Canada Abruptly Ends Official Time Signal

National Research Council laboratories in Ottawa

In a sudden move that was noted not only by Canadian media, but also international media channels, the National Research Council Time Signal that was broadcast by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on CBC Radio One since November 5 1939 was turned off on October 9th, after eighty-four years, one world war, countless generations, and the rise of modern technology. Although perhaps obsolete by today’s standards, this 15 to 60 second long broadcast at 13:00 Eastern Time every single day has been a constant in the life of Canadians, whether they tuned into local radio, or (increasingly) via Internet radio.

The NRC Time Signal consisted out of a series of 800 Hz sinewave ‘beeps’ followed by a second-long signal to indicate the top of the hour. Back in the day this was extremely useful to sync one’s clocks, watches and other time-keeping devices to. Yet between the transmission delays caused by Internet radio and the increased availability of NTP and other time sources on modern-day devices, the signal’s main use appears to have become a nostalgic reminder of what once was a constant of each and every day.

In this regard the public response to the rather unceremonious decommissioning without prior announcement was rather predictable. After all, even if it wasn’t that useful, why throw out something that is more recognizable than any other radio jingle for generations of Canadians?

Top image: National Research Council laboratories in Ottawa.

49 thoughts on “Canada Abruptly Ends Official Time Signal

  1. Just a matter of time till we lose WWV. It will be a shame, rubidium and cesium physics packages, the options for accurate timekeeping at home, don’t last for ever. We will be utterly dependent on the GPS constellation for calibration.

    1. I’m going to be very frustrated if their 60khz signal stops; there’s a bunch of clocks and watches used every day that no-one notices are reliant on it because it works too well.

      Apparently the last time they tried to cut the budget it was found that “in addition to synchronizing clocks and watches, the time signals are also used in appliances, cameras and irrigation controllers”.

      1. That day it shouldn’t be too hard to make a small transmitter that grabs time signals from NTP servers on the Internet then turns them into the radio protocol understood by radio controlled clocks and send it to nearby devices to keep them in sync.
        A lot less appealing than receiving time through the airwaves, but will help to keep clocks and other devices running. If the use is so widespread, then we’ll probably see that hack becoming a product for sale.

        1. Making a 60KHz transmitter that radiates well enough to cover a reasonable area is not easy. Because the antenna is so short with respect to the wavelength of (16,390 feet +/-) the radiation efficiency is very, very poor. Maybe putting in 100W or so might help, but this is hardly easy. Ask the amateur operators on 2230M (137.8KHz) how easy it is to build an effective station.

          1. Nearby==same room. I meant a low power transmitter that covers a few meters, just to avoid throwing in the bin devices that depend on tat time signal. Nothing that could reach and disrupt other services.

        2. It has already been done. There is a well done web article which describes building a 60 KHz oscillator with proper modulation to emulate WWVB with time sourced from GPS to keep a watch synchronized. It is only few milliwatts output.

          1. Of course, rules vary by country, but in the US, very low power radios are permitted. In general, the meaning of ‘very low power’ is mostly about non-interference with licensed services.

            The problem with 60KHz is that short antennas are very inefficient, so a ‘few’ milliwatt 60KHz transmitter with work to time sync a clock/watch that was within a few inches, but that’s not generally useful.

            One nice thing about WWVB on 60 KHz is that it allows more accurate time setting than NTP because delays in radio propagation are less variable than NTP packet delays from the time servers. In most cases, it does not matter, as the ‘error’ is likely to be less than one second for either method.

            For users that require much more precise time, 10 MHz OXCO devices disciplined via GPS will get you to at least 10e-9 (.000000001 seconds) with good long term stability. This can be done for less than $250 USD.

          2. @DT, instead of trying to make a good antenna, I’d consider trying to make a good poorly-coupled transformer. Maybe a loop around the house, or injecting the noise onto the ground wire. Near field is more than fine there.

        1. Eh…
          Sun go up.
          Sun go down.
          About how far into the season are we?

          War and Post-war priorities are VERY different than what we have right now.

          Super accurate time isn’t really needed for day to day rural life.

          If you aren’t trying to micro-trade on an international market, running a science lab, online shopping, or synchronizing a war effort “it’s about time for lunch” is good enough.

          1. While true, just because it isn’t useful to some subset of the population doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for the others like the groups that you named. Of which probably the bast majority of HaD readers fit in somewhere.

          2. Err, accurate time is still very useful for rural people. Especially a creative person in a fantasy scenario of long term loss of normal access to the rest of the world without specific local upheaval or catastrophe. It wasn’t historically possible, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an advantage.

            For instance, you might want to reference observations to the time and date so that you can better predict the future – even if it’s the future as it pertains to when the first hard freeze of the season may occur. Or if you’d like to use the time as a way to measure things you don’t have sensors for, especially if they’re rates which are explicitly defined based on the time. (How much water actually flows from this source? Well it filled X vessel in Y.37 seconds, so it must be Z per day.)

            Other such ideas: In the absence of other means to navigate, you may find yourself wishing to compare the position of the sun or other astronomical bodies to the current time if your time doesn’t drift.
            Or if modern communications are available but very limited, you will want to schedule their use to be as brief as necessary by agreeing to only turn on the device in question for a minute at the scheduled time, unless a reply is heard.

          3. Time really is very, very, very important. Lack of centrally controlled time is one of the things that held people back in the 1500 and 1600th century. Being limited to only being able to detect when the sun is at the highest also makes navigation much harder. Remember that we are talking about the loss of GNSS systems. So even rural navigation will care.

            And if you ever visit a modern farm, you would notice the huge amount of technology. Much can work without GNSS. A way larger amount of gear will not work without access to good time. Synchronisation is part of a huge number of processes and while they 100 years ago might have used a local time and measured relative from that reference, most new systems uses absolute time.

        2. @jojo said: “When the war really gets going…”

          What do you mean by “war”? In just a couple years we have two new FOREVER WARS started and being corruptly funded mostly by U.S. Taxpayers without our consent. And mark my words; they are JUST GETTING STARTED…

    2. We won’t be dependent on GPS. In addition to WWV, NIST maintains both an analog (dial-up) and digital Internet system for broadcasting official time. The digital one (and maybe the analog one?) will even calculate the transmission delay for greater accuracy if you respond to the server.

      You can see this at

    3. That really sucks. I use those transmissions regularly to gauge reception for the band it’s in. Gives me an idea of what I’ll be able to receive, or if that band is of any use trying to scan at that time.

        1. Lol, GMT is not a time zone. UTC is simply and updated GMT, with the only significant difference being that it doesn’t label itself with a British location.
          If you are going to correct people, be right.

  2. What a misleading article. Canada has not discontinued the time signal; the NRC still broadcasts it, and it is still available through a telephone call, NTP, and the NRC website (

    What has happened is that a single commercial TV and radio network has decided to discontinue rebroadcasting the NRC time signal over it’s network, apparently mostly for technical reasons.

    Hackaday, you need to stop posting clickbait.

    1. @Maya Posch said: “Canada Abruptly Ends Official Time Signal”

      @Lew said: “What a misleading article. Canada has not discontinued the time signal; the NRC still broadcasts it, and it is still available through a telephone call, NTP, and the NRC website ( What has happened is that a single commercial TV and radio network has decided to discontinue rebroadcasting the NRC time signal over it’s network, apparently mostly for technical reasons. Hackaday, you need to stop posting clickbait.”

      Exactly. Less than a second after reading the title of this Hackaday article I asked myself, “When the heck did the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) become Canada’s official timekeeper?” Of-course the correct answer is, “NEVER”. Read @Lew’s link above. Then there’s this tid-bit:

      The end of the long dash: CBC stops broadcasting official time signal. Dan Taekema · CBC News · Posted: Oct 10, 2023 12:00 PM EDT

    2. Technically, it’s two PUBLIC radio networks (CBC English, and CBC French), not two commercial radio networks.

      And, while I’m relieved that the NRC continues to broadcast time signals over shortwave radio, I am still deeply saddened by the decision by the CBC to no longer broadcast the NRC time signal.

      There was something strangely beautiful and soothing (and Canadian) about the futile anachronism of being to able to tune in every Sunday at 1:00 to hear:

      At the sound of the long tone it will be exactly 1:00 Eastern Standard Time.

      beep beep beep beeeeeeeeee

      Long pause.

      And now the news…
      It seems impossible to me that it could be replaced with something better.

  3. I wonder how many were worried for a few moments that the dead man’s switch had stopped.
    When a long running periodic signal like that goes quite, let’s hope it’s not due to it having become a smoking crater in the ground.

    1. Man, that would make an excellent speculative fiction story premise: A long-standing radio service from a peaceful, stable but allied minor power goes off the air, and is interpreted by an underground military group as a canary signal. One thing leads to another and starts WWIII.

      Geez. The current political climate makes that sound not so far-fetched.

  4. I’m personally behind the scene on this one . This was talked internally in CBC for the last 2 years . The main issue was that it was impossible nowaday to Broadcast this signal and make the reception to the end used Sync to the second … After many Compression – Decompressions cycles , variable delays are introduced , So the end used could receive the signal up to 5-15 sec later. Many technical solutions were proposed , But the cost was simple too high.

    1. I miss it none the less, it punctuated the day, any official local time regulation didn’t use it, but a lot of people used it to set their watches and clocks, and to feel connected to others in a very stretched out country. I feel CBC once again missed how people use and feel ownership of public instituitions.

  5. Yes, it was a CBC management decision, as the “Long Dash” signal wasn’t accurate when they were rebroadcasting over internet streams, &/or other points. But I find this to be immensely sad as I had been listening to the 1pm ET signal most of my life.

        1. In this case its improper and worse. ..NTP presumes internet which isnt universal either. Instead of creating layers of complementary standards that work in their respective mediums they have chosen to go with 1 that only works in 1. That is worse.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.