A Local Mystery: Where is that National Anthem Coming From?

Almost every morning my wife and I hear a loud speaker play a short recording of the national anthem at 8:00 a.m. This has been going on for a number of years and we have often speculated about where the loud speaker might be located. We hear it in Colonial Place, one block in from the main body of the Lafayette River.

Other people in the neighborhood hear the recording, too, but no one seems to know where it comes from or who plays it. Our only clue is that the recording is the exact same one the U.S. Navy plays for “Colors” every morning which I have heard on Naval bases.

Over the last couple of weeks my wife and I have been trying to find the origin by driving to spots where we think the song will be louder, hoping to figure out the direction to the source. The most promising listening spots — the ODU campus because of the ROTC program there and the NAVFAC facility at the foot of the Hampton Blvd. bridge — proved unhelpful. We didn’t hear the anthem at all.

Sometimes the recording is loud and distinct, as if it were playing only a block or two away from our house. Sometimes it is so faint we can barely make it out. This suggests to us that the source is far away and weather conditions affect how well we hear it.

Naval Station Norfolk is about four miles from us as the crow flies, and there is an expansive, though circuitous, route for sound to travel up the Elizabeth and Lafayette Rivers to our neighborhood. Also, we know that the Navy upgraded the public address system on base to a “Giant Voice” system that is used to play the National Anthem for morning Colors. Portsmouth Naval Hospital is another possible source with similar parameters, but in the opposite direction.

There are some non-trivial aspects to solving the mystery. For example, if we go to a listening spot away from our home, then we can’t be sure the sound we hear is the same sound we would hear at home. Similarly, just knowing that the Navy plays Colors at 8:00 a.m. doesn’t prove that the Navy is the source.

Any thoughts? Does anyone else hear the anthem where they live?

23 thoughts on “A Local Mystery: Where is that National Anthem Coming From?

  1. I hear the music every morning at 0800 and again at sunset. It should be the call to colors at the Naval Base. Just like we can hear the revving of airplane engines at NAS on certain days when the wind is right.

    There are many military facilities, but I only hear the one at 8AM and again at sunset. Never have I heard two or more recordings competing.

    And, speaking of ODU, on game days, we can hear the band practicing, the game cheers, the various announcements, etc. when the wind is from the West.

    We are in West Belvedere.

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      1. I think it still is. Last night I walked and heard the bugle, but I could not make out the music. But it was right at sunset.

        I recall when I was stationed on DD820 at D&S piers that many of us tried to be inside the ship for colors so as not to have to stand at attention and salute the flag for a couple of minutes. I think the AM muster was also right around that time, but I am not sure.

        Wasn’t shipboard call to colors at sea done by Bosun’s pipe?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Living in VB, I have not heard the anthem anywhere.

    I was stationed at NAVSTA when the switch to the Giant Voice System occurred. There were some times, while attached to USS THEODORE TROOSEVELT (CVN-71) we were SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat) and had the responsibility to signal to the other ships on the piers for morning and evening colors.

    Sound goes where it wants. Unless you absolutely rule out NAVSTA as the source, I would say that is the best possibility. UNLESS it is coming from Norfolk Naval SY?

    Just a thought.

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  3. I also live in Colonial Place and have never heard it. But I leave for work around 6:30.

    Maybe the anthem, like the spirit of America, has lived in your hearts all along?

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  4. Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts.

    That Mr. Rothman hears the Colors directly across the river from my location is extremely helpful. That strongly suggests Naval Station Norfolk is the source. We have never heard the evening Colors where we live, but our neighborhood may just be noisier.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What’s at the old PHS hospital nowadays? That’s the closest installation to Colonial Place. If it’s some you hear regardless of temperature and wind, it’s close.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “The Main Clubhouse Front Desk is available daily from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., with the exception of Mondays.”

      Pay attention on Monday morning to see if the morning is silent. If you don’t hear it, then that ups the likelihood. If you do, well, maybe the janitor does the job on Monday.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The old PHS hospital grounds are now housing the Naval Engineering Facility and I’m going to rule them and any other military installations out. They would use “To the Colors” over the National Anthem simply out of efficiency. The Anthem is a minute and a half long, mimimum. TTC is 30 seconds. How long does it take to ceremoniously raise a flag, tie off the halyard, salute, and turn. 30 seconds. No way a military installation will come to a stop for the extra minute when TTC is the revered short alternative with equal weight.

    I’m sticking with the NY&CC. They are located right on the water 1.5 miles downriver from youse guys and sound carries beautifully on the water. And, they’re civilian, an organization that is loaded with the tradition-minded, thus far more likely to not know that TTC is equally acceptable.

    That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it… Oh, wait, could be the Hermitage.

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    1. To The Colors is a bugle call. What we hear is an abbreviated version of the National Anthem, just a few bars then the ending, full orchestra.

      NY&CC is a good possibility, and the Hermitage is on our list of listening spots to try. If the source is located on the Layfaette River, our money is on the NAVFAC facility (the old PHS). We didn’t hear the loud speaker there, but when we were listenning outside the back gate, cars entering the property abruptly stopped at exactly 8:00 a.m., waited a minute or two, then started to move again, just as you’d expect during morning Colors.

      The Norfolk Zoo is another possibility because it is nearby and has a public address system and river frontage. But in truth, any patriot with a flag pole and a good stereo along the river could be the source.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. An abbreviation of the Anthem? Okay, not the military. No way, no how. No way the military would end it midway. Nor even just play the ending crescendo. That’s what TTC is for.

        Nope civilian. Oooh I like the zoo. It’s closer to you guys, but across land.

        And it’s the same piece morning and night? Yeah, definitely a civilian.

        Here’s what you and Len should do. Record it on your laptops while rotating the microphone slowly. Use an old turntable at 33.3 starting with the mic pointed north or while talking to each other on the phone. Then, compare the playback dB to determine the peaks and which way the microphone was pointed. Too bad you can’t sync the timestamps with wall clock, we could use shifting delays to get a bearing pair.

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  7. Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) in Portsmouth plays the full National Anthem at 0800 every morning. In addition, all the commissioned ships at the shipyard play the Anthem at this time also. All employees outdoors at the time of playing are supposed to stop what they are doing and face a flag, standing at attention. Same with Taps each night at sundown.

    As an interesting aside, at the naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, both the US National Anthem and the Japan National Anthem are played (back to back) at 0800. All workers, both US and Japanese, stand at attention while playing both anthems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. …”all the commissioned ships at the shipyard play the Anthem at this time also. ”

      I was under the impression that the base plays it for all tenant commands, including ships. That is how NAVSTA runs it. All ships observe but at the direction and with the musical accompaniment, both Bugle Calls and Anthem, from the BIG VOICE system.

      Also the international standard of playing the American and host nation anthems has always been around. Not on;y in Japan.

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  8. A little background. During my 24-plus year in the Navy I was a Signalman, the SME on Honors and Ceremonies. Major responsibilities wrt H&C was to ensure that all protocols were followed properly by the command.

    The playing of the national Anthem was a Morning Colors “thing”, preceded by the Bugle (or Pipe) call “Attention to Colors” and followed by the Bugle Call to “Carry On.”

    Evening colors uses TAPS vice the Anthem and last about 30-45 seconds total. Same Bugle Calls are used.

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