TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Remembering Old Zenith Numbers

Re: Remembering Old Zenith Numbers
Thu, 30 Mar 2006 20:15:59 EST

In a message dated 29 Mar 2006 12:36:19 -0800,

> I never understood why they lasted as long as they did. AFAIK, they
> were charged as a collect call. In the old days that wasn't too bad,
> but in the modern era collect calls became rather expensive esp
> compared to what 800 service could cost.

That is not correct. My business had such a number in Konawa,
Oklahoma, in the 1950-1952 and the calls were charged at the normal
sent-paid station rate rather than as a collect call. (In
Southwestern Bell territory they were called "Enterprise" calls rather
than Zenith. Some states or companies called them "WX" numbers rather
than Zenith or Enterprise.)

The advantage to the caller was that they did not have to go through
the hassle of making a collect call. The advantage to the terminating
business was that the call was charged at the sent-paid rate and the
that callers who might be hesitant to make a collect call because they
felt it would tab them as a cheapskate or for other reasons would not
feel the same stigm.

A disadvantage was that a separate Enterprise (Zenith, WX) service had
to be obtained for each city you wanted the receive such calls from.
There was a monthly rate for each such service, which would add up
quickly if you had such service from several originating cities.

> I think it was around 1970 that 800 numbers began to appear. One
> thing I've realized is that back then a lot of companies still had
> regional offices -- things weren't as centralized as they are now. So
> calling an airline in your city would connect you to the airline's
> office in your city. Later on as computer tie-lines became cheaper
> and more usable things were centralized as they are today. Companies
> put their call centers in remote locations where buildings and labor
> were cheap.

I think 800 numbers started quite a bit before that. And having
remote locations was not a big deal for airlines which had massive
data lines already connecting their offices.

When 800 numbers first went in, airlines already had massive call
centers. American Airlines call center was in a suburb of Fort Worth,
while the huge computers already in existence were underground in
Tulsa, where they remain to this day. Airlines had published (local)
numbers in most cities they served, and often in surrounding cities,
connecting by FX lines to their call centers. If you called the
listed number for the airline, you reached the call center, not the
local ticket office. The 800 number just made the call center
available from everywhere in the country, not just in places where
they had FXs. (It also was usually cheaper from a hotel.)

Wes Leatherock

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