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Basically, I'm familiar with four different kinds of analog, radio controlled clock movements designed for use in North America. If you're aware of any others, please feel free to let me know about them by dropping me a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Clocks using the U.T.S. radio controlled, analog movement.
Clocks using the "Hechinger" radio controlled, analog movement.
Clocks using the "Atomix" radio controlled, analog movement.
|I must admit to some fondness for the clock you see at the left. It was the very first radio controlled clock I ever purchased. Here, I've placed a standard, U.S. Quarter on the clock to give you an idea of its actual size. The display is rather sraightforward. The time appears in the analog portion, of course. Then, below that, you'll see a digital, LCD display of the date. The date display is a bit confusing to the casual viewer, who may believe it's supposed to show the time. But they'll figure it out eventually. The bottom, right corner of the clock is actually a "reset" button.|
This clock will keep time using its own quartz accuracy throughout the day. Each night it will check itself against the time signal from WWVB (and correct itself, if necessary). These checks occur every hour on the hour starting at 11:00pm and concluding at 5:00am every night. Then, from 5:00am to 11:00pm, the clock once again relies on its own quartz accuracy. If the clock is unable to receive WWVB during a 24-hour period, a small "1" will appear in the LCD display next to the date. If the clock is unable to process information from WWVB during a 48-hour period, a small "2" will appear, and so on. The clock is, essentially, informing you of poor reception and will do so up to 9 days. The small digit will disappear as soon as reception improves during that 11:00pm to 5:00am automatic reception period. If poor reception continues past 9 days, the small "9" will remain and, at that point, you'll certainly want to consider moving the clock to another location.
You may induce WWVB reception manually at any time by pushing the "reset" button. When you do, the hands will again move to the 12:00 position and the clock will behave as if you've just installed a battery. However, if the clock is unable to receive and process information from WWVB, it will simply return to showing the time according to what it thought the time was before you hit reset.
|Here's the back of the clock with the battery cover removed. When you install the battery, the clock will "default" to the Pacific Time Zone. If you press the green button below the battery, you'll scroll to the Mountain Time Zone. Another press will set the clock for the Central Time Zone, etc.|
|Here's a close-up of the LCD display on the wall version of the Mega Clock. The reset button on the wall version is directly below the LCD display.|
|This is the Wall version of the Mega Clock. Again, I've placed a quarter on the clock to give you an idea of its actual size.|
You can find Junghans Mega Clocks at high-end clock shops, at some jewelry stores, in certain mail order catalogs and on the Internet. These models are more costly than radio controlled clocks from other companies, but they are built rock solid! If you like their styles and you're willing to pay a little more, consider these clocks. The Junghans clocks have internal antennas and run on C batteries which should last about 3 years each (The clock will indicate a low battery when the date in the LCD display begins to flash). I've had the mantel version since November 1995 and the wall version since August 1996. Neither has ever given me any trouble.
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The LaCrosse Analog Wall Clock.
|This is one of several models of LaCrosse analog wall clocks (and, again, I've placed a quarter on it). LaCrosse Technology offers them with both wood frames and this, fully plastic version. Just like the Junghans clock, when you install a battery, the clock goes through a series of steps to receive the time data from WWVB and then to set the hands to the correct time. The exact behavior of the clock, however, is slightly different from the Junghans clock.|
|Here's the back of the LaCrosse Technology clock. As you can see, the movement uses one AA battery. According to the instructions, the battery voltage should be at least 1.25 volts, which means you should use alkaline batteries for best results. (In fact, your best bet is to use alkaline batteries in all of these clocks.) Please take note of the manual time setting switch just above the battery and to the left. I'll tell you more about that in a moment.|
|The Time Zone selection couldn't me more simple. Just press the appropriate button (PT for Pacific Time, MT for Mountain Time, etc.) and the clock does the rest. The smaller button, between the CT and ET buttons, is a Daylight Saving Time defeat switch. So if you live in Arizona or other places in the continental U.S. which don't observe Daylight Saving Time, you can select your time zone, press that defeat button for one second and, Presto! You'll get the correct time for your area all the time. Press it again for one second and it will observe DST again. There is only one other analog, radio controlled movement I know about which allows you to choose "atomic" time without Daylight Saving Time.|
The movement of this clock is actually a design from a German company called U.T.S. You may purchase the U.T.S. movement separately and customize your own clock too. The only company I'm aware of which sells this U.T.S. movement for custom clock building is Murray Clock Craft in Canada. Click here for their web site and, after you're there, look for their radio controlled products. Murray Clock doesn't have the variety of hands and shaft lengths which are available from Klockit for the Hechinger movement, but it's still a fun movement to use.
