You Spin Me Round

Pick a hole, any hole!

Pick a hole, any hole!

If you were born sometime in the last two decades, there’s a good chance you’re looking at the picture leading of today’s Flashback Friday post and wondering what in the hell that weird looking monstrosity is.  It kinda looks like a phone…. but what’s with that cord?  And the handset big enough to bludgeon a possum with?  And the…… um….. wait a minute!  Where’s the dial!?!?!?  I can’t use this thing!!!  It must be broken!!!

smashing smartphone

Bad phone!!! Bad!!!

Calm down, grasshoppers!  Those of us older folks know exactly what that is and how to use one…. though we’d be a little rusty with it ourselves now since they’ve been obsolete  flashback fridayfor over 20 years.  That is the good old rotary telephone, from back in the days when it took you longer to dial a number than it could now to receive and send a text.  Rotary dials have been around since the early days of the telephone, and although eventually the more familiar and convenient touchtone dial was introduced in the 1960’s, rotary phones were still commonplace in the 80’s.

I'll bet this would stop everyone's texting addiction real fast...

I’ll bet this would stop everyone’s texting addiction real fast…

So how did this strange medieval apparatus work?  Simple… if you wanted to dial Jenny, rather than hit the buttons 8, 6, 7, 5, 3, 0, 9 and then wait to be called a prevert, you had to stick your finger into the corresponding holes for each number, rotate the dial clockwise until you reached the finger stop right before the zero, and then release your finger and let the dial work its way back to its set position…. and repeat the process for each number.  As the dial spun its way back once released, it gave off a sequence of pulses dependent upon the distance it had to travel backwards from the finger stop.  Dialing the 8 created eight pulses which triggered the routing system at the call center the same way the touchtone sound for the number 8 would on today’s phones.

Hey baby!!!  Guess where my finger's been!

Hey baby!!! Guess where my finger’s been!

If you dialed the infamous Jenny number on a rotary phone, you’d realize that back in the day it required much more patience to make a phone call.  Since most of the digits are towards the end of the dial, it required a lot of finger spinning and waiting for the dial to return from the finger stop.  Did you know this was a consideration when the first area codes were assigned back in the 1950’s?  The larger cities, such as New York City (212), Los Angeles (213) and Chicago (312) were allowed to have the codes that required the least amount of time to dial on a rotary phone since more calls would be made to customers in those area codes than in some of the podunks like South Dakota (605).  This consideration was not taken into effect when it was determined that 911 would be reserved for local emergency services.  Most other countries in the world that are much more civilized than we are use a number that takes a lot less time to dial on a rotary phone should you find yourself being pursued by an icepick murderer…

it's your unlucky day!

The 9 will still be pulsating when your aorta gets severed…

One of the most fascinating bits I found in the Wiki article on rotary phones involves a plan by a Washington DC anti-drug coalition to have the phone company replace its touchtone pay phones with rotary dials in the late 1990’s to discourage the practice of using pay phones to call the pagers of drug dealers, since pagers were not compatible with pulse dialing.  Alas, this was a case of applying obsolete technology to technology that itself was well on the way to becoming obsolete.  15 years later, pay phones are almost as hard to find as a rotary dial…

Dammit!!!  Has anyone seen a phone booth around here!?!?

Dammit!!! Has anyone seen a phone booth around here!?!?

Growing up in a zoo house of five kids, we wore through a lot of things pretty fast, and one of them was telephones.  We seemed to alternate through many different rotary and touchtone phones through the 80’s and 90’s.  My favorite was a phone we had maybe 15-20 years ago that was a bizarre hybrid of the old and new dialing system.  It had push buttons just like a normal phone today would, but it still sent out pulses rather than tones.  Seriously, other than a little finger strain, what was the purpose of the push-button pulse phone anyway?  Only some demented evil genius would come up with something like that…

Behold!!!  Plutonium dialing with the power of 1.21 gigawatts!!!

Behold!!! Plutonium dialing with the power of 1.21 gigawatts!!!

Sadly, rotary phones are not just obsolete in the popular notion, but they are actually obsolete from a technical standpoint as well.  Most telecommunications technology created over the past two decades no longer recognizes pulse dialing, which makes rotary phones about as useless as the pound key.  But those of us who lived with these marvels of popular science will always remember them with a warm, fuzzy sense of nostalgia.  A relic of a simpler day and time when the letters on a phone were for dialing Beechwood 4-5789, and our pointer fingers were always the most buff appendage on our bodies.  We here at The Nest would like to give the rotary phone a 21-pulse salute….

OMG!  The days when everyone had their telephone number printed on their phone!!!  Now that’s nostalgia….


