The Princess Mobile Phones

Back in the early 70s there was a fellow that started a new mobile phone service operating out of Austin. It was a far cheaper option than Southwestern Bell had at that time. That service could run into hundreds of dollars per month. I believe it cost “X” amount per call placed plus something like 50¢ per minute. Some high rollers would actually spend over a $1,000 per month, but it was the cost of doing business.

Larry Bird with Capital Communications, the new guy, tapped into some new technology which allowed for a fairly small radio box to be mounted underneath the seat of a pickup or in the trunk of a car. A typical Princess Phone, just like was popular sitting on many bedside tables, was then mounted on a metal plate and bracket, that was attached to the dash.

Southwestern Bell was fine with their customers using up as many minutes as they thought they could afford. The new guy charged a flat rate of $75 per month, but to keep people from getting on the phone and eating up the clock he made it automatically cut off after 3 minutes. It gave you a beep tone 15 seconds prior to the end of your 3 minutes, to allow you to wind up your conversation.

Of course you could immediately call the person back, but it left you appearing a bit unprofessional if you were in the middle of a big business deal and your phone turned off.

Capital Communications was already suppling us with two way radios, a Japanese radio that was named Standard Radio. They cost far less than the gold standard, which was Motorola. But if they cost half of what Motorola did, that was because they worked about half as well as Motorola.

I hung around that shop enough to see that when they were installing and testing the phones, they could keep it hooked up much longer than 3 minutes. I didn’t know exactly what they were doing, but it had something to do with pushing a couple of buttons when the warning beep happened.

There were several of us that had that service after a few months. I kept playing around until I broke the code, which was to hit the * and # keys at the same time. Then I could talk as long as I wanted.

The big dilemma was whether to share that information with my buddies or keep quiet. It would be fun to share with everyone how clever I was, but if everyone was doing it, at some point they would notice something was out of whack and block it from working. Since I was more concerned with my own needs more than showing off I just stayed mum.

I kept that phone, which really worked well in most areas of Austin, for 2 or 3 years. By then other companies were bringing out phones that worked better, so I switched to one of those and the fun times were over.

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