Geek Trivia: Pagers Were First Developed To Assist Which Professionals?

An early advertisement for the first radio pagers made by Motorola

Answer: Doctors

Although pagers may call to mind 1980s businessmen and drug dealers for many, the origins of the once ubiquitous radio pager is within the medical community of New York City.

In the early 1950s, NYC-area doctors enlisted the aid of the Reevesound Company of Long Island City, NY to construct a remote notification system for the purpose of calling doctors back to the hospital in the event of an emergency. The system was a success, but was quite a bit more complicated to use than modern pagers. While modern pagers can receive alpha-numeric messages so that, at a minimum, you have a return phone number to call, early pagers involved a more complicated delivery route.

If a doctor needed to be recalled to the hospital using the 1950s model, the hospital would call a local station (operated by Telanswerphone, Inc.) and give them the name of the doctor they needed to contact. The station would then take a piece of movie film (the standard 16mm variety) encased in a plastic stick that had the doctor’s specific identification code imprinted on it. That piece of film would then be fed into a machine with a primitive scanner, which would read the identification code and then transmit it to the tower, which would then amplify it up to 25 miles around the base station. The doctor in question would turn on his radio receiver at least once per hour to listen for his number being broadcast. This would indicate that he was needed in some capacity and he would, in turn, phone back to his hospital or the transmitting station to receive a more specific notice.

The service cost $ 12 a month (equivalent to roughly $ 127 in today’s money) and was extremely popular with doctors, soon spreading to other professionals with time-sensitive jobs. By the mid-1950s, Motorola was mass producing radio pagers for the New York City region.

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