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You Can Still “Call The Time” In Philadelphia, But It Won’t Tell You

You Can Still “Call The Time” In Philadelphia, But It Won’t Tell You

Bell Telephone of Philadelphia: Once, it ruled not just the telephone wires, but time itself. Image: PhillyHistory.org

Bell Telephone of Philadelphia: Once, it ruled not just the telephone wires, but time itself. Image: PhillyHistory.org

BY JOEY SWEENEY

It’s funny the things you miss: Recently, a friend posted online about how often she used to “call the time” as a kid — which we suppose wouldn’t be unlike writing a message in a bottle about how you really miss the drawings they used to do on the walls of caves. Nevertheless, her pang gave us one, too — both about the things we’ve lost on the whole about telephony, and the odd certainty that the voice of “the time” (also known as a “speaking clock”) carried. Even in the dead of night, across a lonely, cold city sometime in, say, the late 1980s, you could dial (215) TI6-1212, and hear a recorded voice, playing off of a device somewhere in the Bell Telephone HQ at Broad and Packer…

… and know that it would be correct, and that the world hadn’t ended, that time plodded on with utter confidence.

It’s easy to see why “calling the time” faded, of course: This article from The Atlantic last year delivered a perfect exposition of the whys and wherefores, and even the remote places on the telephone map where you still could “call the time.” It doesn’t mention Philadelphia, though, and so, remembering the number as well as we remember the phone number of our parents, we dialed the familiar digits: (215) TI6-1212. We heard this:

Some digging around reveals that, as in so many other places around the country, Philly’s “time” number was discontinued — in this case, “time” stopped in Philadelphia in the fall of 2008. (Not an entirely terrible idea, if you must know.) But what is this “Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4?” Is "the time" coming back? Why is the number still live? Is it preparing to tell us something new?

We simply don’t know. We’ll try again later.

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