Visit the LaCrosse Technology Web site for a complete listing of their products.
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|I bought this clock from Arcron-Zeit in late 1997. I believe the same Chicago-area company is now called Atomic Time. At any rate, they carry several styles of wall clocks similar to this one and using the same movement. Here, I've placed a nickel in the middle of the clock to indicate its actual size.|
|And this is the back of the clock, showing its Hechinger movement. I've seen radio controlled clocks from Acu-rite and Seiko which use this same movement (but they charge a variety of prices based on the size and style of the clock you want and based on the brand name you see printed on the front of the clock). Of the movements on this page, which can be purchased separately for custom clock building, this Hechinger movement is available with the greatest variety of shaft lengths and hands which you can use.|
|And here are the control switches for this movement. There's the time zone selection switch and, below it to the left, there's a manual setting switch as well.|
So, even after the hands start spinning, it's possible the clock won't start running normally until about 90 minutes after you installed the battery. With this particular movement, none of the hands are independent of the others. In order for the hour hand to move ahead one hour, the second hand must make 60 revolutions, for example. The good part is that, once the clock sets itself, it won't have to do any other "time consuming" adjustments for a while. Please note that the hands cannot move counter-clockwise. Therefor, when the clock "springs forward" for Daylight Saving Time, it only takes about 4 minutes to accomplish the change. But when the clock "falls back" to Standard Time, it actually has to move forward 11 hours worth... and this adjustment takes about 45 minutes.
Manual Time Setting
You may also wonder about the "ST" and "DST" settings on the rotary switch. These settings are for using the clock in areas where WWVB cannot be received. Here's how to set the clock manually: Put the rotary switch to "ST" for Standard Time or "DST" for Daylight Time (depending on whether you're installing the battery during Standard Time or Daylight Time). Then, install the battery. Press and hold the "manual setting" button below and to the left of the rotary Time Zone switch. When you hold the manual setting button, the hands will begin moving at fast speed. As soon as the clock reaches the correct time, release the manual switch. Later, when you want the clock to adjust for Daylight Saving Time changes, turn the rotary switch to the new setting (In other words, in the Spring turn it to "DST" and in the Fall turn it to "ST").
You may also use this manual setting technique if reception of WWVB is unreliable in your area. In that case, once you've manually set the time, you may then turn the switch to your Time Zone (PT, MT, CT or ET). The clock will then reset to "atomic time" as soon as it can receive the WWVB data.
|Okay... moving on. You may purchase the Hechinger movement from Klockit and from other retailers who carry clock components. Then you can install it in virtually any clock of your choice. For example, you could upgrade your favorite clock... the one you've had for all these years. When you receive the movement, it'll look like this.|
|And here's the back of the movement. Note that, apart from the white sticker and the "locking pin," it looks exactly like the movement from the Arcron-Zeit clock. When you receive one of these clock movements separately like this, the locking pin ensures that the movement is set for exactly 12:00 and zero seconds. So you can mount the hands accordingly and then remove the locking pin to begin normal operation.|
|The pin is only about 3/8 of an inch long. So, if you want to use any old pin you happen to have, remember that it only has to be inserted about 3/8" to lock the hands.|
|Now, I don't know how to build these movements and I don't fully understand the electronics inside. I only know what they do and, out of curiosity, I took the back cover off to expose what's inside.|
|The antenna is connected to the main circuit board with these two, thin wires which then form a coil around the antenna. I suppose if you knew more about electronics than I do, you could tap into the clock at this point and install some other kind of antenna... perhaps an external antenna. But I've never tried to do that.|
Because anyone can buy the Hechinger movement for less than $25 I find that ready-made clocks which use this movement are consistently overpriced. I don't buy ready-made analog clocks anymore. I have too much fun building my own with this Hechinger movement. And I find that my "homemade" or "custom modified" radio controlled clocks make great gifts for any occasion! Just make sure you enclose some instructions with the clock so that the recipient knows it's something special.
