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CBC cancels official time signal

For more than 80 years the beeps and tones of the National Research Council (NRC) time signal have connected Canadians at exactly 1 p.m. ET.

But as of Monday, CBC Radio One audiences won’t be listening for the beginning of the long dash — they’ll have listened to the end of it.

Variations of the daily message and the “pips” that sound along with it have played over CBC’s airwaves since Nov. 5, 1939 — forming a link that connects Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

CBC and Radio-Canada have announced they’ll no longer carry the National Research Council (NRC) time signal.

Monday marked the last time it was broadcast, ending the longest running segment on CBC Radio.

There were ‘accuracy concerns’ about signal
CBC declined an interview and would only provide written responses to questions about the change.

In a statement, spokesperson Emma Iannetta described the signal as a “wonderful partnership,” but confirmed it’s being dropped.

Given the range of CBC platforms from traditional over-the-air radio, to satellite and the internet, the long dash undergoes a range of delays by the time it’s heard, leading to accuracy concerns from the NRC, she wrote.

Iannetta added that nowadays most people use their phones to get the time, though many CBC listeners have a “fondness” for the signal.

“We share the nostalgia that many people have towards the daily time announcement but Canadians also depend on us for accurate information,” she wrote. “With all of the different distribution methods we use today we can no longer ensure that the time announcement can be accurate.”

For many, the relationship with the time signal goes far beyond fondness.

It’s allowed sailors to set their instruments for navigation, kept railway companies running on time and helped Canadians stay 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.

His memories include taxi drivers recognizing his voice from daily announcements and hearing from a young man living in Hong Kong who would stay up past midnight just to hear the time signal because it reminded him of home.

Beyond emotional connections, the signal has a practical history too.

Wall said when it started out, timekeeping was relatively primitive, with watches and clocks that needed to be regularly set in order to stay accurate.

A ‘bit of Canadiana’
The time signal was a touchstone that kept railways, shipping companies and Canada on time.

It remains precise — provided by cesium atomic clocks that are “the world’s best timekeepers,” according to the NRC.

NRC didn’t provide anyone for an interview but in a statement, spokesperson Orian Labrèche said CBC installed HD radio transmitters in 2018, which caused a delay of up to nine seconds in broadcasting the time signal.

The council proposed several solutions and worked with CBC to solve the delay, but “ultimately, CBC/Radio-Canada made the decision to stop broadcasting the NRC’s official time signal,” he wrote.

Despite the holdups, the long dash still has its fans.

It’s even inspired an artist who’s paid homage to it on tea towels and tote bags.

Wall described the time signal as a “bit of Canadiana.”

When asked in 2019 if he had any concerns about whether the signal would one day fall silent, Wall spoke 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 it’s become such a part of the Canadian firmament that I don’t think they would be very quick to want to change it or heaven forbid drop it altogether.” CBC

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