Landline Week: Party Lines and Hotlines

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I never called a hotline. Not Nintendo Power Line, not the Freddy Krueger hotline, not Talk to Horny Housewives Home Alone. If my parents found hundreds of dollars in charges on our phone bill because I was stuck on Level 7-3 of Super Mario Brothers (never would have happened. I’m warping to 8-1 every time. C’mon) I wouldn’t have to wait for Freddy to kill me in my dreams, mom and dad would have taken care of that for him.

Even though I never personally called one, party lines and hotlines were everywhere when I was a kid. Unsurprisingly The Simpsons even tackled them:

There are hundreds of examples to choose from, so for this article I collected some well known ones plus topics that were of particular interest to me growing up.

Party Lines 

This is the most prominent and widest ranging category of pay-by-the-minute phone lines. Having never called either I can only guess based upon the commercials that party lines are distinct from phone sex lines and with party lines in theory you were actually talking to non-employees of the company running the line. Based on 25 years spent on the Internet I’m also going to venture a guess that even if you were talking to genuine callers, a lot of them weren’t genuine teens. This is one of the many ways that party lines were the precursor to online communities, just with fewer anime avatars.

The party line is the basis of all telephone service, so even though a shift to individual lines naturally occurred as technology and capacity advanced the blueprint for awkwardly grouping random teens and impersonators of random teens was always there. Then again, malls existed. Just go to the mall instead.

mall-1980s-feature

Nintendo Power Line

Of all the entries in this article, the Nintendo Power Line makes the most sense to me. Maybe somebody reading this desperately needed the latest Tiffany updates (just keep reading) but in my opinion the Nintendo Power Line is the only one of these that actually addresses an issue: getting stuck playing video games. When I was looking for a video to embed I found ones from the Super Nintendo era in the mid-1990s and apparently the Line existed until June 2010 (To think I could have spent my last few months as a single man calling Nintendo counselors for tips or just, you know, to talk about life), so maybe it outstayed its welcome but I absolutely see the need and utility of the line in the early years of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo Power the magazine could only cover so much ground and the eggheads were hogging all that early Internet to themselves. You had to go somewhere to find out how to beat Ninja Gaiden. The answer was you couldn’t. That series of dumb games was impossible.

WWF Action Line

I loved 80s WWF. I loved the colorful characters, I loved the cartoons, I loved the toys. I even loved WWF Magazine. I do NOT love that the Wikipedia article I just linked to is for WWE Magazine. I probably would have loved calling in to the Action Line as well, if not for the whole filicide thing. Quick detour: until looking for one just now I didn’t know the specific term for killing your children. Everybody’s learning something new from this article. I would have loved calling, even though now I know it would’ve featured pre-recorded messages from WWF superstars reciting their catch phrases and telling me to brush my teeth and be nice to my mom, and not The Rockers on the other end just waiting for 8 year old John to call and tell them that they were his favorite tag team. Even knowing that now I would have called, damn it.

Music Hotlines

I made a throwaway reference to the New Kids on the Block in my Monday article so I figured the least I could do was embed a commercial for their hotline to help illustrate this entry. My guess would be apart from the Nintendo Power Line this category of hotline received the most calls of the specific subject hotlines. Fandom like this has always existed and will continue to exist until there’s nothing left of the Earth but old Freddy Krueger Hotline calls. Now fans of K-pop and 1D have message boards and YouTube to indulge in their fandom, but in the early 90s all NKOTB and Tiffany lovers had were the videos, albums, and merch. What if you needed to hear directly from Jordan Knight or Debbie Gibson? Where could you possibly go? The only rational choice was to call the hotline.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Hotline

Including this as an example of cartoon and movie tie-ins but mostly becayse the purpose of this hotline was to listen to the movie soundtrack. You’re not even checking in with your Turtle bros. Rates were $2 for the first minute and $1 each additional minute. The soundtrack is 44 minutes long, so you listening to the whole thing cost your parents $45.

Freddy Krueger Hotline

I saved one that still gets referenced today for last because I’m so happy it exists. That’s exactly why people still mention the Freddy Krueger Hotline; I highly doubt it’s because my fellow late 30s pop culture nerds were spending Friday nights listening to not Robert Englund recite tales of terror over the phone. It’s because there are elements of true beauty in this world, and one of them is having Freddy Krueger just a phone call away.

Did you call into any pay hotlines as a child? Which ones? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter

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