Before we really had the internet and podcasts as a limitless fount of information, the residents of my hometown had Cityline. I loved Cityline. It was a phone system done by the local newspaper where you used a directory to call and listen to information. It was updated regularly and had some great regional info and some fun syndicated content.
The earliest mention of it I could find was from this USA Today newsgroup post archived on MIT’s website from 1992:
SPOKANE BUYS CITYLINE SYSTEM: The Brite Voice Systems Inc. says it has sold a Cityline system to the Spokane (Wash.) Chronicle & Spokesman-Review. The system provides a variety of telephone information services to the Spokane market. Spokane Chronicle & Spokesman-Review serves Western Washington and Northern Idaho. It is owned by Cowles Publishing Co.
That’s pretty dry, but from my research was kind of a unique move on the part of the Spokesman-Review. And the Spokesman-Review used the heck out of it. Searching around in their archives you can find many articles that reference it. “Call Cityline to hear a song!” “What do you think? Call Cityline and leave us a message!” It’s all over the place.
Thanks to Google News and the Spokesman-Review, I can show you a clipping of what the Cityline Guide looked like. I think this eventually doubled in size.
As a kid, I know I called up and listened to the comedy recordings, which were usually a person doing a bit with a funny voice or a lame joke. Mr. Science’s World of the Really Amazing I remember checking out every week. The trivia games were good, too – you would answer by pressing a number on your phone. It was interactive in a basic way. There was choose your own adventure style stories later on, listed under the heading, “Adventure Stories”. I had forgotten that, but reading this reddit thread jogged my memory. There were also mini-soap operas, if my memory serves me. It updated the entertainment pieces weekly, so I can remember looking forward to dialing in and listening to the latest installment of my Cityline numbers.
Sometimes you’d end up stuck in one section of the phone tree and you’d have to hang up and try again. Sometimes you’d find a neglected number that hadn’t been updated in some time. There was also entering a random number, too, and seeing where it led you. I’m sure I tried to listen to all the extensions at one point.
And the voice of the main announcer… I can still remember it. I tried valiantly to find any recording of Cityline but they just don’t exist. The latest mention I can find of Cityline is from a Spokesman-Review article in 1998. Googling the number shows it was acquired by a local cinema, which is kind of a smart move when people are used to dialing it up for movie times.
I just told my husband I was blogging about this. “It was the thing I would call up on the phone when I was bored with no friends around.” He made a face. “It’s really dumb and dorky.” He agreed. But you know what? It kept me company. It was a formative part of my pre-teen years. I was informed and probably slightly obsessed with it.
RIP, Cityline. Thanks for the memories.