This week (5th February 2014) saw the 90th birthday of a British institution that is very familiar every time that it is encountered, and one which many might think now lacks relevance, yet is still fondly appreciated by its many fans. It was, of course, time to say Happy Birthday to The Pips.
The Pips, or the Greenwich Time Signal to give them their correct name, are six short tones that are broadcast at one second intervals, with the first five on the lead up to the hour, and the sixth on the hour itself. They are regularly heard on various BBC radio output, and most famously on Radio 4, where the act of making a noise whilst the pips are being played is known as crashing the pips, an offence sure to get the loyal listeners of the station to complain when the reverence of the time signal is interrupted.
The pips started life as all six being the same length of 1KHz tone, and more recently, the sixth pip was lengthened to show it as the marker of the new hour. When a leap second occurs, this is marked by the addition of a seventh pip.
Appropriately, the Today programme on Radio 4 played a pip based version of Happy Birthday to mark the occasion. If you haven’t heard it, you can listen to it here.