One of my most vivid memories at C. Crane, was when I was very new. This was circa 1997. We were in the brown house over on 10th street for those of you who visited. This was a period when Art Bell was just starting to take off and each day Bob would share how many new stations picked up his show. To say things were busy for us would be an understatement.
On the far wall of the showroom (our retail location where folks could come in and purchase), we had what we affectionately called the “bank” – with shelves containing rows of cassette answering machines. Back then there wasn’t affordable digital storage or VOIP or anything like that. We were (are) a small company in a rural location so phone services weren’t readily available and were expensive. The internet was still in its infancy, so most people called to receive a catalog.
We had Panasonic cassette answering machines and those things were workhorses! I’m pretty sure there were 24 at one point because that’s the max lines we could have coming into the building. The only problem is they could only hold one cassette so we had the longest cassettes you could find at 110 minutes (there were 120 minute cassettes, but the tape was thin and would often break), and when there was a big show or ad coming up sometimes one of us would stay the night to flip or change out the tapes in the machines so we wouldn’t miss any messages. Yes, these were the days before auto reverse 😊. I remember telling my family I was staying the night at work to change the tapes and them looking completely incredulous. It was a wild ride.
We’d then have to find time to listen to the messages from the tapes and enter the catalog requests or take the message. We often had stacks of cassettes piled a foot high waiting to be transcribed. At times, we even had to hire additional help for this particular task. Some of the most memorable moments and hearty laughs in those days came from listening to the messages left by our customers.
I can’t tell you how motivated we were to find a digital solution. It’s so funny to reflect on this time since so much has changed. My kids only know what a cassette is because I’ve told them, or they’ve seen it in a movie. They’ve never actually used one. Answering machine storage can still be something that bites you though if you’re not paying attention. Even when we transitioned to VOIP, the service had limited storage, and our mailbox would fill up if we weren’t careful. It’s a lesson we’ve carried with us in all our phone-related purchases, as this issue seems to crop up at the most inconvenient times.
Indeed, times have certainly changed, and technology has come a long way since our answering machine days at C. Crane.
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