TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Back in the Cord-Board Days (Re: Delay in Reaching Operator)

Back in the Cord-Board Days (Re: Delay in Reaching Operator)

Mark J. Cuccia (
Tue, 13 Sep 2005 08:20:59 PDT

> Jayson Smith wrote (in Yahoo-Central Office, last week):

> On our Bellsouth lines, 411 for Directory Assistance waits a few
> seconds then gives a reorder. It's been like that since at least
> Monday afternoon. You'd think they could reroute DA calls somewhere
> else by now. Also, dialing 0 for the operator menu gets a recording
> I've never heard before. There's a set of SIT tones, then it says
> "We're sorry. Due to heavy calling, the operator will be delayed in
> assisting you. If your call is urgent, stay on the line, and an
> operator will answer as soon as possible." This recording is repeated
> twice, then rings through. Someone should probably get a recording of
> this for historical preservation.

That I can remember back in the 1970s era (pre-divestiture, of
course), during storms, floods, etc., dialing '0' for SCBell/AT&T
Operator Service (using TSPS back then), if there was heavy calling,
you'd get the same type of recording.

New Orleans was one of the first places to have TSPS (Traffic Service
Position System) automation for Operator Servvice, back around 1970 or
so. But automation for operator type services even goes back to the
early 1960s with TSP (Traffic Service Position) and even late 1950s
with PPCS (Person to Person Card Special) in some parts of the midwest
and northeast.

I forgot to add something about the old Cord-Board days ...

With the automated appliques for Operator Services, TSP, TSPS, TOPS,
OSPS, etc., callers can be held in a queue. You can queue up more
callers than there might be operators available to assist
immediately. Today that is even more so since many LECs (and AT&T)
provide touchtone/voice menu applications for automated operator

But back in the cord-board days for dial-0 operator services...

Calls to 0 just kept popping up on manual boards until operators could
be available to plug into them to answer them. Of course, trunks to
the dial-0 operator center from individual central offices might be
limited as well. But if you could get a trunk to the operator toll
board from your local central office, you would just pop up on the
board until some operator there could plug in.

In 1980/81, I lived in Spokane WA (Pacific Northwest Bell,
pre-divestiture, and before the early 1960s it was part of Pac Tel &
Tel along with Cal). Remember in May 1980, the volcano in southwest
WA (some 300 miles away) blew its top. Ash was spewed mostly
eastward. This affected numerous parts of the US and Canada eastward
from Washington state.

Other than those in the immediate area of the volcano, there was no
real property damage or loss of life.

But trying to get telephone calls to points outside was difficult.

Spokane WA at that time still had a cord-board for local/toll operator
services. There was still a #4A Crossbar toll machine and it still
used a photo-mechanical card-punch reading system for
routings/translations. It did not even have an ETS (Electronic
Translator System). I assume Spokane WA got TSPS for Operator Services
before divestiture in 1984 though.

With only a cord-board for toll services, you did NOT have 1+ coin,
you did NOT have 0+ dialing of any kind, and ONLY ESS offices (from
non-coin) could have SOME form of 011+ IDDD, sent-paid non-coin
traffic only (i.e.., no 01+ IDDD special-billing customer dialed
calls). I remember trying to dial home to my parents in New Orleans
collect for several days after the volcano blew its stack. I would
simply keep dialing '0' from a payphone until an operator would
finally answer.

They were trying to be helpful and polite, but they couldn't answer
all the call requests immediately. And the 4A crossbar toll machine
and associated card-translator must have been overwhelmed. Even when
I could get an operator on the line to talk to to place a collect call
back to New Orleans to tell them that I was safe, all the operator
might get was re-order (fast busy) or some kind of ccts busy

And all operators in their frustration were actually saying: MY BOARD
IS LIT UP LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE! That is really how manual toll cord
boards were like whenever there is a disaster or other types of high
call volume.

markjcuccia at yahoo dot com

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