The Peter Jennings newscast told us that people do not dislike the telephone merchandisers; They detest them. The same television broadcast said the Federal Trade Commission would be asked to set up a no-no list so folks could call in and get immunity from such pesky telephone solicitations.
I have a better idea. In the first place, why should I, the victim of a tremendous nuisance, be asked to do anything to get relief? I'm the injured party. Why can't the FTC just tell the perpetrators of this invasion of privacy to cut it out, and for once do something kind for me?
My better idea is easier, simpler, quicker, and will prove far more popular.
Back in 1924, to be exact, I was a high school boy, and one evening around the popcorn bowl my dad threw down our weekly newspaper and said, "Might's well stop taking the thing. Nothing in it! They need somebody to write the news!"
I wrote to the editor offering to help him, was asked to send along something in the way of news to convince him. (I have been a journalist ever since.) Then I had my first tangle with the telephone people.
After a few weeks in which I combined news-gathering with homework, I found an evening on the telephone rewarding. In 1924, our telephone was the magneto kind attended by "Central," and it was chummy and folksy. Gladys was the operator, and when I cranked she would come on the party line and say, "Who's next, Johnny-boy?"
I called everybody and anybody, but not at all in the fashion of today's merchandisers. Ours was a small town, and everybody knew everybody.
Radio was new, then, but we had an early set laid out on a board, and as the loudspeaker was yet to come, it had earphones. The telephone set had exterior posts for wire connections, so I snitched a pair of earphones from the radio, hooked them to the telephone, and could jot down news notes without holding the receiver to my head.
After a session at my news stint, I'd hook the earphones back on the radio.
Then I found a cheap typewriter in the junk shop and I could write my stuff as it came to my headset, and I was far ahead of my time. The curdle came from the phone company.
Brice Roberts, the telephone man, came to ask my father what was going on, as there was clicking on the line and some other interference, and might he have a look. He said the telephone belonged to the New England Tel. & Tel. Co., and we could not attach earphones.
If we wanted earphones, we should notify the company and he would come and attach them. There would be a small monthly charge.
That was in 1924. I had nothing to do with the telephone people after that until the 1940s or so, when they took expensive advertising space in the magazines to brag, "Now you can telephone around the world!" This teased my fancy, and thinking of Magellan, I dialed the operator and told her I would like to make a call around the world.
She seemed somewhat baffled, but said, "Yes, and where are you calling to, please?"
I said I had the number and I gave her the number of Bud's Restaurant just across the street from me.
"But," she butted, "that's a local call! You can dial that yourself!"
"Yes," I said, "But then it wouldn't be a call around the world!"
She said, "No."
So I said, "I want this call to go around the world, as it says in your advertising. I can see Bud standing in his place right by his phone on the wall."
She said, "One moment, please."
A traffic manager then came on the line, and shortly said he would call me back, which he never did. But the next week in the magazines, the telephone ads were changed and said, "Any place in the world."
The telephone people don't always say what they mean. What I mean is that times have changed, and the phone company no longer owns the little telephone on my end table. The phone company ceased to own it some years ago. I went to the store, I bought it, I paid for it, I brought it home, I have a receipt for it, and I plugged it in. I assume you all did the same.
So when the telephone company leases, rents, and makes available our telephones to some merchandising bucket shop in a far place, how come we are not reimbursed for our share of the profits?
How come they use our property to annoy and abuse us and don't ante up with the dough?
Without us they couldn't make a deal with the telephone merchandisers.
And the solution to all this is so simple!
If we all got paid a couple of hundred, say, as our fair monthly dividend on our investment, it wouldn't hurt so much when the phone rings during evening prayers and somebody in Boise wants to sell us tin shingles.
Is the Federal Trade Commission listening?