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Early Chat Rooms – Courtesy of Ma Bell

Long before AOL, long before My Space, long before the internet itself kids discovered chat rooms courtesy of the telephone company. I was a young boy living northern Alabama (Huntsville) in the mid-1960’s. Having four older sisters the telephone was a big part of every day life. My teen-aged sisters spent hours on the telephone. They were on the phone so much in fact that eventually our father gave in and let them get their own telephone. I remember that black metal dial model 500 well. I may have spent a time or two on the phone myself–in one of those early chat rooms the kids called the “Beep-beep Line”.

I have no idea who thought of it first or how it happened. Technically the Telephone Company probably didn’t know about the Beep-beep Line—at least not in the beginning. Here’s how it worked. Everyone knows that when one dials one’s own telephone number a busy signal results. And that busy signal, as it does today would make the familiar sound…..beep…..beep….beep…..a steady, annoying signal indicating a busy line. But what everyone didn’t know was that if there were two or more persons on their phones at the same time they could talk to each other if they spoke between the beeps. The word got out and school kids from the entire area spent hours on the Beep-beep line trying to meet new people. Usually it was the boys trying to meet girls.

The conversation might have gone something like this…….

Who -beep- Is – beep- This? – beep-beep- (One could substitute buzz for beep, but the kids called it a beep at the time). Then the respondent would say…..This -beep-Isbeep-
Dennis -beep- -beep-. “WhatIsYourNumber?” There would be literally many persons talking at the same time….once a number was obtained the two persons involved would hang up and the number would be called. It was really cool!

Years went by and our family moved back to the Detroit area where he were from originally. I remember telling my friends in high school about the Beep-beep Line that we had in Alabama. One evening while standing in a pay phone booth, calling my parents for transportation I got a busy signal. A friend was standing with me just outside the booth and we were talking between us as I held the phone up to my ear, busy signal in progress. Suddenly I heard a voice between beeps of the busy signal. I brought back my memory of the Beep-beep Line in Alabama. I yelled into the handset between beeps….”Talk-Between-Beeps”. Before long I was talking to a girl from my school. Within days we had our own Beep-beep Line going. It spread like wild fire. Then just as quickly as it started it went away. Someone from the Telephone Company must have discovered our use of their line—maybe equipment changes just happened to be occurring at the same time, but the Beep-beep line ended.

Perhaps you have memories of a Beep-beep Line. We’d love for you to share that memory with us!

18 responses to “Early Chat Rooms – Courtesy of Ma Bell”

I do remember those Dennis, now that you refresh my memory. We called them “party lines”, even though, of course, Bell Telephone used that term to describe the connection shared by more than one household.

I always talked on these “party lines” by using the black wall phone in my parent’s basement. We thought it was a big deal at the time that we had three phones in the house. Only one phone number, but three extensions. One in the kitchen, one in my parent’s bedroom and one in the basement. All black. Just like Henry Ford would have wanted it!

I hadn’t thought about this for a long time, but was telling my daughter a story about “the beep” at dinner tonight. I decided to see whether anyone else remembered it, and found this blog. We lived in suburban St. Louis, and it was about 1963. We would dial our own number, and then, if we didn’t hear anyone else, would start saying “Is – any – one – on – the – beep? – – – Is – any – one – on – the – beep?…” It never took long before someone would respond. It was all the rage for awhile. I don’t remember whether we stopped because the phone company did something about it or the novelty just wore off.

Thanks Roger for your posting! It’s great to hear a story from someone else that remembered the “beep” line.

Too funny that I decided to Google this phrase just now, while others are remembering it. Last I checked it on-line, a few years ago, I found maybe two references to the beep line. My older cousin gave me the number to call after I tried it at her house, sometime in the late sixties. I remember that so many people were yelling in between beeps that mostly what one heard were frustrated shouts of “Shut up!”

I did end up talking to a couple of guys after getting their number. I was very naive and eventually asked them over to visit. My mom freaked out when they showed up. In retrospect, I have to say that for once I’m glad she did! As I say, I was naive.

Nonetheless, nothing bad happened, and I think that by and large it was harmless adolescent fun whose chief downside was tying up the family phone for hours on end!

Oops! I should probably have mentioned that my beep-line experiences occurred in Indianapolis.

Thank you Lisa for sharing your experiences. During the days I remember the “Beep-beep” line in Alabama I had older sisters, of high school age. Our telephone was always busy! Of course those days were long before call waiting. Our father would come home from work angry that he’d been trying to call home all afternoon. That worked to my sisters’ advantages however as he ultimately broke down and let them get their own line!

