Retro Phone - Too Cool

David Trammel's picture
Justin Patrick Moore's picture

On the subject of phones... it's a passion of mine.

At our household we still have a land line, and two working rotary phones. I had more rotary phones in the closet. I had wanted to extend a phone line into the basement and put a rotary down there in case of a tornado or something, but I ended giving those away. The copper lines will still work even if the electricity goes down. As an added bonus the sound quality on the rotary phones -and even the cordless we have on the land line- is so much better than the compressed audio you get on a cell phone.

I see that the rotary phones are going up in price at the second hand shops too, but I only have so much $ and space.

I do have a cell phone. It's a flip phone. My sister gave me an old iPhone 4. I still haven't turned it on. My wife has a smart phone. It's good for her, because she doesn't use a computer at work, whereas I am on one all day at work. So I don't feel the need for the smartphone as much. I've been resisting turning on the phone my sister gave me. There is of course societal pressure to do so.

It's good to know that our copper lines are still in place, and barring a tree taking down the line (which could happen where we live) we could still get a phone call out in a power outage.

I love these kind of projects where they use rotary dials & such...

...I'm seeing more & more evidence that the future is retro, and retro is becoming cool.

David Trammel's picture

I would have thought the telephone companies would have let the system go dark due to not funding repair of switching equipment and such. I wonder if there is a reason they are keeping them going?

All I've ever had was flip phones. The new smart ones seem so large for your pocket, screens are always getting broken and the expense of the service. My flip phone plan is all of $20. I may get a cheap smart phone for GPS though.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

The local Bell system has been pushing Fioptics for ultra highspeed broadband. If you get that then they take out the copper. I guess in Cincinnati there are a lot of people who haven't gone the route of fiops. Some of the Bell linemen I've had the chance to talk to all still have land lines. They love the old system. I don't know about other parts of the country though. I know there is a subculture of phone enthusiasts, who still use the old phones. Many oldschool phreaks still have them.

My wife and I both loved this book: Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell. I highly recommend it if at all interested in the phone system.

mountainmoma's picture

They upgrade starting at the main place in town, so they have different types of lines. They have gone to fiber optics mainly ( in this area, more rural areas may vary ) but for sub lines, that part may still be copper, but it swtiches from the new to the old. For example, the last mile to my house is copper, but the earlier part is the newer fiber. From the street into my house, yes, of course that is still copper too. But, it no longer helps us as the rest of their lines going to town are the fiber optics.

How does that hinder ? Well, the copper may not have carried much digital data, and had noise, etc.... but it needed very little power. There would be a small current from the main hub in town, and nothing else needed, analog voice data does not need very much power to transmit. However, the digital data needs repeaters along the way, it uses alot of power compared to the old copper lines ( I think people are totally unaware on how much power transmitting data uses, internet, cell towers, etc...) . So, when the power goes out, those repeaters have batteries, but the batteries only last so long, so then it doesnt matter that the last mile to my house is copper, the line is not powered and it now dead.

And, they are changing how they manage this. It used to be that the phone lines NEVER went down at my place, I have lived here for 20 years. OK, last 2 power outages, the phones lines went down after a day. I am not sure what the recent change was. I am guessing that they no longer care to drive out and change the batteries or set up a generator as that is very expensive. So what we get now is absolutely no communication in power outages. ATT is now as bad as the cable ( internet ) company. The cable company has repeater stations that only have enough power to last for a couple hours after a power outage ( how do we know ? Well, many people either have battery back up or a generator so can power the cable box at home, and try to connect to the internet when the power company power is off. So, some to many people have some limited electric to some things ).

Where I live, there is no cell phone coverage, which I have always liked. But, the new cost cutting management of teh land line phone company means that we no longer have communication during a power outage. I Just came out of a 3 day power outage, started sometime in the middle of the night last Saturday night. So, no cell phone coverage, no electricity, no internet ( cable) connection, no landline phone. And my house and many others are all electric, so do not have propane ( gas) delivery, which means also no hot water and no stove. Many people would normally use their cell phones at home via the internet.

I think the loss of landlines is devastating. Luckily the roads were open, well, many were closed due to falling trees and downed lines, but many people also could leave and drive somewhere else.

Yes, I have a HAM radio license, but I need to figure out how to connect to the correct local frequencies.... I was ok for a while then messed up by offset and cant transmit right now. But, those lines are not always monitored by others, of course.

I also have an original phone here, works great, will likely always work. It is a 1972 wall mounted, harvest yellow, rotary phone. But, It does not help if ATT does not power its repeaters !

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Thanks for this Mountainmomma!... on the insight into optics & copper down your neck of the woods. I didn't really know about the battery operated repeaters for the copper... but we are close to a switching station in our neighborhood and in the city, so if there is another extended power outage here, like we had back in '08 I suppose I'll find out.

As far as radio stuff goes you can look up your local ham repeaters either here: or here

One way to make a conversation on ham radio a bit more private, at least in the vhf / uhf range is by adding PL or CTSS tones to your transmissions. These aren't technically encrypted and could still be scanned but whoever was scanning would have to figure out what tone you are using to hear the conversation.

I know the offset is a bit tricky on the Baofeng handhelds -which is all I have- but is definitely worth learning to do. Once you get them programmed in you should be good to go at least in your area until somebody changes something on a repeater.

Also, if you found the time to find a nearby club, somebody there would probably be willing to help you get your radios programmed.

P.S.: One of our rotaries is wall mounted too. When my wife closed her restaurant it was one of the things she kept and we put it in our kitchen.

mountainmoma's picture

The repeaters are for the fiber optic section. The point is that the lines are not one thing all the way to the city, it changes, so the last mile to my house is still copper, but the rest is fiber. the newer fiber optics needs the repeaters. The old copper lines never needed repeaters, that is the point, because that is very low power. But, most areas now, it is likely a mix, copper part of the way, or no copper at all, then the newer parts.

Yes, the reason my cheap Baofeng is off is that we changed it for a CERT training day, and I need to find out how to get my offsets turned back. For quite a while, a few years, until I let the CERT's messed with it, yes, my handheld was fine, because, yes, once it is set, IF, the big if, no-one messes with it.... Once I get some time to do so, I will have to search someone out to help me set it back. Not as easy as one would think, but soon

One of the power outages a few years ago, I monitored one of the main linked frequencies, and a more local one. The thing is neither are monitored all the time, So, it is not a good way to call for help. And, so far, unless they have changed their tune, the CERT group was preferencing using their own private tower on a certain frequency and offset ( which is how and why my handheld had its offset changed), so more private, but our terrain is so rough, that most of us cannot "see" that tower so we cant communicate on it. The linked towers in the greater area, well quite a few towers so everyone can "see" it, but it can have alot of traffic, not very local. In theory, of course, in a real emergency that will take precedent, if anyone local enough to help happens to be listening !