Do you ever just stay up late one night and watch television? We’ve all been there, but what if I told you that you couldn’t do that years ago? That’s because television was still figuring stuff out, even in the 1980s. For years, local television stations would shut off their transmitters, or “sign-off” for the night. In place of programming, those famous color bars or a test pattern would be displayed accompanied by an insufferable beep. They would then “sign-on” for the morning to resume programming.
Needless to say, I’m glad we have 24/7/365 television today. That said, I do think that this is pretty interesting, so I’m going to talk about it a little today.
As to why TV stations signed off, there really isn’t a concrete reason. In the 50’s, when TV was new, people knew that they wouldn’t stay up all night watching TV. So, to either save money or just because they knew no one was watching, they started signing off for the night. Per FCC rules, stations had to let the viewer know everything about themselves, such as their call letters (KTLA, WCBS), transmitter location, and ownership information. After this process, the National Anthem would play. Then ear pain once the National Anthem is over. Sometimes, other steps would be involved, like a religious prayer or hymn, but the general process remains the same for most stations.
(This one was uploaded to YouTube by robatsea2009.)
Once the television demographic grew, it was becoming apparent that sign-offs were unnecessary. Most stations ceased to do it by the mid-90’s. However, some stations may sign off occasionally to do work on the transmitter, like this one by WITI FOX 6 uploaded by themilwaukeeboy. It may very well contain the best rendition of the National Anthem that I’ve ever heard.
I also want to mention that this station gave me one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen.
I soon became curious as to what this process is like all over the world, and sure enough, I found this one from Spain uploaded by balancedaustralia. Other countries would play their anthems.
Television New Zealand also has an interesting sign-off. They had an animated short called Goodnight Kiwi air when they were signing off. I have to say, the animation and backgrounds here are very nice. They could have easily had the same monotone voice telling you about the network, but they did something truly unique, which I respect.
This may not be done anymore, but I’m both fascinated by this practice and kind of horrified at the thought of seeing all this as I’m about to sleep. Signing off was before my time, but I first saw it referenced on an episode of Family Guy, and eventually found out about it. I guess that shows that people remember hearing the National Anthem late at night. The folks at [adult swim] do as well, apparently. (This was uploaded by REVOLUTION ZONE316 RESURRECTION.)
Thanks for reading!