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The story behind the BBC pips time signal

Since 1924 the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has used an
audible time signal of six short 'pips' to mark the final seconds of the hour. They begin on the 55th second of the 59th minute of the hour.
T
he new minute begins at the start of the sixth pip, which is a little longer in duration.

The BBC pips were originally devised by Royal Astronomer Sir Frank Dyson in 1923, in consultation with the head of the BBC, John Reith, and the horologist and inventor Frank Hope-Jones. The pips were created by
Dent regulators built in 1874, housed at the Royal Observatory in
Greenwich, near London.

For the New Year of 1924, the chimes of Big Ben, the nickname of the
famous clock tower of the British Houses of Parliament in London, were
broadcast for the first time as part of the same arrangement. This was achieved by placing electrical contacts on the pendulums of two of the Dent clocks (so there was a back-up). These sent signals to BBC headquarters at Broadcasting House. Here they were converted to the 'pip' sound by an oscillatory valve, at a frequency of about 1 kHz.

In 1939, the six pip signal and the Time Service moved from Greenwich to
the magnetic observatory at Abinger in Surrey. Their next location was
Herstmonceux, Sussex in 1957. In 1990, the Greenwich Time Service transmitted its last pips.  Since then the BBC has originated its own pips based on signals from the GPS satellite network and also from the 60kHz radio transmitter at Rugby, operated by BT Aeronautical and Maritime under contract to the (British) National Physical Laboratory.

Every fourth (leap) year, an additional 'leap second' is needed in order to synchronise UTC (formerly Greenwich Mean Time or GMT) with the earth's orbit. A seventh pip is added: the six short ones are at seconds 55 to 60, and the final longer one still begins the new minute, but at second 61, thereby resetting the timing cycle.

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