213-856-5566: ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ….

When I was a young’un growing up in LA in the mid-seventies I was a serious radio-head. I loved all forms of audio entertainment–live radio talk shows, old vintage comedy shows, KJOI (elevator music non-stop) and even the stray TV channel that you could accidentally find on an obscure frequency. (I listened to a San Diego TV station that played old TV sit-coms that for some quirk-of-technology reason you could pick up on the bottom of the FM dial). So it was with great interest that I learned one day in 4th grade from a long-forgotten friend that you could listen to comedy on the phone if you dialed 213-836-5566. The pre-recorded routines emanated from a ‘station’ called ‘ZZZ-ZZZ, the last listing in your telephone directory!’

Once dialed, the line was invariably busy but I would persist for what seems in memory to have been hours at a time, occasionally getting through. Once I got a taste of the little radio phone-plays that Z put on, I began taping them. They were quite funny actually and seriously ‘produced’–sound effects, background music, the whole bit.

Naturally my tapes are long gone and after the fad of Z wore off I forgot about the whole thing. Until the other day, that is, when for some ungodly reason I remembered my devotion to the phone joke line and decided to look it up. It goes without saying that the internet not only is filled with information about the ‘long lost phone-line of Z’ but about other phone lines that sprung up in the 70s as well. Even weirder is the fact that there’s a thriving sub-culture of audio freaks out there who collect this stuff, preserve and remaster the tapes and even delve into such obscurities as vintage ring tones, old 411 information sounds, various different styles of old busy signals. Strange though this is, I’ve been losing a lot of time over the past few days on this particularly thorough website. And you can click here to listen to twenty minutes of vintage ZZZ-ZZZ. I invite you to waste a little time flashing back to the 70s (for the most part), an age when you could listen to jokes on phones that sat on counters in your house. You could also, most shockingly, have conversations in which you could clearly hear the voice on the other end. If you wanted to find a phone number, you dialed 411 and a nice lady looked it up for you. If you called somebody and they weren’t home, the phone just rang and rang and rang. You could hold the receiver tightly against your ear without fearing a brain tumor and when you answered the phone you had no idea who was going to be on the other end. Also, the calls almost never simply dropped. I’m so glad we’ve made such progress…


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