Definitions

Speaking clock

Speaking clock

A speaking clock service is used by people who wish to know the correct and accurate time. Speaking clock services are most commonly accessed by telephone.

The format of the service is somewhat similar to those in radio time signal services. Every ten seconds or so, a voice announces "At the third stroke, it will be [for example] twelve forty six and ten seconds...", with three beeps following. At the third beep, the time at that point is the time announced previously. Some countries have sponsored time announcements and include that in the message.

Australia

In Australia, the number 1194 gives the speaking clock in all areas and from all providers. It is always the current time from where the call originates. A male voice says "At the third stroke, it will be (hours) (minutes) and (seconds) seconds/precisely. (three beeps)" e.g. "At the third stroke, it will be three thirty three and forty seconds ... beep beep beep". These are done in 10 second increments and the beep is 1 kHz.

Prior to automatic systems, the subscriber rang an operator who would quote the time from a central clock in the exchange with a phrase such as "The time by the exchange clock is...". This was not precise and the operator could not always answer when the subscriber wanted.

In 1954, British made systems were installed in Melbourne and Sydney. The mechanical Speaking Clock used rotating glass discs where different parts of the time were recorded on the disc. A synchronous motor drove the disc with the driving source derived from a 5 MHz Quartz Oscillator via a multi stage valve divider. This was amplified to give sufficient impetus to drive the motor. Because of the low torque available, a hand wheel was used to spin the motor on start up.

The voice was provided by Gordon Gow.

The units were designed for continuous operation. Both units in Melbourne and Sydney were run in tandem (primary and backup).

For daylight saving time changes, one would be on line while the second was advanced or delayed by one hour and at the 02:00:00 Australian Eastern Standard time, would be switched over to the standby unit.

As well as the Speaking clocks, there was ancillary equipment to provide timing signals, 1 pulse per second, 8 pulses per minute and 8 pulses per hour.

The Time and Frequency Standards Section in the PMG Research Laboratories at 59 Little Collins Street, Melbourne maintained the frequency checks to ensure that the system was "on time".

From a maintenance point of view, the most important part of the mechanical clocks was to ensure that they were well oiled to minimise wear on the cams and to replace blown globes in the optical pickups from the glass disk recordings.

When Time & Frequency Standards moved from 59 Collins Street to Clayton, the control signals were duplicated and a second bank of Caesium Beam Primary standards installed so the cutover was transparent with no loss of service.

This mechanical system was replaced with a digital system in 1990.

Each Speaking Clock ensemble consisted of two announcing units (Zag 500), a supervisory unit (CCU 500), two phase locked oscillators, two pulse distribution units, a Civil Time Receiver, (plus a spare) and two or four Computime 1200 baud modems.

The voice was provided by Richard Peach.

The various components were sent for commercial production after a working prototype was built in the Telstra Research Laboratory (TRL). Assmann Australia used a German announcing unit and built a supervisory unit to TRL specifications.

Design 2000 incorporated TRL oscillators in the phase locked oscillator units designed at TRL and controlled by two tone from the Telstra Caesium beam frequency standards.

Ged Company built civil time receivers. The civil time code generators and two tone generators were designed and built within TRL.

Each state capital had a digital speaking clock for the local time of day with one access number Australia wide, 1194.

In 2002 the Telstra 1194 service was migrated to Informatel (who use their own technology - but kept the original voice of Richard Peach), whilst the other time services (e.g. hourly pips to radio stations) was retained as a service by Telstra.

In May 2006 the remaining Telstra services were withdrawn and the digital hardware was decommissioned.

The 1194 service, though no longer provided by Telstra, is still operational as at July 2008.

Austria

In Austria, the speaking clock ("Zeitansage", which literally means "time announcement") can be reached at 1503 or at 01/1503 (01 is the area code for Vienna). A recorded female voice says (for instance): "Es wird mit dem Summerton 15 Uhr, 53 Minuten und 10 Sekunden", meaning "At the buzzing tone, the time will be 15 hours, 53 minutes and 10 seconds", followed by a short pause and a 1 kHz, 0.25 seconds long beep (even though the announcement "buzzing tone" suggests otherwise). The time is announced in 10 second intervals.

