Great Movie Telephone Sounds [telecom]

The other night my wife and I watched the 1993 Michael Douglas movie about a nut case wondering around Los Angeles, "Falling Down."

At least twice the character used touch tone pay stations where we could distinctly hear the tones being converted into dial pulse, and it was loud. By 1993, I suspect touch-tone on the front end of an SXS office was pretty much gone from the Los Angeles area. But, the techno-geeks on the movie must have had not-so-fond memories of that bogus tone dialing, so decided to make a statement in the movie to at least the phone phreaks out there.

Most of the movie was located in Pacific Bell territory although the concluding scene was in General Telephone territory.

I know that GTE added tone dialing to the front end of all their SXS offices in the early 1970s, and they were 100% SXS until perhaps the early 1980s.

The Bell part of Los Angeles was also all SXS until after WWII (it never had panel offices). But, after WWII Pacific Telephone (Bell) augmented their metro offices with a lot of expansion 5XBAR, to provide a common control tandem for the vast amount of SXS. I know that AT&T directed the BOCs to add touch-tone to all of the 5XBARs during the mid-1960s, or so, because the 5XBAR would post the tones as fast as a 1ESS (i.e., none of that long wait with DP ratcheting as GTE had and the movie had).

Does anyone know whether the BOCs added tone dialing to the front end of any of their SXS offices? Or, did they limit it to 5XBARs?

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Sam Spade
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The last SXS office for GTE went electronic on December 1, 1990 at Walnut Grove, Calif.

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The Bell Labs history book, vol 1925-1975 Switching, has considerable details about the implementation of Touch Tone in various kinds of offices. They developed several different units for SxS offices; the units varied by cost and quality. IIRC, the choice of unit depended on traffic volume and expected life before convesion to a more modern office.

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Thanks. I have the early years edition on a bookshelf right beside me. I don't recall whether I ever bought the 1925-1975 edition. I should go look around.

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Sam Spade

I couldn't find the 1925-1975 volume in my place. I was able to order an "excellent condition" used copy on Amazon for $20.

As time marches on the 1925-1975 era has more appeal than the first volume.

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Sam Spade

That's a good price. I had to [pay] $50 for mine.

It is an excellent historical reference and valuable in understanding how today's network and technology evolved to be what it is. I think you'll enjoy the book quite a bit.

On the subject of telecom history, I'm reading General Omar Bradley's "A Soldier's Story" about his role in WW II*. He mentions an 'experimental' program to install VHF radios in officers' jeeps and airplanes so air cover could keep in touch with ground cover. For many years almost all official vehicles had radios in them and we take that ability for granted. But in WW II it was still new technology. While radios were extensively used in the war, they were not commonplace and other older methods of signalling were used. Bradley relates tanks using colored smoke bombs to signal planes and pilots not knowing the code. I'm not sure how good airplane radios were during the war, but there were several tragic cases of Allied planes bombing Allied troops through miscommunication. The "fog of war" was a huge problem then. Major advances were not undertaken out of fear two opposing Allied units would shoot each other; even though it meant that the Germans could escape.

Bradley also mentions how the rapid movement of Allied troops across France after the breakout overran the Allied telephone lines, leaving the forward front not connected to rear HQ. (The rapid advance also overran fuel supply lines, and that forced things to a halt.) Apparently the military telephone system worked pretty well as Bradley often refers to phoning other HQ for reports. I've heard the Allied military European telephone system was actually pretty sophisticated; more than merely a bunch of crank field phones strung together. Anyone know more?

Both the RCA and Bell Labs history tout their wartime radio contributions, but I think radio capability and reliability were rather limited. Even if built to rugged standards, I would think a tube radio would break over the rough way jeeps were driven. I suppose they had ways to solder in other components securely but I suspect connections would break as well. Anyone know more about the limitations of WW II era radio communications? I suspect certain things were possible and even doable, but took a lot of work to make happen and not practical on a routine basis.

I wonder how many improvements were applied to telephone and radio equipment utilized during the Korean War.

  • Bradley explains the 'how' and 'why' behind the major tactical and strategic decisions he made in both the Med. and European campaigns; and how the cost (human lives and scarce materiel) of an objective was weighed against the benefits.
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