In the days of mechanical clocks and watches when your watch stopped because you had not wound it properly you could dial zero on your rotary telephone and ask the operator what time it was. The switchboard the operator used had a clock on it and the clock was used to record the time a “long distance” phone call would start and end thusly billing you for so many minutes of long distance calling, but the call for the time was free.
By the 1980s the telephone company was reducing the number of switch board operators it had and going to automated dialing. The company had a special number you could call to receive the time. It is difficult to recall that particular number but 844-1212 sounds right. A voice would tell you the correct time along the lines of “Good morning. At the tone, the time will be 8:55 and 50 seconds.” Then there was a curt beep, and the message would repeat with an updated time. You could keep listening as it counted up in increments of 10 seconds. Eventually, you got disconnected.