Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The SigAlert

WE'VE ALL been there:  As we're already sitting, snared in what seems to be an endless chain of automobiles, we hear the traffic reporter over radio speakers alert us to something we feel as if we already know, a SigAlert -- here, there, everywhere it seems!

But really, what does that mean?

Last week, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge hosted an event downtown at the CalTrans building to honor Loyd Sigman (yes, with one "L"). A fitting place for a tribute for the man whose name is now synonymous with traffic meltdowns in the city.

According Kevin Roderick who writes and edits the great news/information and culture blog, L.A. Observed, "the original SigAlert went out on Jan. 21, 1955, not to alert drivers to traffic snarls, but to summon doctors to a horrible train wreck where Washington Boulevard crosses the Los Angeles River."

He goes on to quote a piece by City News Service: 
Sigmon was a vice president at Gene Autry's KMPC, which in the pre-wired world of the 1950s revolutionized Southern California driving by launching a fleet of airplanes and helicopters to cover traffic during rush hours. But the "KMPC Air Force" could not fly day and night, and Sigmon wanted LAPD officers to phone KMPC when freeways or streets were clogged....
According to radio historian Harry Marnell, a SigAlert could be triggered by a watch sergeant at LAPD headquarters if he pressed a button to generate the tone on the LAPD radio system. At 11 commercial AM radio stations in L.A., Sigmon's technology would prompt then-new reel-to-reel tape recorders to start up, and would flash lights or buzzers.
The news staff or announcers could then relay the breaking traffic news to the listeners. Chief William Parker approved the idea, but only if KMPC's competitors could also share the technology.
And here's some SigAlert History for you right here:

Nowadays a SigAlert is called for unplanned freeway lane closure expected to last more than 30 minutes.
Why does that seem like something that happens everyday?

-- L.G.

photo: the 10 to the 110
credit: L.G.

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