What time is it? ¿Qué hora es?

When tuning the mediumwave band, where stations from several countries may occupy one single channel, a time check can often help us find the country of origin if there is no other tangible information.

In Venezuela, the UT -4:30 time slot was reintroduced in 2008; otherwise, and depending on the time of the year, one will have to check out the local time of every suspected country on a webpage such as www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/. One should bear in mind that certain countries have more than one time zone.

Supposing you have found a station giving time checks for UT -5 h you still have a way to go:

Is it a Colombian, is it a Peruvian or perhaps an Ecuadorian or a Panamanian?

The way the time checks are enounced may give us an idea.  If the time check is given in the 12-hour system   a n d   the 24-hour system, then the station is probably from Ecuador!

The aim of this article is to give a few examples of time checks from various Spanish speaking areas of the world to help the listener sort the chaff from the grain.

As a rule, it is the hour that counts. In Spain, “la madre patria”, you would say “son las dos”,  it is two o’clock, and “son las dos y diez (minutos)” for 10 past 2, whereas 10 minutes to three would be “son las tres menos diez (minutos)”.

On Spanish nationwide networks the TC will usually be followed by the compulsory tag “y una hora menos en Canarias”, one hour less on the Canary Islands.

The structure including “menos”, meaning minus or less, is understood in Latin America but hardly ever used. Instead, in Latin America, you will hear the word “faltan”, are missing, “faltan diez para las tres”.

One will have to remember that the 12-hour clock is used in most of the Western hemisphere. 

In countries where dusk is a question of 10 or 15 minutes there is generally no need to explain if 7 o´clock is AM or PM.  Listeners will readily know that “son las 7” is at night if it is dark outside, and in the morning if it is daylight outside.  (Remember that stations talk to their own local audiences, not to distant listeners in other countries...)

In countries where sunset and sunrise is longer, the 24-hour system comes in handy.  In southern Argentina, in the town of Bariloche, you may enjoy daylight until about 10 PM at the Winter solstice.  Not surprisingly then, a Bariloche station would probably tell us that 9 o’clock at night is “las veintiuna horas”, not “las nueve horas [de la noche]”, as both 9 AM and 9 PM would be in broad daylight.

Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay are frequent users of the 24-hour system. And so is Mexico. In other countries, such as Guatemala and Honduras, the 24-hour time checks are often heard as an explanation, i.e. a time check where both the 12 and 24-hours systems are involved.  (This is not always easy as shown on one clip from Guatemala where the DJ is messing it up completely).

In Ecuador, the 24-hour clock is usually transferred into the AM-PM system of the 12-hour clock.  In Colombia, only casually.

The Venezuelans and Puerto Rican are often very laconic when telling us the time. They will throw in “Once, uno” for 1101 or 2301 hours, “Doce, dos” for 1202 or 0002, and “Una, uno” for 1301 or 0101 hours.  (“Una” denotes the hour, “la hora”, and “uno” the minute, “el minuto”)

In Bolivia, time checks are rare.  Too in Argentina, they are rather scarce, usually including the word “hora” or “horas”.

Among the more unusual time checks featured in our collection there is one from Bolivia, a jingle saying “Señor Locutor,/ me hace usted el favor/ de decirme la hora?”  (A similar jingle, although less explicit) is one from Radio Monte-Carlo in Uruguay).

Another funny one is from Guayaquil, Ecuador, It says “Míster, hello míster, ¿poderme decir la hora por favor?”  Giving this cue in broken Spanish (the question is not grammatically correct) presumably indicates that foreigners appear to be very concerned about time and that their Spanish command is usually deficient.

Another funny thing about this jingle is the answer, “You´d rather tune in to Z-1 (= the name of the station in question). They will be happy to tell you what time it is”.

Sponsored time checks are less frequent now as compared to the 60´s where a cigarette brand or a brand of whisky would give the top of the hour time check, “son las seis, hora Caballo Blanco (=White Horse), or “cigarrillos Casino le informa la hora”.

In Peru the Inca Kola jingle is rightly famous. In the Dominican Republic, the Bermúdez rum and in Colombia, the Bavaria beer are a few of the examples featured in our selection of sponsored time checks.

In Peru, when digital clocks were introduced a few decades ago, many DJ´s would read out all the zeroes as well.   “En nuestros estudios son las cero nueve horas con cero siete minutos, cero cero segundos” for  0907 hours.

In certain countries, especially in Central America, one finds many non-stardard TC formats, especially when referring to minutes 31 to 59 past the hour: “faltan nueve minutos para pun-tualizar las nueve de la noche”, 2051, “quince minutos y serán las diez de la noche”, 2145 etc.

At the half-hour it is usually “son las xx y media”, although I have also heard the Mexican variety, “son las xx y medias”.

When referring to hours in the morning, midday, afternoon, night and early morning, you refer to “las xx de la mañana, ...del mediodía, ...de la tarde, ... de la noche” and “...de la madrugada”. The last word is common in Spain and unusual in Latin America except for  Cuba.

Words such as “amanecer” or “alborada” are recurrent in countries where daybreak is short and particularly beautiful. “Amanecer ranchero”, “Amanecer llanero”, “Alborada tachirense”, are programme names that come to mind.

Finally, AM and PM are not usually heard in conjunction with a time check, excepting perhaps the Dominican republic where I have have heard “antes del meridiano” for AM and pasado meridiano for PM. Meridiano means noon.

The word "pasado(s)" related to minutes past the hours is occasionally heard in Central America, especially in Honduras. Nueve de la noche pasados diez minutos” is  “nueve diez” in Venezuela, “nueve con diez” in Peru, and in southern South America, “hora veintiuna con diez”. In Ecuador, the time is usually given both in the 12-hour system and the 24-hour system, “las nueve en la noche con diez minutos, las veintiuna horas con diez”.

There are always exceptions to rules. Latin Americans tend to like innovations.

The recorded time checks are listed country-wise as “TC” and also under “Notes”.

Our selection of time checks contain no samples from the USA where stations usually will follow the patterns familiar to the targeted audience, which in many cases is Mexican.

Henrik Klemetz

November 5, 2009

ARG Argentina BOL Bolivia CHL Chile
CLM Colombia CTR Costa Rica CUB Cuba
DOM Rep. Dominicana E España EQA Ecuador
GTM Guatemala HND Honduras MEX México
NCG Nicaragua PNR Panamá PRG Paraguay
PRU Perú PTR Puerto Rico SLV El Salvador
URG Uruguay VEN Venezuela