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Official Article

Old School Phones: Mystery Callers

It used to be that picking up the telephone was akin to seeing what was behind Door Number 1 on The Price Is Right. The lack of caller ID and other modern cell phone conveniences actually made using the phone something of an adventure. You had absolutely no idea who was on the other line until you heard their voice. Sure some people had fancy wireless phones with digital display caller ID panels later in the decade, but my family were not those people, so we had to roll the dice each time we picked up the receiver.

Sometimes you were pleasantly surprised by a family member you hadn’t talked to in a while, other times it was a friend inviting you over to hang out, but mostly it was a telemarketer that as a kid you had no idea how to handle. So let’s go back to 1993 B.C. (Before Cell Phones) as I tell you of a tale of telephone terror. You see, when I was 13 a friend of mine once used this blind caller scenario to prank me into hysterics. (Note: for this dramatic re-creation, I will be played by Johnny Depp from A Nightmare on Elm Street)

It was around 4pm on a weekday, I was home from school and my Mom hadn’t yet returned from running errands. The phone rang and a woman’s voice with an accent asked to speak to my Mom, (who we’ll call Cheryl Hope for the purposes of this story). “I can talk to Cheryl Hope?” the voice said, “No, she’s not home right now”, I responded and the person hung up.

Then the phone rang again, “I can talk to Cheryl Hope?” the same caller said again. “I think you already called and I told you she wasn’t home”, I replied as politely as possible. Except this time the voice kept going, “I need tell her something important. I can talk to Cheryl Hope?” I responded calmly, “No, she’s not here, please call back later” and I hung up.

Immediately the phone rang again and in my mind I’m starting to feel like Drew Barrymore in Scream. “I can talk to Cheryl Hope?” the irritating voice repeated. “Please stop calling. I already told you she’s not here.” But the caller was relentless, “I need talk to Cheryl Hope”.

At this point I’m starting to suspect something is up, but I’m still unsure if this could be a real person on the other end, just trying to do their job, so I just asked, “Is this Bret?” The caller paused for a minute and said, “No. I can talk to Cheryl Hope?” (AHHHHH!) “Seriously if this is Bret, it’s not funny.” I said as I gripped the phone tighter. “I need talk to Cheryl Hope”, the psycho-caller insisted.

Tears were starting to well up in my eyes. Was it really an emergency? Was this a crazy person? Was it just my jerk buddy trying to get a rise out of me because he knew I didn’t like offending people? I finally began pleading with the person on the other end of the line, “PLEASE, just call back later.” Now there was no pause, “I can talk to Cheryl Hope?” At that point I was at my wit’s end and I blurted out, “If this is anybody but Bret, I’m sorry!” and slammed the phone back on the receiver.

Of course the phone kept ringing, so I took it off the hook. But realized my Mom might call, so I just had to commit myself to not answering the phone. I have no idea why I was so fragile in this moment, but the shrill sound of the phone continued to taunt me. After 30 or 40 rings, I got mad and finally picked up the phone only to hear my buddy cracking up on the other end. It was both relief to know who the culprit was and a feeling of unquenchable rage. “You JERK!” Then I couldn’t help but start laughing too. The whole scenario was just ridiculous and I had to give him props for his "Junior Jerky Boys" style prank phone calling skills.

It’s crazy to think that this is an experience made possible only by inconvenient old school telecommunications technology. It’s something that kids today will never be able to replicate and even we didn’t get to enjoy it for much longer. Shortly after this incident, *69 became a thing where you could immediately call back a number that just called you. 

It’s very existence ended Bart Simpson’s terrorizing of Moe the Bartender, which was the spiky haired scamp’s signature gag in the early seasons of The Simpsons. Then a few years after that the cell phone revolution started where you could screen every incoming call. Now we’re in the days of cyber-bullying, which just sucked the fun out of any kind of phone mischief. I’m glad I got to live through the tail end of this period in history, when the mystery of a blind call could give life a little excitement.

So what kind of weird phone calls did you get back in the day? What kind of phone mischief did you get into?

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Mar 24, 2016 at 07:30 PM

@Vaporman87 My wife is totally requesting that I test our PrankDial on her. it sounds so sophisticated.

@pikachulover that's pretty hilarious. Celebrity based prank calls are a whole different category. Tricking little kids into thinking their favorite hero is calling could be cruel or cool.

@echidna64 Yeah, dating calls on the phone were tricky. If you were trying to avoid someone, there wasn't much you could do to prevent it and if you wanted the call there was little to be done about siblings getting to the phone first and embarrassing you.

echidna64 Posted on Mar 17, 2016 at 04:46 PM

Kids today never understand what it feels like to call a girl's home and then have her dad pick up on the other end lol

pikachulover Posted on Mar 16, 2016 at 10:00 PM

I had some neighbors who would try to prank call me. I remember once they told me they had "Kimberly from the Power Rangers" on the phone. She didn't sound like Kimberly. She sounded like somebody with a cold. Then they said it was just my neighbor's friend who I didn't know named Kimberly who owned cheap inline skates. Which my neighbor just threw in there into the conversation.

Vaporman87 Posted on Mar 16, 2016 at 05:00 PM

You would think that with today's technology, one could not be fooled by a prank call (at least not by the number and ID you see). But you would be wrong. Technology has also provided NEW ways to fool people on the phone.

Take, for example, PrankDial. At PrankDial, one can type in ANY phone number they choose to be the "calling from" number, select a pre-recorded prank message set, and then listen to the response after it is recorded and saved to the site. The pre-recorded message actually responds (or doesn't respond) based on replies from the person being called. So if no response if given, the message may say "Are you still there?" "Hellooo???" But if responses are given, then the message follows it's normal pattern, and it usually results in hilarious responses.

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