Callin' Oates: The Hotline You Don't Need (But Might Call Anyway)

Play associated audio

Is it pure whimsy that makes something like "Callin' Oates" appealing?

If you pick up your phone and call 719-26-OATES — at least as of this writing — you'll get a computerized woman's voice telling you what numbers to press to hear one of four Hall & Oates songs.

The question, of course, is ... why?

In the age of Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, why would you pick up your phone to listen to a tinny rendition of "Private Eyes," like you're on hold with customer service? It's hard to imagine why this would be an appealing way to listen to anything, unless you were trapped at the bottom of a well. And you had access to a phone. And despite being trapped at the bottom of a well, your biggest priority was listening to "Private Eyes." Let's agree that valuing this hotline for its sheer utility requires a fairly elaborate scenario to be devised.

So obviously, it's not the music. It's the idea. It's the idea that if you pick up your phone and dial a number, a robot lady plays Hall & Oates music on command. People like making things happen and the weirder, the better. It's a Jack-In-The-Box for adults (and semi-adults). You press the button and something happens that you don't need to happen at all. A recent Wired article about a game called Cow Clicker might be instructive: the makers of that game managed to make a success out of what was originally meant to be a satire of social media trifles — it involved clicking on a cow for the pure sake of clicking on a cow.

As the hotline's developer told the Atlantic Wire, Callin' Oates started as a demonstration project for his communications job at Twilio, a company that ... basically makes applications that do things like this, although presumably, it can make ones that are somewhat more utilitarian. The guy created it, he got it retweeted by a New York Times tech columnist, and there you go. Presumably, Callin' Oates doesn't have an extraordinarily long shelf life (though it does have its own Twitter account), since there's only so much time you can spend on the phone listening to "Rich Girl."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


High Glamour Infuses A Forbidden Love Affair In 'Carol'

Todd Haynes' new film chronicles a lesbian affair between a middle-aged married woman and a young store clerk. Critic David Edelstein says Carol captures the thrill of a once-forbidden subculture.

Some Ancient Farmers Grew Fava Beans Before They Grew Grains

The fava bean is a key staple in much of the world. Researchers say they've found fava beans in the Galilee region of Israel dating over 10,000 years ago — before grains had been domesticated there.

Caught Between A Turkey Leg And A Political Diatribe? We're Here To Help

Nobody wants a side of politics on his or her Thanksgiving table, but it's probably going to happen. Here's some advice to get you through — you may need to buy a duck quacker, though.

From Takeout To Breakups: Apps Can Deliver Anything, For A Price

Convenience is at an all-time premium — and a lot of smartphone apps promise to make many of the things we do every day easier. In a time-crunch or sheer laziness, how far will the apps take us?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.