Payphone News, 1994

Rotary Pay Phones Return, This Time to Foil Drug Deals

It is the boldest tactic in a campaign that began with improving lighting, moving phones away from problem areas, then disabling phones so they cannot receive incoming calls. About a quarter of Nynex's 8,400 street phones do not take incoming calls. Now the company is taking rotary pay phones, which are no longer made in the United States, out of storage.

"The rotary dial is a step backward technologically, but it prevents a drug dealer from paging a customer or runner," said Steven Marcus, a Nynex spokesman, who said the change was made as "an absolute last resort," since the phones cannot take advantage of many new services, like voice mail, that rely on push-button phones.

Phone company officials acknowledge that the rotary-phone tactic is not foolproof: callers can use a device called a tone dialer, which is sold for about $15 at electronics stores, to send tone signals over a phone with a rotary dial. But they say the devices do not appear to have caught on. [...]

"Sleazeballs congregated there, and they're not the kind of people you want hanging out on your corner," said Jay Devlin, an actor and a writer who, as president of the 45th Street Block Association, led the fight to persuade Nynex to bring rotary phones back to his corner in the Times Square district several months ago.

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15 Responses:

  1. Surely one could just install a tone dialer app to operate ... the ...


    Turtles all the way down...

    • Thomas Lord says:

      Vusting out your smartphone to send control tones over a payphone for stealth messaging is very very smart(phone) indeed.

      Luckily you can just go down to radio shack and pick up an off the shelf pocket tone dialer or the parts to make one... :-)

      • HR says:

        Using a smartphone would have been more than very very smart, what with it being 1994 and all.

  2. E M says:

    Makes me want to dig up those old copies of 2600 and the collection of Phrack Magazine I have stored around here someplace...

    • jwz says:

      I have this fantasy of one day having a magazine rack in DNA Pizza full of nothing but 90s cyber-esoterica. When I first got this idea I went on eBay thinking to seed it with a couple of complete runs of Mondo 2000, because what could those cost, like 50¢ each, right? Nope, more like $30 an issue!

      • Bibulb says:

        I remain baffled as to the lack of digital copies of Mondo on the web - I can understand that it'd be a LOT of effort and money for Goffman to collect and update rights and everything, but even illicit PDFs seem to be very thin on the ground.

        On the flip side, I managed to luck out and get someone's stash of eight print issues relatively cheap on eBay several years ago, but I well understand that "FIND AMAZING DEAL ON EBAY" is not reliably replicable, especially if you're trying to get multiple sets.

        (And on the gripping hand for all of this, goddamn - if someone could hook me up with a bunch of cheap old Reflex Magazines, I'd go freaking nuts.)

      • thielges says:

        Rats. A decade ago I dumped box loads of magazines including Processed World and Mondo 2000. I’ll check the attic to see if anything survived. If I find any loose Mondo 2000s they’re yours.

        • Bill Paul says:

          I actually have a small collection of 2600 issues which have been taking up space in my apartment for a while. They used to sell them at Borders in Union Square before Borders went tits up. They're not from the 90s though (more like 2008/2009 maybe). But if this idea ever goes anywhere, you're welcome to them.

          • jwz says:

            I mean, I'm never gonna hit critical mass if I don't start hoarding now, right?

            Feel free to mail me any of your hilarious Cyber-Esoterica at the club. Thanks!

            • Bill Paul says:

              I'll gather them up and try to bring they by some time in the next week or so. (I live over in Civic Center.) With any luck maybe I can get John or Devon to pass them along.

            • BenisPird says:

              You could always ask Jason Scott for some. He probably has old PC Magazines in triplicate for the entire decade.

  3. Karellen says:

    "callers can use a device called a tone dialer [...] to send tone signals"

    at which point Nynex could probably get a really cheap widget made that digitally blocks the very specific frequencies used in DTMF. If you make the bands narrow enough, it probably won't affect the signal noticeably over the already-awful analogue phone circuits.

    • thielges says:

      Eh. Might be harder than you think. DTMF was designed to punch through all sorts of noise and audio circuitry imperfections.

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