NATIONWIDE — If you catch the top-of-hour news on WIBX/Utica, WTNY/Watertown, WHCU/Ithaca or any other CBS affiliate, you’ll notice something missing today: those quick little “chirp” tones that had been part of the newscasts for more than three decades.
CNYRadio.com first learned about the change through one of the local radio personalities we’re following on Twitter — who re-tweeted the message from WCBS afternoon anchor Steve Scott:
End of an era: Familiar chirp tone from CBS Radio goes away Monday after 30+ years. Technologically no longer needed. RIP chirp! – WCBS 880
In 140 characters or less, that’s basically the story. In an apparent response to a listener’s question, a few moments later, Scott tweeted:
For the record, the top of the hour “bong” or “boing” remains. It’s the chirp cue tone just before it that’s being retired.
For decades, local stations relied on the networks to send various tones in order to trigger various elements. But with the advent of digital satellite feeds over the past 10 years or so, many of those tones have been replaced by contact closures, digital signals that basically perform the same purpose, but don’t make any sounds on-air.
Trying to find more history and details on the CBS News Radio chirp, we found a rather plain looking page called “Some History of CBS,” which provides the following:
The chirp is an automation start pulse. It can be used by stations to switch equipment, but it actually was used in the network control room to start cartridge machines. The producer of the newscast who sits in the studio alongside of the newscaster had a toggle switch on the table to sound the chirp. The chirp before the bong might start the jingle. The chirp before the ads starts the ads. They had a bank of three sets of four cart machines for the ads, one machine for each of four segments of the country. If there were split-ads that were heard in only part of the country there might be different ads in the machines on the same bank. If the ad was nationwide there was an identical cartridge in each of the four machines. The bongs were automatically sounded by a clock, but the chirps were manually hit.
Not much else came up in our search, so we’re not sure exactly how true that is. But we’d have to find it hard to believe CBS was still using old-fashioned cart machines for these functions up until yesterday. No details on whether there were any “holdout” affiliates relying on the audible chirps either (considering networks, not affiliates, usually provided the StarGuide receivers), or if they were just included for nostalgic purposes, or perhaps for any affiliates staffed with live board operators.