The BEEP Generation When trendiness calls, teens answer with pagers

March 22, 1993|By Daniel M. Amdur | Daniel M. Amdur,Contributing Writer Staff writer Sandra Crockett contributed to this article.

Both Anne Siejack and her 17-year-old daughter, Jacque, are busy people. So when they need to get in touch with each other, they reach for the phone -- and beep each other.

Pagers, while at times seen as symbols of the youth drug culture, have moved into the mainstream and are becoming the latest trend in teen telecommunications.

"Me being a teen-ager, I go out a lot and my mom works a lot," said Jacque, a senior at Dulaney High School. "My mom got it for me so she knows where I am."

For Anne Siejack, who owns a bar and package goods store, having her daughter carry a pager provides a little more peace of mind.

"Kids today have more freedom than they did 20 to 30 years ago," said Mrs. Siejack. "I feel if they're going to have that much freedom, then we should be able to get in touch with them."

"It's all the rage," said Marti DeMoss, a spokeswoman for PageNet, one of the largest paging companies in the industry. According to Ms. DeMoss, about 14 million people use pagers in this country.

"Is this a fad or is this really necessary? Everybody has to come to their own conclusion about that," Ms. DeMoss added.

Fad or not, Circuit City Product Manager Bob Wikes says there are a lot of kids purchasing pagers.

"It's pretty amazing how many high school students are buying them," he said. "You just look in any store and see who's hovering around the display."

Selling for between $69 and $159, pagers come in a rainbow of colors such as red, green, purple and even clear plastic.

"The industry has grown over the last five years by 20 percent a year," said Steve Weidner, general manager of Paging Network of Maryland, the local branch of PageNet. With more than 2 million pagers in operation throughout the country, PageNet is growing by leaps and bounds, he said.

"We get a lot of business during the summer from parents whose teen-age kids are going to the Eastern Shore," Mr. Weidner said. "[It's] so the parents can get a little bit of comfort from knowing where they are."

After the initial purchase of a pager, customers pay an average of $12 a month to paging companies to keep the beeper activated.

Here's how they work. The caller punches in the beeper number on a phone and hits the pound sign. The caller hears three short "beeps" and punches in the number to be called back. The caller then hangs up. The person being paged hears a "beep" or feels a vibration, then pushes a button. The telephone number appears on the beeper.

The operating range of the pagers depends on the company and on which options the customer buys, with some packages providing cross-country paging services.

Paying for a pager and monthly service can be expensive for students, but some parents are willing to pick up the tab.

Nikki Glicksman, a senior at Dulaney High School, has had a beeper four months -- since her father bought it for her.

"When we were kids, it wasn't the same world out there," said Nikki's father. Mr. Glicksman, who owns a pager himself, bought one for his daughter "to be able to reach her in emergency situations, or if she's out on a date and is late coming home."

While keeping tabs on his 17-year-old daughter may be dad's top priority, Nikki readily admits she is more concerned about her friends getting in touch with her than her parents.

"I don't have to worry about missing phone calls," she said.

"It's a convenience of life," said Peter Georgelakos, a senior at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville. "I could live without it, but it's so convenient, I love it."

The 18-year-old, who has had a pager for six months now, says he mostly uses it so that friends can keep up with him.

"It's pretty much a social thing," he said.

It's also still a drug thing.

"[Beepers are] part of all cultures now. They're part of the business culture, teens use them, but they're still part of the drug culture," Baltimore police spokesman Sam Ringgold says.

They're also not usually allowed in schools. According to the Maryland State Department of Education, it is illegal for students to carry beepers in school unless given special permission. Mary Albrittain, chief of the department's pupil services branch, says the beepers were banned because students were using them in school and disrupting classrooms.

The ban has been in effect for about three years, said Richard Scott, a guidance specialist with the state Department of Education.

According to state law, a student could be charged with a misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $2,500 or a sentence of six months' imprisonment, or both if caught with a beeper in school.

However, each jurisdiction is free to decide whether to charge or fine a student, Mr. Scott said.

Outside the classroom, though, owning a pager can be just plain fun.

For Megan Moran, a 16-year-old junior at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, sending messages with numbers is another way of communicating with friends.

"During the Super Bowl I made [a $5 bet], and when the [Buffalo] Bills were winning, my friends called and flashed 'Bills' across the screen," she said.

When Nikki is at work, her friends call her pager and type in 01134. Read it upside down, she said, and it says "Hello."

However, as Towson High School junior Tom Chism admits, sometimes pagers can be too much of a good thing.

"People tend not to wait for your phone call," said the 18-year-old. "So they'll call back every minute and beep me until I just turn it off."

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