What Is the Broad Tape?

The stream of financial and business news produced by Dow Jones & Co. is still known as the broad tape, although it now arrives in electronic form. The service was originally printed on ticker tape that was five inches wide, differentiating it from the narrower format used for stock quotes. 

Today’s broad tape is displayed on screens and provides a continuous stream of financial and business news for active investors and brokers.

Key Takeaways

  • Broad tape refers to the continuous stream of financial and business news displayed on pc screens and televisions.
  • The term once differentiated the separate feeds of news and stock quotes printed out on paper.
  • Dow Jones & Co. has delivered the broad tape in various formats since 1897.

Understanding the Broad Tape

The broad tape is widely available to investors and professionals in many forms. It can be viewed on television and on the internet as well as through private subscription services. However, it is prohibited from display on the floors of the stock exchanges in a (fairly fruitless) attempt to prevent traders from getting and reacting to the news faster than the public.

The First Updates

Broad tape tickers can be traced back to 1882 when Charles and Edward Jones launched a business news service. At the time, updates of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages were circulated on so-called flimsies, which were sheets of paper sandwiched with carbon paper. A clerk could produce up to 24 flimsies at a time by pressing very hard with a pen on the top sheet.

By 1897, Dow Jones was producing separate flimsies for financial news, on broad tape, and stock market quotes, on narrower tape. The format differentiated the two types of financial information.

Spreading the News

The first stock market tickers were thus handwritten and distributed by messengers, who delivered them to traders on Wall Street. With the introduction of electric power, machines were installed throughout Wall Street to transmit and print out the information as it was being typed at the source.

The broad tape ticker was born. A clerk on the site could now rip the paper off the machine and deliver it to a trader.

And, the used ticker paper could be torn up and tossed out the windows like confetti during a ticker-tape parade through lower Manhattan.

Before computerization, newspapers had the same machines, along with others that spewed general news and bulletins from the wire services. Larger papers had dozens of machines dedicated to separate feeds of foreign and domestic news, features, and sports.

The Constant Clack

Veterans at The Wall Street Journal remember these machines, which resembled small upright coffins and made a constant clacking noise as the paper tape spewed out the latest news. The sound of the broad tape ticker machine became a backdrop to the financial industry, and many claimed they helped keep everyone energized. 

Broad tape ticker machines could be spotted as late as 2017 but have now been entirely supplanted by computers and electronic screens. Collectors of vintage machines may find them of interest, though they'll never clack again.