The WWV story starts shortly after radio experimentation began, and also very soon after the U.S. Congress completed a mandate of the U.S. Constitution and established the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in 1901.
The celebration this fall will recognize the issuance of call sign WWV on October 1, 1919 to the NBS, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST.
There are numerous sites which can give a more thorough and detailed history of radio station WWV than we can put together here.
NIST intends to publish a paper, preliminarily titled "A Century of WWV: 100th Anniversary Commemoration" by WWV Electronics Technician Glenn Nelson, AE0GF, just in time for the 100th celebration. We will link to the official NIST release of the paper when it becomes available.
The following timeline was gleaned from Glenn Nelson's paper.
A brief WWV history . . .
1901 – Congress establishes the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), the first national physical laboratory.
1905 – First documented radio research by Dr. Louis Austin for the NBS.
1908 – US Navy, US Army Signal Corps set up research laboratories at NBS.
1912 – Radio Act of 1912, US Dept of Commerce licenses all radio stations, including amateur. NBS is tasked with setting standards to aid enforcement of frequencies.
1913 – Creation of the Radio Laboratory Section of the Electricity Division of NBS.
1917 – World War One brings about shutting down or taking over all privately-owned amateur equipment and commercial stations; the public is banned from using receivers. Only government and military stations may operate. NBS, Army, Navy conduct joint research.
1919, February 26 – Washington Times article about an early radio broadcast demonstration at NBS of broadcasting music from a Victrola several hundred yards to an audience filled auditorium.
1919, October 1 – Callsign WWV is assigned by the US Dept of Commerce to the National Bureau of Standards Radio Laboratory. Wartime ban on private amateur radio stations lifted.
1920, February – Startled amateurs pick up audio broadcasts from NBS (CW was pretty much it at the time!).
1920, May – Friday evening “experimental concerts” thought to be the first scheduled broadcast to a wide audience from WWV.
1920, November 2 – KDKA, Pittsburgh, considered first commercial radio station, broadcasts election results.
1920 December – 1921 April – US Agriculture market report broadcasts.
1920-1923 – Experimental broadcasts, collaboration with ARRL and amateurs for propagation tests, research and development of the quartz crystal oscillator.
1923, March 6 – WWV broadcasts frequency standards for the first time.
1926 – NBS considers doing away with WWV due to increasing use of crystal oscillators. Public outcry from institutions and amateurs helped convince the NBS to maintain WWV.
1927 – Quartz crystal oscillators first used to control WWV frequency.
1929 – WWV 100 kHz quartz crystal oscillator frequency standard accurate to 1 part in 107.
1931, January – WWV moved to College Park, Maryland.
1932, December– WWV moved to Beltsville, Maryland.
1934, April – 30 kW on 5 MHz.
1935, February – 20 kW on 10 MHz and 15 MHz.
1936, August – 440 Hz tone added at the request of several music organizations.
1940, November 6 – Fire destroys WWV facilities, but frequency standards survive.
1940, November 11 – WWV back on the air with 1 kW on 5 MHz.
1943, January – Major upgrades and new WWV building in Beltsville, Md.
1944-45 – Begins time transmissions and references in morse code.
1946 – Propagation condition broadcasts.
1948, November 22 – WWVH begins broadcasting from Maui, Hawaii.
1950 – Voice time of day announcements added.
1954 – NBS Boulder, CO laboratory opens, National Frequency Standard moved there.
1956 – KK2XEI, precursor to WWVB, goes on the air from Boulder on 60 kHz with frequency controlled by a Cesium standard.
1960 – WWVL begins 20 kHz broadcast near Boulder.
1960 – Time code added to WWV broadcasts advances self-setting radio-controlled clocks.
1963 – WWVB and WWVL broadcasts moved to site north of Fort Collins, CO.
1966 – WWV moved from Maryland to same site north of Fort Collins, CO.
1967 – Frequency and Time Division of NBS formed in Boulder. International agreement establishes the definition of a second as 9,192,631,770 energy transitions of a cesium atom.
1971 – Familiar format of WWV introduced.
1972 – WWVL retired.
1972 – First Leap Second added to the end of June 30.
1988 – NBS becomes the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
2000 to present – NIST WWVB enhancements with phase-modulated time code, wide-spread commercial automated clocks, internal upgrades to WWV transmitters, NIST-F1, NIST-F2, and much more.
2017, 2018 - Time broadcasts are considered for closure. Public outcry from private and commercial interests is strong; ultimately funding approved, most recently after the end of the government furlough in January 2019.
2019, October 1 – WWV, the oldest continuously operating radio station in the world, licensed for 100 years. Special event station WW0WWV commemorates this event for the amateur community.
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We have started releasing various bits of WWV history and images on Throwback Thursday postings on Facebook (@WWV100) and Twitter (@WWV_100). Please check them out and like us on social media!
In the mean time, an excellent on-line overview history of WWV is available on the web: https://www.nist.gov/pml/nbsnist-radio-stations-story-old-timer
and as a video cast : https://www.nist.gov/video/nist-colloquium-nbsnist-radio-stations-story-old-timer