Dialing into the past

GVL / Courtesy - GVSU University Libraries Digital Collection
Student on the phone in his dorm room; 1970

GVSU University Libraries Digita

GVL / Courtesy – GVSU University Libraries Digital Collection Student on the phone in his dorm room; 1970

Maddie Forshee

The world before the internet was a much different place that not many Grand Valley State University students can remember. You couldn’t Instagram your lunch, you couldn’t read a Buzzfeed article on your phone and you might not have had to actually go outside to decide if it was cold enough to wear a jacket.

While Instagram and Buzzfeed are both newfound technologies, there were ways to check the weather pre-internet. People would call a local phone number and it was programmed to automatically report the current time and local weather.

John Lochridge, a telecommunications engineer from Dallas, has taken it upon himself to put many of these time service numbers back into service around the country, including in Allendale and Grand Rapids.

“Back before smartphones and internet, there was a limited ability to get information,” Lochridge said. “The most commonly sought-after information for people was, ‘what time is it?’ and ‘how cold is it outside?'”

Lochridge owns his own telecommunications company called Commcierge Solutions where he does telecommunications consulting and decided to activate these old numbers out of pure interest and nostalgia.

“It’s something that’s part of the history, it’s part of the past,” he said. “In a world where things are changing, some people like to reminisce and like to remember how things used to be. That’s some of the appeal of it.”

Lochridge first restored the time service number that he grew up with in Dallas in early 2013. Since then, he estimates that he has activated several hundred of these old phone numbers across the country in the three years that he has taken on the hobby.

“People ask me why my company is interested in it, it’s because I’m the owner and I’m interested in it,” he said.

To activate an old time service number, Lochridge said that a lot of research has to be done to even find the number in the first place. After that, he said it’s just a matter of communicating with phone companies to get the number up and running again.

Though it may seem like an antiquated technology, Lochridge said that his time service numbers get thousands of calls from all across the country, especially recently due to Daylight Saving Time.

“Nationally, I get thousands of calls a day,” he said. “It goes up considerably on Daylight Saving Time and if it’s really cold or really hot.”

In Michigan alone, there are 16 time service numbers that have recently been activated by Lochridge. They include numbers in Allendale, Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, as far east as Troy and as far north as Calumet in the Upper Peninsula.

“I find it interesting and would like to think that there’s lessons to be learned or wisdom to be gained,” Lochridge said about the old service numbers. “It’s kind of retro. There’s nothing that beats the convenience of making a phone call to get information.”

The time and weather service number for Allendale is (616) 892-1212 and the number for Grand Rapids is (616) 459-1212.