I used to have a good friend who owned a chat line. This was pre-internet. I did some IT work for him back in the Dark Ages. I’ve long since moved away & lost touch, so I don’t know whether they still exist, or how the industry may have changed from the early 1990s. But as of then, I had a pretty good idea of how it worked from the owner/operator POV. I’ve never called one, but I have talked with the people who do all the jobs on one.
Technologically, it operated like an ordinary business conference call. One female employee / contractor was on duty on the call as the “moderator” to keep the conversations going & spice it up if it got flat.
Customers would call the advertised 800#, give their credit card info, and be connected to the conference for $X/minute. The moderator kept track of people’s times & also had a way to bounce anybody who got to be a problem. A conference was limited to about 10 callers, and additional conferences were spun up as demand dictated.
The “atmosphere” of the call usually resembled a strip club. The moderator would talk dirty to one of the guys & the others would hoot & holler, or get involved too. Often the conversation would get like Hustler’s old write-in columns, with the guys BSing about various amazing sexual feats they’d done (yeah right …), while the moderator just listened.
Women customers were given free or nearly so access. They could be as raunchy or flirtatious as they wanted with total anonymity. They could also be a lot younger/cuter than they were IRL as long as their voice was cute. As much as possible, the moderator encouraged the guys & gals to interact directly; the less the moderator said the better from her POV. There was a lot of “playing Dr.” or “show and tell.”
Many moderators came from the ranks of women callers who got to liking the attention & wanted a few bucks an hour to boot.
It always amazed my pal how often the conversations among the regulars would turn to non-sex stuff. Here it is 8pm on a Saturday & 20 people are paying $3/minute each to listen to each other talk about lawn mowers or their crappy jobs.
In all, the concept is/was not much different from a message board or internet chat room where sex is the main reason for being there. Compared to internet, the customers got real live voices, not just typing and no lasting record of what was said.
Humans crave social attention, even if they don’t always know how to get it. And like a modern message bord, after awhile you get to “know” the other folks, and interacting with them is more attractive than interacting with true strangers.
So there were a lot of people that developed the habit of calling at certain times of the week. Just like the regulars down at the coffee house chewing the fat on a Tuesday night, or the regulars down at the corner bar yakking while nursing a Bud.