Happy Birthday, Time Signal

I didn’t know this, but today will mark 75 years of the National Research Council’s official time signal airing on CBC Radio. For the uninitiated, that would be the series of beeps you hear every day at 1 in the afternoon right before the news starts.

CBC has published an article to celebrate it, and it’s interesting reading if you’re into that sort of thing.

A photo of the NRC's time control room.
Photo of the NRC time control room

John Bernard, the leader of measurement science and standards at the NRC, said the story of the time signal being broadcast on CBC actually has its roots as far back as 1924.
At that time, the Canadian National Railway had a radio station called CKCH, which began broadcasting the time signal from the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa at 9 p.m. every day. Eventually that station was bought by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, the precursor to the CBC. The CBC began broadcasting the signal in 1939, where it has run ever since.
For Canadians wondering what the meaning of the “long dash” system is, it has nothing to do with Morse code, as some may think. John Bernard said that system originated in the 1920s, when radio was in its infancy.
“Back in the old days, when they didn’t have voice announcements, they would have certain seconds missing so that somebody who just picked up the radio broadcast would be able to identify the time of day by the code of missing seconds,” said Bernard.
The NRC has a continuous live stream with CBC in Ottawa, and the official time is then broadcast out to each region for the official time signal. CBC employees then introduce the “long dash”, at which point the NRC broadcast begins.

Semi-related note: I don’t know why neither of us ever made a radio tag for this place, but I really ought to add it to my growing list of things that need doing around here once this stupid year finally dies.

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2 comments
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