12 (Non-Sexual) Uses for 900 Numbers in Decades Past

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iStock

The term "900 number" probably conjures up images of phone sex operators or, even worse, teen heartthrobs tricking young girls into running up their parents' phone bills. But during the 1980s and 1990s, the heyday of 900 numbers, callers could do all sorts of things simply by dialing 1-900 and having a charge added to their phone bills. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting examples.

1. ASK PRESIDENT CARTER A QUESTION

The very earliest 900 numbers weren't built around exorbitant per-minute charges; they only set callers back for their normal long-distance rates. In March 1977, callers could dial a special 900 number and ask President Jimmy Carter a question for a national radio broadcast moderated by Walter Cronkite.

2. DIAL-A-SHUTTLE


By NASA, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ever wonder what's going on during a space shuttle mission? During the 1980s, NASA ran a 900 number that filled you in. For $2 for the first minute and $.45 per additional minute, callers could listen in on mission status reports and any press conferences NASA held mid-flight. The number was originally created so journalists could listen to conversation between the shuttle and mission control. The hotline later became public, which made for a horrifying situation when thousands of callers heard the Challenger explosion in real time.

3. KILL OFF ROBIN

DC Comics found itself in an awkward spot in 1988 when Batman fans had become truly sick of Jason Todd, the second character to fill the role of Robin. DC didn't know what to do with the character, though, so the writers let the fans decide. At the end of Batman #427, the Joker brutally beat Robin and left him to die in an explosion. DC printed a 900 number in that issue and gave voters a 36-hour window to call and vote on whether the Boy Wonder should live or die. Fans killed off Robin by a 5343 to 5271 margin, which led to outcry among old-guard comic fans and writers. (Jason Todd later miraculously came back to life.)

4. SAVE LARRY THE LOBSTER

In 1983, Saturday Night Live ran a sketch in which Eddie Murphy held up "Larry the Lobster" and let viewers call a 900 number to decide whether or not he would boil the tasty crustacean. The voters apparently had a soft sport for Larry and narrowly voted to save him from the pot. (Murphy boiled the lobster anyway.)

5. FOLLOW D.J. JAZZY JEFF AND THE FRESH PRINCE

ctor Will Smith (R) and DJ Jazzy Jeff perform at 102.7 KIIS-FM's 8th Annual Wango Tango 2005 at Angel Stadium on May 14, 2005 in Anaheim, California
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, a.k.a. Will Smith, spent much of the late 1980s touring and recording albums, but they were also keeping busy with a 900 number. In 1989 the duo was pulling in over 100,000 calls a week to hear a series of daily two-minute messages about their wacky adventures. According to a 1989 report in The New York Times, the duo's annual income from their hotline alone was "well into six figures."

6. PICK YOUR PRESIDENT

During the 1980 presidential debate, NBC allowed viewers to call a 900 number to log their preference for Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan. The results were the same as in the actual election: The audience preferred Reagan. Actual pollsters were distressed about these widely reported results since the poll's sample wasn't randomly selected. In 1983, NBC's Nightline quit using the unscientific 900-number-driven polls.

7. LEARN THE FUTURE

If you were watching TV in the 1990s, it was tough to avoid Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends Network and its ubiquitous cheesy commercials. Although the Psychic Friends Network was a target for all sorts of parody and mockery, it also took in loads of cash; at its peak, the 900 number's annual gross was over $140 million [PDF]. However, bad luck, management blunders, and competition from the Miss Cleos of the world eventually drove the company into bankruptcy.

8. SCRIPT THE A-TEAM

How could NBC possibly improve on the perfection of The A-Team? By letting the viewers vote for an episode's ending. In November 1986 the show featured an episode in which Hannibal and the team brought a political-adviser-turned-felon played by Jeff Corey back to the States.

Throughout the episode, there were hints that the team's target may have been "Faceman" Peck's long-lost father. NBC then charged viewers 50 cents to call a 900 number that allowed them to vote on whether or not the show should include a revelation about Face's paternity. Viewers voted to have the political adviser be Face's father.

