Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why call to get the time and weather when there are apps?


Long before smartphones made finding out the time or temperature as easy as glancing at your screen, you could pick up your landline - that was a thing - and call Time and Temp. Cities all across the country had their own numbers that were operated by local banks or phone companies. A lot of the numbers ended up in 1010 or 1212, including here in Washington. Tana Weingartner of member station WVXU in Cincinnati reports that while the concept may seem outdated, the service still exists.

TANA WEINGARTNER, BYLINE: When I was a kid back in the '80s, I remember my dad teaching me to call the local time and temperature line. Eventually, smartphones came around, and I started calling the number less and less. But I still dial it every now and then, mostly to see if it still works. Recently, I started asking around if anyone else remembered calling them.

DUANE MOORE: That's, like, one of the first phone numbers we learned as a kid.

WEINGARTNER: That's Duane Moore. He's 49 and instantly knew what I was talking about.

MOORE: It was, like, my parents' house, my grandparents' house, time and temperature - not necessarily in that order. I think I learned time and temperature first and still know it to this day, but that's coming out of the '70s. That's how it was then.

LAUREN BRUCE: So the weather lines have actually been around for generations.

WEINGARTNER: Lauren Bruce has worked for the weather lines for the past 15 years, doing just about everything but recording the forecasts.

BRUCE: So if people needed to know about urgent weather that was coming, they installed these weather lines all across the country to check and see, do we need to evacuate? Is something big coming?

WEINGARTNER: Bruce says people used to rely on them all the time, not just during storms. Popularity peaked in the 1990s, but Bruce says there are still millions of calls annually, especially in Ohio, where people called the weather line 295,000 times just last January. And a surprising number of those callers were younger than you might think.

BRUCE: A large percentage of our callers actually were in the 30 to 35 and then the 35 to 40 and the 40 to 45 age group.

WEINGARTNER: Bruce says they don't fully know why the weather line is so popular with this crowd, but nostalgia seems pretty likely. That's the case for me. And anecdotally, I've heard about people handing out the weather line when asked for their phone number, like in a bar or when filling out random forms.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you for calling the weather service.

KEITH ALLEN: Here's the latest weather forecast for Cincinnati for Friday, February...

WEINGARTNER: This is the voice of Keith Allen. He's one of the last real live people recording the weather for ClearlyIP. AI is taking over.

ALLEN: The product that I put out I'm very proud of, and I want it to be accurate because people plan their lives hearing my voice.

WEINGARTNER: Allen's 82 and lives in suburban Washington, D.C. He does forecasts for more than 20 cities across the country.

ALLEN: They plan their days or what to wear. And if there's dangerous weather, ice, snow, people are going to be more cautious.

WEINGARTNER: Allen is quick to point out he's not a meteorologist. He's just obsessed with weather. He gets raw data from NOAA and has spent time learning about different weather patterns and peculiarities in each city he covers. He even sometimes uses online traffic cameras to see how things are looking. Of course, before the live streams, he had to get a little creative.

ALLEN: What I would do is I would just call a number at random in those cities and, you know, tell them, oh, I'm sorry, I've got the wrong number. By the way, how's the weather there in Cincinnati?

WEINGARTNER: Allen's been voicing the weather for decades. He says it's a calling. So maybe next time before you click the weather app, go old school and dial Time and Temp. For NPR News, I'm Tana Weingartner.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.