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Premium Rate Telephone Hotlines

Posted by Big Boo on January 27th, 2009

telephone hotlinesBefore I get started I’d just like to acknowledge the OMGLists website for their list of seven of the worst eighties kids telephone hotlines, which is what gave me the idea for this post.

One of the less desirable things to have come out of the 1980s was the telephone hotline.  It all began when telephone companies came up with the idea of the premium rate number.  I’m sure there must be some legitimate use for these numbers but I’m sure you’ll agree with me that most of them are just money making schemes for unscrupulous companies.

Back then there were two main markets that were targetted as consumers for these lines.  One was the (ahem) adult (cough) market and the other was of course kids.  Leaving that first category aside then (this isn’t that kind of site) we’ll concentrate on those hotlines aimed at children.

These hotlines were often advertised in the back of comics and other childrens magazines, normally with a fairly small sized advert that was proportioned so that 50% of the ad space devoted to a picture representing the hotline topic, 49% went to the number to call and 1% went to the small print at the bottom telling you “Calls to this number are charged at 50p a minute.  Average call length is 10 minutes.  Please get permission from the bill payer before calling“.  As if any kid’s parent would ever say yes to that!

Hotlines existed for pretty much everything you could think of, and many that you couldn’t.  Information on pop stars and bands was always a safe bet, since many kids probably truly thought that they would get to speak directly to their musical idol, when of course it was probably some out of work actor telling you when their next single was out.  Other obvious topics were TV shows, actors, generic joke lines and things of that ilk.

Having never actually phoned one of these lines I don’t know for sure, but I’ll wager what you actually heard would fit comfortably into the following template:

<click – ten seconds silence>

Hello and welcome to the <name of hotline> hotline.  This hotline contains all the latest information, gossip and news on <topic> that we know you’re just dying to hear.  Be the envy of all your friends by finding out everything you could ever want to know, but we’re to afraid to ask, about <topic>.  The <name of hotline> hotline is all you need to become a <topic> expert in minutes.

Before we get to the news about <topic> please make sure you have asked the billpayers permission before making this call.

OK then, without further ado, here’s all the news about <topic> that you’ve been waiting for…

By the point you actually got any information a couple of minutes had already gone by, and then the details they gave you were probably all out of date anyway.

Sadly, it appears some of us are just as gullible today, and the companies have found ever more creative ways of increasing the size of our phone bills with premium rate text messages that tempt you with some amazing offer only to sign you up to a daily text message costing a quid a time, the subscription to which can only be cancelled by writing a letter and sending it to somewhere in India, by which time you’ve already received two months worth of texts…