Old friend Adrian Cronauer, the former Air Force disc jockey portrayed by Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam,” had an obsession with having the correct time.
Adrian, who died earlier this year and now is at the Veterans Cemetery in Dublin, bought a Bulova Accutron battery-powered tuning fork watch in the 1960s and liked to show its accuracy off to others — the Accutron’s accuracy was plus or minus two seconds a day.
At a gathering at my apartment, he called the local time and temperature number and held up the phone, on speaker, to show off his Accutron.
But something happened because the time tone beeped the start of a minute seven seconds ahead of his watch.
He screamed into the phone: “Seven seconds!” and remained unhappy for the rest of the evening.
The next morning, he took the watch to Fink’s Jewelry in Roanoke, where he purchased it, and demanded they send it to Bulova for repair. When the watchmaker at Fink’s called the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Time Clock number in Boulder, Colorado, it reported his watch time as accurate to the second.
Then the store called the Roanoke time number and the watch was seven seconds off.
I called the folks who provided the time and temperature report and they acknowledged their electronic connection to the NBS service in Colorado was out and they were waiting for repair. Their clock was wrong.
We had a good laugh about it and I wrote about the situation in my column for the Times and added a suggestion that the local time service might want to pick up the phone and call the NBS clock service each day until repair of the connection.
“You were the only person to call about the difference in time,” they replied. “Most people don’t care about time to the exact second.”
No so, claim some 70 “time laboratories” around the world that base their timings on the “averages” of 400 atomic powered time clocks around the world. In America, NIST controls Official U.S. time through NIST-F1 Cesium Fountain Atomic Clock in Boulder, Colorado.
Notes their website:
NIST-F1, the nation’s primary time and frequency standard, is a cesium fountain atomic clock developed at the NIST laboratories in Boulder, Colorado. NIST-F1 contributes to the international group of atomic clocks that define Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the official world time. Because NIST-F1 is among the most accurate clocks in the world, it makes UTC more accurate than ever before.
UTC time is also often called Greenwich Mean Time. One of those time measuring clocks found at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London. I had the honor of visiting the Observatory and watching the clock in operation during a trip for House Committee of Science and Technology for Congress in the last 1980s.
Like my friend Adrian, I’d fascinated with time. I started setting my Tissot chronograph to the exact time each morning by calling the NIST number, when it called the National Bureau of Standards, and reset my watch. The Tissot’s mechanical movement kept the watch within 10 seconds a day.
Now, I use a Citizen Eco-Drive quartz chronograph with radio capability so that it contacts the NIST service at 2 a.m. each morning to make any corrections. I also have a Boluva “precisionist” chrono that uses a faster quartz chrytal that is supposed to keep time acccurately to within 10 seconds a year in addition to a computer connection to NIST to let me correct my older mechanical watches.
Why bother? Good question. Around these parts, we “run of Floyd Time.”