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TUCoPS :: Phreaking Technical System Info :: 1957pgr.txt

Hospital Pagers in 1957 Notes on some of the earliest pagers used in the late 50's and early 60's




Wilmington (Del.) Morning News, Tuesday, April 9, 1957; page 27,
column 6 of 8

CALLING DR. KILDARE.  BOSTON (AP) -- A $10,000 doctor-radio paging
system has been installed at Beth Israel Hospital.  Pocket radios are
now standard equipment for all physicians serving the hospital.  A
doctor's code number is beeped to the radio clipped to his pocket.
This signal comes from a transmitter installed near the telephone
switchboard.


[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: My first experience with pagers was
around 1960 or so when I was working at the University of Chicago and
they installed a paging system in the hospitals. My first personal pager
was a few years after that when Illinois Bell started selling a service
called 'Page Boy'. It was just a beeper without voice or text capability.
Around 1970 or so I got one of the (then) new 'talking pagers'. On those
the caller's voice actually came out through the speaker. Everyone had
to dial the same seven digit number if they had touchtone service, and
then enter the five digit number of the paging unit. After a 'beep tone'
they had ten seconds to record a message which was then relayed over
airwaves to the pager a few seconds to a minute later as air traffic
permitted. After getting the message you had to press a little button
on the unit to squelch it again; otherwise you got to listen to all the
other pages which followed yours, along with dead air (what little there
was of it). 

There were only a couple of answering services in Chicago which
offered paging services. If your answering service did not offer
paging, then they brokered it for you from an answering service which
did. I subscribed to Annex Answering Service for a couple of years and
they had pagers. Their antenna was on the roof of the Chicago Temple
Building, which was also the building where Annex Answering Service was
located. There was only one frequency for all voice paging units, and
it was quite busy. If you left your unit unsquelched just to listen,
there was rarely any dead air except maybe in the middle of the night.
The answering service operators would never shut up, and they had to
contend for air time with each other and with the general public using
touchtone phones to page directly. Rotary dial users called a certain
number which went to Rogers Radio Paging and passed their message to
operators who repeated it over the air for them. The frequency was so
busy that sometimes pages were delayed 5-10 minutes in getting out; even
the ones sent directly via touchtone phone in the caller's voice would
get backlogged in the machine, which itself contended with the live
operators ... and those women were fast at seizing the circuit going
across town to Annex's tower on the Chicago Temple Building downtown.

To make it worse, the frequency was shared by two mobile phone users who
had some type of radio equipment long pre-dating cellular phones. There
were just two of them, but they would sometimes makes calls from their
car and tie up the frequency for five minutes or so. I gave myself a
test page one day and five minutes later it had not come through the
unit I was carrying, so I opened the squelch to see what was going on.
This guy with his car phone was talking! He gave some sort of signal
to the answering service serving him that he was finished. The operator
came on, "This is Rogers are you clear?"  No he says, I need to make
another quick call. He passed that number to her and she dialed it then
must have gotten busy and forgotten to supervise the call, since the
number turned out to be disconnected and an intercept recording came
on. He hung up right away, but the answering service operator forgot
all about him and that blasted intercept recording played for five
minutes over and over and over .... 'the number you have dialed is
not in service please check the number and dial again.' Someone must
have called from one of the other answering services and told them 
to pull the cord down; after endless repeats of the 'not in service'
recording all of a sudden it stopped and a woman's voice came over
the pager, "This is Rogers are you clear?"  and getting no response
after asking a second time saying "Rogers is clear, KOH761 the Rogers
Telephone Answering Service is clear" ... 

Of course *instantly* it was seized again and the long backlog of
pages pushed through the circuit. All the operators from Annex, General
Telephone Answering Service, Illinois Bell and everyone else with pager 
subscribers started their stuff moving; stuff that had been sitting
for 15-20 minutes in the queue waiting.  My test page came through about 
15 minutes after that. The operators all had a little light on their
switchboard which illuminated when the circuit to the tower was in use.
They'd sit there staring at that little light; when it went out the one
with the fastest response to the keys on her switchboard was the winner
and got her page out next. The automated machine for touchtone subscribers
was the fastest of all. It always got the circuit first if it had stuff
waiting. Some days the system did not work right at all; in theory the
person getting the circuit to the tower excluded everyone else in the
process; if that did not work the answering services would keep a radio
turned on listening for dead air to get their chance; but the operators
did not care. Very discourteous at times and overwhelmed with pages, they
would walk all over each other's transmissions; some would just open the
key and start talking. Individual, or DID numbers for pagers did not start
until sometime in the 1980's. Before then it all went through answering
services on a single switchboard number at each service, and until the
middle or late 1970's to a tower-in-common shared by all and actually
owned by Annex, at least here in Chicago. 

The individual units we carried weighed about five pounds and were about
six inches long by two inches or so wide. We used big Ni-Cad batteries
that sort of resembled 'C' batteries today. You put the unit in the
charger at night and got 10-12 hours of use the next day provided you
did not leave the squelch open all the time to snoop on other subscribers
and the messages they were getting.  PAT]   



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