Once a day since 1939, CBC Radio in Canada has broadcast a message familiar to generations of Canadians.
“The beginning of the long dash indicates exactly 1 o’clock Eastern Standard Time” is how it went in its most recent iteration. Several short beeps and then a long tone followed. At that moment, not a second before or a second after, it was 1 p.m. in Toronto. (And noon in Winnipeg, 10 a.m. in Vancouver — and, delightfully, 2:30 p.m. in Newfoundland.)
But the “long dash,” as the announcement is known, is no more. It was broadcast for the final time on Oct. 9.
The CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster, said that accuracy issues were a key reason for dropping the message. People still listen to the radio over the air — but also on satellite and online, and those broadcasts can be delayed for several seconds or more. For many listeners, the moment they hear the long dash time might not be “exactly 1 o’clock Eastern Standard Time,” but 1:00:04 or so.
“We share the nostalgia that many people have towards the daily time announcement,” the CBC said in a statement. “But with all of the different distribution methods CBC/Radio-Canada uses today, we can no longer ensure that the time announcement meets the N.R.C. accuracy standards.” The National Research Council provided the CBC with the official time signal.
For many years, the long dash was an important way to get the precise time with certainty.
Railroads, shipping companies and other businesses that rely on precise time historically turned to the time signal to synchronize their clocks. But times have moved on: Most people these days, of course, can get the exact time with a quick glance at their phones.
Still, even for modern Canadians, the long dash was a reassuring and stable moment in a confusing and ever-changing world. Many looked forward to setting their watches each day at 1 p.m. Eastern.
“It existed for 84 years, so technically it is our longest-running radio program by far, even if it was only for a few seconds,” Craig Baird, host of the podcast Canadian History Ehx, said in a segment on the CBC news program “The National.”
The announcement itself did evolve over time. The long dash used to follow 10 seconds of silence. But the dead air was dropped after it began to confuse some radio equipment into thinking the station was going off the air.
Canadians reacted to the announcement with dismay on X, formerly Twitter, lauding the long dash as “traditional and comforting” and lamenting the decision to do away with it as “an ill-considered mistake.” Few, if any, applauded the move.
There was particular disappointment that the announcement came after the last airing, depriving the long dash of a final moment of glory.
“The way it disappeared so unceremoniously really took people by surprise,” Mr. Baird told The Guardian. “They missed the chance to say goodbye. It was like missing the series finale of a show that you’ve watched for years.”
The long dash was one of those fixtures that was so deeply rooted that Canadians believed it would never go away.
“My suspicion is it’s become such a part of the Canadian firmament that I don’t think they would be very quick to want to change it or heaven forbid drop it altogether,” Laurence Wall, one of the voices of the long dash, said in a 2019 CBC interview. “Yes, we’ve got accurate clocks now. But people still like to listen to it, and I still run into people who say, ‘Aren’t you the guy who does the time signal?’”
Nearly every region of the United States once had a local number to call for the precise time, a service remembered by those of a certain age.
The warmth Canadians feel for the long dash is similar to the fondness many Britons have for the Shipping Forecast, a BBC staple that gives weather reports for ships at sea. It has retained its charms despite a language puzzling to the uninitiated, with updates like “Fisher northwesterly five to seven, backing westerly four to five later, showers good.” Nostalgic feelings have allowed the forecast to survive, even if technology has replaced it for most mariners.
The long dash has even inspired a song parody, “Let it Beep,” written and performed by Brian McHugh, a show director of CBC Newfoundland Morning, to the tune of the Beatles’ “Let it Be.”
He sings: “In the ’60s on the farm we’d gather / Round a Philco radio / At 1 p.m. (that’s Eastern)/ Let it beep.”
But the long dash beeps no more.