From the Dan’s Archive: My War with the Phone Company

Retro telephone with note - Complaints Department
Image: 123RF

This Throwback Thursday, we’re making dear ol’ Dan relive his struggle to set up a simultaneous phone ringer in the 1960s, a much more daunting task than it is today. At least he had Zenger, Osborne and Fitch there when he needed them most. 

This story ran in the July 23, 1966 issue of The East Hampton Summer Sun. 

First of all, I should say that when I started organizing this newspaper last spring, I knew that telephone service was going to be a problem. I’d rented a house on Montauk Highway out by the Oaks Inns, so I knew I’d want a phone there. Then I had the office for the newspaper on Gay Lane near the Post Office, so surely I’d want a phone there. And finally, I had the newspaper office in Montauk from which I’d been running the Montauk paper for the last six years, so I’d want a phone there.

Now basically, I’d be running back and forth between these three places, and also I’d be running around outside a lot, so my idea was that perhaps the phone company could have the phone ring in all three places, the house and the two offices, every time someone called. And maybe I’d catch it. I called the telephone business office and explained roughly just about what I’ve written about and asked that they suggest how I go about this economically.

The suggestion was that I have the phone company lay a cable between Montauk and East Hampton. Then the phones would ring together and, get this, the cost would only be $55 a month additional. A month. That’s about $600 a year.

“I could lay a trans-Atlantic cable for $600,” I said.

“No, a trans-Atlantic cable at $3.30 a mile would cost…”

“How about an automatic answering service? One of those recorded announcement things. Then, at least, I’d get all the messages.”

“We don’t rent them anymore.”

What I subsequently learned was that I could have residential service in my home in East Hampton for $4.50 a month, and I could have a second phone in the bedroom for $1 a month, provided it wasn’t a business phone. Or, I could have an extension cord for $5, a one-time charge, or I could have jacks installed for $8, also a one-time charge, and the telephone made a portable so I could plug it in any of the jacks. For $3 a month, they’d run an extension of the phone to the office on Gay Lane, but then the whole she-bang qualified as a business phone charged at $9.25 a month with the extension in the bedroom being $1.75 a month instead of $1 a month.

Furthermore, I could get a push button phone, but she’d have to consult with somebody to ind out how much that would cost. Apparently, a great deal depended upon what section I lived in. Then there was the question of whether I’d like wall phones or table phones and what color I’d like. We got into quite a discussion about why black isn’t considered a color when, in fact, it is the sum of all the other colors if you went to the trouble of mixing all the other colors together, and we were still at it when five o’clock came and she had to leave for the day, and we hadn’t even STARTED talking about what I might do with the Montauk phone.

That was how I spent the day of Tuesday, May 14.

But, as I began to realize, I had newspapers to run and couldn’t spend all day on the phone with the telephone business office, even if the call was free.

Finally, I hired the firm Zenger, Osborne and Fitch, a New York outfit, whose entire business is acting as go-between between their clients and the telephone company. They negotiate and achieve an honorable settlement, in my case, the final telephone setup that I have today. Zenger, Osborne and Fitch did a good job for me, and they can do a good job for you. I’d tell you how to get in touch with them, but they don’t have a phone.

Read more Throwback Thursday. 

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