San Francisco, 1976: But it actually started with Lamont Johnson, a jazz piano-player in Los Angeles, in 1969. At breakfast, he told us roommates his great new plan. We would start an answering service, for musicians!
“A what?” I asked. He explained it. Answering services used switchboards to answer the phone when the musician was out. I knew how to operate a switchboard, because of my hotel jobs. As soon as we had a switchboard and some clients, we could all take turns. He showed us listings in the Los Angeles yellow pages. Not one of these answering services specialized in serving musicians!
It sounded like a swell idea. Quickly we were recruited. Me and another guy were sent to obtain an endorsement from the head of the Los Angeles musician’s union. I made up some charts with pictures of statistics going up. We got an appointment.
The gentleman was very kind, and never once laughed at our clown act. He just explained gently that he was not able to endorse one company over another, though he very much appreciated us letting him know about our new company.
I tried to find a pleasant-sounding way to explain to Lamont that we were abject failures. Luckily, none of the others had one whit of success either, and to our great good fortune, we did not start up an answering service for musicians.
Thus it was that, years later in San Francisco, when I opened my phone bill and a little advert fluttered to the floor, I read about this new feature, Call Forwarding.
“Hmmm,” I said to myself, “You could use that to forward a whole bunch of phones. You could build an answering service without a switchboard.”
I did some research, meaning that I got my friend Dennis to ask questions of his answering service. This company had 2200 customers and 30 operators. After allowing for different shifts, this meant that each operator could handle 280 customers. (Later experience revealed no truth whatsoever in this formula.)
After my careful research, I got some phone lines and a bootleg pushbutton phone. I wrote “Bad Air Detector” on the switching box so the phone company guys wouldn’t know what it was. I placed an ad. I waited for the phone book to come out.
The phone rang. The guy asked about our service and I told him about call-forwarding. Our hours? Our prices? He signed up.
Six a.m. to Midnight. At first, I was the only operator. My favorite station went off the air at Midnight, same as me. Every night, when Midnight came, they played this lovely song called the Pachibel Canon.
And every night, it sounded so sweet.