1966 - Touch Tone

In 1966, Touch Tone Dialing was first introduced to Atlanta. Touch Tone had been in trials in The Bell System since the 1950s and was first introduced commercially in other cities in the fourth quarter of 1963. The first Tone Tone telephones had 10 buttons. The * and # buttons were added a few years later.
Atlanta's first Touch Tone service was offered to customers with "252" and "255" Sandy Springs numbers. Unlike Direct Distance Dialing, Expanded Local Calling, and other new services, there was no advertising or mention in the Directory. The Sandy Springs customers probably received an insert in their telephone bills notifying them of the new service.

The reason was that Touch Tone required expensive modifications to central office switching equipment. These modifications also took time. And the telephone company wasn't convinced that everybody would want it right away. And they were right. The installation charge of about $15 and monthly fee of $1.50 were considered extravagant by many.
But there were other customers who heard about Touch Tone service and wanted it right away. They may have seen it in someone else's home or business or may have had it in another city. When they called the Telephone Business Office to order it, they were often disappointed to find that Touch Tone was not available in their central office.
The first offices to be modified for Touch Tone were those with No. 5 Crossbar switching equipment. Inside of the Atlanta Exchange area, there were 8 of these offices. Customers served out of central offices with step-by-step equipment had to wait. In a few areas served by offices with mixed Crossbar and Step-by-Step equipment, such as Downtown, customers were allowed to change their telephone number to switch to Crossbar and get Touch-Tone if they chose to do so.
Another option that you could have used to get Touch Tone if your central office didn't have it is called "FCO" (Foreign Central Office). This means you have your telephone connected to a central office other than the one that normally serves your area. FCO requires you to pay a mileage charge based on the distance between your serving central office and the one you want to be served out of. For example, if you lived in East Point and wanted Touch Tone, you could get a downtown telephone number. But you would have to pay a mileage charge for the distance between downtown and East Point. This was rather expensive in 1966. Very few people opted to do this. But a few businesses did.
A few Step-by-Step offices did finally get Touch-Tone. This was done by adding pulse conversion equipment, which converted the customers tone signals into dial pulses to operate the Step equipment. Calls using this system were slow to go through. It was even argued that calls made from Touch-Tone phones on Step-by-Step went through no faster than calls made from rotary dial phones. But most Step offices did not have Touch Tone for several more years and some offices, such as Melrose never did. Customers in Melrose and offices like it had to either change their telephone numbers or wait until the Step equipment was replaced around 1980.
It is hard to image life without Touch Tone dialing. But in the 1960s, there were no automated voice response systems and hardly any computers.
When Touch-Tone service was added to a central office, the dial tone in the office was changed. The new dial tone was the modern one in use today. This was referred to as "precise dial tone". The older dial tone supposedly interfered with the Touch Tone signals.

"411" and "611"

In 1966, the codes for Information and Repair service were changed to 411 and 611. Prior to this they were 113 and 114.
Soon after this, operators stopped answering "Information!" and began to answer "Directory Assistance". At one point, operators were instructed to ask you if you had checked the directory first before they looked-up a number for you. At this point, Directory Assistance was free of charge. A few years later, customers began to be charged for calls to 411.


Around this same time, the number "555-1212" was introduced to call directory assistance in another city. Prior to this service, you had to dial "0" and ask your operator for the information operator in the city you were calling.
The initial design for this system routed these calls to a centralized toll center in the dialed area code. An operator on a cord switchboard in that toll center then answered "Directory Assistance. What City, Please?" She then connected you with the information operator in the town you requested.
In these days, Directory Assistance used paper directories to look up numbers. There were no computerized directories.
Eventually, centralized Directory Assistance offices were established for each area code. Operators in these offices had complete directory listings for all places in their area code. This method made it possible to handle calls faster, but required centralized maintenance of directory listings. Computerized directories eventually simplified this process considerably.

