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The Beep-Beep Line- The Jam Line – Busy Signal Chats

Last 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 one’s own phone number and got the busy signal that communication was possible with others that were also experiencing a busy signal. The conversation takes place during the silent portions of the beep, or buzzing.

At the time I wrote the original posting I received a couple of e-mail contacts from readers that also had experienced the beep-beep line when they were young. There are some interesting comments on that posting. If you are interested it is worth revisiting. But a month or so ago I received an e-mail from Russell in Minnesota. Russell said that at the time they called it The Jam Line. Russell told me how he would eventually meet people, usually girls his own age by talking on the Jam Line. Something that would probably be considered dangerous today. Mostly though it was kids from the same high schools talking and ultimately sharing time. Russell said he had recorded some actual beep-beep line (Jam Line) conversations and forwarded one to me. He gave his permission to share them with the world.

If you remember the beep-beep line, the beep line, the jam line or whatever you called it in your neck of the woods, you’ll enjoy hearing this short two minute sound clip of Russell (that’s his voice you hear the loudest) on The Jam Line in Minnesota!

I don’t know if this still works today. Perhaps someone with some time on their hands can explore the busy signal and report back.

31 responses to “The Beep-Beep Line- The Jam Line – Busy Signal Chats”

Positively bizarre. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of that phenomenon before. I’ll check out the previous post… this deserves more research! (Ooh, I just remembered a creepy “kids with phones” story from my youth. I feel a blog post coming on!)

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.

This is hilarious! Yes, I too experienced “JamLine” in the 60′s. I don’t even remember what made me think of searching for this long lost passtime 6 minutes ago, but I remember JamLine. There were several experiences with JamLine girls that I met that I hold in the top of my memory. Many, many times. **Sigh** Those were some fun times.

Good Times.

I’m now 47, living back in Minnesota and if I ever catch my young children using JamLine or anything like it, I’ll ground them for a MONTH and they won’t use the phone again until they’re 30!!

Rob from Minnesota JamLine

Rob, I’m glad that you were able to listen to a segment of your past. It was a lot of fun for me to hear the file too. Thanks Russell for having the insight to record and share this with the world. I’m afraid kids today would be bored with it….technology has advance so far beyond the busy signal. Thanks for the comment!

I remember the beep line very well. I remember using it to meet a girl. The conversation went something like this:

“beep Hi beep my beep name beep is beep Bob beep what’s beep your beep name? beep Meet beep me beep at beep the beep diner beep at beep seven beep o’clock”

It was nuts! But fun. Well, until I met the girl and she was just plain ugly :(

I met my wife on the beep line back in the late 70s and i thought i was nuts .I had great times in the philly area .Anybody remember the loop lines ??

Thanks for your comment Pete. I have not heard them called Loop Lines but it seems people from each various location of the Country had different names for the Beep line. So far we have Beep-beep line, Jam Line and now Loop Line. Interesting!

Dennis

Thank you Bob for your comment and sharing your memory with the rest of us. Sometimes the visual is best left to the imagination! Glad you enjoyed the article.

Dennis

We never had a beep line that used the busy signal, but we used to call time and temperture, and in the 5 second lull before the message came on, we could do the same thing! No irritating beep, but you had to talk fast!

What part of the Country did you live at the time, Ed? I had never heard of that scenario. Perhaps there are more tricks out there. An apparent glitch in the switching system. Thanks for your comment Ed.

I thought I’d check back and here and see what was being said. I’m glad the old sound bite of the Jam Line has brought back some good memories. I do have more sound bites from back in those days, including a complete conversation where my friend gets the girl’s phone number off of the Jam Line, and we call her back and talk for 45 minutes!

I do want to clarify what the Loop Lines were. They were actual Ma Bell test lines that the repair crews used to use when they were working on the equipment. They consisted of two telephone numbers that interconnected. Us kids used to use them, rather than give out our home telephone numbers over the Jam Line. Here’s how it worked. I would dial 349-4011, and I would be connected to a 1000 Hz tone. This tone was quite loud, and could be heard even if you set your phone down and walked away. While on the Jam Line, when asked for my telephone number, I would shout out the “other half” of the Loop Line number which was 349-4010, then quickly call the 349-4011 number. When the girl called 349-4010, the 1000 Hz tone on 349-4011, would stop and we would be interconnected just as if she had called my home telephone directly! We would then talk, and we could exchange our home telephone numbers in complete privacy.

