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Australia says goodbye to the dial-up Talking Clock

The talking clock will go silent as of midnight, October 1

After 66 years of loyal service, George, the Australian Talking Clock will stop reciting the time from midnight, October 1. We look back at this invention, how it has become obsolete, and its French origins.

"At the third stroke, it will be 3:23, precisely. Beep, beep, beep."

This voice service, which provides callers the time precise to the millisecond, may be unheard of to people under 30 years of age.

Yet this is George, the Australian Talking Clock. And since his creation in 1953, Australians have called him more than 1,400,000,000 times, simply dialling 1194.

But today, when we all have a phone in our pocket, giving us precise times and adjusting time zones automatically, George's usefulness is questioned, and Telstra is set to decommission the Talking Clock.

From October 1, for the first time in 66 years, Australians will no longer be able to call the Talking Clock, even while it is still called upon two million times per year on average.

But, what's the time in France?

"Au quatrième top, il sera 8 heures, 44 minutes, 2 secondes. Bip, bip, bip, bip"

["At the fourth beep, it will be 8:44 and two seconds. Beep, beep, beep, beep"]

This time you're listening to the French version of the talking clock, which, unlike its Australian cousin, gives you the time not after three, but four beeps.

This service is still active in France, delivered by the Observatoire de Paris (Paris Observatory), where the very concept of a talking clock was born in 1933.

Created by physicist Ernest Esclangon, the French incarnation of the talking clock was a world-first. It was actually designed out of frustration, as punctual Parisians flooded the phone lines of the Observatory seeking the exact time.

Noel Dimarcq, the director of the Sirte laboratory, told AFP as much a few years ago:

"Many people called the Paris Observatory for the time and it greatly impeded the operation of the telephone lines and the operation of the Observatory at that time, so Ernest Esclangon, the Director of the Observatory, in 1929, had enough of all his lines being busy, so he made the decision to develop an automated system."

To be sure that the novelty had a strong reputation from its launch, it adopted the most famous voice in France of the time - that of radio host Marcel Laporte, better known under the name of Radiolo.

But today, in an era of Google searches and automatically updating phones, is a talking clock such as this still used for anything? Well, it depends on how much precision you want when telling the time.

On Youtube, for example, this video from a man who needs his time told to the nearest second demonstrates a talking clock connected to his smart speaker. It seems that while the Talking Clock will no longer pick up the phone, you might soon find George online.

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