Pull over, I need to get to a phone….

Life before iPhones

If you’re 50-60 “ish”, you will get a great laugh at this blog entry. “I need to get to a phone.” or “Pull over, I need to get to a phone”, were phrases everybody used. Almost always said at least once on detective shows like ‘Starsky & Hutch’ (1976 Ford Gran Torino), ‘Kojak’ (1973 Buick Century Regal 455), and ‘Mannix’ (originally drove a custom Toronado convertible made by George Barris’ shop, then early 70’s Dart GTS, then a ‘Cuda). Had to toss the cars in. If you’re a millennial then this will be a history lesson before we became so connected. I told my 16-year-old daughter about what I was going to blog about and she was amazed.

iphone, iphone6, car blogsWe are a connected family. I just got an iPhone 6+, while my wife and daughter got iPhone 5’s. They always give me crap about the size of my screen but I love it. The new phones were a big upgrade for us and I moved from a iPhone 4, my wife an iPhone 3, and my daughter some Samsung phone. All three of us have iPad’s. We are an Apple family ditching our malware infested Dell PC years ago for a Mac.

Before voicemail

pay phones, car blogsThis blog entry was inspired by a trip to a local gas station to fill up our Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. While pumping gas something caught my eye, a pay phone, really, a pay phone. So I started checking into the history of the pay phone. I was surprised how long they have been around. According to the website Telephonetribute.com, the first phone appeared in 1889 at a bank in Hartford, CT. This first version was a “postpay” with coins being deposited after the call was placed. Like that would happen today. The idea caught on and by 1902, there were 81,000 pay phones in the U.S. Oh you could call from your car but you were connected by a cord on the handset. In 1960 there were 1 million pay phones, with a booth and without, but after that their use started dropping like a rock.

Enter the cellular phone

There were a bunch of attempts made with what was then called “mobile” service in the 40’s and 50’s. My first memories come from the mid-eighties from what were called a “brick phone” and a “bag phone”.

brick phone, cell phone technology, car blogs
Wikipedia Commons Redrum0486

The first phone I remember is a Motorola DynaTAC 8000X commercial portable cellular phone. It entered service in 1984 and got its name because it was sort of shaped like, well, a brick. If you think some phones are too expensive now this one would ding you for $3,995. Ouch! It’s performance sucked, literally, because it was only good for 30 minutes of calls and took about 10 hours to charge.

So I’m with some friends out for dinner at Japanese restaurant at a hibatchi table where they make the food right in front of you when this guy, all blinged up and looking like something out of the 70’s, sits down next to me and plops down his brick phone right on the table. Sure dude, whatever you need to do to impress your date and the others around the table. So I decide I’m going to play with him a bit. I look at my watch and make up a story like, crap, I need to call my mom who is just about prepped for surgery. I go to the pay phone and come back saying it was out-of-order. “What am I going to do?” I ask my friends and then turn to the guy with the phone. He so ignored me and then put it away but I had fun with the schtick.

bag phones, technology, TV 11, WLUK, green bay, wi
Me (left) doing a story

In a previous life I did sports reporting for two television stations WLUK and WBAY in Green Bay, WI. FYI, when I was there the Packers were bad. The closest I got to go to the Superbowl was the Superbowl Tournament held during the 1982 strike shortened season. The then St. Louis Cardinals came up to Green Bay and were blasted by the Pack. Bart Starr was Green Bay’s coach, great guy but being coach and General Manager was way too much for one person and it caught up with him. I was at his news conference when he was let go and he had tears in his eyes. Man I’m thinking, here’s a football legend that I grew up idolizing and he had tears in his eyes. All the TV stations were going to cover his comments live but he asked us to shut them down and everybody did because they respected Bart. He recently had a stroke. Packer Nation prays for you.

Wiki Commons Redrum0486
Wiki Commons
mobile communications, history of mobile communications, bag phones, tv live trucks
Photo: WBAY TV

OK, back to the bag phone. A fairly new technology at the time for TV stations was the ability to cover events live. A microwave signal, with a sending unit on the “live truck” similar to the WBAY one on the right, and the receiving unit, usually on the tallest point the TV station had access to like its tower. Here’s where the bag phone came in. The photographer with the live truck needed to talk to a person at the station to line up the signal. Can’t remember how much but heard it cost a lot per minute to talk on that phone and that was voice only. This was the coolest thing in the world for us at the time. I’d hop on it after a live shot I did to firm up my plans after I got off work. I remember one time calling my dad and asking him where he thought I was. Like he’s going to know anyway since he lived in Milwaukee while I was up in Green Bay. I’d give him a play-by-play, I’m Oneida Street dad, I’m going by a Mobil gas station, now a Rocky Rococo, Bart owned a couple of those, now Lambeau Field where the Packers play. New and fun, that’s what it was. Oops, probably shouldn’t have told that story.

Photo: AtomicToasters.com
Photo: licenseplateantenna.com

After the bag phone, there were car phones. An upgrade from the bag phone, the handset was mounted in the car, in our case a 1983 Dodge Intrepid. The transmitter and receiver sometimes stuck under a seat or in the trunk and then that little curly antennae stuck on a window. Yup you were cool if you had the antennae on.

Enter the iPhone

iphones, apple, car blogsIn 1983, Apple changed cell phone world with the introduction of the first generation iPhone. This time it was no longer just a cell phone but now a smart phone because of all the things it could do like carry music files like I had on my iPod. I waited for a bit but then jumped in with this 2nd gen iPhone with only 8gb. Little did I know at the time that after all the music was loaded and of course I had to have apps, that space would run out really fast. This phone could actually help you not get lost with its map app, or sometimes more lost.

To infinity and beyond

Now I’m always connected. My iPhone never leaves my side and now you can talk to it, hands off in the car connected with Bluetooth. That technology wasn’t really invented when we got our 2008 Chrysler Pacifica. I talk to Siri all the time in that car. Beyond the usual texting, e-mail, weather stuff, I use it to keep up on the latest trends in classic cars. My favorite app? Why Hemmings of course.




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