Sidetone: Summer 1997


25 High Park Blvd. Toronto M6R 1M6 (416) 536-9252
  • Joel Eves
  • Stephen Purdey
Sidetone is a regular publication of WTT Communications Ltd. distributed, free of charge, to customers, staff and friends.
Editor this issue:Steve Purdey
Vol. XXXIVSummer, 1997No. II


Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
'til it's gone?

Joni Mitchell

There's no such thing as telephone technology anymore - just computers adapted for transmission of voice and data. Like a monoculture of electronic weeds, computers have wiped out a vast array of other technologies too, from carburetors to cash registers. Most people think this is a good thing.

We don't. Not because computers are not sophisticated tools - obviously they are. The problem arises with the obliteration of original technologies as if they were inferior precursors to modern electronics. We are of the opinion that each technology, and its concomitant tool and skill sets, can still serve a useful function and can allow for the retention of flexibility and employment opportunity in the marketplace.

This is especially true in the case of original telephone technology. Bell Canada's aggressive program of withdrawal from electromechanics is nothing more than corporate foolishness given the quality of design and manufacture that supported it.

Remember when Bell had a monopoly and business customers had to rent their phone equipment? To maximize corporate profits in that market environment, Bell's manufacturing arm (Northern Electric, at the time) set out to design apparatus which, after installation, would work reliably for as long as possible. With minimal field maintenance costs, rental cheques rolled in and Bell soon became the giant we all know today. It would be unwise for Bell to forget the strategy that won their success, or the technology on which their current empire was founded.

And yet they have, by all appearances. Electromechanical telephony is treated with contempt by Bell installers and sales people, and with disdain by decision-makers. We think this is wrong, especially for those business customers who still use it.

Western Telephone is currently negotiating an arrangement with Bell Canada whereby we will assume service responsibilities for those remaining customers with original technology - but it's a hard sell. Why? Because those customers are viewed as reluctant hold-overs of relic phone systems - and as potential buyers of something new - rather than as contented users of the very equipment to which Bell owes its renowned success. Bell is not very interested in offering good service to recalcitrant 'destandardized' customers who apparently don't know a good thing when they see it.

Western's attachment to original technology has driven us to find niche markets where electromechanics are still required (for technical reasons) or desired (for financial, aesthetic or historical reasons) - but we still maintain and seek to enlarge our base of regular business users. The acquisition of that part of Bell's base (by purchase or service agreement) still supported by 1A-series telephony is a key part of that strategy. We are persuaded that Bell will soon acknowledge the logic of our argument and recover some respect for their own corporate history.


Telephone Special Assemblies, devices custom designed and built to provide unique voice communication solutions, are Western Telephone's favorite product. In May, University of Toronto's New College provided our latest opportunity to work this craft.

In the early 1990s, the New College residences were victimized by a wave of toll fraud. Although the Centrex lines serving the hall key system are restricted from being able to place chargeable calls, they were not invul­nerable to toll charges. Some enterprising "guests", it seems, had concoc­ted a plan in which they placed a brief long distance call from the nearby pay phone to a far away friend, who then placed a collect call back to the house key system number. The perpetrator then watched the key set, picked up the line as soon as it started flashing, and accepted the collect call.

This only worked, of course, after hours when no Porter was on duty to answer incoming calls.

With much prodding from U of T, Bell produced a Special Assembly allowing the Porter to turn off the house key system at night, preventing inbound and outbound calls. WTT duplicated this arrangement when the system was taken over from Bell last summer.

But Dean of Administration David Pelteret felt there should be a better solution than simply turning the phones off. In consultation with WTT, an objective was developed: to allow outgoing calls at all times, and allow incoming calls only when a Porter is present. Then came the Special Assembly: custom hardware to meet the objective. In "night" mode, the system diverts any ringing line away from the phone system for as long as it rings, thus denying all collect charges.

The Special Assembly was installed in May, to coincide with the opening of the next "guest" season, when the student residence turns hotel. It is modu­larly expandable, renting for a modest $6.00 plus $1.00 per line, monthly.


Not for the first time, Western has recently been contracted to provide telephone equipment to Toronto's burgeoning movie industry. Mike Yerek of Gridiron Productions recently contacted us to supply two outdoor phones for his production of the Disney Studios blockbuster called "Gridiron".

Apparently a movie character needs to speak to his wife from the phone, located on the periphery of a football field - and though we are not privy to the entire plot, we are certain that if that call could not be made, then all hell would break loose, the game would be lost and box office receipts would plummet. Clearly, we take our prop responsibilities seriously.

Andrew "Woody" Stewart of the Help Productions partnership also called for help for "Call for Help!" - an NBC Monday Night Movie to be aired this fall. His requirements were much more extensive because the story is set in a women's crisis centre and the phone system, an important aspect of the centre's operation, must be realistic and fully functional. Woody's choice of brown six-button sets (with a larger phone and headset at reception) was well suited to the small-town-America scene. Granting a certain amount of artistic license, not all system components were precisely realistic. An Orator, for example, normally used for one-way intercom communication, now masquerades as a two-way handsfree device, complete with added flashing red light on top to dramatically indicate its in-use status. Of course, it doesn't really work.

Rental of these and other telephone props for movies has become a desultory but interesting sideline for Western. If you're tired of your day job and want to make your novel into a movie, why not call us for all your telephone needs?


The early summer has been a busy time for wholesale operations at WTT, with the acquisition of two new telephone companies as clients. In June, Darcy Hagberg of Thunder Bay Municipal Telephone found us through broker Brian Pressley. Darcy, an installation manager for the large independent telco, was searching for key system power plants; he found what he needed at Western Telephone.

Meanwhile Positron Industries, a large Montreal-based manufacturer of specialized phone equipment, was checking us out on the internet. As part of a "911" product development, Positron needed a 1A2 key service unit. WTT delivered their equipment early in July.

Two more telcos now know where to find serviceable technology.

The Back Page:

Long-time friend, investor and WTT shareholder Terence Foulds married Catherine McArthur of Markham June 21st. The ceremony and reception were attended by a five person WTT contingent who, needless to say, all had a good time.

Tuna, as Terence is known by his friends, first became acquainted with the WTT crowd in 1970, at the U of T campus radio station. He was in high school at the time, and soon began helping out at WTT during his spare time. On graduation he began employ with IBM, where he continues to work today.

During a crucial "expand or die" point in WTT history, Tuna was instru­mental in arranging an investment from his family. A few years later, he invested money of his own, and purchased shares in 1989.

Tuna and Cathy met at IBM. While employers have traditionally looked down on inter-employee marriages, IBM loves it. As Tuna quipped at the recep­tion, "now we can get our vacations at the same time!".

Well, not yet. The honeymoon was only a few days long due to the exigencies of work, but watch for a big motorcycle vacation to New Zealand in 1998.

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