November 18, 2016

Trains, Fred, High Noon and Today

What do these all four have in common? And what does it have to do with Ham Radio? Here's a little diversion for your day.

Today (November 18th) is the 133rd anniversary of the implementation of the "Standard Time" zones. And while it was important enough to change history, it wasn't completely "official." The United States wouldn't formally adopt "Standardized Time" until 1918. But back in 1883 it was the railroad companies that decided it was time to standardize time across the nation. Trains connection the east coast to the west, spanned more than 100 different local times (generally set by syncing clocks to high noon) which really took a toll on your watch stem, not to mention the frustration of printing an accurate timetable.

The whole story is here in interesting detail. And while the government wasn't legislating the new time, the U.S. Naval Observatory did agree to help track it by sending out a signal by which people and communities could set their clocks. But wait! Remember, this is BEFORE the invention of the radio. The USNO transmitted the signal by the only nation-wide medium available: the telegraph. Several years later, when wireless transmitters were avialable, the USNO began transmitting the now familiar tones over the air. You can here them day and night here.

Eventually, the USNO began building and maintaining the nation's "Master Clocks" which today keep everything on time. From GPS signals to cell phones to JT-65 mode ham radio contacts to the Internet and everything connected to it-it's ultimately all synced back clocks at the USNO. Here's some info about it as well.

Finally, who is "Fred"? You know that voice you hear when you listen to the time signal? It says, "At the tone, 2 hours, 34 minutes, Coordinates Universal Time." Well, that would be actor Fred Covington. Or at least his voice. It seems he recorded those prompts back in 1978. And even thou he died in the late 1990s, his voice lives on to this day.

So take some time (pun intended) and celebrate the day Standard Time began!