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Power Doubling For WWVB Could Help Keep You On Time In 1998

For everyone who made a New Year's resolution to be more on time for meetings and events in 1998, there's good news from the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.

WWVB, the low-frequency standard time and frequency radio station operated by NIST's Time and Frequency Division, has doubled its broadcasting power to 23 kilowatts, increasing the range of the extremely accurate time signal that can be used to automatically set the correct time in clocks, watches, VCRs, cars and electronic gear of all kinds.

Controlled by the NIST atomic clock in Boulder, Colo., WWVB had previously operated at 10 kilowatts for more than three decades. WWVB transmits its time signal on a frequency of 60 kilohertz from a site near Fort Collins, Colo. It is not audible and requires special receivers to decode.

Among the signal's users are a wide variety of electronics manufacturers, telecommunications systems, and power generating and transmitting companies, as well as a growing number of private citizens who own radio-controlled clocks and watches.

The power upgrade improves WWVB's signal strength over the entire continental United States. This permits the use of less expensive receivers and antennas. Even radio-controlled wristwatches can now maintain accurate time. And now, manufacturers of various appliances, instrumentation and electronic devices can consider installing miniature receiver-clocks in their products.

And the news gets even better.

Over the next year, a second high-powered transmitter and antenna will be brought online to double WWVB's total power once again (to between 40 and 50 kilowatts) and provide additional reliability. When both transmitters and antennas are in operation, they can operate at less than maximum rated power. This greatly extends their life and reduces the chances of outages due to equipment failure.

The current WWVB upgrade made use of spare radio transmitters and other components provided by the U.S. Navy. This project was completed at a great savings to the taxpayer compared to buying new equipment. As part of the upgrade, the old WWVB antennas were thoroughly reconditioned, including the replacement of old insulators, worn transmission lines and aged tuning coils.

As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.

Released January 5, 1998, Updated November 27, 2017