WATS (Wide Area Telephone Service)

WATS was a service offered by the telephone company to business that placed frequent calls to long distance points. WATS involved the installation of a separate telephone line, known as a "WATS Line". Larger businesses would have multiple WATS Lines. In exchange for paying a monthly rate for a WATS Line, calls placed on the WATS Line were billed at a reduced rate compared to calls placed on a regular line. The per-minute rate was based on a reducing scale that got smaller the more minutes you used it in a given month.
WATS Lines were based on a system of "bands". The first band was made up of the states immediately surrounding your home state. The second band included states a bit further out. This continued through Band 5, which included the west coast. A WATS line for a particular band could be used to place calls for states in that band or lower bands only. The higher the band, the more expensive the monthly charge and the per-minute charge.
Interstate WATS Lines, regardless of band could not be used to call intrastate and visa-versa. For example: to cover Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, you would need two WATS lines: a Band 1 line for Florida and Alabama and a Georgia WATS line.
Large businesses typically had an assortment of WATS Lines of various bands.
Switching of WATS lines was handled by No. 5 Crossbar offices. And only a few central offices were set up to handle them. If you ordered the service and your office did not have the capability, your WATS line was connected to the nearest office that did. This arrangement, known as FCO (Foreign Central Office) was included as a part of the WATS line at no cost to you. In Atlanta, the machine used was usually one of the 51 Ivy machines or the Buckhead machine.

Toll-Free 800 Service

1966 was the first year that Toll-Free "800" or Inward WATS was offered. You started to see ads for companies wanting you to dial "1-800" to reach them. One of the first well publicized nationwide 800 number was the one for Sheraton Hotels 800-325-3535.
Like Outward WATS service, In-WATS lines were set up based on bands. And interstate 800 lines could not receive calls from within the state. Businesses wanting to receive calls from within the state as well as from outside the state had to publish two different 800 numbers. In addition, businesses had to purchase 800 lines with a high enough band to cover all of the states that they expected to receive calls from.
As a result of this billing structure, most of the major hotel chains determined that they would save money by placing their central reservations center in the middle of the country. This would allow an 800 line with a band of "3" to be reached from the entire Continental U.S. So nearly every hotel company chose to put their reservations office in Omaha, Nebraska.
800 calls were routed based on the prefix. One or more prefixes was assigned to each Area Code in the U.S. and Canada. Based on the prefix that you dialed after "800", the originating 4A toll switching machine would route the call to the 4A machine serving that area. In the 1960s and '70s, toll free numbers terminating in Georgia from out of state had a prefix of "241" and in-state numbers had a prefix of "282". Once the call reached the home area code, the 4A machine there would translate the 800 number into a local 7-digit telephone number, called a "Plant Test Number" (PTN). This number terminated in a regular central office line at the user's location. The PTN was a special non-published number strictly known to the telephone company and used for this purpose. It was not the customer's regular telephone number.

Airport Pay Phones

In the Atlanta Airport, there were hundreds of pay phones installed in wooden phone booths throughout the terminal. These phones were served out of several different central offices. Some had 523 numbers out of the Auburn Avenue Step office. Some were 688 numbers out of the 51 Ivy Crossbar 5 office. Some were 361 numbers out of the Forest Park Crossbar 5. But most were 76X numbers out of the East Point Step office. The East Point office was the office serving the area. You would usually never see telephones served out of this many offices in one place. The reason may have been to balance the traffic across multiple offices.

1967 - The No. 1 Electronic Switching System (ESS)

In November of 1967, Atlanta received its first electronic, computer controlled switching system, The No. 1 ESS. The first Number 1 ESS machine had been installed in 1965 in Saccasunna, New Jersey, after nearly 20 years of research and development by Bell Labs.
The ESS machine uses a network of glass encapsulated reed relays (ferreeds) to make up its switching network. Two redundant central computer processors control the operation of the system using a stored program.

The No. 1 ESS was designed with an ultimate capacity of 65,000 subscriber lines. The machine continuously ran diagnostic programs to identify and isolate trouble conditions. A central control center permitted personnel to monitor the operation of the system. Long Distance billing information (AMA) was recorded on magnetic tape rather than on punched paper tape as it had been done with crossbar systems.

