At the tone the time will be…gone

Our view: Telephone time and weather numbers an anachronism? Maybe, but at least it was a reliable service

March 19, 2011

The death of 8-track? Hardly noticed. Ditto for cassette tapes, vinyl records and floppy discs. Embraced the Internet, the personal computer and flat-screen television without much regret. Sorry to see locally owned department stores, Life magazine and milkmen go the way of the horse and buggy but hey, que sera sera.

So why is the news that beginning June 1, Verizon will no longer offer the pre-recorded time and temperature numbers so deeply disconcerting?

People below the age of 40 probably won't notice when that longtime service is lost, but for those of us who grew up in the days of Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company or even Bell Atlantic, dialing WE6-1212 for weather or TI4-2525 is deeply ingrained. Providing such basic information was considered part and parcel of being the local telephone company.

Got a new watch for your birthday? Set the time by calling C&P. Not sure if you'll need an umbrella today? A quick touch of the buttons — or in an earlier era, twirl of the rotary phone — will provide the answer quickly.

Never mind that in recent years, we've stopped calling. It wasn't that we no longer appreciated the service. It's just that, well, our laptops, desktops, smart phones and tablets can provide the same information just as easily, too.

(Hey, time and weather numbers, you weren't forgotten. We meant to call. It's just that we've been busy. You free for lunch sometime?)

How fitting that Maryland will be the last state in the Verizon service area to lose time and weather. We are not a place that accepts change easily. You can bet that many years from now people will still be calling those numbers expecting to hear the familiar voices of the past, however robotic sounding they might be.

Records, cassette tapes, department stores, those traditions didn't require us to memorize a phone number like it was a relative or best friend that we were dialing. As kids, it was one of the first numbers we could dial on our own — and would soon discover that you didn't have to dial "1212" or "2525" as any four final digits worked.

Had it become an anachronism? Perhaps, but there was a comfort in knowing it was still there in rain or shine at any hour of the day or night — to tell you whether it was raining or sunny, night or day.

That's not something to be taken lightly. The big news in the technology world last weekend was that Apple products from iPads to iPhones had trouble recognizing daylight-saving time. Some devices actually went back an hour instead of springing forward.

Verizon may have its problems, but telling time has never been one of them. There's something to be said for eight decades of successful and uninterrupted service to the community, particularly from a big utility company. It's a tradition that will be missed.

Peter Jensen

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