1-900-EVL-SQRL

Admit it, back in the day, you'd have paid good money to talk to a recording of Sting...

Admit it, back in the day, you’d have paid good money to talk to a recording of Sting…

As hard as it is for kids under the age of 20 to believe, there was once a time in this world when the internet did not exist, or at least didn’t exist in any practical manner yet… and that prehistoric time wasn’t all that long ago.  That left all of the forward thinkers out flashback fridaythere scratching their heads for a way to shamelessly self-promote themselves in a world where social media consisted of spinning a rotary dial around seven times.  Luckily for everyone who was relevant around 1990 (or still thought they were relevant), a new avenue opened up that allowed pseudo-celebrities and mega-billion dollar corporations alike to make a lot of money off of people who were too stupid to understand their phone bill.  The same time period that brought us MC Hammer and Saved by the Bell also ushered in the 1-900 number craze…. and boy, was it impossible to avoid at the time…

Hello!  Is this the Dial-a-Skunkette hotline?

Hello! Is this the Dial-a-Skunkette hotline?

From around 1989 until the time when home internet started taking hold in the mid 90’s, it seemed like anyone and everyone had their own 900 number.  The only thing more insane than the fact that MC Hammer, Freddy Krueger, and even Santa Claus had their own 900 numbers is the fact that anyone would want to waste $2.00 the first minute and 95 cents each additional minute to listen to their pre-recorded tripe.  Hell, even Grandpa Munster had his own 900 number…. yes, Grandpa Fucking Munster was stealing nickels and dimes from kids’ parents back in the day!  Juliette, you may want to shield your eyes from this….

If you watched any of those YouTube links I provided (and you know you did, because if you didn’t love nostalgia so much, you’d be reading a better blog right now), you’ll notice how they all mentioned “Kids!  Be sure to get your parents’ permission before calling!”  You know why that is, don’t you?

Because only a kid with no responsibilities and common sense would be dumb enough to call one of these 900 numbers!!!

Hey! We can make adult decisions too (hic!)

Seriously, everyone went after Joe Camel, claiming he was a marketing tool to get kids to smoke, which was always pretty nitpicky to me.  But almost all of the cheesy celebrity 900 number commercials from the early 90’s were undoubtedly marketed at kids… and they had to know going in that kids were going to be their main source of income!  And how many of those kids got their parents’ permission before dialing?  Yeah, right…

Hey Mom!  Is it OK if I call the Pamela Anderson hotline again?

Hey Mom! Is it OK if I call the Pamela Anderson hotline again?

My parents had to get 900 numbers blocked on our phone because one of my sisters kept calling the Kid N Play hotline (I really wish I could find that commercial, because the damn jingle is still stuck in my head all these years later).  I would imagine 900 number blocks became quite common since they were the only way to get out of paying the unexpected charges, and pretty soon the prospective customer base for these hotlines dried up and they were essentially gone by the time grunge came on the scene in 1993.

Kids, be sure to get your parents' permission before trying cocaine.

Kids, be sure to get your parents’ permission before trying cocaine.

But while the C-F list celebrities wound up on the outside looking in of the latter days of the 1-900 number fad, a couple of the more seedy industries who knew how to take advantage of the adults who should know better kept right on bringing in the loose change!  By the mid 90’s, if you saw a 1-900 number commercial on TV, you could rest assured it was either going to be for a psychic hotline…

meisha skunk

I foresee me getting very rich off of you!

Or an adult “chat” line….

Come on baby!  Give me my money's worth!

Come on baby! Give me my money’s worth!

Most of these sleazy operations enjoyed a brisk initial profit, only to eventually cave under as more and more charges became disputed and the sirens and seers were unable to collect revenues for many of the calls that were made to them.  The porn industry of course shifted focus to booming internet, while the psychics….. well….

You never saw that Chapter 11 coming, did you Dionne?

You never saw that Chapter 11 coming, did you Dionne?

Today, the 1-900 number business is dead… literally.  Verizon (nee MCI) was the last carrier in the US that supported pay-per-call 900 numbers, and they put the axe to the service at the end of last year.  I was honestly surprised to see that the industry lasted even this long, especially since cell phones have become so dominant and they have never allowed calls to 900 numbers.  Besides being a tool for cheesy entertainers to make a quick buck, or sleazy profiteers to milk the wallets of the gullible, 900 numbers also had a more responsible role back in their heyday as source of quick information 24/7.  News, weather, sports, gossip… there was a hotline for it all 20 years ago.  Of course, the internet made the need to pay a nominal fee for information one would not have had access to back then totally obsolete by the turn of the millennium.  TV networks often used 900 numbers to allow viewers to interact with the shows in the form of polls, but that too was rendered moot by the web.  So if you miss the days of the 1-900 number, blame this guy…

Yeah, I invented the internet, baby!!!  And global warming!  And the all you can eat buffet!