ESS also introduced Custom Calling Services, Call Waiting, Three-Way Calling, Call Forwarding, and Speed Dialing.
Atlanta's first ESS machine was installed in a new building on Tenth Street in Midtown, across the street from the Crescent Avenue central office building. The new office, called Peachtree Place, was assigned a territory that consisted of a portion of the Midtown area previously served by the Crescent Avenue office. This area included the business district along Peachtree Street from Tenth Street to Pershing Point and the Ansley Park residential area. When the cutover occurred, the several thousand customers in this area received new "892" numbers
For some reason, this first ESS office did not have coin capability. Coin telephones in the area continued to be served by the Crescent Avenue step office. Technically this meant all of the coin phones were handled as FCO service out of that office. Then around 1971, records show the original ESS machine being replaced with a new machine. The reason for this is unknown. But the new machine had coin control capability. After the change, coin phones in the serving area were assigned 892 numbers and served out of the ESS. The original machine was upgraded and reentered service a year or two later.
It is interesting that customers served out of the Crescent Avenue Step-by-Step office were not able to get Touch Tone or Custom Calling services for several years even though the ESS machine was right across the street from their office. There was a specific restriction placed on ordering FCO service between the two offices. FCO (Foreign Central Office) allows you to pay an extra charge in order to have your telephone served out of a central office other than the one serving your area. You were usually only required to pay a charged based on the mileage between the two offices. Since these two offices were next door to each other, the mileage charge would have been negligible. But the restriction on FCO service meant that you could not choose the Peachtree Place ESS as your serving office if you were located in the Crescent Avenue office area. Your only option was to pay for FCO service out of Buckhead or some other office and pay a higher charge. This was not very well known and very few customers elected to do it.
The first ESS machines had occasional problems. Even though there were two, redundant central processors, the central control would sometimes fail, bringing the entire system down. This created a telephone service outage that affected the entire central office for several minutes until the machine could be restarted. When this happened, it tended to be at the worst possible time when the machine became overloaded during heavy traffic periods. Outages were not frequent but made the news in several cities, including Atlanta. These problems were eventually resolved.

Custom Calling Services

Electronic Switching introduced Custom Calling Services. These services were available at an extra cost of 2 to 4 dollars per month.
CALL WAITINGthis option allows you to place one call on hold while answering a second incoming call.
THREE-WAY CALLINGallows you to place a call on hold in order to add an additional party.
SPEED CALLINGplace calls to frequently used numbers by dialing only one or two digits.
CALL FORWARDINGtransfers incoming calls to another telephone number that you specify. To turn on, dial *91 plus the number. To turn off, press *92. From a rotary telephone, dial 1191 or 1192.

The first version of Speed Calling required that you submit your list of telephone numbers to the Business Office. The numbers would then be loaded into the machine for you. This was one of the limitations of the software on the first ESS machines. The second version ("generic") of the software made it possible for you to set up your speed dialing list yourself.
The first codes to activate Call Forwarding were also different than the later versions.

Common Control Step-by-Step

The same day that the ESS office began service, an upgrade was made in the Chamblee Step-by-Step office, adding "common control" equipment. This added senders and translators to the office. A sender received the customer's dialed digits. A translator determined the proper routing for the digits dialed and instructed the sender to pulse the correct sequence of digits into the Step-by-Step equipment.
The common control equipment permitted customers to dial all Atlanta metro numbers without having to dial the access code "8" as before. The new equipment also made Touch-Tone service available. Common Control for Step-by-Step was not common in The Bell System. Other telephone companies used it more extensively. Chamblee ended up being the only office in Atlanta to have it.

