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exploring the phone system

When I was about 13 or 14, I discovered the Bell System test lines from our home phone. I don't remember how I did it, but somehow, I managed to dial a ringback number, and the phone started ringing when I hung up. Probably me dialing a wrong number and hanging up. It confused me, so I called the operator to ask about it. She was really nice and explained several test circuits to me -- she even gave me the numbers for some of them. My favorite was the ANI (automated number announce) line, that would read back to you the phone number you were calling from.

The next time the phone man came to our house (to install an extension in my bedroom, I think), I started asking questions. He patiently explained, and even left me with a couple of technical manuals. I think he could see by the electronics bench and the giant Yaesu ham radio rig that I would probably manage them. He also left me his phone number, and we started talking two or three times a week. Most 14-year-olds have girlfriends. I had a phone tech. Go figure.

i also had a job

Eventually, I got a tour of one of the central offices, I think the one for my exchange at the time (205-539). While I was there, a couple of relays on one of the old metal Crossbar-1 units fried, and I volunteered to help install the new ones. Three weeks later, I got a call from someone in personnel at Ma Bell, inviting me to be a part-time, assistant repair technician, if my dad would sign the work permit (under 16 had to have parental permission at that time). Three weeks after that, I was in the truck with a senior tech, going on my first call.

Over my high-school years, I developed a real ear for the phone system: I could identify Crossbar-1, Crossbar-5, tandem, trunk sounds for various lines (local, metro, long-distance, CO test), and the sounds of different ticketing devices (the things that captured your call history for the monthly bill). It was a sad day 10 years ago when we let our last landline go, because there's nothing on the cell phone in the way of call set-up noises.

not the only ear on the block

Then a couple of years ago, I discovered Evan Doorbell and his telephone tapes. Between the late 60's and the mid-eighties, Evan and his buddies were on a mission to record telephone sounds for posterity. I won't try to give away too much here, just say that my favorite is the sequence on George, the first voice-recognition answering machine, and all of the whacky answering machine "outgoing messages" that follow. Listen and enjoy!

Of course, that didn't stop me from my own explorations, even today. For example, here are a few interesting numbers you can still call to be suitably entertained:

  • (213) 621-0002: 1000Hz @ 0dB (this only makes sense if you're a phone person)
  • (570) 3867-0000: "due to an emergency condition...."
  • (916) 440-0031: "due to facility trouble...."
  • (573) 996-0002: they still have party lines?
  • (914) 232-9901: pleasant hills DMS 100
  • (206) 343-0011: this call requires a coin deposit. no, really.
  • (313) 849-9906: calling is too heavy to answer this number.
  • (202) 965-9970: you have just deactivated this feature.
  • (916) 440-0017: your service has been interrupted.
  • (202) 762-1401: USNO master clock!
  • (270) 301-5797: a maze of twisty little touch tones, all different.

    FWIW, on most cell phones, if you touch and hold on the numbers above, your phone will give you a pop-up menu with an option to call them. You're welcome.

Updated 2021-02-10 Wed 12:53 by stormrider (stormrider)

Copyright (C) 2020 by Bill Wear. All rights reserved, but asking to use is permitted and welcome.