WGU-20, also known as "the last radio station," was a
radio stationoperated by the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (predecesor of the Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the mid to late 1970s. Operating 24 hours a day on a longwavefrequency of 179 kHz from Chase, Maryland, USA, the station's programming consisted of pre-recorded announcements and time checks.
Utilizing the world's first all solid state, 50,000 watt, radio transmitter built by Westinghouse, the signal covered much of the eastern seaboard and reception reports from as far away as Texas were greated with a special
QSLcard featuring Paul Revereon a horse raising the alarm.
The broadcast had a mechanical-like sound of early speech synthesis systems but the message could be clearly understood, with time ticks in the background and a continuous announcement akin to the
Speaking clock: "Good evening. This is station WGU-20. Eastern Standard Time seventeen hours, twenty minutes, twenty seconds. Good evening. This is station WGU-20. Eastern Standard Time seventeen hours, twenty minutes, thirty seconds. Good evening. ..."
The station was quite a mystery for a while with thousands of ham radio operators and radio hobbiests speculating about the nature of the station. It wasn't until a small news article in "
Popular Electronics" magazine outlined what WGU-20 was designed for.
WGU-20 was originally designed to be part of the Decision Information Distribution System (DIDS) that would be used to alert the public of an enemy attack (along the same lines as the then-current
Emergency Broadcast System). As originally envisioned, many home devices, including radios, TV and even smoke detectors, would have inexpensive longwave receivers built into them ensuring the that attack message would get out. A long wave frequency was chosen both because the extended groundwave signal it produced was supposed to be relatively immune to the effects of a nuclear detonation.
The DIDS system was never implemented and the job of attack warning in the US remained with the EBS (now the
Emergency Alert System). However the 179 khz frequency range was used by the government's Ground Wave Emergency Network (GWEN) which, instead of notifying the public of a war, was supposed to be a (nuclear war) survivable communications network linking various military installations.
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