Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

All E.T. Really Needed Was a Pager

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

All E.T. Really Needed Was a Pager

Article excerpt

ONCE the province of doctors and bond traders, pagers have become indispensable to all kinds of people on the go, as much a home electronics necessity as the personal computer and the fax machine.

Pagers, or beepers, are now used by parents to keep in touch with roaming teen-agers or their own elderly parents, to allow baby sitters to get in touch with them in an emergency, to alert someone to pick up a forgotten item on a shopping list or to save money (by giving out the number for the pager instead of the cellular phone, which is more expensive to use).

Singles give out their pager numbers so they don't have to sit by the phone waiting for Ms. or Mr. Right to call. And hip restaurants use pagers as electronic leashes, giving them to diners who may want to take a walk while they wait for a table.

Pagers are simply an adaptable way to stay in touch - without wires. The industry estimates that half of the 3 million people who will become new pager subscribers this year are everyday consumers - not physicians or plumbers.

Because they're easy to use and affordable, 85 percent of the 27 million pagers in use are numeric, meaning they show numbers only. When the device pages you - by sounding a beep, playing a melody or silently vibrating, depending on how you set it - a number appears on a small one-line screen. This can be the phone number of someone who wants you to call or even a code containing a special message; for instance, many teen-agers assign a number to a meeting place.

Only about 15 percent of pagers in use are alpha-numeric, displaying one to four lines of text (letters and numbers). Although useful, they cost more and are more cumbersome because the message has to be sent through an operator or a computer.

In the old days, you had to go to an office supply store to buy a pager. But now any large consumer-electronics retailer like Radio Shack or The Wiz will clip a beeper to your belt, purse or backpack.

A standard numeric black beeper costs around $75 plus a monthly service charge of about $10 to $15. Alpha-numeric pagers cost about $125 plus a monthly service charge of about $25. The cost of either type can be much less if it's on sale or if you sign up for an extended period with a service provider. As with cellular phones, there are activation fees of $10 to $20, but the fees are often waived.

There was some fear in recent years in the paging industry that cellular phones would make beepers obsolete. This hasn't happened, mostly because pagers are now cheaper and provide a way to save money on cellular phone bills. Cellular phone users pay for incoming and outgoing calls.

If a call to a pager isn't important, the device can store the number in memory and then you can return the call from a less-expensive phone booth. The average monthly pager bill in 1994 was $13. …

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