The Daily Ping

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January 3rd, 2005

The Dial Tone

This weekend I was watching an episode of Twilight Zone and got to thinking, “I wonder why the dial tone sounds the way it does.” I was also curious as to why one existed in the first place. I figured it was a sound naturally generated by the equipment and though they’d be able to prevent it now, it’s become ingrained of our culture so they haven’t bothered to try.

Wikipedia to the rescue. Turns out that the dial tone was created when the phone system first went automated. Before that, an operator was always at the other end of the phone to route your call (think The Andy Griffith Show). Turns out people got confused when the system went automated and there was no response when they picked up the phone. They thought their phone was broken, so the dial tone was born as a way to say, “Hey pal, your phone’s fine. Go ahead, make your call.”

Another interesting side note from the Wikipedia: “The dial tone varies between countries, being a “buzz” of two interfering tones (350Hz and 440Hz) forming a concert F in the NANP (most of North America), and a constant single tone (425Hz) in most of Europe.”

So, next time you pick up the phone to make a call, remember that without the helpful dial tone, you might still be thinking, “Stupid phone, it never works.”

(If you haven’t chimed in on yesterday’s Ping, please do so.)

Posted in Everyday Life

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