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Old 05-19-2020, 12:15 PM
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Ever heard of this ? Were we on the Internet or just the telephone network...?


Does anyone know anything about this or ever done or experienced it? What was going on with what I describe?

In the late 70's, there was about a month when something odd happened to our telephones. I was only about 12 when this happened but remember it very well... partly because I did it a good bit that month!

Back then, where I lived, every little community had its own telephone prefix and if you called outside of that little area was long distance and charges were high. The small town I lived in had a population of about 7,000 then. During this short time period, if you dialed a local number that didn't exist, ( which seemed pretty easy to do ) and just hung on you would get connected to a "limbo area", where you could talk to other people who had done the same thing.

Multiple people, almost always other kids, would / could all be there together, and some voices could be quite clear while some would sound quite distant and have what seemed to be different accents. Some voices would be so faint that you would have trouble making out what they were saying. It was similar to a big open unintentional /accidental chat area.

Most everyone in the "limbo area" was other kids and were really secretive about who they were or where they were at. We all seemed to think that we were going to get in trouble for hacking the phone company!

A couple of friends and I experimented to see if we could all be in there together... but we would always seem to end up in separate limbo areas. I never was about to talk to anyone in there that I knew although lots of kids in my town were talking about it. The general consensus was that no one had figured out how to get all their friends into the same area...and of course there were rumors that the phone company was tracing and prosecuting kids for hacking their phone lines. One day about a month after it started working that way it just all stopped working.

Ever heard of anything like this?
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:35 PM
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Fascinating, but I never heard of anything like this.

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Old 05-19-2020, 12:36 PM
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I’ve never heard of telephone limbo, but it’s a great premise for a story. You start talking to the other kids in limbo and they tell you their addresses and friends’ names. The addresses and other descriptions of the town all jibe but not the people. Every kid in limbo is speaking from a different reality!
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:41 PM
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Kinda...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Elmer J. Fudd View Post
Iíve never heard of telephone limbo, but itís a great premise for a story. You start talking to the other kids in limbo and they tell you their addresses and friendsí names. The addresses and other descriptions of the town all jibe but not the people. Every kid in limbo is speaking from a different reality!
"Limbo" is a word that I just now made up to describe it. We didn't seem to have a good word for it.

Most everyone out there would NOT tell who they were... Nor would I to them. We all thought we were doing something illegal.

I never heard "foreign" voices... but often heard northern or western sounding kids while I was in Alabama! And usually those odd sounding voices had a poor connection, or it sounded that way to me. I guess I likely did to them too... We'd spend most of our conversation repeating back and forth to each other to make sure we were understanding.
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:52 PM
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Party line. They did away with them back in the late sixties in my area but every once in a while they "seemed" to come back. Most likely while the THE phone company was updating their equipment. I recall it happening right before we move out of a very small town into a larger "almost" city and never had it happen again.
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:54 PM
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I forget what the number was (211?), but yeah, in San Jose you could call and get hooked into a party line of sorts. People would shout out their phone numbers and if the voice was appealing, you could call and take it from there.
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:56 PM
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I experienced something slightly similar once or twice in the late 70s or 80s. I don't remember misdialing ó I think I was connected to the "limbo" as soon as I picked up the phone intending to dial.

Except what I heard was may not have been your "limbo." It seemed to be an ordinary conversation between two people. After a short while I cleared my throat and said "Hello." Immediately after speaking I heard some ring tones, was hung up on, and heard an ordinary dial-tone. IIRC party-lines were long since out of use.
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Old 05-19-2020, 12:57 PM
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Something that happened with some old central office switches - if you got busy tone, you could talk over the busy signal to everybody else that was connected to busy tone in the same central office. Basically, the switch connected everybody that was busy to a single slot that had the tone on it. While I was working for Bell Labs in Denver, there was a news item once about the local kids discovering the "teen line" - they'd all do something to get a busy signal and chatter to each other over the busy tone. It didn't bother any of the phone company management, and they were well aware that it would stop happening once they upgraded to new equipment anyway. One wild guess might be that you were all being connected together to the appropriate "no such number" recording or tone and the recording or tone source simply wasn't functioning.
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Old 05-19-2020, 01:11 PM
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Surely you are talking about "loops" and "bridges" used by The Telephone Company for testing purposes. For instance, one person calls one number, another calls a related number, and they will be connected. Of course, if you were using diverters and illegally running up some business's phone bill, that would attract negative attention from the company.

