In Milwaukee History

Jane Barbe was the famous "time lady." Now the voices you hear are of John Lochridge and Bruce Robertson.

Here's why you can still call "the time" and "the weather"

Last week, we told you about a service that's been around forever – and still is around today. Yes, you can still call "the time" in Milwaukee – the phone number is (414) 844-1212 or (414) 844-1414 if you'd like to give it a spin.

After our story ran and the readers of OnMilwaukee called it a whole bunch of times (approximately 18 times per minute, actually), it alerted the man who runs the service, John Lochridge, in Dallas, to reach out.

Through his company, Commcierge Solutions Group LLC, the telecom engineer has purchased hundreds of the phone numbers across the country that provide this iconic service. A fan of nostalgia, he's taking pleasure in continuing to run and enhance these automated recordings.

We had a few questions while writing our first article, and of course, Lochridge knew the answers. For example, the 844 prefix was no coincidence, says Lochridge. Phone companies used that to protect their network during heavy traffic times, like after power outages.

In Milwaukee, Lochridge also owns (414) 936-1212, which spells WEather6-1212. The time service was operated by Wisconsin Bell and AT&T but discontinued in 2007, and he brought it back in June, 2014 (and weather in May, 2015).

Last month, the Milwaukee service received more than 20,000 calls – and 735,000 calls in the last four years. Statewide, his numbers received 62,000 calls in June, with the biggest volume coming from Kenosha, Marinette, Superior and Mosinee.

Lochridge uses a voiceover actor, Bruce Robertson of PTI Media in North Carolina, to provide the actual content. They're working together on developing an automated weather forecast, too.

It's an amazing story, really, and we had to know more. We caught up with Lochridge by phone (of course) to get the 411 on the 844.

OnMilwaukee: I was fascinated to find out that you can still call the time and the weather and Milwaukee because I remember doing that as a kid. I'm probably not the first person who's ever said that to you, right?

John Lochridge: No. I actually grew up with a service in Dallas. Interestingly, the same phone numbers in Milwaukee worked in Dallas.

How did you get into this?

I'm a telephone engineer, and in 2011 the service in Dallas that I grew up with, which was sponsored by a local bank, their equipment failed, and they chose to discontinue the service. And it took me a couple of years, but I took it on. I missed it, and I figured other people did, too. I've been having a fun time doing it. I've been doing this in other cities, and it's meaningful to people.

How many phone numbers and cities do you own?

Several hundred.

Tell me about the ads that run before the time is read.

It's sponsored. We didn't have sponsors initially. When I got Dallas going in January 2013, we had, without any advertising, over 50,000 calls in the first month. But these services would have generated hundreds of thousands of calls a month if not over a million calls a month not too many years ago.

So these services actually date back many decades, and the particular phone numbers also date back. They did some changes back in the early '70s, late '60s, with respect to the phone numbers, but 844 was commonly reserved in Bell System at territory 45. It has "TI," is what the first two digits spell.

How many ads are running right now?

I think we've got five or six total. Some of them air at different times and we've had others in the past. It was interesting, we had no ads for the first several years. So it was like going back to school to figure that out.

Do you have a sense of who is still using this?

Older people. I have a good friend who's blind that really appreciated having the service back. And he relies on it for time and weather information. Most people do find it difficult to install an app on their landline, for sure, and nothing is easier than a phone call.

That's true.

And as you can see from the response to your article, it is nostalgic for people. They like having it back at a time when so many things seem to be changing rapidly. It's nice to have some things that you remember that are still there and stay the same.

Did you develop the software?

Yes, we did. If you called Dallas, you'll hear a full forecast. So I'm wanting to do that in Milwaukee, and I hope to have that done here in the next few months before the end of the year. We're seeing a steady upward trend in Milwaukee: over 725,000 calls in Milwaukee. And interestingly, I also have that 936-1212, which used to be the weather. And we get about an equal amount of calls between the 414 number and the weather number in Milwaukee. So between the three phone numbers, in the last 30 days we did over 20,000 calls.

You don't necessarily know who's calling, though, right?

We don't do a whole lot with analytics because this is an older demographic. And so we're sensitive to the fact that they wouldn't be too excited about us doing the whole caller data.

Why do people like this service?

One person described their former time number as a little slice of Mayberry, which is kind of fun. People remember this from their childhood. Often the temperature recorded on time and temperature determines who got to sit in the front seat of the car on the way to school. There was a competition going on here. Or mom says if it's above a certain temperature, we can wear shorts or whatever.

It's meaningful to people, and when we were kids it was just kind of educational, if you think about it. You want to teach your kids how to dial the phone, and with this you learn how to dial a phone, how to tell the time and you learn a little something about the weather, and it's a safe number for people to call.

I think it's great.

I say it's a safe number, it's like, "Mom, can I use the phone?" Well, who are you going to call when you're a kid?

Are you making money on this business?

It is making money, and I think with any venture, you always probably hope for more than you do, but it's doing OK.

Is this your main business, or do you do other stuff, too?

Oh, I'm a telecom engineer and I support other companies, and this was a side business for me. It's becoming a main business. I really, really enjoy this. It's nice to be able to something like this that makes so many people happy.

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