Canada

In Canada, the National Research Council (NRC) is the federal agency responsible for official time.

NRC time is referred to its primary cesium atomic clocks designed, built, and maintained at the NRC time standards laboratory in Ottawa.

The NRC provides a speaking clock service; voice announcements of Eastern Time are made every 10 seconds, followed by a tone indicating the exact time. This service is available to the general public by dialing (613) 745-1576 for English service and (613) 745-9426 for French service. Long-distance charges apply for those calling from outside the Ottawa/Gatineau area.

The English message, from an older male voice, is in the following format: "NRC, Eastern (Standard/Daylight) Time, x hours, x minutes, and x seconds." This is followed by a single beep. The word "exactly" (pronounced "exacté") replaces "and x seconds" at the top of the minute. Additionally, there is a tick every second in the background.

NRC also provides shortwave radio clock time signal broadcasts, on specific frequencies (3330 kHz, 7335 kHz and 14670 kHz) as well as on the English (CBC Radio) and French (Radio-Canada) radio networks of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation once per day; the former at 13:00 (1:00pm) and the latter at 12:00 (noon) Eastern Time. It is also heard on TV via the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) when the Canadian Parliament is not in session.

The NRC also supports Network Time Protocol (NTP) as well as a web-based clock service.

More details are available on the NRC web site.

Finland

In Finland the speaking clock service is known as Neiti Aika in finnish or Fröken Tid in Swedish. First Neiti Aika service was started in 1936 and it was first automated phone service in Finland. Service is provided by regional phone companies and it can be reached by dialling 10061 in whole country. Voice of speaking clock can be male or female depending whose phone company service you are using. Nowadays use of Neiti Aika -service is decreased pretty much to null and press officer of Auria, regional phone company of Turku, tells in article of Turun Sanomat that when company started the service in 1938 it was used 352 310 times in its starting year compared to 1300 times in September 2006.

France

In France, the speaking clock (horloge parlante) has been in service since 14 February 1933. It is available on 36.99 from within France, or +33 8.36.99.xx.xx from other countries (where x can be anything).

Higher phone rates apply when dialing numbers with the code '8' in France (from within the country or from abroad)

Germany

In Germany, a speaking clock (Zeitansage) in Berlin is available by dialing

  • 030 - 2 555 555 7 (domestic calls)
  • +49 - 30 - 2 555 555 7 (from abroad)

A speaking clock in Hamburg is available by dialing

  • 040 - 42 89 90 (domestic calls)
  • +49 - 40 - 42 89 90 (from abroad)

Just the normal fixed line phone rate applies.

Republic of Ireland

The Eircom speaking clock can be reached by dialling 1191 within the Republic of Ireland.

Japan

The Japanese telephone company NTT provides a non-free speaking clock on the nationally universal number 117.

The Netherlands

In 1934, electronic engineer and inventor F.W. Leeuwrik was requested to build a speaking clock for the municipal telephone service of The Hague. His experience with sound film made him decide to use optically recorded speech, looping on a large drum. There were loops for the hours and for the minutes, each one read with a photodetector. Every minute the clock gave an electric pulse, causing the mechanism to shift to the next minute. Every hour, the minute mechanism was reset (and every day the hour mechanism), the clock was accurate within one minute only. The female voice was provided by the then 24-year-old school teacher Cor Hoogendam, hence the machine was nick-named Tante Cor (Aunt Cor). The speaking clock came into service at November 9, 1934 and could be reached by dialing 393131. The service became so popular, that in 1935 a second machine was ordered and built. Even during the Nazi occupation in World War II, the speaking clock was called over two million times a year.

In 1969 this system was decommissioned and replaced by a machine that looked like a record player with three pick-up arms. The speaking clock was now nation-wide available through the number 002 and was much more accurate, telling the time in 10 second intervals followed by a beep, indicating the precise moment. The text was spoken by actress Willie Brill and had the following format: "Bij de volgende toon is het .. uur, .. minuten en .. seconden" (at the following tone, it is .. hour, .. minutes and .. seconds). The service was now called over 130 million times a year.

Finally, in April 1992, the whole machinery has been replaced by a digital machine with no moving parts. The (digitized) voice has been provided by actress Joke Driessen and the clock is being kept accurate by German longwave transmitter DCF77. In accordance with international guidelines (the double-zero should be used as an international prefix), the number 002 has been replaced with 0900-8002. Though nowadays many people have digital wrist watches, mobile phones or computers telling the time accurately, the service is still being called approximately four million times a year, especially around New Year's Eve and when the daylight saving time changes.

Norway

The speaking clock (Norwegian: Frøken Ur, meaning Miss Clock) in Norway was in service between 1932 and 15 January 2007 14h00 local time. The service could be reached by dialling 09170 (1999–2007), and 170 (until 1999). Of women who contributed with their voices for the service were actress Randi Brennes (–1992) and Kristin Johnson (1992–2007). When the service ceased it still got about 2000–3000 calls per month.

Poland

The speaking clock in Poland is known as Zegarynka and is available by dialling 9226. (For many years the number was 926 but due to the EU regulations reserving all 3-digit numbers for emergency services only, it was changed in the early 2000s.) The connection is charged on a per-minute basis.

Russia

To hear the current time in Russia you dial 100 or 060, depending on the city where this service is available. These calls are free if made from non-mobile phones. In Moscow, the Speaking Clock number is 100 if dialed from within the city, or +7-495-100-xxxx from other countries (where x can be anything). At one time in Moscow there were advertisements before and after the announcement of the current time; this practice has since ceased.

South Africa

The speaking clock in South Africa is reached by dialling 1026 from fixed or mobile networks and consists of a female voice reading the time in 24-hour format, alternating between Afrikaans and English. All of South Africa is in the time zone GMT+2 without any daylight saving time so the speaking clock is the same all over the country.

Sweden

The speaking clock (Swedish: Fröken Ur, meaning Miss Clock) in Sweden has been in service since 6 October 1934, and can be reached by dialling 90510 (+46 33 90510 from outside Sweden). Four women have contributed with their voices for the service: Eva Ulvby (1934-1956), Berit Hofling (1956-1968), Ebba Beckman (1968-2000), Johanna Östlund (2000-). More details at

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the speaking clock can be reached by dialling 123 on a BT phone line; the number may vary on other networks. On BT's sponsored Timeline, a voice announces:

"At the third stroke, the time sponsored by (sponsor) will be (hour) (minute) (and (second) seconds / precisely)"

The announcement is then followed by three beeps. At the third beep (or 'stroke') the time is that which was announced previously. Other operators run their own speaking clocks with broadly similar formats, or seem to redirect to BT's service.

Speaking clock services are not, in fact, always useful for amateur scientific purposes, since the time feed for the speaking clock is not always ensured to be exactly accurate, plus time delays through the telephone. However the BT service is assured to be accurate to five thousandths of a second.

A speaking clock service first started in Britain, from July 24 1936. It was obtained by dialling the letters TIM (846) on a dial telephone, and hence the service was often colloquially referred to as "Tim". However this code was only used in the telephone systems of the cities of London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester. Other areas initially dialled 952 but with the introduction of Subscriber Trunk Dialling it was changed to 80 and later 8081 as more 'recorded services' were introduced. It was standardised to 123 by the early 1990s.

In 1986 it allowed Accurist to sponsor its franchise, the first time a sponsor had been used for the service. Despite this sponsorship, it currently costs 30 pence to call the clock.

During the Cold War, the British Telecom speaking clock network was designed to be used in case of nuclear attack to broadcast messages from Strike Command at RAF High Wycombe to HANDEL units at regional police stations. From there, automatic warning sirens could be started and alerts sent to civil defence volunteers equipped with manual warning devices. The rationale for using an existing rather than a dedicated system was that it was effectively under test at all times, rather than being activated (and possibly found to be faulty) only in the event of war. The signals to automatic sirens were sent down the wires of individual (unaware) subscribers for the same reason - a customer would report any fault as soon as it occurred, whereas a problem with a dedicated line would not be noticed until it was needed.

A version of the speaking clock was also used on recordings of the House of Parliament made by the BBC Parliament Unit, partly as a time reference and partly to prevent editing. On a stereo recording, one track was used for the sound and the other for an endless recording of the speaking clock - without the pips, as these were found to cause interference.

