What the world needs now is a revival of 1-900-9099-CRY

Back in 2021, Popkin here at Boing Boing brought you a wonderful compilation of some bizarre commercials for 1-900 numbers from the 1980s and 1990s. My favorite is, of course, the commercial for 1-900-9099-CRY, which a user on YouTube called "the weirdest commercial I've ever seen." In between shots of random people with very 80s fashion and hairstyles, a soft woman's voice asks, "What makes people from all across America break down and cry like this?" She then says, "Call 1-900-9099 cry and hear it for yourself. Two dollars for the first minute, 45 cents each additional minute." 

I remember seeing these commercials, but I never called because my parents would not have been thrilled to see those charges showing up on our phone bill. In a 9-minute-long explainer video from last year, "edutainer" Phil Edwards explains that the 1-900-CRY line was a "sad confessions line" where you could call and hear a sad story and even leave one yourself. In a blog post from 2016, Retroist states that they've only found one person with some memory of the hotline. They explain:

YouTube Commenter Paul K said: "When I was younger I called this, it is just prerecorded calls where people describe sad stories, when I called a girl was talking about how her husband died in a motorcycle accident, me and my friends were like this is stupid lol."

Phil Edwards' short video, "How 1-900 became one of America's weirdest hotlines," explains that the numbers, which spanned a wide variety of topics and interests including psychics, talking dogs, sex, relationships, games, celebrities, contests, horoscopes, recipes, UFO conspiracy theories, and, yes, emotions like crying, laughing and more, really took off in 1985 because of two factors: payments and platform. Charges for 900 numbers side-stepped credit card payments and went directly to your phone bill, which streamlined the revenue process. Additionally, in 1985, the phone company AT&T began distributing payments to 1-900 phone operators, which set up a revenue share (initially $1.35 out of the first $2.00), and created a viable platform for the service. The numbers had quite a run until the early 1990s when they became more regulated and were required to state the high costs upfront more clearly. Of course, a few years later the Internet and the World Wide Web eclipsed the wacky world of 1-900 numbers and the rest, they say, is history.

If you want a deeper dive into 1-900 numbers, ten years ago, the amazing folks at the "Oddity Archive" did a two-part series on 1-900 numbers. Here's Part One, and Part Two.

Enjoy! Now, I'm gonna go have a good cry!