Stylish telephone transmits more than anyone wants

SATURDAY'S HERO

August 07, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Around our house it was known as "the music phone." When you picked up this telephone and tried to talk to the person on the other end, you heard music.

The selections were somewhere between easy listening and soft rock. The other morning, when I picked up the phone, I heard: "Won't you come home Bill Bailey, won't you come home." On that particular day, the phone was in good voice. It belted out "Bill Bailey" in strong, clear tones.

On other occasions the phone has displayed a subdued style. One evening, for instance, when a phone solicitor was on the line, the phone sang, "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," in a quiet, background-music mode.

The trouble was, the phone was not a consistent performer. Sometimes it sang. Sometimes it didn't. And sometimes it spoke in faraway voices.

I listened to these faint voices, hoping they would pass along pearls of wisdom from another life. Instead they told of weekend carpet sales at a nearby mall. It turned out the voices were from a radio station. Somehow the phone had become an FM receiver and was playing the signals broadcast by the station.

That is what I figured out after talking with Jim, the guy at my office who knows about phones. I turned to Jim for advice after failing to find any tips in several home-repair manuals about fixing telephones. When I described the symptoms of the singing phone to Jim, he nodded knowingly and mentioned "the green wire." When the green wire is not hooked up correctly, a phone picks up "cross talk," he said. I attempted to nod knowingly, but I no idea what in the Alexander-Graham-Bell he was talking about.

And I didn't have a clue where to look. Sensing I was lost, Jim explained that the green wire was in the phone jack, a rectangular piece of plastic that serves as a junction for phone wires.

When I got home, I located the jack for the troubled phone and, as Jim had instructed, I unscrewed the jack's plastic cover and studied the positions of the multicolored wires, especially the green one. All the connections looked good. Nothing looked lost or loose.

Next, I took the cover off a phone jack that did not have the singing phone connected to it. I compared and contrasted the position of the wires in the two phone jacks. The last time I had "compared and contrasted" was back in high school English class. So it took me awhile to get back in the groove. When I did, I found there was plenty to compare, but nothing to contrast. The wires in both jacks were hooked up exactly the same way. I put the covers back on the phone jacks and tried another tactic.

I plugged the phone into jacks located throughout the house and then listened to determine what tunes, if any, the phone warbled. It sang in the kitchen, but stopped singing when it hit the family room.

The loss of voice turned out to be only temporary. Once it had warmed to the new surroundings, the phone not only sang in the family room, it picked up volume. Down in the kitchen, it sounded like Perry Como. Up in the family room, it was Ethel Merman.

That led me to think the problem was not in the phone-jack wiring, but instead was the wiring inside the phone.

The brochure that came with this phone had described it as "stylish," "modular" and "lightweight." I would describe it as cheap.

I surmised the phone probably began singing after it bounced off the floor. I remembered seeing the same thing happen to Donald Duck, in a cartoon.

I flipped the phone over and tried to open it up. I wanted to search its innards for the mysterious green wire that was knocked loose in the fall. But the phone wouldn't pry apart. Apparently it had been sealed shut on the assembly line, which, according to the label, was somewhere in Malaysia.

Since I couldn't fix the singing phone, I had to replace it. I drove out to a mall that specializes in marked-down products, and I bought two new phones, one for $30, one for $19.

I put the more expensive model in the kitchen, where phone use is high. I hid the cheaper model in a small office, away from the kids.

I think this new "lightweight" phone will work fine as long as it doesn't get knocked to the floor.

But if it takes a tumble and begins to sing, I have a contingency plan.

I have saved the old phone. And if two of them start singing, they could form a duet.

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