“Call 3333”

The first thing I noticed here was the crazier than ordinary owl picture on the wall. The third thing I noticed was that the guy with the grin is Scott Wise, (’71, ’73). I don’t really have a good guess as to when this image was taken so I don’t know exactly what his job title was at this time but he certainly looks like he was enjoying it:

Scott Wise with green ROLM phone nd

The really interesting thing to me, though, was the thing I noticed in between those two things—-the telephone. I can promise you two things about that phone: it was a ROLM phone and it was green. How do I know this? Here’s the phone in my office at home, a cast off that found its way to me a while ago:


I don’t know when the campus emergency number changed–it’s now 6000–but I suspect it was at the same time the campus exchange became 348.

It works, by the way.

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15 Responses to “Call 3333”

  1. I love old film photos with all that detail: white ceramic owl on the desk, groovy owl mug to the right, and that looks like a Dictaphone mic at the far right. I’m not sure why I recognize that, maybe my dad had one.

    Here is an ad for a similar one: https://img0.etsystatic.com/000/1/5582518/il_fullxfull.97716790.jpg

  2. I would put that picture around 1986 or so, around the time I went to work for Rice. We had the ROLM switch by then. Prior to that, most extensions couldn’t be direct-dialed unless they were 527-4xxx. (I remember that it was a big deal to me when I started at Rice that I had one of the “special” direct-dialable extensions: x4942 for twenty-nine years now!) I think that the direct-dial RUPD emergency number was 527-6000 and that’s what they kept when everything became direct dial. If I recall correctly, there was an intermediate step with the ROLM switch where you could call some access number and then enter the four digit extension number. (527-8750 is drifting into my memory…) Before we had the ROLM switch you couldn’t call non-direct extensions from off campus when the switchboard was closed. Also, in those days, student phones in the colleges were handled directly by SW Bell, I think, so college room phone numbers were a random crazy quilt of 52x- prefixes. 348- came with the Nortel system in about 1995, I think (although it may have been a bit later.) We opened APB with the ROLM system in ’90-91.
    Other smarter people like Grungy or F.E.G. may have a better memory and I defer to them.

    • Deborah Gronke Bennett (BSEE Hanszen 1982) says:

      The student phones were handled directly by SW Bell during my years on campus (76-79). To get service you went to their nearest office, paid a $5 deposit for the phone, took it to the dorm room and plugged it in. All the blocks were pre-punched, so the number for a given room was the same every year. This was handy before the new directory for that year was printed. If you remembered who lived in your room the previous year, you could look them up in last year’s directory and know your phone number.

  3. marmer01 says:

    Also, the wedding ring implies that he was already married to my classmate, the lovely Geraldina Interiano, B. Arch ’85, so late 80’s/early 90’s.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      That’s a really, really good catch, Marty. Also, the number on my phone seems to fit your general scenario above: 527-8101 ex. 3286. I wondered why there was an extension.

      • marmer01 says:

        Yes, 527-8101 was the main switchboard number. You had to ask for that extension. Of course, on campus you just dialed the four digits. After hours you couldn’t call a non-direct-dial extension from off campus. As I said, the ROLM switch brought an access number for those; it was definitely not 527-8101 but it might have been 527-8750. You may not be enough of a Houston old-timer to know that in the pre 10-digit days you could tell the location of an area pretty clearly by its phone prefix. The Rice area was 52x- and 66x-, the Heights was 86x-, etc. That’s still somewhat true today.

  4. Before “3333” the emergency number was “333”

    It changed from 333 to 3333 when the Fisk switch replaced the Western Electric stepper switch.

    Why 333? All the phones were rotary pulse dial then, and there were technical and conflict reasons not to use 111 or 222, but 333 was available, and it was faster to dial than other repeated digit combinations, because the dial has a shorter distance to return. In an emergency dialing 999 would seem like forever on a rotary dial.

    Back then there was no “911” standard, so most large PBX systems had to resort to stickers all over the place.

  5. mjthannisch says:

    It seems like the phone in the colleges was $15.00 a month. Does that sound right?

  6. effegee says:

    The phone was not necessarily green. ICSA chose to have chocolate brown phones. There were some ivory phones too. Probably other colors.

    When the ROLM switch supplanted the SWBELL switchboard, there were 200 direct inward dial numbers obtained because not much demand was anticipated for them because the internal charge for them was about 2.5 times the charge for ones that had to be accessed through the operator. Requests from several departments quickly swamped the initial plan and more numbers were obtained. Eventually there were at least 500 in the 527-46xx through -49xx plus- 40xx. Believe it or not that’s a contiguous block of numbers — think about the way rotary dials clicked and you understand why. I think we also had -45xx too. Texas Southern was also assigned in the 527-4xxx and had the numbers Rice didn’t have. I believe the numbers in -6xxx were acquired as 527-6xxxx prior to the move to 348-xxxx which began in summer 1999 with changeover on January 3, 2000. The ROLM was decommissioned toward the end of January 2000. Key 527 numbers were forwarded to their 348 counterparts for many months (years?) to deal with people using old numbers and paper directories.

    The Nothern Telecomm switch installation was made on the first floor of Mudd Lab and the Allen Center basement space that had housed the ROLM and it’s predecessors was released after the ROLM was scrapped.

    Students dorm rooms were added to the new switch in the summer 2000. Not only did this allow student to call campus extensions via 4-digits and have features such as voicemail but also it dealt with the loss of the arrangement with SWBELL that had existed for at least a couple of decades. Prior to summer 2000, Bell placed student lines on vacation during the summer, then changed the billing to the new occupants in the fall. This saved students the premise charge to install the line which really didn’t need to be installed but regulations required. And a student knew the phone number for her/his new room because the number stayed with the room. However, the then-new FCC requirement for “number portability” also carried rules against parking numbers for the 3+ months that were required for the arrangement to work. (Parking numbers made them unavailable to other carriers that might want one of the parked numbers for one of its customers and was restricted to something like 30-45 days.) Bell informed us in fall 1999 that they could not get yet another waiver for 2000 thus ending the arrangement.

  7. john wolda says:

    That guy with the grin had an ERA of 1.52 in 1970 pitching for the Owls, 4th lowest on record. Hair was a little darker then.

  8. nburch2 says:

    We had those ROLM phones when I worked in the Athletic Dept. 1977-83. Ours in the gym (Autry), where my office was, quit working whenever there was a big rain storm. Only the pay phone upstairs stayed live until the lines dried out.

  9. Pingback: Computation, circa late 1970s | Rice History Corner

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