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Hearing the phones switches back when calling years ago

Started by rtp129495, September 13, 2011, 06:22:46 AM

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How many of you remeber making a call and hearing the switch at the central office "switch" you? I've often wondered if others payed that much attention when making a call back in the day.

Also there used to be xxx-0003 - would gernate an ascending or decending tones depedning on prefix? was this everywhere or just in the san diego area? (i didnt get much chance as a kid to test it anywhere else). The other interesting thing about that number is that it worked on payphones without inserting money. i thought that was interesting. Perhaps used by AT&T technicians?

Also when I used to dial 411 before the switches were changed out to digital. it had an old fashioned ring sound complete with static. That i do miss. anyone else notice that?

Just want to see if im alone in remebering this or if there other phone people who do.


There are collectors who are preserving those sounds -- and the equipment that made them.  You can find some of them on C*net...

and on this group...
Visit:         WE  500  Design_Line



I remember noticing the different sounds I would get as I dialed a number in the 1970s, before the switching equipment changed in the 1980s. As with many systems, the first two numbers of the prefix were not needed when you called someone in the same prefix. We just dialed five digits on nearby calls. Some numbers would elicit a louder pop or click than others, and some would hum a little. I even tried dialing numbers that never were, just to hear the sounds they produced.

I also remember certain numbers having a ringing tone different from others. All the 731-2xxx numbers must have used older, different equipment from the 731-4xxx numbers. The 731-2xxx ringing tone was more like a hum. A lower-pitched sound than the standard ringtone. Our local telco had been dial for some time, since the 1930s, I think. It was an independent telco the entire time and they used mostly AE phones. Some of the central office equipment may have been very old. They were known for stretching a buck and they kept a tight rein on the customer-leased equipment.

I also remember a small town in the southern part of our county that had a busy signal that sounded like someone squeezing an old-timey brass car horn, the kind with the rubber bulb on the end. If anyone remembers Hoppy the Hopparoo from the Flintstones, that's what it sounded like. This was circa 1985-86, after I started working for the school system and had to call all areas of our county, which had five phone companies and two area codes back then.


Yep, I always paid attention to those sounds when I was on a Strowger switch back in the day.  The clicks and whirrs, and occasionally a reorder tone when the selectors at a given level were engaged.  Different dial tones, ringing tones, and busy tones in different areas.   A very real sense of "being in a place" while dialing a phone call, rather than the modern ghostly silences.

If you dialed a nonexistent number in some exchanges, you'd get the "cat howler" tone, which sounds like a cat howling.  We used to say that all of those numbers went to the Cat Room in the back of the CO, where a bunch of cats sat in front of desk stands and meowed when they rang. 

All of the above were for Strowger switches, which typically also had 5-digit dialing to phones in the same prefix.  If you dialed all 7 digits you'd go through a digit-absorbing selector and you could tell because you'd hear a brief blip of dial tone after the absorbed digits. 

How badly I wish we had all of that back again. 

That number in San Diego: up here in the East Bay it was NXX-0046 for the sweep tone (on early ESS machines), and -0049 for the 1 KHz tone; the latter still works. 


Oh them fun sounds. The best time in my life was in school. A class trip to the local phone office. I still think about that trip. We got to see how it worked the switch board and the telephone operator. Also that odd man that gave the time and weather. lol He was not what I thought he was at that age, A gray box on the wall and a tape system inside of it. Man I thought he was a real person till that day.

I have no ideal what the place looks like now same building. But they will not let anyone inside of it they windows are blacked out also. Sad to think about. Use to go there and pay the bill with my mom the woman always gave me candy and they had all kinds of cool things to look at.



Its nice to know i wasnt the only one! I used to think i was unique to be fascinated by such things. i didn't know those tones were switch specific. I do now! how much I have to learn! Anyway I am glad that others are "phone nerds" so to speak. Thou the term "Nerd" isnt always correct nowadays. But i didnt know how many of us there were. I'm glad I needed to fix that old 500 in my parents garage! it lead me here to this site for info on it!

"A very real sense of "being in a place" while dialing a phone call, rather than the modern ghostly silences. " Very well put! and it puts what i feel about it into words.

When I used to pick up the old Pacific Bell payphones here they would make all sorts of clicking then a dial tone would come on. Then when you dialed a number you'd hear the switches just like you said. and they seemed faster in some cases than the digital ones.


I was sad when the time of day service was stopped by AT&T it was the only thing left from those days, i think it was 2009-10 that AT&T ended it.


Other thing I use to love was the different error messages.  The number you dialed can not be call from your calling area. There was one a man did he was freaky sounding give you chills when you got that one. He say you made a error hang up try aging KY {then some code}


Re. why the telco offices are all blacked out and you can't go in now:  Just say 9/11 and thank that mean nasty guy who our Seals fed to the fishes.  Telco central offices are very significant potential targets for terrorists, so you practically have to have a clearance to get inside now.   If you know someone, you might be able to arrange a trip, but it will almost certainly involve an FBI background check to be sure you don't have a criminal record (traffic tickets dont' count) and there are no terrorist alerts out on your name. 

Re. those recordings:  Most of them were done by someone by the name of Jane who used to live in the Oakland California hills, so the ones in female voices are known generically as Jane Recordings.  I'm not certain but I think she passed away a few years ago.  If you got a male voice, that was probably a switch engineer who recorded it because something was needed and there wasn't time to follow the usual protocols to get Jane (or whoever since then) to do it. 

RTP, we used to call ourselves "phone phreaks."  People who like to play with switching & transmission systems.   Often we did this with the aid of colorfully-named devices that were "not quite proper" back in the day, but now are nonfunctional and thus legal and are collectors' items in their own right.   

Someone even created a "replica" of one of those: they issued a custom chip and components to enable you to build one with some clever automated functions, but the tones aren't quite the same as the original, and with my ears I'd probably notice.   Nonetheless, I have the kit, and one of these days I'll find the time to put it all together, just for old times' sake.  Heck I should put together a couple of the other ones while I'm at it, which I still remember the schematics for. 

That would make an interesting display at a telco museum:  "Play with the phone phreak devices!", complete with the actual audio you'd hear when experimenting with them back in the day.   Hmm, I wonder who has a museum and would be up for something like that, eh...?


Jane Barbi was the official phone voice. She passed on in the early 2000s. The vintage phone exchange recordings are available on YouTube by none other than Evan Doorbell.

Jim Stettler

You may be able to play with your phreak boxes on the C*NET network.

C*NET is a bunch of telephone  switch collectors that have networked their switches together using PBX software over the internet as the "long lines" connection.
They have all sorts of working switches to route thru.

Jim S.
You live, You learn,
You die, you forget it all.