My Profile in Singing Wires

CJ found TCI by researching telecommunications clubs and, fortunately for us, thought we looked like a perfect

match for his interests. We seemed like a great fit for him because, as he grew up, people had laughed and

dubbed him the Hank Hill of telecommunications.

As a teenager, CJ began his career working for a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) that started

business after the 1996 telecommunications act allowed for competition. They ran coaxial and copper lines for

quite a while before converting most of their plant to fiber-to-the-home. This for-profit company bounced

around through several owners and focused mostly on cash flow.

Next, CJ worked, until his early thirties, for an Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC) co-op. This member-

owned co-op was vested in its community and was determined to provide service for a long time. They had

operated copper lines since the 1950s, then added DSL Internet, and have since converted most of their plant to

fiber-to-the-home.

CJ found that many older people at both companies, those getting ready to take their NCTA (National

Cooperative Telecommunications Association) pensions, wanted to sell their collections. Since CJ wanted to

buy old phones, it was a win-win for his collection.

The staff at the co-op called their main office “the ranch” or “the compound.” It consisted of office buildings,

warehouses, garages, and the main central office. They dubbed the CO “the bunker” because it was housed in a

1960s building that had a second building built over the top of it for additional protection. An airplane or

tornado could have hit the outer building and the CO building inside would have remained standing.

CJ, a member of the CWA union, worked mostly in the office in tech-support administrative roles. He was the

primary person responsible for troubleshooting problems from the central office. He isolated problems, figured

them out, and tried to see if he could fix them with remote tools. If not, he’d reprovision the equipment to work

around the problem, then isolate the trouble down as far as possible. This gave technicians going on-site a lot of

information/knowledge about what they were looking for before they got there.

Because CJ also administrated the LIFELINE program that the FCC runs for subsidized telephone and internet

service, he’s quite familiar with FCC administrative paperwork.

Eventually, CJ saw the diminishing role of telephony, so he made the hard decision to give up his job at the co-

op. Leaving cost him his pension and the benefits of being a union member. But, since he’d worked on websites

since high school, he could see the future and moved full time into web hosting, domains, and web tech support.

To him, it’s still a facet of telecommunications, but just not the core infrastructure. Plus, he gets to work at

home and host websites for profit (and fun).

CJ got started phone collecting when his grandfather gave him an ITT Model 500 rotary phone. He has a

collection of various desk phones, all from the post-World War II era. He’s also the proud third owner of an

Automatic Electric rotary pay phone (Fig. 1). He bought it from the co-op’s CEO, who got it from his father,

who was the CEO of another independent phone company.

Ever the phone man, CJ volunteers every year at the Harper Telephone Museum (Fig. 2). It’s supported by a

few small Iowa telephone companies and is only open during the Iowa State Fair. While there, he explains the

museum’s fully functioning switch and large collection of other phones.

Figure 3 shows CJ (pre-COVID) demonstrating a payphone to students from the West Liberty Elementary

School in the main office of the co-op. The students were on a field trip to see what a telephone and internet

company office looked like. They live in West Liberty, Iowa, a town of about 3800 folks.