– Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge marked the anniversary of the first broadcast of what we now know as a “SigAlert” on January 23, 2012. The term has a special place in the lexicon of southern California life. It’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 1950’s, more and more vehicles were flooding LA’s freeways, causing traffic tie-ups. Radio stations began doing traffic reports. 710AM KMPC was one such station. But Gene Autry’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 – or “Sig” as he was known – 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 “SigAlert”. The first “SigAlert” was broadcast on January 22nd, 1955. Sigmon told the LA Times that “SigAlerts” 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 … but Chief Parker is said to have coined the phrase when he reportedly said, “We’re going to name this damn thing SigAlert.” 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 LAPD’s call for medical help.
The term “SigAlert” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary several years ago. Loyd “Sig” Sigmon died in 2004 at the age of 95. Click here to see more photos of the event