As for the Internet, if you were connecting during the 1970s via your PDP-11 or whatever I'm sure you would have known what you were doing and wouldn't need to ask. There were not that many nodes, and no live VOIP chat.
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Old 05-19-2020, 01:21 PM
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From Phil Lapsley's Exploding the Phone: "As early as 1964 teenagers had begun to discover an interesting quirk of the telephone system. Certain telephone exchanges in some areas of the country, notably Los Angeles and San Jose, had busy signals [and non-working number messages] that were shared among all callers. If you or I both happened to call busy numbers in [area codes] 408-291 we would be connected, faintly, over the busy signal--along with anyone else who happened to have called a busy number at that moment." I also read, many years ago, that in some cases the more people who called the number, the fainter the busy signal or recorded message became, so it was easier to talk. (If I understand correctly, "loops" were limited to two-person conversations).
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Old 05-19-2020, 01:48 PM
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I'm another one who had never heard of this situation, but finds it fascinating.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:08 PM
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Had a similar thing happen in 1984 trying to get Springsteen tickets.

My roommate went to get in line, and I was in charge of trying to get them over the phone.

Dial. Busy. Dial. Busy. Dial. Busy. Dial (thank heavens for a fancy phone with a redial button). Busy. Many more repeats . . .

Dial. Person!! "I need 4 tickets to Springsteen." "No, I need 4 tickets to Springsteen." Apparently, the central office was overloaded to such an extent that we got cross-connected instead of the busy signal.

Never did get through for real, but the roommate managed to score the tickets. Great show.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elmer J. Fudd View Post
Iíve never heard of telephone limbo, but itís a great premise for a story. You start talking to the other kids in limbo and they tell you their addresses and friendsí names. The addresses and other descriptions of the town all jibe but not the people. Every kid in limbo is speaking from a different reality!
Calling Steven King!
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Sdowiat View Post
"Limbo" is a word that I just now made up to describe it.
I don't think you made up the word "limbo". Apart from being a West Indies dance in the 1950's, Shakespeare used it in the 1600's to describe being on the edge of Hell.

As far as the OP is concerned, it sounds like you found yourself in a free experimental version of 900 chat rooms, that eventually you had to pay to be a part of.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by septimus View Post
I experienced something slightly similar once or twice in the late 70s or 80s. I don't remember misdialing ó I think I was connected to the "limbo" as soon as I picked up the phone intending to dial.

Except what I heard was may not have been your "limbo." It seemed to be an ordinary conversation between two people. After a short while I cleared my throat and said "Hello." Immediately after speaking I heard some ring tones, was hung up on, and heard an ordinary dial-tone. IIRC party-lines were long since out of use.
I remember this. It happened with some frequency in LA in the 70s and 80s.
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Old 05-19-2020, 02:26 PM
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I don't think you made up the word "limbo". Apart from being a West Indies dance in the 1950's, Shakespeare used it in the 1600's to describe being on the edge of Hell.
Surely that isn't what he meant. He didn't just now make up the word. He's saying they didn't have a word for it at the time, so he just now used an existing word to describe. We call this a metaphor.
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Old 05-19-2020, 07:45 PM
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I'd get the same when at the end of a busy queue. In my case, it was dialing for transport information.
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Old 05-19-2020, 09:27 PM
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I remember all kinds of weird shit you could do on the phone in the seventies. I don't remember the OP's trick though.


