the most common dilemmas occurs when a phone line is dead or noisy, and you
don’t know if it’s the fault of your own phone equipment, or of the local
telephone company. If you call the phone company, and their technician
decides (rightfully or wrongfully or even lazily) that the trouble was
caused by a malfunction in your own equipment, you might get billed $75 for
a false alarm, and you still have the trouble you had before.
there’s a simple solution.
systems, particularly in small businesses and homes, connect to the phone
company at a demarcation point, also known as a “demark” or “network
interface,” that is not much more than a heavy-duty assembly of several
traditional “modular” telephone jacks.
should be labeled to indicate their phone numbers, and there’s a cord
plugged into each one that leads to your phone gear.
have trouble, simply go the interface, find the jack for the problem line,
and press the tab on the plug so you can temporarily remove it.
just plug in an ordinary analog phone. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.
It can be something that’s too ugly, dirty or bereft of features for your
daily uses. The only requirement is that you know it works.
test phone works properly when you plug it into the interface, you know the
phone company is providing proper service, and you have to complain to
whoever is responsible for maintaining your phone system (which could be
If, on the
other hand, your test phone sounds noisy, or you have no dial tone, or it
doesn’t ring when called, you have found the phone company guilty. You can
call them with confidence and not be intimidated.
(2) What do you do if the phone on your desk suddenly doesn’t let you hear
other people, or doesn’t let people hear you? The solution could cost $350,
$40, or $5.
You can probably find out without bringing in the expensive talent. Just
swap some pluggable parts with a phone that works. The trouble is either
with the base of the phone (maybe $350), the handset (probably under $40),
or the handset cord. Unless you smash your handset down when you hang it up,
or drop it on the floor a lot, the repair will probably cost you $5, or a
little bit more if you want a long cord. (We'll be glad to sell you
one or some.)
One of the biggest reasons for cord failure is the stretching that puts
so much pressure on the plug connections, that the cord separates from the
plug; so consider getting a longer cord, or a cordless phone, or a cordless
(3) What do you do if the phone is completely dead, with no lights, no
display, no ring and no voice?
Here, too, you might get lucky and have a five-buck solution. You might
just have to replace the line cord between your phone and the jack on the
If that doesn’t do it, swap your phone with another one that works. If
your “bad” phone is now a good phone, it’s time to call the phone system
fixer-upper, or get out your tools or computer. The trouble could be a
broken wire or a programming error, or something unplugged at the phone
system control unit.
If your bad phone is still misbehaving, you need to get the phone fixed
(4) We call this the electronic enema, so maybe I should have made it number
Anyway, if you have a Panasonic KX-TD phone system, and a phone is acting
weird, dial Intercom 790 to clean out the crap.
This is also a good method for turning off a message waiting light that's
on even though you don't have any voicemail messages waiting for you.
Other phone systems may have similar procedures.
||(5) If you can’t take a call off HOLD, there’s a good chance that someone
accidentally put the call on “exclusive hold,” and only the phone that put
the call on hold, can take it off hold.
In many phone systems, if you tap the HOLD button twice in rapid
succession (deliberately or by accident) you'll notice that the light does a
“double-wink,” and the call is on exclusive hold. It’s more often a PITA
than a useful feature.
If your phone system seems hopelessly messed-up, with weird light
patterns, strange sounds, non-functioning features, etc, shut it off for a
minute or two, then turn it back on.
There's a very good chance that the trouble will go away, without paying
a penny for repairs.
This also works for computers, cordless phones, appliances, calculators,
On the day I typed this paragraph, I used this method to restore operation
of the icemaker and water dispenser of a GE refrigerator. I probably saved
(6) Microprocessors can get confused, and
like human brains, they often work better after a rest. Lots of “defective”
products work perfectly by the time they arrive at the repair place. If the
malfunctioning machine uses batteries instead of AC, pop them out for a
little while. In a car, carefully disconnect a battery cable.
(7) If your phone system seems somewhat
confused, but not hopelessly messed up, perhaps with phones not ringing, or
the wrong phones ringing, or the voicemail system delivering the wrong
message, it’s possible that the phone system or voicemail system
accidentally went into “night mode,” which may have different parameters
selected. If it is daytime, make sure the equipment knows it. Also, if you
don’t want different patterns for day and night, program the same settings
for day and night so if the system is accidentally shifted into night mode,
it will still work as if it is day time.
(8) Traditional telephones with round
screw-on mouthpieces use “carbon granule” microphones that have not changed
much over 100 years. They are inexpensive and reliable, but they have one
In humid weather, they can
absorb moisture — just like salt or kitty litter — and the granules clump
together. The volume of your voice is reduced and both you and the other
person hear a tell-tale shooshing sound.
There's an easy FREE repair that anyone can do.
Just take the handset and whack it on a hard surface, like a desk or a
table, and the impact should separate the granules so you can have a normal
conversation until the next deluge. It's a good idea to protect the whacking
surface with a magazine so you don't damage the phone or the furniture.
(9) Companies that refurbish phones have
access to various specialized chemicals and machines for renewing cruddy old
phones. Amateurs don't have to make a major investment, because most people
already have two very effective
chemicals in their bathroom. Rubbing alcohol is almost a universal solvent,
very effective at cleaning off ink, label adhesive, and all kinds of goo
from phone bodies and handsets. It's also good for cleaning cords.
a good job at polishing out minor scratches and dull spots. You can apply it
with a toothbrush, rag, or fingertip. If you want to give your phone a good
shine, get out of the john and go to your garage, and get some car wax. Use
these chemicals sparingly, and don't get water into the phone guts.
(10) Alarm systems that call for help in case
of a burglary, robbery, fire or flood are often connected to a phone line
through a special RJ31X jack that allows them to “seize” the line when
needed. This ability allows the alarm system to interrupt a phone call in
progress to make a vital call to the alarm company or police; and also
prevents an intruder from picking up a phone and stopping the alarm system
from calling. When the alarm panel is plugged into the RJ31X, the phone line
passes through the jack, into the panel, back out to the jack, and then to
your phones. If you lose phone service on the line that your alarm system
uses, there’s a good chance that the alarm panel caused the problem. It’s
easy to check — just unplug the cord from the alarm jack. If phone service
comes back, call the company that maintains the alarm system.