Here’s an excellent trivia question: What radio feature has been running in Canada the longest? Here’s a hint: It’s been a fixture of our public airwaves for more than 80 years.
It’s the National Research Council (NRC) time signal, something that started to be heard on CBC Radio, Radio-Canada, and many private stations across the country. Each day leading up to 1pm, people from coast-to-coast could set their clocks and watches to Official Canadian Time with a series of beeps, a short silence, and then a long tone that signaled that it was exactly 1:00:00 pm/13:00:00. It’s had been this way since November 5, 1939.
It’s hard to understand how important the NRC time signal used to be. Mechanical clocks and watches can be notoriously inaccurate, losing or gaining seconds or even minutes over a 24-hour period. Private citizens, businesses, institutions, and government offices across the country needed a national clock to make sure we all knew what time it was. (When I worked at 1220 CJRL/Kenora in the early 80s, we reset everything each weekday to the 1pm NRC time signal as well as broadcasting it leading up to the Broadcast News report at the top of the hour.)
But the 1pm NRC broadcast on the CBC is no more. The time we all see displayed on our phones is constantly being monitored corrected by our cellphone providers. The vast constellation of GPS satellites also keep us in time with the universe. The digital clock in my car–which is integrated with my nav system–is insanely accurate.
There’s another issue, too. If you were to listen to the CBC’s HD-Radio signal–they started broadcasting in 2018–the audio was delayed by nine seconds because of bottlenecks in the soundchain to the transmitter, defeating its entire purpose.
The National Research Council’s atomic clocks will continue to run, of course. If you ever need to get the correct time and you don’t have access to your mobile phone, go here.
So what’s the longest-running radio feature in Canada now? Gotta be something from the CBC, right? My guess is As It Happens, which started in 1968. Then again, there could be a program on some small rural station that’s been running for decades like “Swap’n’Shop” for something similar. Anyone?