If you collected DC Comics, you are probably familiar with the many incarnations of Direct Currents. It has been used as a name over the years to cover many DC products.
It was used as a text feature in early comics, it would appear in ads, and probably most famously it was a free monthly newsletter that ran for over a half dozen years starting in the late eighties.
Another interesting turn that Direct Currents took was in November of 1976. That month, DC launched a Toll-Free number that would allow fans to call and hear pre-recorded messages from DC staff members about upcoming titles.
It was an overwhelming success, receiving 24,000 calls in its first month of operation. By March of 1977, they were getting close to 90,000 calls a month, which meant they had to add a second line, but the growth didn’t stop there.
For a free call try (800) 442-8108; and one thin dime will get you 757-9517 (the 800 numbers won’t work in all telephone districts).
So many kids were calling the number that it was interrupting regular phone service. It was a single line, and as you can see from the ad, they asked kids to call again when they got a busy signal. You can guess what happened.
Every day, after school, thousands of kids would get home and start calling, tying up telephone equipment in the hopes of hearing some tidbit they could share in the schoolyard the next day. It was enough of a problem that the phone company actually asked them to cease operations.
As the number of callers started to average over 100,000 per day, it was becoming apparent that this was unsustainable. So in August of 1977, the service was ended.
It was an interesting and often overlooked moment in comic book history. A time when technology and comics came together and the world witnessed the explosive potential of its fandom.
It was big enough news at the time that it was even covered in newspapers and magazines. Despite this, with some minor exceptions, it would take decades for mainstream media to realize the massive financial and culture-defining power of comics.
I have looked online trying to find recordings of these phone calls, but have not found any yet. If anyone knows of any, please let me know.