Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hooking up with the Beep Line

Long before AOL, MySpace, FaceBook, YouTube, and even long before the Internet, college kids were connecting through chat rooms accidentally provided by their local phone companies.

I don’t know who discovered it, but when several people reached a busy phone number, they were connected together in a conference call, on a “beep line;” and people could speak between the beeps.

When I was a student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the late 1960s, young men at Lehigh used the beep line to try to get dates with young ladies from Cedar Crest College in neighboring Allentown, or even with "townies" who worked at Bethlehem Steel.

Around 8 p.m. on Saturday, a desperate, dateless Lehigh guy would call his own busy phone number to reach the beep line, hoping a similarly dateless girl would have done the same thing.

The conversation might go like this:

"Hi BEEP I’m BEEP Steve BEEP a BEEP football BEEP player BEEP at BEEP Lehigh. BEEP. Does BEEP anyone BEEP want BEEP to BEEP go BEEP to BEEP a BEEP party? BEEP."

"Hi BEEP Steve BEEP I’m BEEP Cindy BEEP a BEEP hot BEEP freshman BEEP cheer BEEP leader BEEP at BEEP Cedar BEEP Crest. BEEP. I BEEP can BEEP be BEEP ready BEEP at BEEP nine BEEP. Call BEEP me BEEP at BEEP 86 BEEP 75 BEEP 55 BEEP 5 BEEP."

"OK BEEP Cindy BEEP hang BEEP up BEEP and BEEP I’ll BEEP call BEEP you. BEEP Do BEEP you BEEP have BEEP a BEEP car? BEEP. What BEEP kind BEEP of BEEP beer BEEP do BEEP you BEEP like? BEEP. Are BEEP you BEEP on BEEP the BEEP pill? BEEP."

I can’t tell you how many of the dates actually happened, or how many of them resulted in romance. As in today’s chat rooms, there was lots of lying. Many of the alleged football heroes weren't; and the allegedly beautiful-and-willing blond 18-year-old college girl might turn out to be a 14-year-old junior-high-school student -- and might not even be a girl.

Eventually, Bell’s central office equipment was "improved," and the beep line disappeared.

-- from my Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)



  1. I remember the beep line very well. What a trip to connect with people all over my city just by dialing my own number and yelling between the beeps to conect with other people. I would call out my phone number and then people would call me back, so we could have a regular conversation. My mother finally got fed up with it and told me to stop it. I just went to the pay phone by my house and continued to use it. Then it was over. Ma Bell put a stop to it. This was in Grand Rapids Michigan. Now at 64 years old I'm hooked on Facebook.

  2. We used to have the Beep Line in the Twin Cities, MN; only the teens called it the Jam Line instead. We just had public radio do a historical piece on this very subject complete with old audio recordings of what it actually sounded like. You an read the story and hear the audio recordings here: