The End of Time

In case the news escaped you, as of October 10 the Canadian Broadcasting Company is not longer airing the National Research Council’s official time signal every day at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll explain. For the past 80 years, at precisely one hour past noon, the NRC took to the airwaves for the longest running CBC radio show. The show was very short. At the outset, it lasted between 15 seconds and a minute, starting with the iconic announcement: “The beginning of the long dash, following ten seconds of silence, indicates exactly 1:00 p.m.” In 2011, the ten seconds of silence was reduced to six seconds. I don’t know why. Maybe to give Canadians back four seconds of our lives.

There has been somewhat less hew and cry about the vanishing of the time signal than I would have thought. I suspect there are several reasons for this. First, what kind of idiot listens to CBC radio anymore and hence would even know about the demise of the time signal? (This kind of idiot.) Second, who doesn’t have an accurate time indicator in their hands at all times? (I have had a cell phone pretty much since they were invented, but no, it’s not in my hands at all times. My bad.) Third, who even needs to know whether it’s precisely 1:00 p.m. as opposed to 1:01 p.m. or 1:02 p.m.? (Probably just train conductors. But come to think of it, if train conductors need to know the official time then so do I, because when they say the commuter train leaves at 07:04 they mean 07:04 not 07:05 or 07:06. I learned this the hard way.)

However, because I am one of those increasingly rare people who sets the clocks on my kitchen appliances, the time signal came in handy. Especially since the microwave never agrees with the stove and the coffee pot seems to live somewhere in Europe (but who could fault it for that). The daily occasion of the long dash offered an indisputable way to restore order and ensure all was once again right in the atomic clock universe. Why do I bother? Because I rely on those kitchen clocks as middle of the night beacons to light the way to the cat’s dish and confirm that he’s still as accurate as clockwork: the beginning of the long meow (with no seconds of silence) indicates exactly 4:15 a.m.

A big part of losing the daily reminder of the official time is, of course, the reminder that something I’ve lived with all my life is now gone, which in turn reminds me that most of my life is now gone. The airing of the official time signal was also one of those things that I believe defined us as Canadians. What’s next? Taking the ‘u’ out of neighbour? Not selling milk in bags? Never winning the Stanley Cup again? Wait. Don’t answer that. Meanwhile, I’m sure I’ll adapt to the array of times the kitchen presents me with. In fact, maybe that’s a good thing. I’ll be able to add a minute or three to my life any time I want.

1 thought on “The End of Time”

  1. I will miss the 1 PM tone, and it always reminds me of the WWVA short-wave (at 5, 10 and 15 MHz frequencies) broadcast station that fascinated me many years ago. Every second had a ‘click’, they announced every minute as to what the time was, with a tone, but then – coolest of the cool – the every second clicks after the minutes tone, the first ones would have a fast double-click. You then counted the number of double-clicks, which told you how many 10ths of a leap-second to add to compensate for the slowing spin of the earth. Nerd heaven!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *