â€“ Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge marked the anniversary of the first broadcast of what we now know as a â€œSigAlertâ€ on January 23, 2012. The term has a special place in the lexicon of southern California life. Itâ€™s become symbolic of the Los Angeles car-culture and the resulting congestion and difficulty getting around the five county southern California area and its interdependent freeway circuitry. The SigAlert has become a staple of radio and television traffic reporting, issued by the California Highway Patrol when an unforeseen incident causes the closure of at least one lane of traffic for a half hour or more.
In the early 1950â€™s, more and more vehicles were flooding LAâ€™s freeways, causing traffic tie-ups. Radio stations began doing traffic reports. 710AM KMPC was one such station. But Gene Autryâ€™s Golden West Broadcasters station had an advantage in Executive Vice President Loyd C. Sigmon, a former communications expert in the US Army Signal Corps during World War II.
Sigmon â€“ or â€œSigâ€ as he was known â€“ developed a specialized radio receiver and reel-to-reel tape recorder based on technology used to monitor German radio broadcasts.
In Los Angeles, Sigmon set-up a system that enabled police dispatchers to transmit an inaudible radio tone. That tone could trigger special SigAlert receivers in local radio stations, which would record the dispatchers emergency bulletin, flash a red-light and sound a buzzer to alert the radio station engineer. The engineer could then simply press a button to broadcast the â€œSigAlertâ€. The first â€œSigAlertâ€ was broadcast on January 22nd, 1955. Sigmon told the LA Times that â€œSigAlertsâ€ were such attention-grabbers that a lot of companies wanted to sponsor them; but that KMPC had a strict policy against that. Then-LAPD Chief William Parker approved the program, but told KMPC that they must make it available to all Los Angeles radio stations â€¦ but Chief Parker is said to have coined the phrase when he reportedly said, â€œWeâ€™re going to name this damn thing SigAlert.â€ And so they did. By Labor Day of 1955, six radio stations broadcast the first SigAlert for a train-wreck at Union Station. Ironically, the broadcast caused a traffic-jam, as so many doctors and nurses responded to the LAPDâ€™s call for medical help.
The term â€œSigAlertâ€ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary several years ago. Loyd â€œSigâ€ Sigmon died in 2004 at the age of 95. Click here to see more photos of the event