My First Cell Phone

These days just about everyone has a cell phone and almost everyone who has a cell phone has a smartphone. I don’t know when you purchased your first cell phone but I got mine sometime in the mid to late 1980s and it was a “bag phone.” I don’t recall the brand but I had to drive to Dayton to purchase it and it worked on the Cingular network. I did a lot of weekend traveling back then and thought it would make things safer for me. While I never had to use it to get me out of trouble I did have occasions to call 911 for others.

The battery, antenna, and the phone were stored in a bag and to charge it you plugged it into your car’s cigarette plug. Not very portable but you could throw its strap over your shoulder and you were free…until the battery wore down.

It also wasn’t very affordable. If I recall one paid a fixed monthly fee plus so much per minute of use time. When you traveled outside your home area something called “roaming” kicked in and the per minute took a sizable leap. Running up a huge bill didn’t take any particular skill. The skill was in keeping it affordable. And, there was no texting, no Internet, and no social media. It was for one thing, and one thing only, making phone calls.

The one good thing about that era of cell phones was the distance a signal could travel. Unlike today’s phones, the first were analog and worked on a lower range of frequencies that traveled further, were less affected by buildings, walls, trees, and other obstructions. The quality of sound wasn’t as good but if you were driving through Dust Turd, Kentucky you could probably still make a call. Even better if you replaced the built-in antenna with an outside antenna mag-mounted to the roof of your vehicle.

If you had lots of money, as a Michigan friend of mine did, you could take the next step up and buy a completely self-contained handphone.  In the late ’80s, a Motorola Dynatac 8000X  was priced at “only” $3995. In today’s dollars that would be around $9,000. And, you still couldn’t text or surf the Internet!

I came across this YouTube video about early flip phones and thought it was a great fit for my article.

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