Sometimes another girl, or even some guy, would beat the person who I was trying to get to call me back into the Loop Line. If it was a girl, this was great, cause we’d just talk. If it was a guy, it usually resulted in a verbal dispute with name calling and threats. Aaah, those were the days….

Russ, good to hear from you again. That is very interesting about the Loop Line. I had never heard of that before. Thank you for clarifying what Pete wrote about in a previous posting. Thank you for checking in with us again!

I live in Minnesota and recall as a kid being able to call what was called the “Jam Line” it was a number that you could call and talk to others who, I presume, also called the same number. The first 6 digits were the same, but you could vary the last digit and still get the jam line. I remember it fondly as one of my earliest phreaking discoveries. It was hard to hear others due to interference. It seemed, if I remember correctly, that the closer they were to you the easier it was to hear them.

RT, thanks for the comment. I guess Minnesota was a hot-spot for the Jam Line, Beep-beep line, whatever it was called. We learn a little bit more with each comment. I didn’t know about the number that was used to call the line. We just dialed our own phone number to get a busy signal.
Thanks again for the comment!

This may or may not be related, but I don’t care. A funny thing in my hometown in Kansas during the 80s was you’d dial the phone’s phone number but change the first digit to a 9. When you heard a solid tone (wasn’t 1000Hz but maybe 440′ish) then hang up. This would then make your phone ring. Forever. Pick it up and you’d hear some weird oscillating tone. Hang it back up and the ringing stopped. We used to do it all the time to public pay phones because it didn’t require pay. It was actually somewhat common passing by a ringing payphone in our town. But, unfortunately, this stopped working sometime during 1990, but we’ve grown up anyway.

While we never had a name for it that I can remember, we had the same “busy signal” communications in Billings, Montana back in the mid 60′s. Normally, someone would call the popular radio station’s request line and wind up with a busy signal. During the pauses, you could hear the kids (which I guess I was one of them back then) shouting out names and phone numbers. I used to cheat — I worked at another radio station at the time, and I would record the busy signal for maybe five minutes, and then I could go back over the tape and glean phone numbers. I had a lot of fun and interesting conversations on the phone, but never did meet anyone cool. I’m glad to find some proof that this existed in other places. A lot of people I’ve told about it in later years seemed to think it was something I made up.

Rockwell, thank you for your comments. That is very interesting how you would record the busy signals for later use. So now we know it worked out in Montana.

I would love to hear from more people across this Country telling us where they had fun with the Beep-beep line, the Jam Line or whatever you called it in your neck of the wood.

Thanks again Rockwell!

Hey I remember Jam Line very well – 1977-1979 or thereabouts.

Total nostalgia to hear a recording of this!

There were also the loop lines, the telephone test numbers that
in the Twin Cities area ended in 4098, 4099, 4010, 4011 and
sometimes 4012.

Now those lines still exist but they block voice transmissions.

In those days sometimes the jamlines would be blocked so someone
would tape a very professional sounding announcement with music
(I remember the intro of “Turn to Stone” by ELO) and someone saying
the Bell System had blocked the Jam Line at a certain number and to try
another one instead.

I remember certain personalities who were on those lines, “The Wrestler”,
a guy who would play All Star Wrestling audio, “The Doom Man” and
some others.

I still am friends with some of the people I met on those lines so long ago.

Amazing.

I graduated from Washburn HS in Minneapolis in 1973, and I, too, remember the “Jam Line.” I once told my husband about it, and he thought I was nuts–so this blog is sweet vindication!

This may be a bit off-topic, but I also remember how to defeat a mechanical lock on a rotary phone. Back in the “analog days,” you could click the phone cradle to “dial” the phone–one click for “1,” two clicks for “2,” etc. For a “0″ you had to click it ten times–a bit tricky, but it worked. (I was too honest to use the method to call long distance, however.)

I remember beep lines in Indianapolis, similar to what Ed described in a earlier post.

The difference was the beep lines there were numbers that were “disconnected or no longer in service”. You would talk in the space between the recordings making the “disconnected” number announcement.

We used to try to hook up with girls on those lines.

There were several beep line in the Indianapolis area and from the number of people on them, they were very popular!

The beep line on WLS radio! That was THE popular AM radio station. I grew up in Chicago in the 1960s.

Is BEEP there BEEP anyone BEEP on BEEP the BEEP line?

We would call the radio request line and meet other kids that way. I didn’t know it was going on around the country.

