"Press Blue to Get Through"

Published: 7/29/18

Press Blue to Get Through By Mark Mathosian

In 1998 BellSouth introduced a single slot payphone with two keys colored BellSouth blue. Those keys, 1 and #, were for a new competitively priced long distance speed-dial service competing with AT&T’s successful 1 800 CALL ATT. The new easy-to-use long distance calling service was promoted under the catch phrase Press Blue to Get Through.

When callers dialed the blue # and 1 keys in sequence, they reached an automated voice menu with an interactive voice available in English and Spanish. The caller was then prompted through long distance dialing options including operator assistance and national directory assistance. Calls could be billed collect, charged to a BellSouth's calling card, or charged to popular credit cards including Mastercard, Discover and American Express. Both domestic and international calls were available.

According to BellSouth representatives their plan was to expand the BellSouth #1 service throughout its nine-state Southeast region. Locations for payphones with blue keys included business centers, airports, truck stops, convenience stores, shopping malls, college campuses, community centers, tourist venues and other spots with a high demand for long distance calls.

Coincidentally, Press Blue To Get Through was introduced not too long before BellSouth’s 2001 announcement that they were exiting the payphone business entirely. That’s probably why you don’t often see BellSouth payphones with the blue keys for sale. These enhanced payphones came on the scene late and faded into history as lined payphones gave way to wireless cell phones.

I googled the internet and found a few obscure references about the payphones and BellSouth’s long distance Press Blue long distance service. A short fact-filled article about these payphones and the program can be read at freelibary.com. The story is dated October 1, 1998, and was based on press release/marketing information from BellSouth. Research revealed that by the time the article was written at least three BellSouth location providers had already adopted the service with payphones converted in the Nashville, Charlotte and Louisville airports. Supposedly by the time the article was published a few hundred phones were modified with the blue keys. Here is a direct link: https://www.thefreelibrary.com/BELLSOUTH+LAUNCHES+SPEED-DIAL+FOR+PAYPHONE+LONG+DISTANCE.-a053045359

Mark is a professional freelance writer and columnist and a telephone collector.