We Now Conclude Our Broadcast Day #socs

It wasn’t that long ago that TV stations in the United States, and probably the rest of the world, had a definite broadcast day. The station would fired up its transmitter in the morning and sign on, then at night they would sign off and turn the transmitter off. In the early days, stations might sign on and off several times during the day, maybe sign on at 7 AM and off at 10 AM, then on at noon and off at 3 PM, then on at 6 PM and stay on until sometime after midnight. Gradually, stations would sign on once in the morning and stay on all day, signing off in the early morning hours the day after.

Here is a sign off from WBBM Channel 2 Chicago from the late Seventies.

The signoff was like the station saying, “TV’s over for today, go to bed.” If you fell asleep with the TV on, you woke up either to the color bars or static, i.e. the “ant races.”

Now, stations are on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (366 in leap years) and sign ons and sign offs are an oddity from the past, of interest only to weird people like me.


Stream of Consciousness Saturday is brought to you each week by Linda Hill and this station. Now here’s Betty Furness for Westinghouse televisions.

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

31 thoughts on “We Now Conclude Our Broadcast Day #socs”

  1. Yes, I remember the sign offs, and waking up to the “ant races.” I don’t have the TV on when I go to bed but my husband needs it so there are lots of times I wake up in the middle of the night and get stuck watching some stupid cartoon. The ones they have on in the wee hours are really stupid (IMO). I’ve tried turning the TV off at that point but then my husband wakes up…go figure! Happy Saturday, John.

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    1. One night I was staying at a hotel, and fell asleep with the TV on. I woke up to the bass line for “Barney Miller” at about 3 AM and wouldn’t go back to sleep until I saw the episode. Thank heaven the next show was “Welcome Back, Kotter” or I might never have gone back to sleep.

      Another time, I flew into Atlanta on Sunday night (I was living in Chicago then), and the adrenaline was pumping too hard, so I put the TV on, figuring the incessant chatter would put me to sleep. One of the local channels used to run old Westerns in the wee hours of morning, and I ended up staying awake until 4 reliving my childhood. I was basically a wet towel the rest of the day.

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      1. LOL! The husband has some hearing issues (I say he’s deaf but he doesn’t agree) so he has to have the volume up to hear it. If I am smart, when I wake up and he is asleep I turn the volume down. That helps sometimes.

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  2. I remember those times, and the test patterns. Once when visiting my brother in Iowa, we were watching a movie. They signed off in the middle and announced “the rest of the movie would air after the farm report st 5:00 am”

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    1. That’s what they call a “400Hz steady-state tone,” and it was cranked up about two decibels from everything else on the station. Lord knows why. It used to be a 1000Hz tone, but that apparently was too annoying…

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  3. We thought color was the coolest thing! Then, I think it was TBS in Atlant that started staying on late. There was this lady report in the news with globe earrings containing live goldfish. I swear I didn’t dream it.

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    1. Was she on location or at the anchor desk? Or was she the topic of the story? It’s a good chance that was from the early days of CNN, because that was Ted Turner, who owned both, and TBS would air news from CNN at odd times…

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      1. She was sitting at an anchor desk in a bare studio with blank walls. She was funny. I’m pretty sure it was TBS. I think it was in the late 70s before CNN existed. I remember dialing a friend on the phone with a cord to tell her about it.

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  4. I remember that before CNN existed, TBS had brief news reports throughout the day. It still seems a little strange to me that we can get up at any time day or night and we have a choice of a gazillion shows or movies on TV. My son falls asleep with MSNBC on the TV. I remember when the station would sign off after playing the Star Spangled Banner, and then the picture of the Indian would be on the screen until the station came on again in the morning.

    Love,
    Janie

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  5. I remember the sign-offs too. Early on. Before cable. There would be a horrendous beeping loud enough to wake the dead, and that really was “Go to bed.” I have no idea how long that went on before static took over, but I woke up to the static once and it freaked me out so badly, I slept outside my parents’ room against the door like a lil kid!

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    1. I fell asleep in front of the TV one evening and woke up to the ant races. I sat there half-asleep watching, when all of a sudden a station ID card came on. Startled me half to death. Then I was wide awake, wondering if something else was going to happen, but no, we went back to the ant races after a couple of minutes. That startled me even more, and I shut the TV off but couldn’t move. So I’ve been there and done that.

      Some stations left the test card up all night, others went right to static after sign off. Guess it depended on the engineer.

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  6. When I was a kid during the summer I often stayed up for the national anthem and sign-off. Seeing those seemed like some major mark of accomplishment for me. I would ponder the meaning of those test patterns and particularly liked the one with the Indian.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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  7. Just had this very conversation with a man who remembered the sign off, too. We decided that young kids today could learn a thing or two from a forced end to looking at screens. Funny you should blog about.

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  8. I can remember when HBO first came out. It was a little box on top of our tv and wasn’t on 24/7. I think the first movie I watched was the Million Dollar Egg or something like that. It was pretty amazing, for a kid…

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    1. We had OnTV in Chicago that was pretty much the same deal. Remember how they’d broadcast a scrambled signal, and the box descrambled it? People used to buy or build their own boxes and swipe the signal. Considering what HBO charges for their service (which has really gone downhill, in my opinion), I didn’t blame them.

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  9. Oh how I remember those days and waking up either to the snow as we called it coming from the tv or a loud one note sound with the coloursof the basic screen. We had one Canadian channel that started to show movies throughout the night(CTV) which is where I saw many Vincent Price horror films and comedies like the road pictures with Hope and Crosby

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    1. Dorothy Lamour, too… don’t forget her… I think she was in all the “road” pictures.

      A priest friend of mine stayed up all night on Easter one year and watched a Vincent Price film festival. No idea if they had “The Fly,” maybe my favorite of his movies. He was an excellent actor, or in the words of his character on Batman, an eggs-cellent actor…

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  10. Yes, I am of the generation of signoffs, Indian test patterns, and the like. A while back (2015, I believe), I blogged about the prerecorded signoff Ted Turner had prepared for the end of the world, to be played by the last employee at CNN left standing. Brrrr.

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    1. Do you actually have a video from it? A lot of Cold War-era TV and radio stations pre-recorded the “white card” (prepare to take cover) and “red card” (take cover) warning messages the FCC told them they had to deliver if told to, and a couple of them are out on YouTube. Spooky, to be certain.

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