Talking on the busy signal. #AtoZChallenge

T is for Talking on the busy signal.  Twentieth of 26 posts in the April 2021 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: “Endwell: My Early Teen Years”— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

Young teens today have the world at their disposal through the Internet — with apps and platforms where they can connect with one another, whether locally or around the globe.

During my early teens (1963-65), the choices were more limited. Yet we still made the most of available technology and found our own innovative ways to meet and greet — such as talking on the busy signal.

An accidental discovery

I discovered talking on the busy signal purely by accident after making a phone call that wouldn’t go through. The busy signal sounded as usual — beep-beep-beep — but behind it I could hear a cacophony of disembodied voices all talking at once.

The first few times this happened, I figured it was just noise on the phone line — or crossed calls, which were not uncommon back then — so I simply hung up.

But finally, curiosity got the better of me — so the next time I got the busy signal I stayed on and listened. And I realized the voices were all talking to one another between the beeps.

Conversations might start like this: “Hi – beep – my – beep – name – beep – is  – beep – Joe – beep – what’s – beep – yours? – beep.” And the reply would come back: “Hi – beep – Joe – beep – this – beep – is – beep – Carol – beep – where – beep – are – beep – you – beep – from? – beep.”

Social networking sixties style

Like social networking sixties style, this was a whole new way of meeting people! I told my girlfriends about this discovery — and I remember us going on the busy signal together to test it out.

Before long, the more daring teens at school were exchanging numbers on the busy signal and meeting up in person — and “I met him on the busy signal” became a catchphrase of some female classmates with new boyfriends.

Yet I was a bit nervous about meeting boys this way, so mostly I just listened in — fascinated by the entire phenomenon, but not daring enough to give it a go. And eventually, the phone company figured it out and rewired things so the busy signal went quiet.

Was this an Endwell thing?

For years, I wondered whether talking on the busy signal was just an Endwell, N.Y., thing — perhaps a peculiarity of our local wiring — because no matter who I have asked over the years, nobody from elsewhere has heard of it.

But while researching this post, I happily discovered that there were indeed teens around the country who also talked on the busy signal in the 1960s — just like we did!

In the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, it was known as the “Jam Line” — a specific number that could be called to generate the busy signal free-for-all. In Alabama, they called it the “Beep Beep Line.” And in Cleveland, it was called talking between busy signal beeps.

Yet whatever the name, talking on the busy signal in the 1960s gave young people a brief opening into a free, social networking technology  — and teens like me made the most of it!

Up next, U is for Undaunted: Seventh Blogiversary! Please leave a comment, then join me as Endwell: My Early Teen Years unfolds one letter at a time!

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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12 thoughts on “Talking on the busy signal. #AtoZChallenge”

  1. How interesting. I never heard of talking between the busy signal but love how quickly teens picked up on it and used it to their advantage. It sounds like it was a true early pioneer of social networking.

    Weekends In Maine

  2. What a strange phenomenon. And what an amazing way to meet folks. I’m not sure I would have had the patience for it though – more than a few beeps, and I’d be driven crazy. No chance for a real conversation for me.

    1. There was definitely a learning curve — but surprisingly, once you started recognizing the voice of your counterpart amongst the others it was possible to have a quick conversation. The end point being an exchange of phone numbers so you could talk “off signal.”

    1. When I go to high school reunions, this is no big deal — we all talked on the busy signal as teens. So I never realized how unique it was until I started querying people as an adult.

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