Public sirens and horns
by Tom Jennings
Once a very important medium, they are now obsolete pretty much everywhere. The noontime horn, "air raid" and Civil Defense alerts, fire-whistle tests, they are definitely in a mode of the past. These systems all assumed a large number of people within hearing distance of the local government building that hosted the siren. Fire alarms (e.g., a "two alarm" fire) are the last function of public sirens used in urban/suburban areas that I am aware of. I wonder how many functions that once had, that are now forgotten?
At least as of 1996 in San Francisco, there was a Tuesday noontime whistle; presumably at a fire station, but I don't really know.
Los Angeles streets are covered with Civil Defense sirens. They sit on top of their own poles, approx. 15-20 feet, and look like birdhouses. They were pointed out to me by a local artist who once wanted to work them into a coordinated performance, but the local authorities were stumped as to jurisdiction of the relics and skeptical of the project anyway. They're one of those odd things... effectively nonexistent, but once spotted, they appear everywhere.
My project load is such that I will never pursue this subject, but I thought it should be recorded. I assume their origin dates back to ringing alarm bells in church towers of ages old, but I don't really know.
(((bruces remarks: Telecommunication alarm systems pre- date Christianity. Swift warning of disaster or enemy attack is one of the primary reasons for building such a system in the first place. Smoke signals, tribal drum- beats, Gaullic stentor shouting, fire signals in Roman imperial forts, alarm fires on the Great Wall of China, in the optical telegraphy towers of revolutionary France... not to mention the later vast proliferation of telegraphic fire alarms, burglar alarms, and Distant Early Warning stations. There is little question that dead alarm systems are "dead media." We would gratefully distribute any accurate and documented information on this topic. Defunct civil defense sirens might be an excellent start.)))