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Today's Telephone Operator

The following information was contributed by an anonymous BellSouth telephone operator in Florida, USA.  Content of the original email was edited at the request of the sender before publishing it here:

My "handle", which coincidently is my favorite button at work, Position Release. :)
Phones have always been a wonder for me! As a little kid I remember leaving the phone off-hook (idle no start) so that the nice lady (AIS - Automated Intercept System) would come on and say a few words to me... :)

I have worked as a Telephone Operator for BellSouth and Sprint for almost a year now. I quite enjoy the job.

-- Directory Assistance: BellSouth --

A bellsouth operator's station for both directory assistance and local toll and assistance contains the keyboard, which is equipped with standard keyboard functions along with other necessary features to manipulate the network or switch in order to provide services to the calling customer.

When a customer dials 411 or (NPA)-555-1212 in his area, a recording is presented to the customer by ADAS or Automated Directory Assistance System (by Northern Telcom) The recording first states the company name (as outlined in FCC practices.), then requests "What City?"
  This information is recorded on 15 second digital "tape" and is stored momentarily. The ADAS then requests "What Listing?". Again, this information is stored. When all information has been collected, the circuit is placed on hold until an operator in the service pool becomes available.

When an operator becomes available, he or she hears two tones (Beep <Sine>) followed by the customer's City then another beep <Sine Only> followed by the listing. Finally, two more beeps. This time, the customer is "Live".

The operator will then key in the information using standard IBMDA compressed verbiage. The first 3 letters of the city, then a period, then the 2 letter state abbrev. Some examples are below.

LOU.KY. < - Louisville, Kentucky
ANN.AL. < - Anniston, Alabama
ATL.GA. < - Atlanta, Georgia
XXX. < - Nationwide Search (prohibited for operators, only for supervisor use.)
AMI. <Searches nation for any city starting with the letters A, M or I.)

Once the operator keys in the city, she or he then presses the CTY/STT key. A List of all found cities matching this criteria is displayed. An example is shown below.


A - Anniston
B - Anniemanie
C - Annitock
D - Area 205
E - Calhoun County

For Anniston, the operator would press "A". 

Then she keys in the listing. This is done in the same manner. First 3 letters of the first word, First 3 letters of the second word.

Take Office Depot. You would key it in like this "OFF.DEP." A Listing in that city would appear:


A-Office Depot 505 Bernard Ave. 205-238-5092
B-Office Depot 912 Alexandra.Av. 256-999-2918

A or B? <A/B> TOLL: $1.90

In this screen the operator requests the street name of the listing. "Would you like the Office Depot on Bernard Avenue or Alexandria Ave?", then selecting the appropriate listing, by pressing A or B. Then AUTO/VBL. or HANDOFF on certain keyboards

The customer is then charged One dollar and ninety cents. (whew!), they are then connected with the ARU. <Audio Response Unit>. This unit will read the following sentence twice, offer completion, then disconnect.

"Thank you. That number is <number>. For a charge of <price> your call to <number> can be automatically connected by pressing 1 or saying YES at the tone."


When a call comes whistling through those big C32's to the call center, the caller is placed into a waiting pool while an open position is found.  Calls that come in first, make it only to the first row of operators. Only if these operators are busy will the calls continue to go "row by row" until finding an open operator.

I Have included several files of graphics I made that emulate the operator screen; they are VERY authentic in the sense that every detail of a "fake" caller is displayed exactly as it is displayed on the real deal.

Click the following numbered hyperlinks to view images associated with the descriptions below:

1 - View of initial screen when call comes in. Includes call detail record, plus call functions.

2 - View of caller making a call with the assistance of his friendly operator.

3 - Calling from a payphone, ready for the operator to place the call

4 - Customer who is using illegal methods of obtaining service. Bellsouth has made it really hard for these Phone "Phreaks".