I looked on Art Roberts’ site ( he was a popular DeeJay on WLS) and found the 1964 Silver Dollar Survey. That was the top 100 songs, so we knew what 45′s to buy! http://www.firststrategy.com/artroberts2003/11-13-6444.jpg

Junebug, thanks for your posting. I remember listening to WLS here in the Detroit area. At night the AM signal would travel and they were a strong station. That would have been much later though, in the early 70′s. Thanks for the link and the comment!

You’re welcome, Dennis. I think WLS had one of the strongest antennas. I hear it got as far as Arkansas and Tennessee.

Oh My God! I’m writing a novel and needed to research JAM LINE. Amazing. I met my girlfriend of 3 years and current friend. Brought me right back to 10th grade. That recording is invaluable. Thanks for this site!!

Rob, that’s great that you enjoyed the sound clip. This topic has resulted in more reader response than any other. Thanks to Russell from Minnesota for providing me with that sound byte. Thanks for leaving a comment!

Yes, I experienced this in Portland, OR back in the 60′s, and the recording you have is exactly like it. We used to try to hook up with girls, but it seems there were more guys on it than anything else. Judging from the replies, it seems that many, many people experienced this, and it was not just a fluke of one area of the country.

Thanks for checking in from yet another part of the Country, Bill. It does seem like this Beep-beep, Jam-Line thing was popular all over the United States “back in the day”.

I am currently working on a memoir and am writing a story abut my Beepline experience (it was a doozy) in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the late 60s. When I googled this a few years ago, I wasn’t able to find anything. This has been great fun…..thanks to all of you. If I ever get published, I’ll let you know so anyone interested can read it.

Thank you Sheila for the comment! Glad we could be of some service. Feel free to mention Vintage Rotary Phones in your book! I would be glad to check out your story when it is complete. This particular topic has continued to elicit responses from readers. Best of luck on your memoir! ~Dennis

It was about 8:30 pm on April 26, 1984. A teenage girl was standing in a phone booth in the parking lot of the SuperAmerica gas station on 37th Ave. NE, in Minneapolis, MN talking on the Jam Line, when suddenly the telephone line went dead, then was proceeded by some clicking sounds, went dead again, and just as suddenly the Jam Line was back on. Moments later the power went out all around her, then an F-3 tornado hit the Apache Plaza Shopping Mall about a 1/2 mile away. The resulting damage would trigger the eventual bankruptcy and demolition of the mid-sized indoor mall built in 1961.

For days afterwards the local evening News casts would focus on how there were no warning sirens sounded before this tornado struck the mall. There was a lot of public outcry for a better system to activate the air-raid warning network. It turned out that the air-raid sirens were triggered by telephone line, and for some reason the system had failed on the 781/788/789 telephone prefix areas. The sirens worked fine in other areas of the city. The Weather Service was baffled.

The Jam Line that existed on the 781/788/789 prefix was the last ever in the Twin Cities, MN area. It was shut down in 1984, about a month after the tornado, but not before I talked to the teenage girl who was in the phone booth that stormy night. She was one of the last girls I ever talked to off of the Jam Line, and she talked about this strange story of how the tornado had momentarily knocked out the Jam Line, and how she was so close she could see a “green-glow” in the darkness traveling along the ground towards Apache Mall. To her, the NWS, and the TV News Reporters, there was no explanation for the failures that night. To me and a select few others, we knew exactly what had happened.

One of my friend’s mom’s was a NorthWestern Bell Operator. Both my friend and I were heavily into the Jam Line. We had been told by his mom that the reason the telephone company didn’t like the Jam Line was because with so many people calling into a certain prefix, it would over-load the circuits and block in-coming calls. The phone company would have to try and reroute traffic, but they could only do so much. That teenage girl told me the Jam Line was very busy that night and there were about 20 people screaming on the Line. She had been a bit frustrated trying to dial in because it was hard to get through. It didn’t take an Einstein to figure out what had happened, but the phone company kept it quiet. The Jam Line had overloaded the circuits and blocked the trigger signal for the warning sirens in the area.

Many residents and shoppers lives were put at risk that night because they had no warning. No one could have ever predicted that the Jam Line would have caused such a mess. These events are a true story; but the conclusions are purely speculation on my part. It’s nice to see so many responses to my Jam Line sound byte. Maybe I should dig up some more old audio to be put on here….

And now Minnesota Public Radio has done an history piece on the Twin Cities 1970′s “Jam Line.” You can listen to the broadcast and read the story here:
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/12/24/arts/jam-line/

There is now a Facebook Group dedicated to the old Beep Lines and Jam Lines:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/153223924861685/

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