FORT COLLINS - A few miles north of Fort Collins there's an antenna broadcasting a signal so powerful it can stop nearby cars from starting.
But that signal has an important purpose: it's the broadcast of the national atomic clock in Boulder and it literally sets the time for our daily lives.
And on Saturday afternoon, one of the employees at the broadcast site flipped a switch - the switch - to tell radio-controlled clocks across the country that daylight-saving time time had begun.
"They have for decades come in here and flipped that switch," said Matthew Deutch, the station manager at WWVB, the formal name of the atomic-radio broadcast station.
The station is run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and occupies several hundred acres north of Fort Collins. The two antenna arrays broadcasting the signal can be seen at night, their red warning lights blinking high above the ground. The signal generated by the atomic clock and pumped out by the two antennas reaches virtually the entire country due to the power generated by Navy surplus transmission equipment once used to reach submarines at sea.
Deutch says the transmitter site was chosen in part because it's centrally located in the country and in part because the ground in the area makes the transmissions especially effective. He says workers at the site have realized that newer cars won't start if parked beneath the antenna, because the radiation it's emitting messes with their delicate electronic ignition systems.
Deutch has worked for WWVB for decades, and says the novelty of personally flipping the switch at 5 p.m. (that's midnight in Greenwich Mean Time) eventually wore off. More interesting, he says, is getting to add time to the nation's clocks every so often, when he helps adjust the timepieces to match the Earth's rotation.
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