Who remembers the Jam Line?

I was about 14 when I heard through the teenage jungle telegraph about something called “The Jam Line.” My friend and I dialed it and heard a loud busy signal with kids screaming in between the beeps.

“ARE THERE ANY CUTE 16 YEAR-OLD-BOYS OUT THERE?” I yelled into the abyss.

Some poor soul gave me his phone number.

For weeks, my friend and I called him relentlessly. Finally one day his mother picked up the phone and ordered us to stop calling the house.

That was the end of my Jam Line fascination, until earlier this year, it popped into my head and I posted a note on Facebook, asking who remembered it. Some friends shrieked in recognition, others were mystified.

What finally elevated the topic from a Facebook curiosity to an MPR feature was this discovery.

“Russell in Minnesota” had audio.

In radio, that’s golden. Audio = story.

I had to find Russell.

I used the tenacity I’d once shown as a 14-year old calling that Jam Line kid in finding Russell, the man who miraculously had tapes of the Twin Cities’ Jam Line.

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(Photo courtesy of Russell Jones)

I sleuthed around leaving messages with every rotary phone/audio geek/phone phreaking/weather spotting site I could think of until one day last summer, an email from Russell Jones floated into my inbox. Yes, he was willing to tell me everything about the Jam Line and introduce me to others who participated, and he’d share his recordings.

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(Russell Jones and his Jam Line archive. MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian)

Not only that, Russell had a poignant story to tell about how the Jam Line opened up a world of friends to a self-described lonely, geeky boy in the late 70s and even influenced his eventual career choice.

If you remember the Jam Line, I hope Russell’s story evokes some memories. And if this is the first you’ve heard of it, I hope you enjoy this foray into this almost-lost history of Minnesota teens.

Oh, and Russell told me my technique of asking for cute 16-year-old boys was the wrong approach.

“That would be a turnoff,” he said. “You’re just going to get a bunch of silent guys.”

Thanks, Russell, for the tapes and the story. The advice on boys comes 30 years too late.

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