Yeah, I invented the internet, baby!!! And global warming! And the all you can eat buffet!

We here at The Nest miss hearing the pathetic pleas for money and attention by those who were immersing themselves in their 15 minutes of fame in the early 90’s.  That would have never been possible without the 20th century miracle of telecommunications technology that was the 1-900 number.  A big thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, Watson, Ma Bell, Grandpa Munster, Al Gore, and everyone else who made this small, but totally unforgettable era in dialing history possible.  In fact, we’d like to extend our gratitude via recorded message on our new hotline we set up 1-900-THE-NEST.  Al, be sure to get your parents’ permission before calling….

You're looking a little inconveniently ill there, Mr. Gore.  How about we melt your icecap?

You’re looking a little inconveniently ill there, Mr. Gore. How about we melt your icecap?

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About evilsquirrel13

Bored former 30-something who has nothing better to do with his life than draw cartoon squirrels.
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15 Responses to 1-900-EVL-SQRL

  1. Now I know who to contact for information about all those informercials and 900 numbers. There must be a clever way to make the whole system to work for you: where does the money go for all those 900 calls?

    • From the very quick and crude research I did for this post, my understanding was that the owners of 900 numbers back in the era when they were popular received a kickback from the phone company based on what price they set that “first minute” at minus the carrier’s basic fee, and the money from all the rest of those minutes went straight into the carrier’s pocket. A lot of calls essentially had to be made for the 900 number owners to make any real money, and when those calls dried up, that’s when they went belly up. Eventually in the era of the psychics and the sex lines, the owners were allowed to make money off of the additional minutes as well. They were finally done in by extremely tight regulations the govt. passed in 1996 that allowed callers the right to dispute any fees they were being charged and have them waived on customer say-so alone… which smart callers eventually began taking advantage of more and more.

      So my understanding is that for the most part, the phone companies were the ones getting rich on the 900 number racket. The number owners made money for short periods of time, then were done in by lack of interest and/or new regulations that killed the whole business model… and this is the main reason these type of numbers disappeared after the mid 90’s…

      I think this is the longest reply I’ve ever made to a comment! I hope it answered your question!

  2. Gotta love the psych line.
    In Spain they are very popular, I was really shocked to see several TV channels with psychs 24/7 taking money from old ladies basically.
    Which brings me to this:

    Have a nice weekend.

    • Ha! That’s an old joke that was turned into a hilarious sketch based on how it was done!

      The 24/7 psychic channel… I’m surprised we never had that over here at any time. I guess we all preferred to get ripped off by home shopping networks…

  3. merbear74 says:

    Call me now for your free reading…..

  4. The Cutter says:

    I made a bunch of calls to the Nintendo 900 number back in the day. I did not receive parental permission beforehand. I received a parental lecture afterwards.

    • LOL, I know that went on a lot. Was that the infamous Nintendo game counselor hotline, or a hotline for something else? The idea of having “video game counselors” always cracked me up, even back in the day. At least it was still better than having cheat codes and walkthrough books like the spoiled kids of today have….

  5. pantherbutts says:

    hotlines … hot-wires … hot hot hot … hot-taaaaayyyys … al gore was a major player in the internet’s development, but kids will always find a way to get in trouble. they’re kids …

  6. boy. there is a lot of RESEARCH in this post. are you sure you didn’t call a few numbers to be sure they weren’t still staffed by Hot Psychics or Jr. Vampires?

    • Well, of course I had to make a couple…. um dozen calls or so. Since my tree doesn’t have a landline, I had to go inside and use Ms. Whatsername’s phone. I’m sure I didn’t run up more than $200 or so in charges…

  7. pishnguyen says:

    Ah … the days of the 1-900 numbers. I remember when these first started up, my mom would always tell me — again and again — that I didn’t have permission to call them. I was in college at the time, home visiting on break. Uh … yeah, mom. Thanks. I’ve got it. *internet eye roll*

    I’m really surprised to learn that 1-900 numbers were around as recently as last year. I figured the internet would have put them all out of business a long time ago.

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