I remember there was a number you could call. As soon as the other side picked up, it would hang up on you and call you back.

I remember another number you could call, and when you picked up, all you could hear were fireworks going off.
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Old 05-19-2020, 09:45 PM
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Would this be happening before cordless handsets were common?
Occasionally we would pick up a neighbors conversation over our cordless phone.
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Old 05-19-2020, 09:48 PM
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Quote:
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I remember all kinds of weird shit you could do on the phone in the seventies. I don't remember the OP's trick though.


I remember there was a number you could call. As soon as the other side picked up, it would hang up on you and call you back.

I remember another number you could call, and when you picked up, all you could hear were fireworks going off.
Oh, god, you just made me remember calling a number in the 80s to hear the time. My parents would send me in the house to go call the number and see what time it was. Why the hell didn't we have a clock in the house?? Was this normal? It must have been normal enough for there to be a phone service that didn't nothing but tell you the time (and I think weather, maybe). WTF!??
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:07 PM
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Oh, god, you just made me remember calling a number in the 80s to hear the time. My parents would send me in the house to go call the number and see what time it was. Why the hell didn't we have a clock in the house?? Was this normal? It must have been normal enough for there to be a phone service that didn't nothing but tell you the time (and I think weather, maybe). WTF!??
I remember calling the time number a lot in the Seventies. Our clocks and watches had to constantly be reset, and the sweet voice of Jane Barbe was the only way to do that. I think the first accurate time piece my family owned was when we got a VCR in the Eighties.
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:14 PM
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(YourAreaCode) TI6-1212.

As in TIme 6-1212.

Worked in every area code in America.

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Old 05-19-2020, 10:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Bear_Nenno View Post
Oh, god, you just made me remember calling a number in the 80s to hear the time. My parents would send me in the house to go call the number and see what time it was. Why the hell didn't we have a clock in the house?? Was this normal? It must have been normal enough for there to be a phone service that didn't nothing but tell you the time (and I think weather, maybe). WTF!??
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elmer J. Fudd View Post
I remember calling the time number a lot in the Seventies. Our clocks and watches had to constantly be reset, and the sweet voice of Jane Barbe was the only way to do that. I think the first accurate time piece my family owned was when we got a VCR in the Eighties.
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(YourAreaCode) TI6-1212.

As in TIme 6-1212.

Worked in every area code in America.

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I still remember the time number from the 60s (and 70s) was POP-CORN. At the time, I never bothered to actually note the number. 767-2676
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Old 05-19-2020, 10:42 PM
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Back when they were first putting in digital switches in my area in a small town, I remember picking up the phone to find I was listening to a conversation between two people (no idea how). I kept quiet and listened for a while - pretty mundane. Someone said "do you hear something?" then they carried on until they hung up. Bottom line, I'm sure - when digital switches were first being introduced they had their flakely times.

As to the cost of long distance phone calls - there's the apocryphal story back when it was bloody expensive, but after direct dial, of the ex breaking in, or had a key, or whatever and while the person was away for the weekend, dialed the "talking clock" in Tokyo or Hong Kong... left the phone off the hook.
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Old 05-19-2020, 11:14 PM
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What OP is describing is a variation of what was called (as I recall) a tie-line. They were sort of the beginner rung of phone-phreaking back in the 1970s, though I'm not familiar with the exact situation described (connecting by dialing any unassigned number).

Some telcos set up special pairs of numbers in each exchange for use by linemen. I have some pairs, gleaned from someplace, written in my 1970s phone stuff notebook. Seems like they didn't "supervise," meaning you weren't charged long-distance or toll fees to call them. That used to be a big deal, and I remember using one to talk to my best friend (for free, from a motel) while on an out-of-town school trip.