I've tried using lithium batteries with these movements too. I was told that a lithium battery will last as long as 7 years in one of these clocks but I was unable to verify that claim... until June 2001 when two clocks running on a lithium batteries each stopped after 27 months. The advantage of a lithium battery, therefor, was not verified, since the lithium batteries cost about 5 times what alkaline batteries cost. Plus, I should warn you that I've had clocks which don't seem to react well to lithium batteries. Sometimes the Hechinger movement prefers alkaline batteries. (Lithium batteries often put out over 1.75 volts when they're new and that voltage may be too high. Just use cheaper alkaline batteries rather than the pricey Duracell or Engergizer batteries and you'll be fine.)
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|This "Atomix" clock is available at Wal-Mart for just $19.96 each. There's also a version with a wood frame which costs a little more and has roman numerals.|
First, put in a battery and allow the second hand to go to the 11:00 position. Remove the battery and, to be sure the electronics are reset, you should insert the battery backwards for one second and then remove it.
Now manually set the clock (using a familiar, rotary knob on the back). Set it to the nearest hour. (For example, if the local time where you are is between 3:00 and 3:29, set the time to exactly 3:00. If the time is between 3:31 and 4:00, set it to 4:00. If the time is 3:30 then set the clock to 4:00 and wait a few minutes before you start the clock.) When you manually set the time, make certain that the last 15 minutes of hand rotation are in the clockwise direction.
Next, insert the battery and when the second hand gets to the 12:00 position press the red button. Then, one second later (when the second hand advances again), press the red button again. That's it! The clock will begin to run and, if reception is good, it will soon set itself to the correct time. If it needs to move ahead to the correct time after you've started it, then it will do so at a faster-than-normal speed after WWVB reception is complete. If it needs to "move back" to the correct time then it will just run slowly until the time is correct. It will "tick" once every 5 seconds and then, when the time is correct, it'll run normally.
There is another feature which makes the Atomix movement unique among all these analog movements. After you've pressed the red button twice to initially align the hands, the clock will execute a "double-step" every two seconds while setting itself. If, at this point, you press the red button again, the clock will emit an audible beep to indicate good reception and help you decide where to hang the clock. Clear beeps every second indicate good reception. Erratic beeping (or no beeping at all) indicates unsatisfactory reception. There will no longer be any mystery about whether you've selected a good, permanent location for your clock.
I have previously stated that I prefer the radio controlled clocks which can figure out the hand alignment on their own (and all you have to do is insert the battery and set the time zone). But I've really grown to enjoy this movement. It's a solid, American design which has been completely trouble-free for me since I first bought one in May 2000. The clocks using this Atomix movement are available at a lower cost than other analog clocks (it's the trade-off for the additional steps in setting up the clock whenever you install a new battery). The cost is so low that I've heard from a man who bought one of these clocks from Wal-Mart, removed the movement and used it to convert an older clock to radio control (and then, supposedly, discarded the rest of the clock he purchased from Wal-Mart!).
If you like, you can set the Atomix movement and then, using the rotary setting knob, you can adjust it to a different time. If you're one of those people who insist on setting all the clocks in your house 5 minutes fast, for example, the Atomix clock will allow you to do it... and it'll still adjust itself for Daylight Saving Time automatically (and still be 5 minutes fast after the adjustment... if you're sure that's what you want). In addition, if you just set the clock as a normal quartz clock and do not press the red button then, after 15 minutes, the electronics will assume that the clock was set to the correct or desired time. It will use the WWVB signal to maintain that time with "atomic accuracy" and automatically adjust for Daylight Saving Time.
Like the U.T.S. movement used in LaCrosse Technology clocks, the Atomix movement will ignore Daylight Saving Time changes if you set it to do so. The Atomix movement can also set itself more quickly than the Hechinger movement because it doesn't have to advance the hour (since you've already set it to the closest hour).
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1. Price: Atomix, LaCrosse, Hechinger, Junghans.
2. Solid construction: Junghans, Atomix, LaCrosse, Hechinger.
3. Ease of use/set-up: Hechinger, LaCrosse, Junghans, Atomix.
4. Defeat of automatic Daylight Saving Time: LaCrosse and Atomix only. (Hechinger will ignore DST adjustments when it's running in "quartz only" mode and not according to WWVB. Junghans clocks will not ignore DST and cannot be set at all if WWVB reception is not possible.)
5. Battery life: Hechinger, Junghans, Atomix, LaCrosse.
6. Variety of styles: Hechinger, Atomix, LaCrosse, Junghans.
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