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Time for France’s historic ‘talking clock’ – Health and Lifestyle News – Report by AFR

Time for France’s historic ‘talking clock’

Paris (AFP) –

Mario LAWSON, Yassine KHIRI

For nearly 90 years, anyone in France who needed to know what time it was to the second could call the Paris Observatory and get an automated, astronomy-based answer.

But the final countdown to the world’s first service has begun.

Nostalgia fans hoping to dial 3699 and hear the soothing voice of France’s ‘talking clock’ need to hurry, as telecoms operator Orange is pulling the plug on July 1.

“When I was a kid, my mom never stopped asking me to use the talking clock,” recalls Claire Salpetrier, an English teacher in Magnanville, west of the capital.

It all started when, in 1933, astronomer and director of the Paris Observatory, Ernest Esclangon, got fed up with people clogging up the centre’s only telephone line to ask for the official time – an essential service in the days of mechanical clocks.

So he came up with a concept that was later adopted worldwide, incorporating the latest technologies over the decades.

Orange, the former state telecoms monopoly, said the observatory received millions of calls in 1991, when dedicated infrastructure was set up to provide times accurate to the 10th millisecond.

“The benefit was pretty strong then, but little by little we saw an erosion,” Catherine Breton, Orange’s head of marketing, told AFP.

“In 2021 there were only a few tens of thousands of calls.”

The famous “The fourth beep will be the time…” alternating male and female voices recently cost EUR 1.50 each, which in the age of smartphones should also have been a deterrent.

– ‘Sad and nostalgic’ –

“I was surprised it still exists. We knew about it as kids, before we had cell phones,” said Antonio Garcia, director of a health clinic in Meulan-en-Yvelines, near Paris.

“It was super convenient if you had to catch a train or a plane — I remember the ‘beep, beep, beep,'” he said.

The current version is the fourth generation of the service and is calculated from Coordinated Universal Time in a temperature-controlled room by the observatory’s Time-Space Reference Services Lab (SYRTE).

Much of the equipment needed to keep it running needs to be replaced, an investment that doesn’t seem worth the effort.

Media relations specialist Charlotte Vanpeen said she used to use it “when the power went out and you had to reset the time for everything”.

“Hearing of his end makes me sad and nostalgic,” she said.

“Kids these days have all this technology and they don’t know what we had. The good things are forgotten.”

Her passing is “a bit emotional” for Michel Abgrall, the research engineer responsible for keeping the talking clock running.

“It’s part of our cultural heritage,” he said.

But for those worried about knowing the exact time, Abgrall says, don’t worry: It’s prominently featured on the observatory’s homepage.

#Time #Frances #historic #talking #clock

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