1968 - Customer Owned Equipment

In June of 1968, FCC ruled that customer provided equipment could be connected to the telephone company's lines. Prior to this you were not permitted to connect equipment of any sort to your telephone line. You could go down to you Radio Shack store and buy a telephone set, but you couldn't legally install it in your house.
At this point, all telephones were installed by the Telephone Company and for the most part, were hard-wired to a connecting block on the wall. If you wanted telephones that could be unplugged, you had to order them that way and pay an extra charge for a "portable" telephone with a four-prong plug. Having jacks installed in your house did not give you permission to plug anything into them other than the company-provided telephone sets. You were charged a monthly charge for each jack and each telephone.
This was one of the Terms of Service that existed between The Company and The Customer. Violation of the rules meant possible disconnection of your service. Many people did violate the rules and installed their own phones.
The Company's justification for this rule was that customer-provided equipment could be faulty and cause damage to The Company's lines and switching equipment. Another more likely reason was that unauthorized extension phones provided no revenue to The Company. The Company could even test your line to determine whether or not you had unauthorized phones. This involved using a procedure that measured the current used by any telephone ringers connected to the line. When people became aware of this test, they could defeat it by simply disconnecting the ringers on the "illegal" phones.
The FCC ruling was known as "The Carterfone Decision" and was brought about by a law suit by Carterfone Corporation against Ma Bell. Carterfone wanted to sell answering machines. Prior to the decision, only The Telephone Company could provide you with an answering machine connected directly to your line. Carterfone and other companies had to produce awkward machines that were attached to your telephone set with an acoustical coupler. The machine had to "listen" for your phone to ring and then lift the receiver from its cradle.
Personal computers were a long way off at this point and were not even envisioned. But there were other data communications devices, such as teleprinters, Teletype machines, and early FAX machines. These also had to be connected to a telephone handset using an acoustical coupler. This practice continued for many years after the 1968 ruling because most telephones did not have jacks to plug equipment into. The standard modular telephone jack in use today was not introduced until the mid 1970s.
For several years after the FCC ruling, The Company tried to place some controls over the customer-owned equipment. You were now free to connect your own telephones and other devices but you were required to notify the telephone business office of such an attachment. Every device was required to have a "ringer equivalency number" which you gave to the Service Representative.

Norcross Fire

On June 29th, 1968, the Norcross Central Office building was destroyed by fire. After several days, emergency service was provided by manual switchboards installed in trailers. Two weeks later, on July 16th, construction began on a new building. The office reopened on October 26th with No. 5 Crossbar switching equipment.

Intercept Recordings

Prior to the mid 1950s, when you dialed an incorrect number or a number that had been disconnected, you reached an operator. But by the time the major number changes of 1955 and 1956 occurred, automated announcement machines had become commonly available. Over the years, the telephone company placed these machines in every central office. The recordings used varied considerably. Some were produced by the telephone company personal working in the central office, with the sound of the switching equipment clacking away in the background. Others were produced centrally and distributed to the different offices. One of these recordings became known as the "Excuse Me" recording and was somewhat humorous.
 The "Excuse Me"Recording
In some cases, after listening to a recording, you could stay on the line and be connected to an Intercept Operator. For some dialed numbers, you would reach the Intercept Operator immediately without first hearing a recording. The Intercept operator answered "Special Operator. The Number You're Dialing, Please!" or "Special Operator. What Number did you dial?". When you gave the operator the number that you dialed, she looked it up on a paper list or maybe a computer printout and gave you the status of the number or the new number if it had been changed.

Automated Intercept

The Automated Intercept system (AIS) replaced the generic recording with a customized message that repeated the number to you and then gave you the new number if the number you called had been changed. An Intercept operator was not needed except in rare cases. The first automated intercept systems used rotating drums containing multiple recorded phrases. A computer or some type of mechanical control system caused the various phrases to be played back in the proper sequence. This had a characteristic sound.
 Example of AIS Recording
The first AIS in Atlanta was built by Audichron Corporation and used the voice of Jane Barbe. Her voice was heard for several years from AIS systems all over the country. Jane is a native of Atlanta.

When AIS was installed, ESS and Crossbar offices were able to send the dialed number to the AIS equipment automatically. The Step offices could not do this initially and an AIS operator had to ask the caller what number he dialed. This capability was later added to Step offices that were equipped with ANI after 1973.

