This week in 1956: The automatic announcer

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In a report that heralds the dawn of a more irritating age, this article details the invention of the 'automatic announcer', a bulky forbear to the automated PA systems that today assault rail travellers' ears across the UK.

The Engineer wrote that the device, developed by General Electric, 'can reproduce any one of 25 recorded announcements or signals for relaying over a loudspeaker system'.

It was initially installed at Stratford station where, according to the article, 'the platform announcements for passengers are automatically initiated by the trains themselves, first as they approach the station and then again as they come to a standstill at the platform.'

Explaining the system's operation, The Engineer wrote that 'the messages are recorded side-by-side on a special loop of magnetic tape, 3in wide and the appropriate message is selected by push button when required. To make the system fully automatic, particular announcements such as shift changes, meal breaks or other messages can be triggered by a master clock mechanism.'

The system could also be operated remotely: 'the push buttons can be mounted remotely from the instrument so that announcements or emergency calls, such as fire alarms, can be initiated from other parts of the premises.'

Jon Excell