TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: RE: TV Telephone History

RE: TV Telephone History

Neal McLain (
Sun, 24 Jul 2005 20:55:50 -0500

John L. Shelton <> wrote:

> ... The "99" portion of their phone number used to
> indicate a coin-operated telephone in some exchanges, so
> perhaps this convention was good enough.

Michigan Bell often used 99XX for telco internal numbers, but never
for coin telephones (and I've heard that some other Bell companies did
the same). My notes for Ann Arbor in 1956 show:

Business Office NO 8-9911 (668-9911) [1]
Cable Records NO 8-9946 (668-9946)
Cable Records NO 8-9959 (668-9959)
Employee Cafeteria NO 8-9971 (668-9971)
Local Test NO 8-9923 (668-9923) [2]
PBX Service Advisor NO 8-9982 (668-9982)
Teletype Service NO 8-9970 (668-9970)
Toll Test NO 8-9934 (668-9934) [3]

[1] Note the -XX11 (rather than -XX00) line number for the Business
Office PBX. At the time, the Ann Arbor office was SxS, so trunk
sequences started at 1 (or 11) rather than 0 (or 00). Other large
PBXs followed the same pattern; e.g., University of Michigan was NO

[2] Local test could also be reached by dialing 117. As we've
discussed before, SxS offices often used 11N rather than N11 service

[3] I worked for a radio station at the time, so I had occasion to
call Toll Test many times. Toll Test was NNX-9934 all over the state
-- even in the manual office in Traverse City where it was just 9934.

All coin telephones in Ann Arbor were in the range 668-90XX through
668-98XX, but never 668-99XX.

Neal McLain

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Same with Illinois Bell in the Chicago
area. The entire '99xx' group was for their administrative use and
generally was 9900 for the business offices, 9901 (internally) for the
operator (also reached on '0' of course), 9902 for directory
assistance (also 411 for the public), 9903 for the Group Chief
Operator's desk in each central office). An exception was OFFicial 7-
9411 for the corporate offices. A peculiar set was 9928/9929 where
9928 'looped around and out' on 9929, and used by outside plant for
when outside technicians wanted to call their own repair center. (611
was usually for that purpose, but if outside their own central office
then 611 got them the repair clerk _in the office where they were
located_ instead of their 'home' district. ) By dialing 9928 it rang
once or twice, presented dialtone, and then within a couple seconds
9929 would dial out '611'. The intention was for the tech to use any
phone (in that 'outside his own office area') and dial the 'proper'
exchange-9928 (in his own area) and get connected to 'his' 611 help
desk as a result.

Well ... some phreak discovered that you could dial 9928, and then
instantly on receipt of dialtone punch out the number _he_ wanted to
call instead (generally long distance, often times international) and
the switch would faithfully place his call via 9929 instead. Then,
when the dialer 'woke up' a second or two later and did '611' by that
point the switch was already processing _phreaks__ ten digits and it
ignored _telco tech's_ 611 which just tooted away to nowhere in the

Where the jig was up came when a supervisor or two at telco, respon-
sible for reconciling and approving for 'payment' the telephone
bills of telco got a _mess_ of long distance calls billed to 9929.
I guess the phreak did not realize that telco has to pay its own
telephone bills also, and watches those expenses closely. Supervisor's
first reaction was 'someone has been here in the frames screwing
around making phone calls.' The usual investigative techniques (call
the number, trick the party with the lie 'our operator must have made
a mistake, can you tell us who called you so we can straighten out
this mistake in our records') did not work; they never do when the
calls go to radio station contest lines and hotel switchboards; but
pen registers and other apparatus worked okay. Eventually telco found
out _who_ the wise guy was who was using 9928/9929 as his personal
LD network. Phreak slipped up one day and called _his own mother_ by
accident over the 'network'. And you _know_ mother told telco every-
thing she knew about it while bragging on her son: "oh yes! my son ...
such a good boy and so smart about telephones!" That told telco
everything they needed to know ... although telco did pester the
phreak asking him "which of our people told you how to do this?" They
would have hung that person, had there been one; there was not.

As the story got back to me, the phreak came home from work one day
(he worked for the Illinois governor's office, I want you to know) and
found a telephone security representative sitting on his front
porch. Phreak asks "what is this about?". The telco security guy
responds "If I were to use the phrase 9928-9929 to you, would you know
what I was talking about? Under the law I have to tell you 24 hours
ahead of time that your phone is being disconnected for cause, and I
am here to tell you that tomorrow at this time, your phone will be
dead; I hope you can't ever get reconnected." And just as promised,
the next day phreak's phone service was cut off.

Well, the phreak said he had to hire a lawyer to get him out of the
jam. Like all of Illinois and Chicago government where the Democrats
(and what other politcal party is there in Chicago?) are so corrupted,
the Illinois Commerce Commission is no exception. The phreak had to
give the shyster lawyer a thousand dollars to (officially) pay the
lawyer's fee, but in real practice spread around the Commission
offices before he could get his phone turned back on, all the while
Illinois Bell was grumbling about it. Shortly thereafter, Bell fixed
those loop arounds to delay 9928 getting answered and accelerated how
fast 9929 would start dialing. No more public loop around unless one
could really dial fast (ten digits in a second or less?). Then shortly
thereafter, ESS came to the remaining exchanges in Chicago and Bell
changed the whole concept. PAT]

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