Every minute on the minute, twenty-four hours a day, every day, a chime is heard and an unidentified male voice announces the time. This is the bulk of a day’s programming for radio station WWV, which operates on five radio bands: 2.5, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz. A ticking sound is also heard throughout the day; this sound is an audio version of a clock’s second hand. This audio clock is calibrated to the U.S. government’s atomic clocks so that anyone tuning in to WWV can set their own clocks by the radio broadcast.
WWV is the oldest continuously operated radio station in the United States; it was launched in May 1920. Its operations are a part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the branch of our government that measures things. Until 50 years ago today, the radio station and transmitter were headquartered in Maryland, but at precisely midnight December 1, 1966, WWV switched its broadcast to a new transmitter in Fort Collins, Colorado, a location that every device in America that sets its own time knows intimately. This new location brought the station transmitter so much closer to our nation’s atomic oscillators that its time measurements and announcements were brought ten times closer to true time.
Here is a sample of a broadcast:
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Oscar Wilde died on this date in 1900. He spent the last three years of his life in poverty, in exile, and ill in Paris. “I have lost the joy in writing,” he wrote a correspondent. One of his final one-liners came just before his end. Describing his quarters, he told friends, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go.”
Tiny Tim died 20 years ago today. Kathy Acker died on this date in 1997. Evel Knievel died on this date in 2007.
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Jonathan Swift was born on this date in 1667. Mark Twain was born on this date in 1835. Thomas Edison filmed Twain on the grounds of his estate, Stormfield, near Hartford, Connecticut, in 1909:
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Sir Winston Churchill was born in 1874 on this date. Gordon Parks was born on this date in 1912. Allan Sherman was born on this date in 1924. To the tune of “76 Trombones” from The Music Man, here is Allan Sherman’s song “76 Sol Cohens”:
Richard Crenna was born 90 years ago today. Bill Walsh was born on this date 85 years ago. Abbie Hoffman was born 80 years ago today. Mindy McCready was born on this date in 1975.
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Robert Guillaume is 89 today. G. Gordon Liddy is 86 today. Sir Ridley Scott is 79. Terrence Malick is 73. Dian Parkinson is 72. Radu Lupu is 71 today. Marina Abramović is 70 today. David Mamet is 69 today. Mandy Patinkin is 64. Billy Idol is 61 today. Colin Mochrie is 59. Ben Stiller is 51 today. Kaley Cuoco is 31.
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