A lot of members will be to young to remember the days before mobile phones, computers and mass produced quartz watches.
Everybody had their own preferred method of setting their watch, the clock at the town hall, factory, station etc. but if you wanted total accuracy for you watch and home clocks you rang George the speaking clock.
This was how I use set my Timex.
You rang the number and heard a recorded message that repeated every ten seconds.
"At the the third stroke the time will be 10:27 and 20 seconds"
In most working working class families including mine phone bills where a particular bone of contention with Dad's and what Dad considered to be frivolous calls where a no no, out of state and overseas calls where very expensive in those days.
Some my mates Dad's even had locks on the dial of the rotary phone.
Most countries had their version of the talking clock.
In Australia the phone services used to be run by the government PMG, the Post Master Generals department and then the govt owned Tesltra Australia until privatisation started in 1997.
"From the time the clock was computerised in 1954 until August 1991, more than 1.4 billion calls were made to 1194. Before the clock was computerised, the time was read live by changing shifts of women every 30 minutes. Their job was to mark off time in 30 second lots, speaking as soon as a light flashed . Many of the women got ''hysterical'' if the shifts lasted too long, and dizzy from watching the second hand and responding to the flashing light."It was a punishment, in my opinion,'' said Mr Mullins, who worked at the GPO at the time. Joyce Gow, Gordon Gow's 96-year old widow, recalled her husband was paid £100 to record numbers and phrases."He was feted and put up in a nice hotel. And after he had said a few words, like 'At the third stroke', they said, 'You must be exhausted - have a whiskey, brandy or something'," she said.
"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, often known by Australians as George, 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 bulbs 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 BeamPrimary standards installed so the cutover was transparent with no loss of service.
This mechanical system was replaced with a digital system in 1990.
Post Office film about the installation of the speaking clock in melbourne in 1954.
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