1970 - New ESS Offices

Courtland Street and Indian Creek Offices

In November of 1970, during the Thanksgiving Holiday, two more ESS offices were opened. The larger of the two was the Courtland Street office, downtown. All telephones in the State Capital area were given new numbers. The code "656" was given to the State of Georgia government, "658" was shared between The City of Atlanta government and Georgia State University, and the "659" code was used for general business and residential customers in the area. When the office was placed in service, its territory was completely split off from the main downtown central office. Auburn Avenue and 51 Ivy central offices continued to share a common territory covering most of downtown. But the Courtland Street office territory was separate. This separation only lasted about 5 years. By 1975, the territories were merged and Auburn Avenue, 51 Ivy, and Courtland Street numbers were interchangable.
The second new ESS office installed in 1970 was the Indian Creek "292" office on Indian Creek Drive in Clarkston. This office took over all customers previously served out of the Clarkston office plus some additional customers that had been served out of the Tucker and Columbia Drive offices. This was rather peculiar. There was no particular reason why customers with "443" Clarkston numbers had to be given new "292" numbers. The Indian Creek office could have just taken over "443" instead.

ESS Centrex (ESSX) Service

Centrex was a service introduced in the 1960s for large business customers. Centrex provided a set of features, including direct dialing to individuals and departments, 4-digit dialing between telephones inside the organization, the ability to transfer incoming calls from one telephone to another.
The first Centrex service was provided using additional hardware added to No. 5 Crossbar and Step-by-Step central offices. When ESS was introduced, Centrex Service could be handled entirely in software. This made it possible to provide the service cheaper and also introduced new features.
The first customers in Atlanta to get ESS Centrex were The State of Georgia government, City of Atlanta Government, and Georgia State University. All were located in close proximity to the Courtland Street central office opened in 1970. Before the Centrex was put in, the state government had separate telephone systems for each agency. Each agency had its own telephone number and receptionist. Individuals could not be dialed directly.
A few years after the introduction of ESS Centrex, the name was shortened to "ESSX" (pronounced essex).


Around 1970, Southern Bell started to install T-Carrier facilities in the Atlanta area. Carrier facilities are used heavily on trunk circuits in order to carry multiple conversations over a single pair of wires. The T-Carrier was the first widely used carrier system to employ digital encoding. Analog carrier systems up to this point had used modulation techniques similar to those used in radio. This worked well and was used for some local circuits and nearly all long distance circuits. The most commonly used analog carrier systems were able to carry up to 12 voice channels over a single cable pair. T-Carrier expanded this to 24 channels.
Analog carrier systems used in local service were somewhat noisy. Using digital encoding with the T-Carrier system eliminated all of this noise. But the first T-Carrier systems injected a noise of their own. They had a fuzzy sound.
The T-carrier system was improved in the years following its introduction and the fuzzy quality was eliminated. The system eventually came to be used on nearly all interoffice trunks, including rather short ones.

1971 - TSPS

In 1971, a new electronic system began to replace the cord switchboards used by long distance operators. The new system, known as Traffic Service Position System (TSPS), used consoles instead of cord boards. The operator had a numeric display and several groups of pushbuttons. Timing and billing was fully automated.
With TSPS, a new type of long distance calling known as "Zero Plus" permitted you to dial person-to-person, credit card, and third number billing calls yourself by dialing "0" plus the area code and number. Before TSPS, you had to dial "0" and give the number to the operator.

The TSPS system is based on a switching machine located in a toll switching center and operator consoles located remotely in other parts of the city. In Atlanta. The first TSPS switching machine was placed in the Rockdale switching center in Conyers. The TSPS operator positions were placed in three new buildings in Jonesboro, Mableton, and Norcross.

Pay Phone Direct Dialing and "Dial Tone First"

With the introduction of TSPS, you could now dial long distance calls from pay phones using "1+" for station-to-station calls or "0+" for other types of billing. Prior to this, all long distance calls from pay phones had to be placed through the operator and had to be manually ticketed. When pay phones were changed, a large red label reading "WAIT, READ NEW INSTRUCTIONS" was placed on the handset. The new instruction card read "Please Dial all Local and Long Distance Calls".
In about a year after pay phone direct dialing was introduced, all pay phones were converted to "Dial-Tone-First" operation. Prior to this change, when you picked up a pay phone, you heard complete silence until you made the initial 10 cent deposit. You had to deposit a dime even to call the operator or make an emergency call. Dial-Tone-First gave you dial tone and permitted dialing without any initial deposit. You only needed a coin to place a local call.
Pay phones in Atlanta and in many other cities had telephone numbers in the 9000 series. This was done for a reason. If a customer attempted to place a collect call to a telephone number like 404-524-9901, the operator had to check to be sure that the called number was not a pay phone. Billing a collect call to a public phone booth would have been an easy way to avoid paying the charges. The operator in another city could not assume the number to be a coin phone but a 9000 series number would prompt her to call the "Inward Operator" in the called city and ask for a "Coin check".

