Tips to Optimize Atomic Clock Signal Reception

atomic digital clockAtomic clocks, whether digital or analog, offer a host of convenient benefits, including very accurate and precise timing. The vast majority of radio controlled atomic clocks work great. However, several factors can interfere with signal reception and performance, leaving homeowners frustrated and disappointed. In “Tips to Optimize Atomic Clock Signal Reception”, we’ll review what you can do to best avoid atomic clock frustrations and get the most from your clock.


Atomic Clocks: What Makes ‘Em Tick?

Atomic clocks, also referred to as radio-controlled clocks, are quartz clocks with a miniature radio receiver inside. Like an antenna, this tiny receiver is made to synchronize with the national time signal from the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) radio station, WWVB. The radio station is located in Fort Collins, Colorado, approximately 65 miles north of Denver.

Although the time signal is broadcast from the station continuously, most atomic clocks only attempt to read this signal once every 24 hours. A single daily reception of the WWVB signal is enough to keep the accuracy deviation below 1 second.

Atomic clocks typically reset themselves to the national signal between 12 AM and 6 AM each night. The signal strength is strongest at night, due to fewer atmospheric disturbances. Under certain weather conditions or in areas of poor reception, the clock may take several days to receive the signal and set itself to the correct time.


Batteries: The Real Troublemakers?


According to LaCrosse Technology, maker of atomic timepieces, 50% of all atomic clock warranty work is due to inadequate batteries! Here is a quick review to help avoid unnecessary battery issues:


  • always use reputable, name-brand batteries. “Good name brand batteries make less noise, which reduces the chance of radio frequency interference from the battery compartment“–LaCrosse Technology
  • use only alkaline batteries, NOT rechargeable or lithium batteries
  • make sure your batteries are fresh from the package and are dated at least 6 years in advance of the current year
  • test each battery before using it in your clock, even if fresh. Minimum voltage should be 1.48 v for each battery used     
  • make sure batteries are inserted with correct polarity into the battery compartment
  • check batteries several times a year for leakage or corrosion (any blue/green or whitish powder in the battery compartment)

Location, Location, Location

In addition to using superior quality batteries, knowing where to position your atomic clock inside your home is paramount to achieving optimal performance.  Here are a few tips to help you decide where to place the clock in your home:

  • Place the atomic clock on or near an exterior wall with the front or back facing Fort Collins, Colorado
  • Place the clock at least 8 feet from electronic or wireless devices: TVs, VCRs, DVD players, radio equipment, computers, monitors, fax machines, speakers
  • And at least 8 feet from household appliances with electric motors (refrigerators, air conditioners…)
  • If your atomic clock is not syncing on a north-south wall, try moving it to an east-west wall
  • If you have a tabletop clock, try turning it 90 degrees. This turns the internal antenna, which is directional
  • Still not picking up the signal? Place the clock in a window facing Fort Collins, Colorado. Pull back window treatments for optimum reception
  • Keep the clock away from metal surfaces–avoid setting the clock on a metal desk or file cabinet
  • Reduce exposure to the following sources of signal interference as much as possible:

                             metal buildings, roofs, or siding (mobile homes, homes with aluminum siding)

                             concrete walls (basements, cellars)

                             stucco walls (stucco is held to the wall by a metal mesh–place the clock near a window)

                             power lines, high voltage cables, power plants, electrical storms (lightning)

                             tall or large buildings, construction sites

                             transmitting antennas: airports, military bases, emergency dispatch centers, radio or television stations

                             mountains and valleys (vegetation is full of moisture and reduces the signal)


Is the Time on My Clock Correct???

How do you even know if your atomic clock is displaying the proper time? Simply compare it to the NIST web clock at Don’t forget to select your local time zone. Your radio-controlled atomic clock should be within  ± 0.5 sec.


When All Else Fails

What if you’ve tried all these interventions and your atomic clock just won’t pick up the national signal from Colorado? How can you tell if it’s the clock itself, or a source of interference inside your home? The NIST recommends that you take the clock outdoors at night in the dark and remove the batteries. Wait at least 15 minutes, then re-insert the batteries, adhering to the above battery guidelines. This will force the clock to search for the signal. If the atomic clock works outdoors, you can safely assume that there is something inside your home that is blocking the signal. But if it still doesn’t work outdoors in the open, consider it defective. In that case, you’ll want to return the clock and try a different model. Shop Nothin’ But Clocks for great deals on an atomic digital clock and atomic analog clocks, including free shipping on all orders!

For further in-depth reading, refer to the NIST official publication.

What’s been your experience with atomic clock signal reception? Have you had an issue that you resolved successfully? Share it with everyone in the comments below!

Sources: official website; LaCrosse Technology Product Manuals and FAQs