On the occasion of a leap second, such as at 23:59:60 on December 31 2005, there is a one second pause before the beeps, thus keeping the speaking clock in sync with Coordinated Universal Time. The current source of UK time is provided, though not monitored by the National Physical Laboratory, UK.

The speaking clock service is not available on the Orange or 3 Mobile mobile telephone networks, as they use 123 as the number for their Answerphone services.

List of voices heard on the British speaking clock

  1. Miss Ethel Jane Cain, first permanent voice: July 24 1936 to 1963
  2. Miss Pat Simmons, second permanent voice: 1963 to April 2 1985
  3. Mr Brian Cobby, third permanent voice: April 2 1985 to April 2 2007
  4. Mr Lenny Henry, comedian, temporary voice for Comic Relief: March 10 2003 to March 23 2003
  5. Miss Alicia Roland, 12-year-old schoolgirl, temporary voice for the children's charity ChildLine: October 13 2003 to October 20 2003. Alicia won a BBC TV Newsround competition and used to state "It's time to listen to young people" before announcing the time.
  6. Ms Sara Mendes da Costa, fourth permanent voice: from April 2 2007

United States

In the United States, this service has been typically known as the "Time-of-Day" service, with the British term "speaking clock" never used. Occasionally it would be called "Time-and-Temperature". The service continues to be available in many areas under a variety of telephone numbers, but typically with antiquated equipment that is no longer accurate.

In much of California, a speaking clock could be reached until September 19, 2007, by calling various numbers, depending on the location of the caller. AT&T announced that it would discontinue this service in September 2007, due to outdated equipment break downs, and to free up additional phone numbers. For all area codes in Northern California, the number was 767-2676, and was often indicated by its telephone acronym, POPCORN. The speaking clock service was actually active for all numbers of the format 767-xxxx, but "POPCORN" is the most popular acronym, and is even used in common speech. Officially, the telephone number listed for the time recording was 767-8900.

In other locations, different telephone exchanges are or were used for the speaking clock service. In these areas, the numbers were usually quoted with the -xxxx, -2525 or -1212 ending. For example,

  • 853 was the reserved exchange in Southern California.
  • 622 was the reserved exchange in Florida.
  • 637 is the reserved exchange in Boston.
  • 846 is the reserved exchange in Philadelphia.
  • 844 is the reserved exchange in Washington D.C.. This clock has usually been the most accurate of the clocks operated by the local telephone companies.
  • 936 was used in Boston and Washington D.C. for weather information.

Various other numbers were used in other localities. In Wisconsin, the former Wisconsin Bell reserved the ending numbers -0123 in the dominant exchange for a city for time and temperature information.

Here is the list of active numbers as of August of 2008 (the 'xxxx' could be either -0123, -1234, -1212 or -2525):

  • for Washington DC - +1 202 844 xxxx
  • for DC Metro (Northern Virginia) - +1 703 844 xxxx
  • for DC Metro (Maryland) - +1 301 844 xxxx
  • for Columbus, OH - +1 614 281 8211 (commercial, time & temperature, weather forecast courtesy of WCMH-TV); +1 614 469 1010 (operated by WBNS-TV; TV news promo, time & temperature [also relative humidity in summer], weather forecast)
  • for Baltimore - +1 410 844 xxxx
  • for Philadelphia - +1 215 846 xxxx
  • for Philadelphia's suburbs - +1 610 846 xxxx
  • for Boston, MA - +1 617 637 xxxx or +1 617 637 8687 (AKA +1 617 NERVOUS) (time and current temperature)
  • Maine (entire state) +1 207 775 4321 (hours and minutes only, current temperature in Portland, ME)
  • for Chattanooga, TN +1 423 265 1411 (hours and minutes only, weather and commercial)
  • for Oklahoma City, OK +1 405 599 1234 (starts with commercial, provides time (no seconds) and weather forecast)
  • for Orlando, FL +1 407 646 3131 (sponsored by the Bank of America; time (no seconds), weather and commercial)

Every ten seconds, a voice announced the time of day according to this formula: "Good (morning / afternoon / evening). At the tone, (time zone) (standard / daylight) time will be (hour):(o'clock / minute) (exactly / and (n) seconds)," followed by a one-second tone. There was a brief, albeit noticeable pause between the minutes and the seconds announcement, as the seconds portion was a separate recording. The seconds portion was always given in multiples of ten, or was omitted for the word "exactly". For example, such as message could be:

"Good morning. At the tone, Pacific Standard Time will be 9:52 and ten seconds. tone"
or "Good morning. At the tone, the time will be 9:52 and ten seconds. tone"
The samples were often read by the late Jane Barbe, John Doyle, Pat Fleet or Joanne Daniels.