Automatic Number Identification

Starting in 1971 when TSPS was installed, the step-by-step offices in the city were gradually equipped with Automatic Number Identification (ANI). This meant that dialing "1+" station-to-station calls no longer required an operator to come on the line and ask the customer for his number.

The Sound of Long Distance Circuits

Prior to the 1980s, nearly all long distance calls were carried over analog trunk circuits. Analog trunks required repeaters placed every few miles. These always had a certain amount of noise or "static". The longer the circuit, the more static you heard. When you called from Atlanta to New York, for example, as soon as the "4A" machine in Atlanta connected you to the trunk to New York, you would hear the static come on. In some cases, a call went through several stages.
For example if you called San Francisco and all of the direct trunks were busy, you might get routed through another city, such as Denver. If this happened, you would hear the static come on when you were connected to the Atlanta-Denver trunk. Then the loudness of the static would increase when the Denver center connected that trunk to the Denver-San Francisco Trunk. Overseas circuits were even noisier.
In the 1970s, AT&T started using Satellites for long distance service. This was common on calls from Atlanta to the west coast. You could always tell when your call had been switched over the satellite. The background noise would be very quiet. But there would be a very annoying delay between the time you spoke and the person on the other end heard your voice. Then that person answered you and there was an equal delay for their voice coming back to you. The overall affect was that it sounded like the person on the other end was half-asleep, preoccupied with something else, or very rude. Most people didn't know anything about Satellites and had no idea what was happening.

Expanded Toll Switching

As a part of modernization of the network, the 4A toll machines at Rockdale and Downtown were upgraded to an electronic translator system known as ETS. Even with this improvement, by 1973, long distance traffic had increased to the point where these two toll switching machines were at capacity. To provide relief, a third 4A machine was installed in a new building near Smyrna. This office was referred to officially as "Northwest".

Atlanta Toll Office Identifiers in 1973

404-1Rockdale 4A
404-2Atlanta 4A
404-3Atlanta Northwest 4A
404-4Atlanta Crossbar Tandem
404-5Decatur Crossbar Tandem

Each toll machine and tandem had an identifier code. This identifier was verbally announced at the end of recordings when you dialed an invalid number.


Advancements in Electronic Switching

In 1976, a second generation processor known as the "No. 1A" was introduced to replace the original No. 1 Processor used in the No. 1 ESS machine. This processor was four to eight times faster than the original processor. When the new processor was used in a No. 1 ESS machine, the machine was known as a No. 1A ESS. The new processor was used in new offices starting in 1976 and was also retrofitted to existing offices over a period of several years.
Another type of switching machine was introduced at the same time as the No. 1A Processor. This machine, known as the No. 4 ESS, was designed specifically for switching toll calls and was to replace the 4A Crossbar machine. This machine was unique in that it was the first machine using a fully digital switching network.
Atlanta received its first No. 4 ESS machine in 1976. The machine was placed in service in the 51 Ivy building and the original 4A machine from 1952 was retired.

Phone Freaking

In the 1970s, the vast majority of the Long Distance telephone network in North America still relied on the use of the Multi-Frequency signaling system introduces in the 1940s. With the availability of cheap electronics at Radio Shack and similar stores, people learned to build devices known as "Blueboxes". These boxes contained simple electronic components and could reproduce Multi-Frequency and other signals. The use of a blue box, while illegal, made it possible to make free long distance calls and to access test circuits, conference lines, and special facilities that could not be reached by dialing the normal way.
The first phone phreaks were mainly interested in the accomplishment of breaking into the system and then placing calls just for the satisfaction of doing it. Some even found problems in the network and reported them to the telephone company. But news of the Bluebox eventually spread to other people who saw it as a way to make money. So the blue boxes began to be sold and used by more people to make free calls, including international ones. This finally caused AT&T to become concerned enough to do something. Several arrests were made.

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