Whatever happened to …

… the dial tone?

This important topic is worth two videos.  A public service announcement; don’t drink coffee while you watch.  I’m not responsible for any accidents.

Now, I know that i’m old and I can recognize the rotary telephone.  However, I’m young enough to know that our phone had letters to go along with each of the numbers!

It made it important when knowing your phone number.  In the beginning, it wasn’t 482-####, it was HUnter2-####.  So, you had to look for the letters before dialing.

The phone was black and always had a cord attached to it and ours was in the kitchen.  There was no sitting on the couch to talk; you had to stand while talking and it probably kept our conversations to a minimum.

The dial tone was important.  If you started dialing before it was present, the call wouldn’t go through and you’d have to hang up, wait, and then start again!  Then, there was the party line!  I remember going to my girl friend’s house and her parents had a party line.  You’d be in the middle of a conversation when you’d hear some clicking on the line and then the sharer of the party line ask “Line please, Line please”.

Phones are a technology that most certainly has changed…

  • coloured phones replaced the black ones so you could match your room decor
  • touch tone phones revolutionized things.  You could now dial in anger by punching the phone
  • cordless phone are awesome.  No more having to be connected by that cord
  • drop a quarter into a pay phone and make the call from wherever you happen to be.  How’s that for convenience?  Some even take credit cards
  • internet phones meant that you didn’t need to buy your service from a telephone provider

and yet they all relied on the dial tone.  Start dialing before you heard it and you would not be successful.

Things are so much different now.  Pick up your mobile phone and use it.  No waiting for a dial tone!  Just unlock it, click on the phone icon, carefully hold the phone so that you don’t make a mistake with a thumb in the wrong place, and then start tapping.  Or, if you’re really good and have good pronunciation, speak the number or name of who you’re calling and go for it!  Connect your phone to the bluetooth in your car and you’re good to go. No hands needed.

What are your thoughts about dial tones?

  • Can you remember a time and phone where it was crucial for its operation?
  • When was the last time you saw a public telephone?
  • Did you ever write a computer program to generate tones to see if you could dial your touch phone from your keyboard?
  • Is checking to see if you have a signal the new dial tone?
  • Have you ever dialed 0 for Operator?
  • Do our students miss out by not experiencing a dial tone?  How many will never hear one?
  • Do you know what a “ringy dingy” is?

As always on a Sunday, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Please share them via comment.

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts?

Please visit this Padlet and add your idea.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

7 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. As I write this comment, I’m lying next to a phone with a long cord that requires a dial tone to work. I guess this kind of sums up my experiences.🙂 Welcome to Landline Aviva’s World.🙂 Am I the last person around that almost exclusively listens for a dial tone before placing a call? My wonder for today …



  2. Andrew Forgrave says:

    Good morning Doug!

    We had a party line when I was a kid. Our identifier was two short rings. There was no “Line please, line please” protocol where we lived. You just knew you needed to get off the line when the clicks became more numerous, and with increasing frequency.

    I remember noting the day sometime after my first cell phone when I had to make a long distance call from a payphone and realized I no longer knew my calling card number. it was also around that time when I realized that I wasn’t seeing as many payphones.

    I had an interesting back-and-forth on Twitter earlier this week with @Lisa_Donohue about one of the first apps on my iPhone – the RotaryDialer app. It was prompted by her noting of the irony in having an analogue 12-hour face on an Apple Watch.

    I was chatting with my eldest yesterday about computer components yesterday, and related how I had installed a “shotgun modem” in a PC close to 20 years ago. The card supported two phone lines, and worked to enable faster downloads by coordinating and recombining two simultaneous connections. I don’t remember whether there were two dial tones and two modem handshakes or not. The technology kind of worked.

    When placing a phone call in the company of someone else, I sometimes draw quizzical looks when I utter “one ringy dingy, two ringy dingys,” — especially if I use Ruth Buzzi’s Ernestine voice. “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?” (Her old lady on the park bench with the purse is classic. Our favourite as young kids, however, was Artie Johnson on the tricycle.)


  3. Thanks everyone for jumping in with some wonderful memories. We’ve come a long way! I can’t think of anywhere in our town where there’s an honest to goodness pay phone. Where do people go these days to get out of the rain?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Haha! Love this reply, Andy. It’s true though: I’ve seen very few pay phones around anymore. I’ve enjoyed reading the different comments on this post. It’s fun to take a walk down memory lane.



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