Before the cellphone was the payphone, and Brendan Fahey watched the rise and fall

·2 min read
Payphones may be less noticeable in daily life, but some still exist in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Shannon Reardon/Twitter - image credit)
Payphones may be less noticeable in daily life, but some still exist in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Shannon Reardon/Twitter - image credit)
Shannon Reardon/Twitter
Shannon Reardon/Twitter

Remember the payphone?

It was once the lifeline to staying connected while out of the house, with large rows of them found inside shopping malls, hotels and airports, while others had their own booths on busy city streets.

They still exist, of course, but to a smaller degree, leaving the safety net in place as a precaution if the cellphone dies.

Brendan Fahey, the former president of Newtel Mobility — now known as Bell Mobility — told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning the slow demise of payphones began in the late 1980s when cellphones began to hit the market in North America.

"It didn't have much effect on the payphone at first, or the pay booth, but by the late 90s payphones in North America had reached their peak and started to drop off," Fahey said.

"Some of the reason, beside the personal use cellphones, was smartphones, the invent of texting, wifi services, Twitter services, Facebook, making it easier for folks to communicate and the public phone to be ignored."

Fahey said payphones were great revenue generators, though there was a lot of maintenance required.

He said as use became less, the business case wasn't there to continue on.

Vandalism also posed a problem before the existence of phone cards, with thieves targeting phones operated by coins to collect the stash inside, said Fahey.

Sightings across N.L.

Fahey has been retired for 20 years, but said there's hardly any phone booths left on the streets in N.L. today. He said the payphones of yesteryear had a lot of "personality."

"The old phone booth has pretty well disappeared," he said.

Fahey said they will likely continue to live on as collector items in basements and sheds, adding that many former employees of Newtel Mobility likely have one in their home.

Fahey said he did own one at one point, but after moving to a condominium decided it was time to part with it. He said it likely sits in his son's storage locker.

Although they may not be quite so noticed in daily life anymore, on Twitter the public gave good tips on where to find remaining, and working, payphones in N.L.

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