Telephone is crazy, pass it on

We’re a year into the Do-Not-Call List, and people agree it’s working. My home phone is as quiet as can be. But Ian Urbina of the New York Times happily takes us back to the days of phone controversy.

Until the late 1950’s, almost all phone numbers in the United States used named exchanges, such as PLaza-5 or GRamercy-3, where the first two letters stood for the first two numbers of a seven-digit phone number. But when phone companies began running out of available numbers, they increased the pool of available numbers by replacing the neighborhood names with digits.


The shift proved irreversible despite the resistance of the Anti-digit Dialing League, a San Francisco group that opened chapters across the country, and whose main tactics were writing letters and encouraging people to refuse to tell operators their phone number in digits.

And then Mr. Urbina returns to modern troubles, including his focus — that of the noncontiguous area code.

And as area codes lose their foothold, certain cultural references may also drop their meaning. “How long before Ludacris’s ‘Area Code’ ceases to make sense?” asked Mr. Rojas, referring to a song in which the rapper uses only area codes to refer to locations where he has had sexual encounters. “That song only works if people know where each area code is located.” The same has already happened to the Big Band classic, “PEnnsylvania 6-5000” by Glenn Miller, or Elizabeth Taylor’s Oscar-winning film “BUtterfield-8,” both of which have titles that might confuse those too young to remember name exchanges.

Like me. In theory. In real life, I’ve watched enough I Love Lucy to know better. The Cheezylu bloopers page explains: “The Ricardo’s phone number seemed to change a lot. First is was, Murray Hill 5-9975, then is became Circle 7-2099, then again is changed to Murray Hill 5-9099. For this blooper, though, there is an explanation. To ensure that fans would not call the number and actually get a hold of someone, the phone company would tell them which numbers they could use that would not be already assigned.”

But to learn more I’m visiting, a site mentioned deep in Mr. Urbina’s article. The site is totally devoted to the history and practice of area codes. Random stuff I love. But AC-I (as the merchandise calls it) won’t replace my all-time favorite phone-related site, number-to-letter converter PhoNETic. “Do you know your phone number spells 2-LICK….”

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