Home > Telecommunications, Uncategorized > Restoring a real ring tone

Restoring a real ring tone

As in brass bells.

I’ve had a black, desk rotary phone for as long as I can remember. I think it belonged to my grandmother — insofar as “belong” can apply to a phone that has “BELL SYSTEM PROPERTY NOT FOR SALE” stamped on the bottom. It’s a black Western Electric Model 500, manufactured in 1969, once ubiquitous, when the Beatles were still together. Many years ago I put a modular cord on it. But it never rang, so I kept it in storage.

I don’t know why, maybe because it’s time to get a new cell phone. But I wanted to get that old phone ringing again. A short search turned up a retired police officer near Detroit who is devoted to restoring vintage rotary telephones.

A dozen highly conversational and instructional e-mails later, the replacement of missing gongs for $15, an evening rewiring the WE 500, and now I’ve got a phone that rings like yesteryear.

This is a sound that is largely lost in the world of ersatz downloaded ringtones.

It’s often said that the sense of smell is the most evocative. For me, sound is equally evocative. So many sounds have largely disappeared. My favorites are heavy, piston airplanes like DC-6s and Connies, the chain-drag sound of air-cooled Volkswagens, a room full of typewriters. The fire signal in the town I grew up in sounded both mournful and dreadful at the same time, a doppler-distorted trumpet you could hear miles away. Now decades removed, I can still hear it.

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