1-900 numbers, also known as Premium-rate phone numbers, blossomed in 1980 through the early 1990s. Before the Internet, they were quite popular and used for everything from gambling advice to psychic premonitions, party chat lines and calls from your favorite celebrities or fictional characters. Sex lines were also rampant. The Federal Trade Commission had to create new rules to keep people from being scammed because calling these numbers could cost a lot per minute. Disclaimer text in the ads, the ability to contest billing errors and eventually the rule that you couldn’t advertise to children all had to be established. They disappeared very quickly once the Internet became more commonplace. But before that? Wow, there were some really crazy 1-900 numbers.
Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis
Oh, this is just kind of sad. This guy played the Grandpa on The Munsters and then sort of parlayed that into playing him forever. Hosting B-movies on local shows for the weekend or having his own 1-900 line. I don’t know what Grandpa Munster would have to share of any interest. I don’t think it’d be worth your time even if it were free.
Bill & Ted’s Rad Trivia Contest
This was a really long ad that played before the Bill & Ted movie. It starred Missy. Basically, you’d call in and answer two trivia questions about the movie. If you got them both right, you were entered into a random drawing to win cheap shit like t-shirts, Bill & Ted on VHS (which you may already have since you’re watching the ad), or… a VCR! Which you definitely had.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince Hotline
With Will Smith one of the most bankable movie stars on the planet it’s really hard to conceive of a time when he’d have needed the money from a 1-900 line. And he even created an original rap for the ad! I think they literally just played their songs with audio clips in between.
Freddy Kruger Deadtime Stories
This line was just poor Robert Englund telling spooooky pre-recorded stories in his Freddy voice. And Freddy makes a pun so bad the Crypt Keeper would cringe. He says he’ll tell you “scary bedtime stories. Heh heh heh. DEADtime stories!”
Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling Hotline
Remember G.L.O.W.? It was a campier version of pro wrestling with all female wrestlers. This hotline was sort of straddling the line between being a sex line. I assume many horny teenage boys were tricked into listening to pre-recorded crap.
The ad for this one is the cartoon characters promising to talk to YOU. What kid wouldn’t want that? And they tell you they’ll help you find out how to get a special action figure or poster. Yeah, I’m sure parents needed help figuring out how to buy more toys.
Hot Hints Video Game Tips
This commercial is so awkward. There’s a hard and obvious edit right before the kid on the couch says how much it costs to make the call. I can only assume the price changed and they just inserted the newly recorded price. Also? The animated superhero who appears out of the TV seems to jerk off and throw it in the air. Whether it was pre-recorded tips or an operator, I bet they kept people on the phone as long as possible.
Hulk Hogan Fan Line
If you had any doubt that Hulk Hogan was once insanely popular, look no further than Wikipedia’s claim that from 1991 through 1993, Hulk Hogan’s 1-900 number was the most profitable. WWF would talk about it constantly. It was just pre-recorded stuff, of course. No single human being can answer all those phone calls!
Little Monsters Hotline
No one remembers the Fred Savage movie Little Monsters, right? Well, whatever. It came out in the 80s but you’ll be able to tell because the ad is delivered as the most painful white guy rap the 80s churned out.
Wow, just by calling the number you could be told whether aliens were real or not. Mulder and Scully were wasting their time with all that research. Just call the number. Problem solved.
WrestleMania VIII Hotline
So this one was VERY specific. If you called in, you could listen to the promos the wrestlers had already cut against one another on TV in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 8. And then apparently they’d also include the results from the Pay Per View on the phone, too. What fan needed to hear the TV promos again or could afford the phone call but not the Pay Per View?
BONUS! Crying Hotline
This has no genre roots but just to show you how many 1-900 numbers were out there, this one was one you’d call and they’d make you cry!