Chances Are WWV/WWVB/WWVH Are Going Away. Here’s Why You Have No Right To Complain

Though this is more radio related, I try to keep anything remotely political off the ham blog. The personal blog is for stuff like this…where I’ll probably go political. You are hereby warned.

First of all, what are WWV, WWVB, and WWVH. Simply put, they are radio stations that broadcast the time. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they broadcast ticks that count the seconds, voice announcements that tell you the time, tones to mark the time, and digital time-code that some devices can use to obtain the time. But the special thing about the time they broadcast is that it’s “Coordinated Universal Time”. All the atomic clocks in the world are sync’d to coordinated universal time; it’s part of the reason our time-zones only really differ by hours. Five minutes past the hour in the US is going to be five minutes past the hour in just about every other part of the world…and these are all kept sync’d up. But most of you probably have never heard these because they’re broadcast on shortwave radio; a part of the spectrum that allows international broadcasts due to ionospheric propagation. The really neat thing, at least to radio enthusiasts; is that not only is the source of time generated by an atomic clock, but the station’s carrier frequencies are derived by the atomic clock. This means the carrier is extremely stable and guaranteed to be right on it’s preset frequency. So when I set my radio to pick up WWV on 10MHz out of Colorado….I know it’s carrier is exactly on 10MHz to such a strong degree that I can actually calibrate my radio to this reference frequency.

But there is one of these stations many of you probably use and don’t realize, that would be WWVB. This isn’t a shortwave broadcast, it’s what’s known as a longwave transmission. With longwave, these signals are so low in frequency that they don’t have to bounce off the ionosphere to get any distance…they can literally follow the curve of the earth. WWVB doesn’t broadcast any voice…the frequency is so low it can’t support it. In fact, all this 60khz station does is transmit a time-code that allows devices to set themselves. Got a clock in your house that sets itself and says “atomic clock” on it? This is what it’s using. Once a day, usually in the middle of the night, it listens to the 60khz WWVB signal to obtain the current time, adjusting itself to match.

 

So here is the problem. It costs money to run these stations, about $7million a year. They are run as a public service to not just the citizens of the US but the world. While Canada has it’s own time station, their coverage has been drastically reduced leaving most of western Canada to rely on US WWV. They’ve been an American institution for almost 100 years…originally going on the air in 1919. But that is about to change because NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has put these three stations on the chopping block for it’s 2019 budget. So what happens if they go off the air? For most people, sadly; nothing. It won’t affect them. Your fancy auto-setting clock won’t work anymore. Seriously, they will no longer be able to set themselves and will revert to a traditional clock you have to set by hand.

But let’s pretend you’re angry. “How dare they take away my auto-setting clock. I’m a lazy bastard who wants his clock to set himself. How can they just disable millions of devices like that? In fact they can’t do that.”

Yes, they can; and probably will.

NIST isn’t getting as much money as they were…their budget is proposed to be slashed severely. Something has to go. Thanks to the prelevance of things like GPS and phones; many deem the time signal “unnecessary”. It’s true, GPS can give you almost as accurate a time signal as WWVB, and a lot faster; it takes a minute for WWVB to broadcast a full time-code; GPS obtains an accurate stream of time as soon as it has a lock. Furthermore, most of your cellphones are using “network time”, which is provided by either a GPS stream or the internet. So, to most people, there’s no reason to have them.

The reality is the time on your cell phone isn’t free….you have to pay for cell phone service. While the GPS signals are “free”, you need a special receiver for them. That receiver is nowhere near as cheap as what was used for WWVB. There’s also the fact that GPS can, in fact, be spoofed; meaning if everything is relying on GPS time….someone wishing to really screw with things could just spoof enough GPS signals to make something drastically change time. This could reak havoc on our electrical grid and other services. It also means your $15 “atomic clock” wall clock will have to be updated and probably cost closer to $75…and probably won’t actually work inside most of your house due to the fact the gigahertz signals from the GPS satellites won’t penetrate your roof very well.

However, those in the radio community are really up in arms about this…many of us use WWV or WWVH for various purposes. Some of us use them to test radios or propagation, some use them to actually manually set watches or clocks, some use them because they may be out in a remote area with no sense of time, and quite a large number of radio enthusiasts use those super-steady and super-accurate carrier frequencies to calibrate radios. Those of us on the eastern side of the country will have to rely on Canada’s CHU as a replacement; those on the western side of the country; they get nothing.

In fact the US will be one of the only “super-powers” to no longer be broadcasting time. Canada, the UK, Russia, and Japan still have theirs.

But what gets me are the people who are yelling the loudest about this are usually partially responsible for this happening in the first place. Here’s where we get political; because if you voted for Trump…you have ZERO right to complain. This is exactly what you wanted…a conservative government who cuts all the fat…then again…it has to be trimmed to pay for a fucking useless tax cut that doesn’t benefit anyone but the super rich. You’re making petitions…which is silly because MANY of you thought the whole WH.gov petition stuff was stupid…and you were glad when Trump initially cut the program. What makes you think he’s going to pay attention now? They won’t. I don’t think they’ve even issued any responses to any petitions currently on the site. You voted for someone to lower rich people’s taxes and “make America great again” by destroying everything that made it great. The cost of products are going up due to tariffs…which doesn’t help the American people one bit. I’ve seen ZERO jobs created in this country due to it….it’s not like factories are going to get going overnight. We have to spend $12b to bail out the farmers harmed by the knee-jerk tariffs.

Face it…the government doesn’t want to pay for WWV or the other sister stations. With this strong idea of nationalism sweeping this country…why the hell should they pay for something the rest of the world benefits from? Why should they care that your clock becomes useless? Think of how you’ll help the economy (and those businesses) when you have to buy a new GPS powered clock at 3x the price that probably won’t work. We also don’t have the money anymore. Between a massive tax-cut for the rich and the fact we spend more on our military than the next six countries COMBINED…where is the funding going to come from?

I mean, it’s great you people are getting up in arms about it…but let’s be frank; if you voted for Trump, this is what you want. This is what you voted for. You voted for less of your tax dollars going toward anything “good” so it can be redirected toward the military and tax-cuts for the super-wealthy. It’s actually very hypocritical. You didn’t want to pay taxes, you don’t want your government paying for anything…but you want WWV to stay on.

That’s not going to happen. When your dictator-in-chief is focusing all the funds on the military and trying to build some fucking wall….this is the stuff that goes away.

But don’t worry…there will be LOTS of places happy to sell you things like ribidium standards and GPS disicplined oscillators for your frequency standard needs. In fact, those people are probably secretly supporting the loss of these stations just so they can start raping the radio enthusiasts of money. Ribidum standards used to be quite cheap on eBay….now with the news of WWV’s impending shut down…the prices have skyrocketed.

So…if you voted for Trump; you need to stop being such a fucking hypocrite and support the shutdown. It’s what you wanted, it’s what you voted for…just because you are too ignorant to realize it. The truth is…those in the government don’t see them as necessary. They don’t care about clocks, they don’t care about how you’ll calibrate your radios. There are other ways of doing it, and it doesn’t matter how much it’s going to cost YOU after being free for so many years. If anything, reliance on WWV is relying on the government for something. You conservatives hate that shit…I know you do. It’s all you talk about.

So just shut the fuck up. Let those of us who actually didn’t want cheeto-loompa in power raise our pitch-forks. You surrendered all your rights to complain when you voted for turd in 2016. In fact all I want to hear from Trump supporters on the subject of WWV is how you just spent a bunch of money on something to replace it. In my opinion…that’s the only right you’ve got.