About evilsquirrel13

Bored former 30-something who has nothing better to do with his life than draw cartoon squirrels.
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35 Responses to You Spin Me Round

  1. Interesting post. When I first visited America in 1977 I couldn’t believe how every house had a phone and how cheap it was to use them. Here in England we used to run around to the phone box in the next street. Our first phone was in 1979. That was because we moved house and there was a phone in the new one. It would have probably been well into the 80’s before we would have had one if we hadn’t moved.

  2. Her Majesty says:

    I was so proud of myself for coming up with a solution for not being able to remember my cell phone number. I printed a label strip with the number on it and stuck it on the back of the phone! Clever, huh?

    Thanks for reminding me that all I was really doing was just going all old school. At least I used a thermal label maker instead of the old chunka chunka embossers that just scraped the color off of a piece of plastic.

    I can’t ever remember what 5 menus I have to scroll through to find the screen the lists the phone number I can’t ever remember. But why should I when all I have to do is turn over the phone and look on the back of it? Technology making our lives easier, my old aching ass….

  3. gentlestitches says:

    HaHa. I haven’t heard that noise for a long time. My Grandparents had the phone on in the outback but it was a party line. That meant the whole district shared the one line and anyone could eavesdrop if they wanted to.

    • I’ve heard about those…. bet that was fun!

      Of course, it reminds me of the early days of cordless phones, when they all shared wireless frequencies within a small range, and that range was accessable to anyone who had a common police scanner. I had one…. and I learned a lot about my neighbors…. 😉

  4. merbear74 says:

    I was laughing so hard at the 8 6 7 5 3 0 9. If you were to draw a squirrel that looked like you, what color hair and eyes would he have?

  5. The Cutter says:

    I kind of miss watching the dial rotate back. It was great entertainment as a kid. Then again, I also thought the Atari 2600 was the pinnacle of entertainment.

    • You mean the Atari 2600 isn’t the pinnacle of entertainment!?!?!?

      I never had the old Atari (was fortunate to have a friend that did), but I did have the ColecoVision that competed against it in the early 80’s. Boy was that technology clunky and quaint by today’s standards….

      • The Cutter says:

        You had Coleco Vision? Were you royalty???

      • Not quite! I have no idea what possessed my parents to buy that for Christmas one year since it was a huge deal at the time, though it was a couple years before my Dad lost his job and things really went in the toilet. We only wound up with 9 games for it before it was mothballed and the NES showed us what video gaming was supposed to look like…

      • The Cutter says:

        But the games were magical! Donkey Kong actually looked like Donkey Kong, as opposed to a big brown circle on Atari.

      • Yep, the Coleco graphics blew away Atari’s, no doubt! I was always pissed that Coleco didn’t have Pitfall, though… THAT was a game! At least I had Squish ’em Sam!

  6. C.K. Hope says:

    My Father still has rotary phones in his house. Yes. Plural. One in the (finished) basement, one in his wood shop, and the third on his nightstand so you know if he needs to dial 911 at three in the morning the murderer/burglar can stand there with a quizzical look on his face wondering what manner of witchcraft be this!?

  7. pantherbutts says:

    very funny … indeed. i didn’t think you were old enough to remember the rotary. just imagine trying to carry that thing in the car and texting with it? (hmmm …) i’ve done stand-up comedy, in addition to my published books, “pantherville” and “eimaj’s a beauty” (amazon & barnesandnoble dot coms), and the blogging with “panther-butts chronicles” … (where was i? before my ego did a …) … your blog today would be wonderful as a stand-up routine. i mean that. have a great weekend!

  8. fransiweinstein says:

    I remember how tangled those cords used to get. They had de-tanglers you could buy. But by the time you’d get one, the cord was already so twisted you could barely lift the receiver so it didn’t really help. It serms like I have used cordless phones forever.

    • LOL, I remember the twister-prone cords! And of course, us kids trying to run under the cord while scampering about the house while Mom was on the phone… not always limboing low enough….

      Yes, it seems like the age of corded phones ended a century ago….

  9. we remember when the really Chic Peeps would use a pencil or pen to dial. wouldn’t mess up the manicure that way. was especially cool if you pencil-dialed while cracking bubble gum at the same time. no one today is that classy…

  10. Ah…but have you ever experienced a party line with a rotary phone? Must less complicated…way less private! I used a rotary phone 10 years ago – it was the only phone in the city that worked when the power went out! 🙂

  11. reocochran says:

    I have an old rotary phone and have it hooked up in a hole by the door to my apt. Somehow, when someone pushes my “code” for my apt. I can push the nine or the seven and the front door unlocks. The whole thing is very mysterious to me, supposedly I could also dial “911” and get the police! Love the walk down memory lane and remember the phones that were connected to neighbors? Were those called party lines?

    • That is certainly a weird use for a rotary phone… guardian of the gate!

      We didn’t have party lines in my time (at least where I lived), but several of my readers mentioned having them! Those would seem creepy…

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