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

Re: Remembering Old Zenith Numbers
4 Apr 2006 10:21:29 -0700

TELECOM Digest Editor noted in response to

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Do you recall how, even after they
> set up a reduced rate for 'direct dialed' calls versus a more
> expensive rate for 'operator assisted' (but still station to station
> calls) if a customer appealed the higher 'operator assisted' rates the
> customer would be given 'direct dial' rates if he had 'tried to dial
> it himself but failed' for some reason? PAT]

Yes, that's true.

Today not dialing a long distance call yourself seems strange, but
back in 1970 for some people it was still a novelty. Business and
hotel PBXs would routinely ask for time and charges. While most
places had DDD, not every place did and there were even a few manual
towns left (e.g. Catalina I. off of California). The system was
virtually electromechanical back then and the risk of problem, while
small, was greater than now.

So, if a customer had trouble and requested assistance, the dialed
direct rate would be used. If the customer didn't have DDD, the
dialed rate was used.

Initially, the charge difference between dialed and operator handled
was modest. But over time subsequent rate schedules increased the
differential by lowering dialed and increasing operator.

At my employers of the era, toll call policy changed from management
only via PBX operator handled to direct dialed from your desk and
billed back to your extension.

In the 1980s, larger companies got sophisticated PBX/Centrex gear that
would automatically locate the most economical line--normal toll, FX,
or outward WATS, to route the call over. A large company might own
some outward WATS lines shared among everyone.

Today, my state's intra (state wide) toll rates are confusing.
Calling the Operator for assistance now often results in a service
charge of some sort. Asking the dial-0 operator to place a call, even
an operator handled one, is more costly than dialing 0+full number.

Many pay phones today won't even take coin long distance calls
anymore. SEPTA, the local transit agency, used to offer $1/minute
coin service from public pay phones on its property but that
apparently has been discontinued. (Why I don't know). wrote:

> My Enterprise number for Konawa, Oklahoma, was Enterprise 287,
> as I recall. It terminated on my business number, 234. Yes, 234 was a
> local number in a dial exchange. Terminal-per-line. Party lines had
> four digit numbers in the 4xxx series, the last digit denoting the
> party ringing.

> Three- and four-digit Enterprise numbers were not unusual in those
> days.

In the early 1950s, all sorts of local dial code combinations were
common. Even in the 1970s small town local and near-local dialing
would be a hodgepodge of codes and access numbers depending on the
origin and destination. The how-to-dial section of local phone books
had all sorts of explanations and directions.

This hodgepodge was one of the big challenges of implementing
nationwide DDD. A small town with a dial office often was dial for
itself only and perhaps one or two adjacent exchanges. Anything
beyond -- in or out -- required an operator to make the connection. All
of that effort had to be automated and done in a way consistent with
national DDD. Keep in mind sometimes Bell had acquired an exchange
from another company and that that exchange didn't use standard Bell
System procedures.

Outward dialing required an option to switch to a toll center and ANI
or ONI. But inward dialing required an addressable unique 10 digit
number. It's one thing on paper to assign an exchange name and
zero-fill 3 digit local numbers. But it's quite another effort to
implement that in hard-wired step-by-step gear on an economical basis.
A great many small towns continued with short 5 digit dialing right up
until they went ESS in the 1980s.

Many customers had part or all their phone number changed as a result
of needing unique codes or upgrading equipment in the late 1950s. In
Philadelphia, several exchanges were abandoned in order to fit the new

At the same time all this was going on, the Bell System was faced with
an explosion of demand for new telephone lines and higher calling
volume. Even if new lines could be installed, the switchgear couldn't
handle the increased traffic. Many customers were forced onto party
lines at a time when many wanted out of party line service (see our
recent discussion on the film "Pillow Talk").

In addition, the Bell System had many new defense contracts which
diverted staff and material. Some Bell System ads in the 1950s point
that out. A few are proud of Bell's contribution to new missles. A
few apologize for delays in local service as a result of defense
needs. But it seems overall the Bell System kept its defense work of
the 1950s and 1960s at a lower profile than its WW II work. This was
long before social protests criticizing the practice.

The computer industry also benefited greatly from defense work. I
find it ironic that many social activists who proclaim the "new
freedom" of the modern Internet and computers are using a tool largely
developed by the very defense investments they dislike. Defense
contracts paid for many technical advancements in the 1950s and 1960s
and contributed to lowering the commercial cost of computers. When
IBM developed Stretch and SAGE it didn't make a profit on the sales,
but gained valuable development experience.

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