Remember Pay Phones and Dial Arounds?

I sure do. And it makes me feel old for some reason.

It also doesn’t seem that long ago. In fact, I remember Saturday Night Live did a really funny skit on dial arounds. Remember that?

I have to say, one of the misconceptions young people today have about pay phones, is that they were in phone booths. The last phone booth I ever saw was in the early 80’s. Most pay phones were in kiosks (correct term?). In fact, in one of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies they even do a funny take on this. Clark Kent runs up to one of these kiosks, with a look of total disappointment. LOL. I don’t know, maybe we had a different sense of humor back then too. Seems funny to me.

Someone please make me feel not old, by saying you remember these things too. Oh, and by the way, in case you don’t know what a dial around is, let me explain. When we still used landlines, but weren’t totally satisfied with our long distance service, we would dial 10-10 or something like that, then IIRC one and the area code. And then we would be billed on a different long distance service.

Hey, I’ve got to ask. Do they still have dial arounds today? I know they still have the rare exception pay phone (I recently even used one, when my cell phone broke down ironically [possibly the last one in the world, I thought at the time]). And BTW, FWIW, I at least still have a landline.


I’ll one up you. I grew up with a party line. There were five houses that shared the same telephone line (although it knew which house to ring into) Only one house could be on the line at a time and when you picked up, you could hear their conversation and interject if they were on it. The worst part of it was that you couldn’t turn the ringers off, so two of the houses had miners living in them and when they were on night shift, they would take their phones off the hook so they wouldn’t be woken up. If we wanted to call someone, we’d have to walk over to their house, wake them up and tell them to hang up their phone. That was always our job as kids since they’d be less likely to cuss us out.

BTW, I’m only 40, so it wasn’t THAT many years ago.

When I moved to Minneapolis in 1987, the phone company asked if I wanted a party line. sigh

I used a dial around card for long distance in the early 2000s.

We used a dial-around for long distance back about ten years ago when our daughter was in Namibia. Our long distance cost about $200 a call; the dial around cost us half that for a month of 1-hour calls.

It looks like dial arounds are still there for landlines and international calling.

AT&T phased out phone booths in the 60s. But even before then, there were pay phones without a booth. Bars often had one on the wall. It actually was their listed phone: incoming calls were free and the phone company wouldn’t charge them installing for a pay phone. They were usually on a back wall.

I remember using a dial around for long distance calling in the 80s, maybe the 90s. But party line? Even in my rinky-dink small town we had our own line in the 80s. I think my parents may have had party lines when they were kids. I’m surprised they were a thing as recent as the late 80s.

I also remember rotary dial phones. I wonder when those were completely phased out.

Had dial-around at our house when I was growing up in the '80s. The interesting thing is that Touch-Tone (TT) service was not standard back then; the default was rotary-dial service, and TT cost extra. My parents didn’t want to pay for TT, but TT was the only way to access dial-around.


They bought a dual-service phone. When you wanted to call any number using the standard phone company service (including calling the dial-around service), the phone would be set to “pulse mode.” Press a button on the electronic keypad, and it would fire pulses down the line to simulate a rotary phone dialing that number. So you called up the dial-around service this way, and then you switched the phone to TT mode to enter your account number and the LD number you wanted to call.

There’s still one phone booth in Rochester, NY.

Also one operational beside Hwy 62 across from Battlefield Park in Prairie Grove AR. Push button so not a rotary dial.

Payphone are rare as hen’s teeth. I saw one at a bait shop/has station in Louisiana about a month ago. My daughter picked up the handset and said ‘how do you tell if it works?’
There was no dial tone. I had a difficult time explaining that.

I remember when we first got the internet. My dad wanted to be on the internet, but my mom is a doctor and needed a phone line available if she got paged. So we got a second phone line! It allowed us to be online and have a phone line available at the same time! What convenience! Now I can browse the internet from my phone while talking on that same phone.

I never used the consumer dial-around cards myself, though I had similar cards that were given to me by my employers through the late 80s and early 90s, for use making long-distance calls while on business trips.

Though, now that I think about it, there was a period of time, in the mid '90s, when a friend of my wife’s, who lives in the same area that we do, had moved just far enough away that Ameritech (the Baby Bell phone company we had during that era, before re-consolidation) considered it to be a “not exactly local” call. As my wife and her friend would easily spend 60 minutes at a time on the phone, they were racking up some impressive phone bills (considering that her friend lived less than 20 miles from us). So, for a couple of years, I was buying her prepaid long-distance cards to use for calling that friend; it was like 5c a minute, and far cheaper than what Ameritech was charging.

Got foto? Maybe in black and white? It could be a classic!

I used prepaid long distance cards quite a bit 15-20 years ago. I think my parents bought them from Costco, for about a penny a minute (or ten bucks for a thousand-minute card). And then sometime more recently, perhaps five years ago, my mother found several of these cards in a drawer, still in the original packaging. She went back to Costco to try to return them and the manager let her return perhaps half of them. Or maybe he gave her half the money back on all of them. I can’t remember.

And yes, there were those “10-10” dial around numbers too. I remember lots of TV commercials for them in the 1990s. And actually, I think MCI was one of the first, and its lawsuit against Ma Bell was what triggered the breakup of AT&T, in the early 1980s.

No dial tone? How do you make a collect call, or call 911, on it?

Reminds me of the time I was in England back in 2004 and I tried to use a pay phone; not only did it have a dial tone, but you dialed the number first and then put in the money - and the strange thing was, until you put in the money, you could hear the other end but they couldn’t hear you.

There is a pay phone booth in my City Hall building. But the phone doesn’t work.

Pay phones are a thing of the past.

I remember, as a kid, always sticking my finger in the coin return of every pay phone that I passed, hoping someone had left their dime in it.

I still remember when I was a kid, the dial-around codes were 10-XXX. Then a lot of long-distance resellers sprung up and they ran out of codes, so they changed them to 101-XXXX with the original codes being prefixed with zero. But they started advertising them as 10-10-XXX, which bugged the shit out of 11-year-old me.

As of March 2018, there are still 100,000 pay phones in America.

I distinctly remember in the early 1980s when my company instructed us to use MCI for long-distance and between the dial arounds, pin codes, area code and actual number, I had to punch 22 digits to call a number.

Thanks goodness by that time we had push button instead of rotary phones.

Ahh, they had those too! If it was an older phone, with a traditional (leaky) analog hybrid, they could just hear you if you yelled into the earpiece.