andy          phone

When I was growing up one of the most popular shows on TV was The Andy Griffith Show which originally ran from 1960-’68 and has been in re-runs ever since. The show is set in Mayberry, North Carolina and portrays small town America with it’s fishing holes, wholesome living, and everyone-knows-everyone communal spirit. I loved the show as did millions of others. The one part of the show that I would find so funny is when Andy or Aunt Bee had to place a phone call. They used Candlestick Telephones which were common in rural America. The phones featured a mouthpiece mounted at the top of a stand, and a receiver (ear phone) that was held by the user to the ear during a call. To make a connection you had to go through a main switchboard where the operator would literally plug your line directly to the line of the person you were calling. Sarah was the operator in Mayberry and she would usually listen in on the phone calls out of boredom. She was also the main source of gossip in the town as she knew about everyone’s lives just by listening in to their phone conversations. I remember watching the show and thinking to myself how outdated the phone system was. It seemed like something out of the Dark Ages. I had to ask my parents if they remember using such a device and the answer was yes. At our home we were used to the ultra-modern Rotary Dial telephone. You could dial directly to your party without the use of an intermediate operator. The rotary phone had all the digits arranged in a circular layout so that a finger wheel could be rotated with one finger. You would put your finger in the hole by the corresponding number and wheel it to the stop position and let the wheel return to it’s original position. This was the phone of the 60’s and 70’s. It took some time to dial your 7-digit phone number and watch the dial return each time. It was a bummer when you made a mistake and had to start over again or worse when you dialed a wrong number and had to hang up and start again. If you were in an emergency there would be a good chance you might bleed to death before you got your number dialed. It could take two or three tries to get it right sometimes. It got more complicated when someone gave you a phone # with letters in it like 790-HELP, you would have to look up each number that corresponded with the number (3-letters per number) and hope you did it right. I am sure these telephones look ancient to today’s teenagers as I have already been asked if I had ever used one by one of my kids. I would love to see teenagers today try to use a rotary phone after being used to the speed of current cell phones. They would probably think it’s a game…spin the dial and see what phone number you get. But we thought it was modern at the time and used it for many crank calls which was always a favorite way to pass time, ” Is your refrigerator running…well go out and catch it”. It amazes me we could do that for hours at a time and still get the same rush if the person on the other end would say YES. The next biggest change came with Push-Button phones at the end of the 70’s. You could now just push a button instead of watching the dial go back and forth. The push button was light speed faster than the rotary dial and had cool audible tones for each key so you know when you hit a number right. The phones also now included the asterisk (*), which I still to this day don’t know what that button does, and the pound sign (#), which at least serves a purpose for customer service. We increased our crank call capability tenfold…”Does this sound like a telephone hanging up? SLAM goes the receiver”. Even pay phones were easy to use…I wonder how many working pay phones still exist in LA? I’ve never found one in an emergency, time to bleed out again. The 90’s hit and so did the cell phone. It was like someone hit the warp speed button on phone use, nothing to compare it to. People don’t even need land lines anymore, they can just walk around with a receiver in their ear…but don’t do that, it has a high nerd factor. They have recently come out with phones as part of your watch or glasses…even higher nerd factor. The rotary phone can now be bought in retro stores on Melrose Blvd. and put in your house as a conversation piece, right next to the hat rack.


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