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Car phones helped get the job done in 1990

Why would anyone need a phone in their car? CBC's Venture asked a few of them.

Contractors and real estate agents paid hundreds of dollars each month to talk while driving

CBC's Venture asks car phone users how much they pay monthly for the privilege of talking while driving. 3:11

Why would anyone need a phone in their car?

CBC's business program Venture asked a range of people in 1990. 

"The worst drivers in the world are the guys that are holding the phone up to their ear," said a man in a striped shirt and tie who said he was a lawyer.

Wireless cellular service had been available in Canada for almost five years, but car phones weren't truly mobile in the same sense as the brick-like mobile phones of the era.

Rather, they involved a handset wired into the car and an antenna outside, usually on the back window.

But they were useful for people who spent a lot of time in their vehicles.

"I get a lot done on my way to and from the office," said a woman in business attire. 

And business seemed to be the main reason for everyone Venture talked to: a contractor, a sales agent, a travel industry professional, and a small business owner among them. 

'It's ridiculous'

"If I get lost, I can phone where I'm going and say 'here I am, how do I get there?'" said a car phone user of a benefit of the device. (Venture/CBC Archives)

For some, having a car phone was rare enough, and expensive enough, that it was a status symbol.

"Having a car phone means you've made something of yourself," said the contractor.

But not everyone agreed.

"Everybody's got 'em. Companies seem to buy them for everybody that works for them," said the lawyer.

And because the company paid the bill, there was no escaping the car phone.

"You can't get away, even if you want to," said a woman in the travel business. "That's the downside." (Venture/CBC Archives)

"Even if you turn it off, you've got to ... get your messages. They can reach you all the time," said the travel professional.

But it could also be used for personal reasons.

"I speak to my mother," said the woman in business attire.

"I'm phoning my friends to see if they're in their car," said the lawyer, who estimated that 70 per cent of his calls were "for pleasure."

"It's ridiculous. You don't need a phone in your car."

It didn't come cheap, either

"I could never go back to going without a car phone," said a devoted user. (Venture/CBC Archives)

Venture found a wide range of estimates for the monthly cost of keeping a phone in the car.

It ranged from $150 for the woman who spoke to her mother, to $350 for the lawyer who talked to his friends.

But the contractor had the biggest bill of all — $700 for 12 hours' worth of calls to clients and other contractors.

(In 2019 dollars, that range is $263 to $1,225.)

But whatever the cost, car phone users had come to regard the device as an essential part of life.

"It's like a dishwasher," said the lawyer. "Like, you don't know how you didn't have one before."