At the tone, the time will be, NINE, OH ONE, A.M… BEEEP!
The voice is as clear in my head as it would be if I were actually calling “time” on the phone, something I haven’t done in years. In fact I can’t recall the last time I actually called the time service to set a watch which means it’s probably been more than a couple of decades. As it turns out the service hasn’t been available in Michigan for some time now, if you’ll pardon the expression. I have no idea when it stopped being offered and I’m kinda surprised I never noticed, but I suppose that’s only to be expected if you haven’t used it in years.
Now it looks like California’s time service, one of only two left in the entire United States (the other is in Nevada), is about to meet the same fate. Come September AT&T will discontinue their “Time of Day information service” in that state due to the fact that most people don’t call it anymore thanks to the widespread use of cell phones and computers and the fact that the equipment that runs the service is breaking down. The L.A. Times has an article about the pending shut down in California that includes some interesting history of the service:
By far the most prominent time lady was Jane Barbe, who succeeded Moore at Audichron in the 1960s. A former big band singer, Barbe (pronounced “Barbie”) went on to become the voice of recorded telephone messages in the 1970s and ‘80s in the United States and elsewhere.
Along with her interpretations of the time and current temperature, Barbe delivered the bad news too, telling you that circuits in a specific area were busy, please try again later, or that your call cannot be completed as dialed.
And who will ever forget her heartbreaking rendition of “I’m sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer in service”?
Barbe died of cancer-related complications in 2003 at age 74. It’s estimated that at the height of her fame, Barbe’s voice was heard worldwide about 40 million times a day.
There’s been a number of different Time Ladies, and a few men, over the years and I have no idea who did the recording for Michigan though, being in the Eastern Time Zone, it might have been this lady:
Reached at her Atlanta home, Daniels, 65, estimated that her reach was once nearly as extensive as that of Barbe, who was a friend. Daniels is now retired.
“I’ve done the time in many areas—Eastern Standard Time, central time, Pacific time,” she said. “The fun part was doing the temperatures for places like Alaska.”
Daniels switched to her professional voice, her soft Southern accent instantly vanishing. “At the tone,” she said, “the temperature is minus 12 degrees.” She laughed and her accent returned. “I liked that.”
No one had told her that AT&T was about to stop time.
“I think that’s very sad,” Daniels said. “I was told at one time that my voice would last until well into the 21st century. Now it looks like I’m about to be laid to rest.”
I’m surprised to realize that I’m somewhat saddened by the sudden realization that the Time Lady has been dead in Michigan for years and I never noticed. Nothing major, mind you, but that melancholy feeling that something from your past has, well, passed and you were too busy to notice. Considering how wired I tend to be, my alarm clock sets itself, you’d think I wouldn’t miss the Time Lady and, until just now, I hadn’t. I suppose it was reassuring in some funky kind of way to think that in spite of all the chaos in the world somewhere out there the Time Lady was ticking off the seconds as they passed every day ensuring that time would continue to move forward.