Many shortwave radio time signal services provide speaking clock services, such as WWV (voiced by John Doyle) and WWVH (voiced by Jane Barbe), operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology from the United States of America. To avoid disruption with devices who rely on the accurate timings and placement of the service tones from the radio, the voice recording may be "notched" clear of some of the tones.

The time as provided by WWV is also available by telephone, by calling +1 303 499 7111. WWVH (an auxiliary location in Hawaii) is available at +1 808 335 4363.

In addition, the United States Naval Observatory operates two speaking clocks: in Washington, D.C. at +1 202 762 1401 or +1 202 762 1069, and in Colorado Springs, Colorado at +1 719 567 6742.

The time as provided by TellMe voice portal is available by dialing toll-free 1-800-555-TELL (1-800-555-8355, say time when prompted).

Electronic speaking clocks and wristwatches are available, many marketed to the visually impaired.

Many telephone answering machines and similar devices include a speaking clock capability so they can announce the time when a message was received.

In popular culture

Music

  • The intro to the song "Blowin' Hot Air" by The Click features a sample taken from the speaking clock.
  • Midway through the song "Wild" by Meat Beat Manifesto there is an altered, inaccurate time sample taken from the speaking clock.
  • The intro to the song "4-2-0" by Kottonmouth Kings features a sample taken from the speaking clock, announcing that the time is 4:20.
  • The first song on the album Albedo 0.39 by Vangelis, Pulstar, ends with the voice of the speaking clock, announcing that the time is 10:03 and 40 seconds.
  • At the end of the song "Clock" by Coal Chamber, the clock is quoted for 2:37:00 PDT.
  • The industrial music band Battery 9 has featured the Afrikaans version of the speaking clock's Wanneer u die sein hoor... ("when you hear the signal...") in a song called Tempo Hewig.
  • The track "Time Zones" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark consists of speaking clocks in English, French, German and Japanese synchronised so that the number of announcements increases as the track progresses and the time signals coincide.

Television

  • In The Simpsons episode "Brother from the Same Planet", Lisa conquers her addiction to the Corey hotline by listening to the speaking clock.
  • The opening sequence of Real Time with Bill Maher begins with a spoken phrase from the (now defunct) Los Angeles speaking clock, featuring an uncredited Joanne Daniels as the time lady saying "Good Afternoon."
  • In the opening scene of the Fawlty Towers episode "The Psychiatrist," an irate Basil Fawlty is shown speaking to the operator, complaining that the he cannot get through to the speaking clock as it seems to be engaged (or busy).
  • On the pilot for the FOX television series 24, George Mason dialed the number for the speaking clock (presumably 853-1212, as the show takes place in Southern California) instead of placing a call to another government official, not knowing Jack Bauer was listening in to his "phone call" and knew he was deceiving him.
  • At the end of the Only Fools and Horses episode "The Second Time Around", the Trotters discover a jilted fiancée has left the phone connected to an American speaking clock for a week.
  • In the Doctor Who episode, Doomsday, while a Dalek and Cybermen are arguing, Mickey tells Rose "It's like Stephen Hawking meets the speaking clock."

Literature and radio plays

  • In Douglas Adams's So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish, character Ford Prefect leaves a ship hooked up to the speaking clock. In the BBC Radio 4 adaptation, the voice of the clock is that of the aforementioned Brian Cobby.
  • Tom Stoppard wrote a radio play, If You're Glad I'll Be Frank, where a bus driver thought his wife was the speaking clock. During the play we find that his wife really is the speaking clock - but reading the time live, 24 hours a day, instead of having it done by a machine.

See also

References

External links

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