TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: History: Pecking Order For Telephone Operator Jobs?

History: Pecking Order For Telephone Operator Jobs?
23 Jan 2006 08:38:56 -0800

Until the 1980s, the telephone companies employed thousands of people,
usually women, as telephone operators. They handled calls that
automatic equipment couldn't and assisted subscribers in case their
was an automation problem.

Even after local and long distance dial, there was still a variety of
operator roles, especially in cities. To me, some of them would be
interesting but others would be quite montonous. I was wondering if
there was any "pecking order" in which operator jobs were sought after
and assigned. (In very small towns the job was more varied.)

In the early days of manual service in cities, local calls required
two operators. The "A" operator took the request and connected the
caller to the proper exchange, even if it was her own exchange. At
the receiving exchange, a "B" operator connected the call to the
proper line. This setup was designed for high volume and high speed
call handling. Ringing was done automatically. A much more
interesting job would seem to be long distance, where toll calls had
to be set up by relay between toll centers in each city.

In the early days of long distance, some COs didn't have ANI and an
operator had to get the calling number. This job was simply asking
for numbers and keying in the caller's response to a keypad, nothing
more. A similar job was in the early days of manual switching, where
a manual caller reached a dial office. A "B" operator listened to the
desired 4 digits and keyed them in. These jobs seem rather montonous.

To me, directory assistance work would be boring.

Another job was intercept. If someone dailed a number ouf of service,
an intercept operator would come on and check the number in a special
list, and provide the new number.

Automation roughly replaced operators over time as follows:

. Local calls (basic dial service)
. Nearby suburban calls (message unit)
. Long Distance (non coin) (AMA billing)
. Long Distance "operator handled" assist (TSP, TSPS)
. Overseas
. Automated intercept
. Long Distance (coin deposit recognition, customer input of calling
card number)

The replacement of central office and inter-office trunks with modern
digital gear resulted in higher capacity and more reliability so fewer
assistance calls were needed.

In the 1970s computerized consoles (TSP/TSPS replaced the cord
switchboards and many functions were automated. For example, on a 1+
coin toll call, the console calculated and displayed the amount to
collect and did all the work of connecting the call. The operator had
only to listen to the coin drop. (Later that was even automated).
For calling card calls, the operator only had to key in the number.
However, some toll calls required occasional manual routing just like
the old days.

In 1968, TV's "Laugh In" had Lily Tomlin play a steroetypical
telephone operator of the day. I think today's young people would
have no idea about that since they've never used an operator.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: In the years I was involved in this
sort of thing, I appreciated being in the essence of a 'small town'
environment where the few people on duty had a variety of tasks to
accomplish. That made it a lot more interesting. PAT]

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