Similarly, there were numbers that you could call and you'd get a busy signal, but you could talk to other callers in between the busy tones. That took the kind of patience only teenagers seeking contact with other nerds could muster, but I remember calling ones where I could make out a dozen or more voices (no long-distance charge, of course, because the line was busy). For some reason, I think those were always in big cities, so they probably were an oddity of crossbar exchanges.
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Old 05-20-2020, 04:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Cartooniverse View Post
(YourAreaCode) TI6-1212.

As in TIme 6-1212.

Worked in every area code in America.

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It was TI-4-xxxx in the DC area. Don't know if TI-6 would have also worked, but allegedly the number was TI-4-2525. Actually after the TI-4 part, any four digits worked. A useful piece of information back in the rotary phone era, because dialing 1111 was noticeably faster than 2525.

And yeah, we needed that number back then. You'd lose power during a thunderstorm, and analog clocks would be stopped at whatever time the power went out, which would be no problem if it came right back on, but often it would be out for a while. And digital clocks, if you had them, would be flashing 12:00, same as now.
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Old 05-20-2020, 04:32 AM
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(YourAreaCode) TI6-1212.
Back in the times when you really needed that time recording, you didn't need to dial an area code; you just dialed the 7-digit local number. Area codes had a 0 or 1 in the middle digit, but local prefixes didn't, so the switching system 'knew' if you were dialing a local number or not.

This worked until people and businesses started needing more lines for fax machines, then cell phones, computers, etc. That created a need for more numbers than would fit in the available area codes, so they had to open up most 3-digit numbers for use as area codes, which meant we had to dial 10 digits for local calls.
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Old 05-20-2020, 06:08 AM
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I remember all kinds of weird shit you could do on the phone in the seventies. I don't remember the OP's trick though.


I remember there was a number you could call. As soon as the other side picked up, it would hang up on you and call you back.

I remember another number you could call, and when you picked up, all you could hear were fireworks going off.
In the UK, the "dial back" number was set up for engineers testing new phone installations.
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Old 05-20-2020, 06:26 AM
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I still remember the time number from the 60s (and 70s) was POP-CORN. At the time, I never bothered to actually note the number. 767-2676
I think any 767-xxxx number would work. I didn't know about 846-1212 (TIme 6-1212). Maybe there were two different services depending on whether you wanted to hear a male or female voice?

Quote:
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I remember there was a number you could call. As soon as the other side picked up, it would hang up on you and call you back.
Was the number of the form 119xx ? When this number rang back, instead of the ordinary ring tone you'd hear 'beep BEEP beep BEEP beep BEEP' or 'BEEP beep beep BEEP beep beep', etc. Which pattern you got depended on what xx was in the 119xx dialed number. I was told (here at SDMB??) that the facility was used by technicians who came to your house to fix a phone.

Funny: I'm pretty sure that 119xx was the number even though I last dialed it 55 years ago. I can't remember where I left the book I was reading ten minutes ago.
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Old 05-20-2020, 08:14 AM
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I can remember that back in the 60s, we used to get what we called 'crossed lines' all the time. I would pick up the phone to dial a number and instead of a tone, there would be voices. Sometimes they would sus that someone else was listening, but quite often I was able to eavesdrop. I quickly learned that what people say to each other on the telephone is pretty boring.
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Old 05-20-2020, 08:18 AM
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Quote:
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I think any 767-xxxx number would work. I didn't know about 846-1212 (TIme 6-1212). Maybe there were two different services depending on whether you wanted to hear a male or female voice?

Now that you mention it, I remember learning that years later.
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Old 05-20-2020, 12:38 PM
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For the OP's situation, almost certainly, it was an accidental "party line" created by the failure of the machinery (and back then, it literally was mechanical equipment) that played the special information tones and the nearly universal message recorded by Jane Barbe.

It eventually "just stopped working" because either someone was bored enough to fix it, or more likely, the central office equipment was being upgraded and the "problem" disappeared once the new exchange was running.

My history with these things was being hired in 1984 or so to make circuit boards for timers that would allow linemen to dial into clean (silent) lines for testing, but disconnect kids hoping to use the test facility as a party line.
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