Yesteryear’s Memories: What Time Is It?

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One of the things I remember as a kid was, at one time, a really helpful and practical service. In most towns, a local bank had a phone number you could call, day or night, and get the correct time and local temperature. It sounds a bit ridiculous today since we all have that information constantly on display on our cellphones. It was a big deal back then to have that number memorized. Of course, it also included a mini commercial for the bank. I remember the crackling voice saying, “the time is two thirty two, temperature 78,” followed by, “it’s TIME to look into a loan for that new car you’ve been thinking about. Call us today to see how easy it is to drive your dream car today!”

It’s probably laughable for a young person today to hear about this — but it was a valuable and helpful thing to have at your fingertips. When there was a heat wave, or the temperature got around ten below zero, that number was often busy, and you’d have to try back a few times before you could get through. I don’t remember when that time and temp number ceased, but it was probably around the time that they stopped giving away toasters for opening a savings account, and desk calendars for starting a Christmas Club account. (And the last deposit was free for being a good customer!)

If the time and temp line was busy or unavailable, you could always call the local police number for the correct time. I never knew why, but it was a rather common practice back in the 1960s. I guess times were simpler then, and as they said, the police were there ‘to protect and serve.” I doubt such a call would be appreciated today. You may even get yelled at. Local phone companies often had the same service, either calling the operator or their automated line. Great thing when the power went off and all your wall clocks had stopped. Later on, weather phone lines popped up across the country, too. They usually gave the current conditions and a forecast of a few days ahead. Of course, that was a time when we dialed the number and the phone made a lot of little clicks. The push-button phone was an amazing development — and the little tones they made for each number sounded so technological! It was truly a space-age apparatus!

Just as I was mourning the loss of so many things through modern advancements, though, I discovered something that made me smile. There is still a number you can call for the exact time. The US Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. is still ‘open for business’. The voice of Fred Covington (actor in Norma Rae, Roots, and In The Heat of the Night) is recorded for posterity — and announces the time every few seconds. It’s kind of like going back in time to hear the time. I’ve heard that you can’t go home again — but maybe you can relive little pieces of it. So get your old bell bottoms on, turn down your eight-track player, and call 202-762-1401 — for a good time.



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