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Atomic clock signal station near Fort Collins celebrates 50 years

7:57 PM, Jul 6, 2013   |    comments
(Credit: Fort Collins Coloradoan)
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COLORADOAN - On Friday, the station north of Fort Collins that dictates time to radio-controlled clocks across the nation celebrated its 50th year on the airwaves.

National Institute of Standards and Technology Radio Station WWVB may look simple - a low-slung building and a cluster of antenna-supporting towers. But it broadcasts a signal so powerful to self-setting clocks that it can stop nearby cars from starting.

The signal relays the national atomic clock in Boulder, and twice each year an employee at the station flips a switch that sets clocks across the nation to standard or daylight saving time. The station's signal reaches about 50 million timekeeping devices across the continental U.S., according to a NIST release.

Station Manager Matthew Deutch is one of the men who have flipped the switch over the years since the station's mission evolved from its 1963 roots broadcasting frequencies for satellite and missile programs, according to NIST.

"I feel like it's a real privilege to provide a useful resource to people," Deutch said. " ... We provide the standard time interval, the one-second tick, which is very accurate for relatively low cost. That's our primary mission."

Although the station isn't hosting an official event to commemorate the anniversary, Deutch said workers hosted a tour for area ham radio operators last week.

According to NIST, the station's power level has been boosted from 4 kilowatts when it started to 70 kW today, which allows it to reach deeper into America's corners - Maine and Florida will more easily receive the signal - and reach more products such as microwaves, cars and sprinkler systems, allowing them to keep self-setting, accurate time.

(Copyright © 2013 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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