, 1943.

WWV moved to its present location near Fort Collins on December 1, 1966, enabling better reception of its signal throughout the continental United States. WWVB had signed on in that location three years earlier. In April 1967, WWV stopped using the local time of the transmitter site (Eastern Time until 1966, and Mountain Time afterwards) and switched to broadcasting Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. The station switched again, to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), in 1974."

More about these chronohertz stations next time.