Lis­ten­ing in on the party line

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - David Carroll News and Notes

“they would just have to wait. Un­less they were re­ally rude, and they would just in­ter­rupt you and tell you to get off the phone.” Oh yes, it hap­pened.

Even­tu­ally, to pre­vent such “hog­ging,” phone com­pa­nies lim­ited each call to six min­utes. You would get a tensec­ond warn­ing, and then it was goodbye, like it or not.

Party lines were a way of life, un­til around the 1960s and 70s. Even­tu­ally “pri­vate lines” be­came avail­able, for an ex­tra charge of course, be­cause it was a great luxury.

Ev­ery­body has a party line story. Here’s mine. When I got a week­end ra­dio job at WEPG in South Pitts­burg, I was six­teen years old. It was my claim to fame, and my only con­nec­tion to cool­ness. It only took a cou­ple of weeks be­fore it went to my head. At that time, I also worked in my fam­ily’s store, which shared a party line with our house next door.

One fine day, things were a lit­tle slow in the store, so I walked over to the house and called into the ra­dio sta­tion for some­thing. The disc jockey put me on the air. I guess he thought that two deejays talk­ing would be deeply en­ter­tain­ing. I have no idea what we were talk­ing about, but I’m sure I was do­ing my best to sound like a big deal. No doubt I was pro­mot­ing my show for the up­com­ing week­end, and try­ing to sound re­ally hip. About a minute into the con­ver­sa­tion, my mother got on the line. She was work­ing in the store next door, which had ap­par­ently got­ten busy all of a sud­den.

I was right in the mid­dle of some very amus­ing big-time DJ chat­ter when the ra­dio lis­ten­ers heard a wo­man’s voice: “David, I need you…. Right now!”

The dee­jay at the sta­tion started laugh­ing up­roar­i­ously. “Who was that? And why does she need David so des­per­ately?” The last thing I wanted to say was, “Uh, my mama needs me…I gotta go!” So in­stead I said, “Wow, I don’t know what’s go­ing on, heh heh. You know how these party lines are! Well, good talkin’ with you, see ya on Sun­day!”

I raced over to the store, and af­ter the throng of cus­tomers had cleared out, I said, “Mom! You em­bar­rassed me on the phone in front of thou­sands of ra­dio lis­ten­ers!” (I prob­a­bly ex­ag­ger­ated by a few thou­sand). She showed no sym­pa­thy, ba­si­cally ex­plain­ing that the store came first. Now I re­mem­ber why I got into ra­dio.

Folks have some great memories of party lines. I asked a few of my Face­book friends. Some say they re­mem­ber “the old ladies” gos­sip­ing about ev­ery­one in the neigh­bor­hood, who were lis­ten­ing to ev­ery word! (It was bet­ter than go­ing out to the clothes line, es­pe­cially in bad weather.)

“There were no se­crets. Ev­ery­one knew who was sick, who was ex­pect­ing com­pany for the week­end, and who was fool­ing around with whom,” Linda Mines of Chat­tanooga said.

Ar­los Dempsey of Sig­nal Moun­tain said, “My aunt would lis­ten in on the neigh­bors all day, and would some­times for­get, and an­swer ques­tions the other peo­ple were ask­ing. It was so funny when they would scream at her to get off the phone!”

These days, many of us de­pend on Face­book to tell us who’s dat­ing who, who got mar­ried, who had a baby, who got hired, who got fired, and who has arthri­tis. I guess Face­book is the party line of the 21st cen­tury.

David Carroll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of the new book “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best sto­ries, avail­able at Chat­tanoogaRa­, or by send­ing $23 to David Carroll Book, 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, TN 37415. You may con­tact David at

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