9. LISTEN TO JOSE CANSECO

Jose Canseco #33 of the Oakland Athletics runs between the bases during a 1988 MLB season game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

After Jose Canseco became baseball's first player to ever hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season en route to winning the 1988 AL MVP, he became an icon to sports fans and teenage girls alike. In 1989 Canseco debuted "DIAL JOSE," a 900 number on which he opined about everything from baseball to the trappings of fame. In its first two months of operation, the hotline raked in over $500,000, with Canseco reportedly pocketing a 75 percent cut of that revenue. The 900 number's administrators later told the press, "Jose was a great success with our usual target audience—14- to 18-year-old girls. They wanted to hear what he had to say."

10. LISTEN IN ON THE PIT CREW

In the early 1990s, open-wheel racing fans could listen in on the banter between Indy 500 drivers and their pit crews for $1.50 a minute. Since most of the discussion was full of highly technical jargon, the line also had a commentator that translated the lingo for the average fan. The Wall Street Journal commented, "The line delivers, but much of the chat is fuzzy."

11. TALK TO KITTY, THE FIRST LADY OF BASKETBALL

Phone sex and gambling tips obviously had big places in the 900 number landscape. Kitty, the First Lady of Basketball, managed to combine both worlds. For $3 a minute callers got sports betting advice from a sultry-voiced woman. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted in 1991, though, Kitty's real brilliance was that she stretched out her recordings so well; callers didn't actually receive any sexy betting advice until the 11-minute mark, at which point they were already $33 in the bag.

12. CHAT WITH ALL SORTS OF WRESTLERS

During the '80s and '90s, grappling skills were only part of what made a successful professional wrestler. The majority of the skill set apparently revolved around having your own 900 number. Hulk Hogan's 1-900-454-HULK was the top-grossing 900 number during the early '90s, and everyone from Mean Gene Okerlund to Captain Lou Albano had their own hotline for behind-the-scenes scoops and interviews. Here's Captain Lou shilling for his:

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The 10 States With the Most UFO Sightings

According to the data, cows in Texas have nothing to fear from aliens.
According to the data, cows in Texas have nothing to fear from aliens.

According to the National UFO Reporting Center, there have been more than 4000 UFO sightings so far in 2020—meaning that this year, we’re already well on our way to eclipsing the 5971 sightings reported in 2019.

If you want to increase your odds of seeing a UFO for yourself, you’re in luck. Using NUFORC data, SatelliteInternet.com took the total number of sightings from January 2019 to June 2020 and did the math to determine how many sightings there were per 100,000 people.

According to their calculations, Idaho is the state most likely to yield a UFO sighting, followed by Montana, New Hampshire, Maine, and New Mexico.

States With the Most UFO Sightings

  1. Idaho: 9.18 sightings per 100,000 people
  2. Montana: 9.17 sightings per 100,000 people
  3. New Hampshire: 7.87 sightings per 100,000 people
  4. Maine: 7.22 sightings per 100,000 people
  5. New Mexico: 6.2 sightings per 100,000 people
  6. Vermont: 6.09 sightings per 100,000 people
  7. Wyoming: 6.05 sightings per 100,000 people
  8. Hawaii: 5.16 sightings per 100,000 people
  9. Washington: 5.07 sightings per 100,000 people
  10. Connecticut: 4.94 sightings per 100,000 people

If you want to avoid UFOs, however, the data suggest you should head to Texas (1.29 sightings per 100,000 people), Louisiana (1.44 sightings per 100,000 people), New York (1.59 sightings per 100,000 people), Maryland (1.6 sightings per 100,000 people), or Illinois (1.84 sightings per 100,000 people).

For the full rankings, head here. And remember, a UFO is an Unidentified Flying Object, not necessarily aliens—but here’s some advice for what to do if you run into E.T., just in case.