March 03, 2005

One ringy-dingy... two ringy-dingy...

We had to buy new phones for the house, and it got me to thinking about phones and how they've changed over my lifetime. The set we bought (yep, a whole set) consists of four cordless handsets with intercom capability between them, a "base station" with four built in voice mail boxes and caller ID, and associated charging cradles and such. We didn't go for super quality this time around (for a very specific reason that I won't go into here), and I'll be happy if they last a couple three years.

Four handsets? Well, there's one for the basement where my workshop and computer are. One for the main floor, and two for upstairs (master bedroom and Mookie's room). The intercom feature will be a welcome feature.

Are you old enough to remember when you didn't even own your telephone? Growing up, I recall the telephone man showing up to install your phone, and hearing mom complain when the phone was broken and having to wait for the repairman to show up. It was a big deal in those days deciding where to put the phone too. We always had ours hanging on a wall in the kitchen. And then we had a second phone put into the master bedroom after someone tried to break into the house one night (Dad worked nights). But those weren't our phones, they belonged to the phone company.

When Liz and I got married, things were just switching over to where you actually bought your own phone (some 25 years ago... wow, it just hit me that I've been married for a quarter of a century). We went to the "phone store" and looked around at all different models, and it was amazing because suddenly it wasn't just colors you could choose from (I'm guessing maybe six colors on three or four models), but all kinds of choices were available. And man, did you pay premium prices for your phone. Our first telephone was kind of fancy looking because my attitude was that we might as well spend extra up front for something we liked instead of paying all over again later to upgrade. I mean, why would you ever buy another phone? This one ought to last forever.

It had a rotary dial. Oh yeah, my crystal ball was clear as mud on that one.

Then phone stores disappeared and the market was flooded with hundreds of models from who knows how many brand names. You could buy a telephone in almost any store, and most of them were incredibly cheap. As in crap. There was a little slide switch on the side of most of them, so you could make the push-button phone act like a rotary dial, because not all phone systems could handle digital. Remember flip-phones? Forerunner to the cell phone, before cordless was available. And the era was you bought new telephones on a regular basis, maybe because the last POS fell apart or quit working, or you wanted the latest in technology (ooooo, light-up buttons!). Two line phones! Whoa.

Car phones. Still had a cord and you looked like you were talking into a beige brick. Then cordless came along, for a price (naturally) and you could walk around free talking into your beige brick.

I remember borrowing a cell phone at a picnic to make an emergency call (I was getting ready to get in the car to drive to a pay phone when he offered), and I hurried through the call knowing that every second was costing big money. I'll never forget what the owner of the phone told me: "It's an expensive luxury". I still think that's true, and I wish more people would remember that. Not that I mind paying for my wife and daughters to carry one at all times (I still don't have one though).

When we were stationed in Germany (late 80's), they still operated the phone system the old-fashioned (to us) way. Maybe they still do, I dunno. Everything had that odd European styling that I could never get used to, including the phone. Our phone was pumpkin orange, because that's what it was when we moved in, and getting it changed meant a wait measured in months and a hefty service charge. Screw that. The phone was also in it's own little alcove in the hallway, on a short short cord so you were leashed to the spot whenever you used the phone.

There was a counter on the phone, which is how you paid for your phone service. For every call, the counter would click over during your conversation, and the farther away the other party was the faster the counter turned over. Call your bud on the next block? Tick... tick... tick... Call Mom back in the States? Tickticktickticktick, fast enough to make the numbers blur.

It seems like every new cell phone today has a camera built in. It also seems like every day you hear about some place forbidding the use of cell phones with built-in cameras. The US Department of State has a new directive out saying you can't have them on premises (or maybe "use" them, I'll have to check again).

Anyways, I have a new phone setup at home, with a whole bunch of buttons I'll never use and would probably never miss.

Posted by Ted at March 3, 2005 11:58 AM
Category: Boring Stories

Problem is: if your power goes out, you have no phone service either.

And whatever happened to phones you could cradle in the crook of your neck while you talked, so you could use both your hands for something else, like typing?
Try that with today's phones and you end up hanging-up on whoever you are talking to.

Cel phones can take pictures, shoot video, you can play games on them, send email or text messages, take notes.
John Hefron from Last Comic Standing asks "can I get one that you can use as a phone?"

Posted by: Rob@L&R at March 3, 2005 12:53 PM

I remember most of that.I also remember that the very first phone store i ever saw was in Springfield Mall.That was right after they first built 66.
Another thing I remeber was the fact that you had quite a few people on the same line.This usually led to at least two areas of rambunctuousness.First you could quietly lift the phone off the hook and just hear all kinds of gossip.An enterprising young spirit(who shall remain nameless)could often stick a few bucks or favors in his pocket if the phone was picked up at certain times of the day.
Another thing you could do if you just felt like being a jerk was simply taking the phone off the hook.Ain't nobody callin' nobody then.HEHEHE
Sometimes certain children would make a habit of doing this and we would have to run around to every house in the neighborhood and ask everyone to check their phones.
Back then I also remember that every time a plane flew over everyone would run out of their houses to watch.Those where pre-Dulles days.Also,if more than two or three cars a day went by the house we would start calling around and trying to find out what was up.
On another note I also knew every one of my neighbors back then and people didn't threaten to lock you up for playing on their lawn.
I don't care what anyone says there has been no "progress" and overall peoples lives aren't a dambed bit better.Just a hell of a lot more shallow and complicated.

