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40,000 Calls a Day via WE6-1212
Early telephone switchboard. Library of Congress photo.

40,000 Calls a Day via WE6-1212

By NWS Heritage Projects Editorial Staff

The following story first appeared in "The Breeze" on April 10, 1947. 


On those rare occasions when a severe cold wave or a hurricane or a flood hits the South, telephone-distraught stations in Region Two doubtless eye with envy the automatic telephone forecast service in operation in some of the other Regions. Surely the number of daily calls for the forecast handled automatically by Weather 6-1212 in New York City is nothing short of phenomenal.

“Prior to the inauguration of this service on April 8, 1939,” writes Benjamin Parry, official in charge of the New York Weather Bureau office, “the Weather Bureau was frequently accused of never answering the telephone, and unanswered calls became so numerous that the Telephone Company was compelled to investigate the matter. The addition of more lines would not solve the problem as we did not have the personnel to man the lines; accordingly, it was suggested that a telephone weather service be considered, modeled on the equipment for the time service.”

“The equipment was finally installed,” Mr. Parry continues, “and, while we realized that there was an enormous demand for weather information, we were astonished when the first day’s business indicated a total number of calls of 38,310. The average number of daily calls for the balance of the year dropped off to 16,218. This average has since gradually climbed and now stands at 40,000, with the daily average for some months exceeding 50,000. On January 25, 1945, the automatic weather device received 96,595 calls; on February 15, 1943, calls received totaled 120,640.” (The equipment is engineered to serve more than 150 calls at one time.)

The New York WBO has teletype connections with the telephone office and provides temperatures and humidities hourly and forecasts four times daily. The weather bulletin, limited to some 40 words or less, is read into a microphone by a telephone company operator, and is recorded on a magnetic steel tape. When connected for service, the magnetic tape, which is in the form of a loop, makes one revolution in 30 seconds, during which time one complete announcement is made. A person who dials WE6-1212 is automatically connected with the announcing apparatus. He may cut in during the middle of an announcement, in which case he simply listens until the end and waits briefly for the bulletin to be repeated. In addition to the weather forecast and the current temperature, relative humidity and wind direction and velocity, the forecast bulletins include special information regarding hazardous highway conditions, heavy snowfall and extremes in weather.

Of course, the telephone people charge the bureau nothing for providing the equipment for automatic telephone service. The venture has proved a profitable one for them. But, an Atlanta official of the Southern Bell System, when questioned as to the likelihood of similar service for southern cities, indicate that it was remote. He stated that due to the flat rate system of telephone rentals which prevails in the South, that is, say, $3.00 per month for an unlimited number of calls, little additional revenue would come to the company should they go to the expense of providing such a service. In the larger metropolitan areas where telephones are rented on a message rate basis (the customer pays about 5 cents for each call in excess of some 40), it is said that revenue is produced at an average of just about 5 cents for each call made for the weather report. In 1945, the average number of calls for the cities in which the service is provided was: New York City, Detroit, Chicago, 36,000; Washington, slightly less than 36,000; Boston, 13,000; Baltimore, 6,000; and Newark, 4,000.

In spite of the tremendous volume of calls handled by this weather automat, Weather Bureau employees, in New York at least, still find the office phones demanding. Mr. Parry comments on the automatic telephone for the BREEZE with this statement: “In spite of this service our switchboard traffic continues to be congested, that necessitates two operators from 8:00 A.M to 11 A.M."