Touch Tones Heard on Old Television Stations

Am I losing my mind, or does anyone else remember hearing what sounded like touch tone telephone sounds sometimes while watching cable television channels? I never hear those sounds anymore, but I remember hearing them all the time in the 80’s and early 90’s on a variety of channels. The “touch tone” sounds were not during the show itself; it was usually heard when going to or from a commercial. Nowadays the only place I ever hear the sounds are when watching TV Land. TV Land seems to use the quick tones during thier own TV Land commercials; such as when they are advertising a special or awards show … it seems like they use it as a sort of theme. If anyone out there remembers hearing these sounds back in the day, can you explain what in the world they were for, or what they meant?!

I read what they were once. IIRC, they are sounds that notify the stations broadcasting the show to do something. I believe a typical use would be to signal a local market station to start their own advertisements and the equipment started that based on the tone.

I may have some of the speficics wrong but that was basically it.

I remember those from cable. 4 really fast tones. Something to do with 1980s era sound-activated automatic switching equipment. I used to call 'em “biddly boop” and “piddly poop.”

“bee-doops” are a bygone technology, no longer needed as the transmission is almost always digital now, and there are provisions for “out of band” signalling now. Back in the 80’s, transmission was generally analog, and the only means of adding any sort of intelligence to the signals was to put the command “in band” or in the actual signal.

Thanks for all the replies; it all makes sense now. But does anyone know specifically what the tones were called, or what the technology was called? Call me obscure television technology freak. :slight_smile:

If my dad were alive, he could tell us the real name for it. They were used by cable broadcasters (ESPN, CNN, USA, etc.) to tell the local cable carriers to insert local commercials. If your local carrier did not sell cable advertising, or didn’t have one for that slot, nothing happened. You just looked at the national feed, which might be some sort of promo for the channel itself. Then, it was back to scheduled programming.

Back in radio days, they were called bee-doops. Less romantically, they’re Touch-Tone or DTMF tones.

If you really feel like picking nits, some systems used MFPK, or MultiFrequency KeyPulse tones - a set of signal tones that were similar to, but intentionally different from Touch-Tone, as MFKP was used for inter-offfice signalling on toll calls and other “supervisory” functions, so Ma Bell didn’t want customers to be able to enter the tones themselves (eg: phone phreaking) and to avoid any chance of customers inadvertently activating something while amusing themselves playing “Mary Had a Littie Lamb” on their phone.

Or blowing a whistle they got as a free prize in a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal that just happened to hit the 2600 Hz frequency dead-on. If someone did that, they might be able to get free long distance.

Of course, all of that phun is gone now. The phone companies have switched over to out-of-band digital signals to perform all of the special functions, making it impossible for someone with a homemade box built from Radio Shack components and a plan downloaded from his friendly neighborhood BBS to fuck with one of the largest companies in the world.

Cool. Wikipedia has an entry on DTMF, with a brief reference to cable networks. Interesting stuff–there’s a link to recordings of the tones themselves.