From 1962 to 1984 we had a Beep Line in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. We didn’t call it Beep Line though, we called it Jam Line. It was usually the local radio station request line, which was always busy, that we would call. There would be teenage girls/guys on that thing 24 hours a day. I remember staying up all night talking to one girl after the other from the Jam Line. We always shout out our phone numbers between the beeps and called each other back. It was great fun! I actually have some old audio tape recordings of the Jam Line, as well as some of the telephone conversations we had recorded. If I ever put up a web site, I’ll have to share them with everyone. I didn’t think any other cities had Jam Lines. If I did, I’d of called them up! After all, seeing as they were busy signals, there wouldn’t be any long distance charge to talk on them.

Thanks Russel for your comment. I don’t know how the system worked, but in my experiences with The “Beep-Beep” line it always seemed to be local people on the line. But as you said, it was lots of fun. It was good, innocent fun talking to “strangers” on the Beep-Beep line, usually guys talking to girls—mostly all being teenagers exchanging phone numbers so they could talk without the interruption of the busy signal. It would be great to hear your recordings of that time. It’s interesting that you took the time to do that (record the sounds). Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

[…] year I made a blog posting about what we called the “Beep-Beep Line”. Back in the 1960’s it was discovered, mostly by the teen-aged population that if one dialed […]

Thank you thank you! I thought I was nuts! No one else seemed to know about this but me! Some of my earliest childhood memories (1960, 61, 62) are staying up late with the babysitter, and calling the local radio station WNOR in Norfolk, VA, getting the busy signal, and joining the “chat room!” Until now, I thought you had to all be connected to the same busy signal (like by calling the same busy number) in order to “get into the room.” I must have been 5 or 6, pretending to be 16 on the chat line. It was a blast! Ironic… now everyone is 50 in the chatroom, pretending to be 16…

Please visit me on my official jam line at http://www.karenhartmusic.com, and be sure to say hi between the beeps!

Thank you Karen for stopping by and visiting Vintage Rotary Phones! I’m really glad you shared your memories with all of us. I know there are others out there with similar stories. Thanks also for the link to your web site. I will take the time to visit it completely.

Back in the early 60’s when I was in high school in Miami Florida, my brother and I found what we called crosswires. It occured when too many people dialed the same number at the same time. Usually in response to a radio contest.
The more people on crosswires the lower the sound of the busy signal. (beep-beep) It was a great passtime in the summer.

The same down here in South Florida. In my youth back in the late 70s through at least the mid 80s, we would experience the exact same thing frequently. Whenever the Southern Bell 94x CO in North Miami Beach would give you a fast busy/reorder tone, you would be able to hear other people and talk to them during the fast busy tone. You can also hear people terminating their calls and others popping in at the same. Everyone can hear each other and talk to each other, too. Eventually, after a couple of minutes, the CO would drop you. Another glitch that I used to experience from that CO was after dialing a number, you would hear multiple parties all in conversation at the same time but not hearing the other parties in the conversation with no tone signal of any type in the background. They would not be able to hear me, either

It was all the rage in the 60’s to call the radio station and talk to the kids on the busy signal. We met lots of friends that way. I guess it lasted a long time but as I got older we went to dances and ice cream parlors to meet people, as well as cyo games and neighborhood house functions. I grew up in Elmira, NY by the way.

I happened to stumble back in here after having posted three years ago, and I wanted to add a couple of things. One is that this was *not* a party line. My grandma had one of those, and it wasn’t the same phenomenon. Those were perfectly legit and intentional. They could not produce the beep-line effect. The other thing is that there were also out-of-service numbers that played a tape on an endless loop that could and did function as beep lines. You yelled in the space between the end of the recorded voice and its restart.

this is one of those things i was beginning to think i had imagined! the beep line was very popular when i was in high school in the chicago area in the mid-sixties and i remember warnings that we could screw up the phone system by doing it, but we did it anyway.

Wow I stumbled on to this. Does this bring back memories. There also use to be a series of numbers you could enter to have your telephone automatically ring at your house too.

Thanks for the memory.

Thanks for the comment, Kris. I’m glad you stumbled upon Vintage Rotary Phones. Different areas had a different sequence of numbers one could dial to test the line…or “ring back”. I’ve seen the question posed to the various telephone collector’s groups and it appears that type of ring-back no longer exists or may only work in some parts of the Country. Stop by anytime!

Kris, by the way………if you missed this post, check out an audio clip of the acutal “beep-beep” line in action. Different areas called it different things. In this case the contributor of this clip, Russell called it the “jam-line”.

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