Posted by: Russ at March 3, 2005 12:57 PM

Do you mind mentioning the make and model of the phones? Would you recommend them?


Posted by: mpolak at March 3, 2005 02:26 PM

About 4 years ago, I found out a co-worker was still renting his phone from the phone company. His son went with him to pick out a new phone and they were so proud. This guy also did not have an oven since it broke and they could not find another one that would fit in their custom space. They started using it for storage and never looked back.....

Posted by: Amy at March 3, 2005 09:13 PM

We use our dishwasher for storage since it's busted.
Its where we hide all the good stuff.

Posted by: Mookie at March 3, 2005 09:19 PM

Sheesh, I remember all of that stuff, too.

Ted, did you know that anyone with a cheap "police scanner" can listen in on your chordless phone conversations? Yep. I did it all the time a few years ago. All the neighborhood chordless chatter: Girl talk; people calling lawyers; people making dinner reservations. It's all out in the open on these fancy new phones.

As far as phones go, I still love the old heavy black bakelite rotary-dials. Makes me think of those powdery pastel candies my great-grandmother used to have in a dish in her front room. Dang they smelled good...

Posted by: Tuning Spork at March 3, 2005 10:59 PM

on the camera phones thing:
One of my buddies is an engineer for GE at one of their nuclear fuel subsidiaries, has to leave his phone in the car, not allowed in the building. So it's not just the government sector that's seeing the tightened security.

Posted by: shank at March 4, 2005 08:24 AM

I think I remember back in the early 60s that one sure way to tell who the "rich" folks were, in an otherwise homogenous housing developement, was if a family had a "Princess" phone. There was much TV advertising about that phone and I remember making a special trip to a friend of a friend's house just to see, touch and even make a call on the new phone. Pretty cool back then.

Posted by: GordoM at March 4, 2005 12:54 PM

Mike, the phone are VTech brand, 24Ghz digital, model v2689. We got 'em at BJ's warehouse club. Since they're so new to us I have no opinion yet on how they work or if they're a good value for the money.

There's a website:

Looking around there, it looks like it's a special pack just for BJ's, using V2651 handsets.

Posted by: Ted at March 5, 2005 07:39 PM

*crap* it's


Posted by: Ted at March 5, 2005 07:40 PM

My ext. handset goes to speaker phone automatic when you try to dial then it frezzes the phone

Posted by: Paul at March 10, 2005 02:10 PM


"if your power goes out, you have no phone service either"

I always have one phone on a UPS that serves my cablemodem/router/etc.--the VOIP phone. (Computers are naturally on UPSes, anyway; what's one more?)

"And whatever happened to phones you could cradle in the crook of your neck"

Hated 'em. Phones I use have headsets or ear buds w/mics.

I, too, recall all that Ted mentions (well, except for the tickticktick deal--never went there, did that). Still have a rotary "bakelite-veneered boat anchor" in a box. I think it'd anchor the Queen Elizabeth.

As to folks with scanners listening in to wireless phones... Tuning Spork, you're just not paranoid enough. With the proper EM shielding, your home ought to be pretty leak-free in the EM category. :-) (Yeh, with the proper equipment folks can "listen in" on your computer keystrokes, as well. So? What are the chances?)


Yeh, Vtech phones range from the incredibly cheap to the pretty good. I buy whatever I can find on close-outs when I need a new phone/fax/whatever. They are now simply commodity items. Another option: my most recent fax/phone/remote handset/speakerphone/digital answering machine is a "pull" from my neighbor's trash--with his knowledge and approval *heh*--and repair. Silly. Had simply dumped coffee in the thing and just cleaning it saved me a couple hundred bucks over buying same model at Sam's. Offered it back, but no. "Repaired" wasn't good enough for him. His loss. And one of my headsets was a perfect fit for the remote handset. So there. :-)

Posted by: David at March 11, 2005 09:52 AM

+We purchased V 2656 phone with three handsets. On one of the handsets the LCD display is so dim it is impossible to read. Is there any solution to this problem?

Posted by: ejsisk at May 17, 2005 05:46 PM

Register VTech for warranty

Posted by: Richard Watts at September 12, 2005 01:21 PM

Registration for warranty

Posted by: Richard Watts at September 12, 2005 02:31 PM

I bot a set of Vtech phones at Verizon, a price I never paid before, ip-5850, now have alot of static noise when using them, can't seem to find anyone or anyplace to get an answer as to what might be wrong,or for info to send it back to where, the telephone info, was to get on the web page,but where from there??

Posted by: Max at October 10, 2005 05:56 PM
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