The LA Times has a sweet and sorrowful little piece on AT&T's discontinuation of its automated speaking clock time service, with melancholy interviews with the old maintenance staff for the lumbering, crumbling "time machine" hardware.
"It was always there," said Orlo Brown, 70, who for many years kept Pacific Bell's (and subsequently SBC's) time machines running in a downtown Los Angeles office building. "Everybody knew the number."
Richard Frenkiel was assigned to work on the time machines when he joined Bell Labs in the early 1960s. He described the devices as large drums about 2 feet in diameter, with as many as 100 album-like audio tracks on the exterior. Whenever someone called time, the drums would start turning and a message would begin, with different tracks mixed together on the fly.
"The people who worked on it took it very seriously," Frenkiel, 64, recalled. "They took a lot of pride in it."
In a twist of historical irony, Frenkiel went on to play a leading role in development of the technology that makes cellphones possible — the very device that's now instrumental in killing time.