Before computers and modern digital electronics, telephone calls were connected by large, noisy, electromechanical switching systems. Today, speech is simply converted to digital information and streamed to its destination; whether across town or across the planet; on data networks, including the Internet. But before that was possible, phone calls were transmitted as analog signals, allowing them to pick up interesting and colorful bits of interference along the way.There were various models of electromechanical equipment and each kind made its own characteristic sounds. Even when the equipment in two different places was the same, they didn’t necessarily sound alike. Ringing, busy signals and other sounds could be so distinctive that some people could distinguish between neighborhoods just by the sounds of calls going through!
Some of the most memorable sounds were the recorded announcements that gave callers information about things such as wrong numbers. Many of them were recorded by ordinary operators or switchmen with delightful local accents. Others, had more professional voices, such as the great Jane Barbe.
Those great mechanical networks and the rich sounds they produced are gone forever. Fortunately though, a few foresighted people took the time back in the 1970’s to capture that music with high-quality recordings. On the site, PhoneTrips.com, you will find Evan Doorbell’s phabulous library of vintage telephone sounds. Not only that, he made podcast-like recordings; in great detail they explain the stories behind all of the old network sounds. Most of the telephone sounds presented on ElmerCat.org were assembled from samplings of Evan’s recordings. I encourage you to visit his site and enjoy all of them in their entirety.