International Telephone Operators Video ca 1970's

You've got to love the complaint of the customer in this video about the echo on the satellite circuit. "Do I get charged extra for bouncing off this satellite?"

In that era the noise, echo and clipping was expected at times in that stage of technology. Someone hearing that today would think he had a justifiable complaint but in the 60s and 70s the tension between the customer and the operator was the customer's expectation of good quality voice (too many televised space missions) and every day reality . The frustration of the operators of that time was explaining to customer's that "this is it, this is the connection you have and this is the rate" in a patient and calm way and start timing as quickly as possible.

We had not come as far yet with the technology...

...performing that work was a unique juxtaposition of using old technology that had been adapted over decades, to access and utilize new technology that hadn't been fully developed yet. It required skill to manage an old cord switchboard whose basic design was from 1929, updated with electromechanical switching advances and mark sense computer technology...an analog world...and somehow get satellite to work well enough that a customer could have at least a modicum of "exclusivity of conversation." They "could hear" and "be heard," although more often than not, with effort.

The quality of this video is rough, likely due to conversion from analog to digital and with compression. It gives a pretty good idea of what it was like handling calls in the AT&T International Operating Centers in the late 60's and early 70's. This appears to be in the Manhattan IOC where the cordboards were much older and built out from the original "Overseas Operator" centers. Manhattan and Oakland at one time had the higher call volumes due to having access to the majority of unique dedicated circuits.

The other IOCs were located in Montreal, White Plains, Pittsburgh, Springfield, Denver and Jacksonville. Springfield, Denver and Jacksonvlle were new centers built to handle the volume by placing operators where there were new Number 4 ESS Toll switches
being placed. The majority of the call volume was handling calls that could be key pulsed by the operator using the International Dialing Codes on a North American tandem trunk. There were additional reasons for locatons, for example MARISAT began communcations service in 1976 and Jacksonville was atmospherically deal to handle High Seas on the Atlantic Ocean.

In the Jacksonville IOC the cordboards were actually fairly new, reconditioned standard Western Electric cord switchboards pulled out of a Toll Center that was closed somewhere. They were installed in the early 70s in four units of the IOC and the beautiful wood paneling was painted over with colors of that era (different color for each unit) with murals on the walls. It would look very dated now although the idea was to make the building as modern and forward looking as possible in the most cost effective way.

The Springfield, Jacksonville and Denver centers had been built to meet the rapidly growing demand for international calling. Their primary function was to process calls on North American tandem trunks (for example the new 4 ESS Toll Switch in Jacksonville) that would soon be handled by IDDD (International Direct Distance Dialing). The operators were processing volumes of calls by in effect dialing IDDD for the customers on station-to-station calls since the IDDD had not been rolled out on even a small scale in addition to the person, collect, card, coin, hotel and third-party billed calls. The original design was to then convert these centers to International Service Position Systems (ISPS) in these more remote and lower wage cost centers.

No one correctly predicted the demise of the Bell System, Divestiture and later the internet...making these centers functionally moot.