The inspiration for the title of this article came from Ray Parker Junior's very catchy 1984 hit, the Ghostbusters:
However, I must confess that the inspiration for writing this article came from Chun See's article on a similar topic.
In the 1960s, whenever we "city folks" wanted to call someone, we would use the phone of the coffeeshop located below our block.
The coffeeshop owner was nice enough not to charge us for the use of the phone. (But then again, my mother paid in another way via her illegal chap ji ki bets placed through the coffeeshop owner.) The numbers "9" and "0" were locked with a copper padlock so that people could not make unauthorised IDD and trunk calls which required the dialling of a "0".
The telephone looked exactly like the one in the illustration above but was black in colour. On its front (bottom portion) was emblazoned a gold-coloured logo with the letters STB which was superimposed onto an image of a flying swallow, if I remember correctly. The letters stand for Singapore Telephone Board, I think. (Telecommunications, both the capability and the word, may not have been invented then.)
I would not be surprised at all if people of the younger generation today tell me that they do not know how to use the telephone. So how would a telephone number be dialled then? You must
1. Make sure no one is using the phone. (Queue for your turn, if necessary.)
2. Ask the coffeeshop owner for permission to use the phone.
3. If permission is given, lift up the handset.
4. Listen for the presence of a dialling tone in the ear piece.
5. Dial the first digit by poking your
6. Turn the dial clockwise with your finger until it stops at the metal catch at the 5-o'clock position. (Try as you might, the dial could not be turned anti-clockwise.)
7. Unplug your finger from the hole. (The dial will return to its original position.)
8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 until all the numbers are dialled.
9. Listen for ringing tone in the ear piece and answering party's "Hello".
10. If connected, say what you have to say and keep your conversation short (less than 3 minutes).
11. When call ends, replace handset onto the cradle of the phone.
12. Last but not least, remember to thank the coffeeshop owner for using his phone
As you can see, the elaborate dialling process itself could take up to half a minute or more. Luckily in those days, local telephone numbers were only 6-digit long.
Although I am not an engineer by training, I can tell you that there was another way with which you could get connected without ever touching the dial. How? You use the cradle instead of the dial. Follow Steps 1 to 4 above but instead, Step 5 onwards is as follows:
5. Tap the cradle in quick succession the same number of times as the first digit of the telephone number.
6. Pause for about a second.
7. Tap the cradle in quick succession the same number of times as the second digit of the telephone number.
8. Repeat Steps 5 to 7 until all the numbers have been entered.
You should get a connection if you have done the process correctly
It was certainly a good thing that we finally got our own telephone when we moved to our new Haig Road flat in the mid-70s.
Update on 20 Nov 2009:
I have found a National Archives photo of the black telephone described above on Laokokok's blog here: