Welcome to the MIT Dormline home page. Dormline was a telephone system at MIT used to connect student dormitory rooms. Dormline was unusual in a number of ways: it used antiquated step-by-step electromechanical equipment, yet it connected to modern exchanges (via DID and Centrex trunks), and it was completely run and maintained by MIT students. Dormline was started in the mid-60s and was dismantled in 1987 when MIT upgraded and unified its campus-wide telecom network by purchasing an AT&T 5ESS.
Dormline was also variously known as Dormphone and Dormitory Telephone Service (DTS). I was on the Dormline staff from 1983 through 1986. This page will serve as a memorial to the system and its employees.
Hear the voice of Dormline.
Dormline was served by two central offices in the basements of Ashdown House (serving the west campus dorms) and Walker Memorial (serving east campus). All dorms were connected to the COs via MIT-owned underground cables, except for Random Hall which used leased lines from New England Telephone. All switching equipment was Automatic Electric Strowger switches, mostly purchased used from various places, and much dating back to the 1920s. The various switch types included line switches, linefinders, first selectors, second selectors, and connectors.
In the late seventies, the Dormline system was connected to the outside world via fifty DID (direct inward dial) trunk lines. This allowed outside (off-campus) parties to direct-dial a dorm room by prepending a 225- prefix to the four-digit Dormline number. Because nobody had ever connected DID trunks to a step-by-step exchange before, Dormline staff had to design and install special interface circuitry to connect to the NE Telephone trunks. (From what I understand, this circuitry formed the basis for Greg Stathis' bachelors thesis.) The limitations of step-by-step also required that every incoming caller hear a message with those famous words, "This is MIT, collect and third party calls will not be accepted at this number."
Dormline was the occasional victim of student hacks. In one famous hack in 1982, the DID message was temporarily changed to, "This is MIT, where Sport Death has been censored by the dean's office. Collect and third party calls will not be accepted at this number." On another occasion in the early 80s, East Campus students found a way to dial another student and then apply 120VAC across the line. Because the step-by-step PBX provided a hardwire copper connection between the calling parties, this effectively caused the receiving party's phone to start combusting.
In 1985, I auditioned all my friends to become the new voice of Dormline, and Jenny Hyman '87 did the best job (she was also a part-time DJ at WMBR). Ross Snyder saved the original tape of the rerecording, which was the voice of Dormline from 1985 through the end in 1987.
After Dormline was shutdown, the Ashdown CO was converted to an Islamic prayer room and the Walker CO space was taken over by neighboring WMBR.
Dormline was a fun place to work, and the staff members were always willing to help each other learn to maintain the ancient equipment. Former staff would occasionally pass through to visit, and I got to meet many old-timers (often at odd times of day and night).
Of course, we're all old-timers now. Here is a list of Dormline staff that I know about/remember:
Write me at email@example.com with your Dormline memories!!
--Andy Stevens, 11/16/01
Back to Andy's Home Page