Buy or receive a new digital weather station or clock radio recently, and not have to set the time? If so, we in the continental U.S. can thank Fort Collins-based WWVB, those blinking red light on the northeast horizon, for that atomically precise service. Today Dave Stewart will introduce Douglas Sutton, Engineering Tech for NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Radio Stations WWV and WWVB, who will calibrate us all on this amazing but little known resource in our back yard...


WWVB is best known today for broadcasting time calibrated by the NIST-F1 cesium fountain atomic clock to an estimated 50 million radio-controlled clock radios, wall clocks, wristwatches and other timekeeping devices across the U.S. mainland. This year WWVB is celebrating its 50th year. But back in 1963, the station had an entirely different audience, broadcasting standard frequencies at the high accuracy needed by satellite and missile programs. The time signal, added two years later, then became a popular means of synchronizing power plants to prevent brownouts, and coordinating analog telephone networks.

Enhanced technology now allows any time-controlled device, such as refrigerators, microwave ovens, thermostats, motor vehicles, traffic light timers and lawn sprinkler systems to receive atomic time over the airwaves.

WWVB was not NIST's first foray into radio. This year marks the 91st anniversary of NIST's high-frequency radio station WWV, which shares the Fort Collins site. WWV began experimental broadcasts in Washington, D.C., in 1920, and continuous operations in 1923. The signal moved to Fort Collins in 1966.

Douglas Sutton grew up in Nebraska, and came to Colorado to “pursue his dreams and play in the snow”. He earned a Computer Digital Electronics degree at Red Rocks Community College before joining the NIST’s Microwave Metrology group in 1990. He earned his Electronics Engineering degree at CSU, before transferring to NOAA’s Space Forecast Center. In 1995 he returned to NIST’s Time and Frequency group to work for Radio Station WWV & WWVB. Sutton and his wife, “the girl of his dreams”, have two girls.