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  • Waiting for a ride

Loyd Sigmon, Mr. Sig Alert


This last April I was enjoying an early spring morning casual carpool commute into San Francisco. We were off to a good start in a lovely Toyota Corolla, pleasant guy driving, traffic moving right along and all of a sudden ALL the lanes stopped. KCBS Radio reported that there was an accident near Hercules – a few miles ahead of us, with several major injuries, and that the 3 left lanes were blocked (that included us). “It’s a Sig Alert”, the announcer reported.

Sig Alert – a term I heard a lot when I was a commuter in Southern California, but not so much in the Bay Area. It’s defined as “any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more.” SigAlerts started in 1955, in L.A., thanks to a fellow named Loyd C. Sigmon. Loyd came from a radio background, station KMPC in L.A. and was in the army during WWII running non-combat radio communications. He used his radio talents to create a specialized radio receiver and reel-to-reel tape recorder that picked up LA police department traffic bulletins. When the receiver picked up a particular tone, it would record the subsequent bulletin. Before this device was developed, each of the many LA radio stations had to call the LAPD to get information on traffic accidents and conditions. As you can imagine, with the growing number of automobiles in LA, the frequency of traffic accidents and jams increased as well. Every time there was an accident, dozens of radio stations would call into the LAPD, tying up telephone lines while officers repeated the same information over and over again.

Sigmon’s receiver stopped that. Police Chief William Parker enthusiastically endorsed the device, and gave it the name ‘Sigalert’. Radio stations eagerly installed Sigmon’s device and were able to broadcast the information immediately.

Our Sigalert ended after about 30 minutes, the road cleared, and we were on our way again. Thanks, Loyd.