I recently made a video about some weird phones I discovered that have PBX-style features without any PBX. As a supplement to that, today I posted a followup article here about the entire concept and everything I was able to discover about it.
As part of that writeup, I described the products of one Skutch Electronics (weirdass name) and it reminded me of another strange product line they had. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, and when I went to their website to see if I could get some pics and maybe write an article about it, I found it was gone, and the company is out of business.
You can go to their website via Internet Archive but it's missing a number of pictures, and the pictures are really essential for understanding how zany these products are; fortunately I found a reseller that still had a bunch of low res pics, so I'm just quickly whipping up this post so I can preserve them for posterity.
Skutch's business was in Music On Hold adapters. Normally MoH is a feature of PBX systems - since the PBX controls the phone line, when you put your extension on hold, the PBX is still holding the line, so it can patch any audio it likes into it, and that's where MoH came from. You just pipe in some sound to the PBX and away you go. But what if you don't have a PBX?
Your phone itself could provide MoH but I've honestly never seen a single POTS phone that did this, for some reason. Really not sure why, it seems trivial. You could attach something else to the line to inject the MoH, but in an analog phone system, there's no way to know when the line is on hold. The entire purpose of Hold is to make it look to the phone system like the line is still off hook, even though it isn't. So how do you solve it?
Skutch provided two genius solutions. I am using this term very very loosely.
Solution #1: Attach their device to your line. When you want to go on hold, dial a sequence - like #3. The device hears that sequence and starts playing MoH. When you pick the line up again, you dial a different sequence to shut the MoH off.
Problem: I mean. I mean. Come on. Do I really need to say it? The caller will hear loud touch tones in their ear every time you go on hold. You have to dial the right touch tones or you can't make the MoH stop. This is finicky, was probably not reliable, and is completely absurd to imagine.
Alright, let's do better:
Solution #2: Monitor the phone itself for hold status.
Problem: Phones don't have any kind of interface for communicating that information. How are you g-
If it's not clear - this is a custom circuit board that you fit over the line keys on a specific phone. It has photosensors which watch for the lines to light up. That's how it knows when you're on hold. By looking at the line status lights.
This is, to put it mildly, bonkers. It's completely unsustainable - you'd have to make a separate unique board for every single m-
The absolute madmen. They really did it. They just bought up whatever phones they could find at their local Cheap Phone Dealer (Radioshack, best buy, etc. I guess) and made custom PCBs for every one. Some of them are quite clever, shaped to avoid the screen or other buttons. Some let the actual hold lights shine through, and others cover them up but replicate them with their own LEDs on top.
All of them connect back to what I think is the same box:
It's just a project box with jacks on the back and a ribbon cable connector, and you're meant to set the phone on top of it.
I... I mean. I can't argue with it if it works, and I can see how it would probably work, but god, what a ghastly solution. It seems like it would be mighty fragile - I imagine dirt getting under the board, it getting knocked out of alignment, the connectors being flaky, etc etc. This is a level of hubris I am just astonished by.
These things are so wacky, I just might try to find one with a matching phone on eBay just so I can do a short video about it. The world needs to know!
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