At the Tone, the Time Lady Will Be Gone

I was fairly young when some unsuspecting adult thought it would be a good idea to explain to me that I could always get the current time by dialing POPCORN.

I proceeded to abuse that information by dialing the number every five minutes to find out what time it was — among other things. I figured if the Time Lady was so all knowing about the time of day, she might have the answers to other questions as well. What can I say, I was young and Google hadn’t been invented yet.

I never did get any other answers from the Time Lady. She stuck to the time with a zen-like focus. In retrospect I think she might have what we now call “obsessive compulsive”.

Over the years I lost track of the Time Lady. Recently there hasn’t been much need to call her. In fact, I was sort of surprised to discover that she was still around and giving out the time to anyone who called — but not for much longer.

This week AT&T announced that the Time Lady’s time has run out. After September, California residents will no longer be able to pick up the phone and dial the time. AT&T is discontinuing the service, citing failing equipment, the need for additional phone numbers, and, presumably, a general lack of use, as reasons.

Everyone who hears this story is just a little bit sad, and yet none of the people I’ve talked to about this can remember the last time they dialed the time. There’s just no reason to. These days nearly every phone displays the time without having to dial a number.

Increasingly consumer electronics devices are setting the time without human intervention. While the Time Lady still had a place in a world of VCR’s blinking 12:00, DVRs get the time through the cable or satellite service. Even my Roku Soundbridge sets the time using the network time protocol — the same method most PC’s use to set their system clocks.

California and Nevada are the last two states where the telephone time is still available — and now California is pulling the plug. Nevada is not far behind. According to yesterday’s LA Times article, phone companies are discontinuing the service once the current generation of time machines have reached the end of their service cycles. You read that right, the machine that plays the Time Lady’s voice is called a “time machine”. I suppose this means the time machine technicians are losing their jobs as well.

AT&T indicates the change will free up 300,000 phone numbers in Southern California alone. I’d hate get one of those numbers. Having one of the former time phone numbers will probably be something like being one of the original time operators from the 1920’s. When the telephone time service was first introduced there really were live operators standing by waiting to read the time to callers.

The customers who are assigned these newly available numbers are certain to be pestered by occasional calls from anonymous time seekers — likely the same people who won’t be aware of the switch to digital broadcast television when that happens.

If you live in California you have a few weeks left to call the Time Lady. On midnight September 19th she’ll give her final performance.

21 Responses to “At the Tone, the Time Lady Will Be Gone”

  1. Jim says:

    Hasn’t the weather lady been long gone?

    I seem to remember that it was 442-1212, but I could be wrong.

    Also, it’s pretty obvious that the first move by the Killer Robots will be to give everybody the wrong time.

  2. Kassia says:

    As a young, impressionable girl, one of my thrills in life was to call the Time Lady and get an “exactly”. It was like I won the lottery. Except, well, you know.

  3. Jim says:

    Say, that reminds me:

    Perhaps my favorite bit of commercial production ever for KFSR was when I got “The time is 3:00 . . . exactly” into a spot for a Three O’Clock show at The Star Palace.

    I actually recorded that at 3 AM when I was doing one of those board op shifts at Y-94.

  4. will says:

    At the sound of the tone I will miss that lady, although I haven’t called her in 20 years.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I called her september 19th, the next day she was gone.

  6. John Fredericks says:

    I guess we wont have anything to call in case there is a power failure and we need to reset our clocks… Oh well.

  7. P says:

    Imagine MY surprise when I found out she was not there anymore. I believe that I was trying to set my car clock or something and knew my cell phone clock was a little behind.

    You can bet the farm that I almost swerved into oncoming traffic when I found out it was discontinued. Talk about the end of any era. I proceeded to text several of my friends who were equally traumatized. Well, as you put it. Just a little bit sad.

  8. Melissa says:

    When I dialed up the Time Lady last month and discovered my childhood time friend was discontinued I gasped. But I got over it. Your article let me know why she is gone and why. Now I can tell my cousin who was wondering where she went too. We used to call the Time Lady together on our grandparents rotary phone just because we could. I’d hate to the be the sucker who gets one of those time numbers. But oh the fun you could have if you had a sense of humor about it.

  9. Jenn says:

    I found out about this the last day she was there… At least I got to say goodbye. *sniff* I still miss her…

  10. she still lives says:

    Anyone who still wants to hear the time lady can. Just dial 215-846-1212

  11. janos stock says:

    Lets Bring back the time lady
    Write to AT and T

  12. WeHo Guys says:

    We too miss the Time Lady, twice a year we would call her to set our clocks, long b4 computers were around. However, we would call after a power outage. The actual time lady died about 15 years ago here in CA. She was in her late 70’s, at least that is for California. Once in a blue moon you will see a documentary about her on the History Channel.

  13. MissSnazzyPants says:

    does anyone else remember being able to call POP-CORN in the 415 area code and being able to hear other people on the line? we used to call it when we were kids (in the early 70s) and yell back and forth. sort of like chatting.

  14. Michael says:

    Her TIME on earth will never be forgotten, nor will her voice. Let her number be layed to rest

  15. Hal says:

    In New York City the number was 637-1212. And, 637 was actually MEridian-7. Meridian for tome, get it?

    So, while the Time Lady is gone, it is becomming somewhat cool again to use the telephone exchanges on personal business cards (oxymoron – actually calling cards).

    Glad I got that off my chest!

  16. Hal says:

    Well MissSnazzyPants, what you are describing is what we used to call a “party line”. These were anomolies in the phone switching systems that made these occur. Party line is just what they were called, they were not real party lines which were actually set up in the old days in rural areas.

  17. @Hal My grandparents had a line like that. It was back in the days when you could call anyone in town by dialing the last 4 digits of their number.

  18. Jack L says:

    I remember when I was younger .. some where in early 2000’s I would get up early for school and as I was getting ready and my mom was making breakfast we would check the time and no clock was really accurate and then I was introduced to the time lady she told me to pick up the phone and call the time lady and I was like mom who is that and she said Just pick up and dial you will see so I did and I was like Wooah what’s this a recording telling the time .. It was wonderful and not all the time our fantastic phones will update the time accurately .. I remember calling the time lady as if it were yesterday .. I have not called it since but after I looked it up online and I saw the article I gasped and I will truly remember her as a good friend to call and ask for the time at anytime with out worrying of waking someone up lol .. Good morning at the tone Pacific day light time will be 7:18 and 10 sec .. BEEEP .. Time Lady I will miss you lots ;-( Ps I think they should have left the time lady for people who are calling there families from other states and are on a different time zone . Or who come to visit and are not use to our time .. I will miss the time lady deeply ;-(

  19. Sandy says:

    I was reminiscing back to the days when ‘at the tone the time will be’ lady was in cahorts with me pretending she was my new boyfriend on the other line, making my ex-boyfriend jealous. Oh, those were the days…


  1. […] At the Tone, the Time Lady Will Be Gone – But not forgotten. Ok, probably forgotten, as well. […]

  2. […] Seems most local phone companies have fired the Time Lady, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise, considering the prevalence of cell phones and computers. Shame, really, because the Time Lady was a constant in my life growing up and it was a comfort to know that if everything else seemed to be going wrong – shuttles exploding, walls crumbling, people dying in coups and earthquakes and hurricanes – she was still there, patiently announcing the time as if she had all the time in the world. Which she did. […]