The beginning of the em dash indicates exactly 1 o’clock Eastern Standard Time.
For more than 80 years, the beeps and tones of the National Research Council (NRC) time signal have connected Canadians to exactly 1 pm ET.
But starting Monday, CBC Radio One audiences won’t hear the beginning of the long race: They’ll have heard the end.
Variations of the daily message and the “pips” that play along with it have played over the CBC airwaves since November 5, 1939, forming a bond that connects Canadians from coast to coast.
CBC and Radio-Canada have announced that they will no longer broadcast the National Research Council (NRC) time signal.
Monday marked the last time it aired, ending the longest-running segment on CBC Radio.
There were “accuracy concerns” about the signal
CBC declined an interview and only provided written answers to questions about the change.
In a statement, spokesperson Emma Iannetta described the sign as a “wonderful partnership” but confirmed it will be removed.
Given the variety of CBC platforms, from traditional over-the-air radio to satellite and the Internet, the long dash suffers from a number of delays at the time it is played, raising accuracy concerns on the part of the NRC, he wrote.
Iannetta added that these days most people use their phones to tell the time, although many CBC listeners are “fond” of the signal.
“We share the nostalgia that many people feel for the daily time announcement, but Canadians also depend on us for accurate information,” he wrote. “With all the different distribution methods we use today, we can no longer guarantee that the time announcement is accurate.”
For many, the relationship with the time signal goes far beyond affection.
It has allowed sailors to configure their instruments for navigation, kept railway companies running on time and helped Canadians be punctual.
In a 2019 interview with Day 6 On the occasion of the signal’s 80th birthday, Laurence Wall, one of its current voices, reflected on its origin and importance.
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His memories include taxi drivers recognizing his voice in the daily announcements and hearing a young man living in Hong Kong who would stay up past midnight just to listen to the time signal because it reminded him of home.
Beyond the emotional connections, the sign also has a practical history.
Wall said that when he started, timekeeping was relatively primitive, with clocks that had to be adjusted periodically to stay accurate.
A ‘bit of Canadian’
The time signal was a touchstone that kept railroads, shipping companies, and Canada on time.
Still accurate, provided by cesium atomic clocks who are “the best timekeepers in the world,” according to the NRC.
The NRC did not provide anyone for an interview, but in a statement, spokesperson Orian Labrèche said the CBC installed HD radio transmitters in 2018, causing a delay of up to nine seconds in the transmission of the time signal.
The council proposed several solutions and worked with CBC to resolve the delay, but “ultimately, CBC/Radio-Canada made the decision to stop broadcasting the official NRC time signal,” he wrote.
Despite the delays, the long script still has its fans.
It has even inspired an artist who has paid tribute to it on tea towels and handbags.
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Wall described the time signal as a “bit of Canadiana.”
When asked in 2019 if he worried if the signal would one day go silent, Wall talked about the way it resonates across the country.
“I can’t predict what the CBC would do, of course,” he said. “But my suspicion is that it has become such a big part of the Canadian firmament that I don’t think they want to change it quickly or, God forbid, abandon it completely.”