I’ve been speaking about context quite a bit recently. This isn’t so much Japan-related context as just old-guy context.
Back in the before times, we only had landline telephones. Miniature portable telephones were purely the realm of the Sunday funny papers, Dick Tracy to be specific.
[ All of those things: landlines, dead-tree newspapers, Sunday funnies, and Dick Tracy, probably seem as quaint and ancient to my kids as literal ice boxes and hand-crank car engines do to me.]
There was no voicemail. If someone called you while you were using the phone, they’d hear a busy signal. This wasn’t that long ago, and landline telephones are still around, but I wonder if kids today even know what a busy signal sounds like!
Further, many if not most of our clocks didn’t keep accurate time: they ran slightly slow or fast. We’d set our clocks periodically by calling up the time service to find out what time it was exactly. [As an aside, you might wonder how the phone service knew the time: in the US, they mostly depended on a radio signals from WWV and WWVH that were broadcast by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in
Boulder Fort Collins, Colorado. You can still tune in to those stations today.]
Anyway, I think this is the story of someone who received a call from someone they didn’t wish to speak to again for a while, so they called up the time service to tie up their line. That way, the caller would hear a busy signal after redialing and think the author was talking to someone else on the phone.
The main question is: why not just leave the phone off the hook? (Geez, even that phrase is an anachronism — kids these days may not even realize there used to be physical hooks for the corded handset that let the phone system know when the phone was in use!)
I suspect the reason is the same as it was in the US: if you left the phone off the hook for more than a few seconds without a call being connected, it would start blaring out an annoying horn sound (“DEET DEET DEET DEET DEET”) to alert you that you hadn’t “hung up” properly. By calling the time service, the speaker in the handset would only emit the time announcements at a normal volume level that couldn’t be heard without holding the handset up to your ear.
Honestly, I just picked this one completely at random without even really looking at it yesterday. Geez I wish I’d picked a different one, though!
While I’m sure many or most here know all of the above, it may be be new information to some of the younger folks. It’s really making me feel ancient two days after turning 60!