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Need to know the time or temp? There's (still) a phone number for that

man at a desk with weather paraphernalia holds a phone handset to his ear
Keith Allen
Keith Allen records forecasts from his home in suburban Washington D.C.

Long before smartphones made finding out the time or temperature as easy as glancing at your screen, you could pick up your landline and call a time and weather line.

There were numbers all across the country. A lot ended in 1010 or 1212, and they were operated by businesses, banks, companies, even — and this one is kind of obvious — the National Weather Service.

The concept may seem outdated, but the service still exists.

Why? Who operates them? And frankly, who's still calling them?

"That's like one of the first phone numbers we learned as a kid," remembers Duane Moore of Hamilton. "It was my parent's house [number], my grandparent's house, (and) time and temperature, not necessarily in that order. I think I learned time and temperature first, and still know it to this day."

Moore says it was just like that in the '70s, when he was a kid, but Lauren Bruce with ClearlyIP says the service dates back even further. She's worked with weather lines for 15 years.

"The weather lines have actually been around for generations," she explains. "They were started back in the 'Ma Bell' days for people to be able to call at any point in time if they needed to know, not only just the time, but also what the weather was going to be every day."

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Bruce says people used them like crazy, especially in the 1990s. Once the internet, streaming and mobile phones came along, their popularity started to wane. However, Bruce says, there are still millions of calls annually to the lines ClearlyIP operates, especially in Ohio.

In Cincinnati, nearly 2,000 people called (513) 241-1010 on a single day last year. Altafiber, which took over the (513) 721-1700 line, reports it got more than 701,000 calls last year. LCNB National Bank didn't return requests for comment, but it operates two time and temperature numbers locally.

Bruce says her company surveyed callers a few years ago, and while many were older, they weren't the only ones calling.

"A large percentage of our callers actually clicked that they were in the 30 to 35, and then the 35 to 40, and the 40 to 45 age group."

Bruce says they don't fully know why the weather line is so popular with this Millennial/Gen X crowd, but nostalgia seems pretty likely. Anecdotally, I've heard about people handing out the weather line when asked for their phone number, like in a bar or when filling out random forms.

The National Weather Service in Wilmington told me it gets a lot of calls from the Amish community.

Bruce says a woman in Cleveland told them she called because she couldn't read the clock from her chair in a nursing home and she was hungry.

"She said if she didn't tell the nurses that she wanted a snack at snack time, she wouldn't get a snack. So, she would call kind of obsessively just to find out the time so she knew when to ask for a snack," laughs Bruce.

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The ClearlyIP weather lines are so popular in Ohio, the company employs a real person — not an AI-generated voice — to record the forecasts.

Locally, that person was TV and radio personality Pat Barry. He operated and provided forecasts on 513-241-1010 for many years. After his death in 2021, a new voice took over.

The man behind the voice

His name is Keith Allen. He's 82, and lives in suburban Washington, D.C. He does forecasts for eight cities in Ohio and more than a dozen more in other states.

"The product that I put out, I'm very proud of, and I want it to be accurate because people plan their lives, hearing my voice. They plan their days on what to wear. If the weather is inclement, if there's dangerous weather — ice, snow — people are going to be more cautious."

Allen is quick to point out he's not a meteorologist. He's just obsessed with weather and has studied it nearly every day of his adult life. He caught the bug from an upstart DJ he met after winning a church raffle to visit the local radio station.

"He asked me if I'd like to read the forecast. I was afraid; I didn't want to do it. I told him 'No, no, no. I'm not gonna do that.' " But with a little persuading and encouragement, he did.

"The disc jockey kept encouraging me. He said, 'You're going to be fine. I'm going to be right here with you. You'll be great,' and I was! From that moment on, I was hooked."

a man in a suit has a big smile while standing in front of an orange background
Evan Agostini
Former "Today" show weatherman Willard Scott attends the "Today" show 60th anniversary celebration at the Edison Ballroom on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 in New York. Scott died in 2021.

That young disc jockey? It was none other than Willard Scott, who would go on to become one of the best known weather forecasters in the United States with NBC's Today Show.

Allen gets raw data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and has spent time learning about different weather patterns and peculiarities in each city he covers. He even sometimes uses online traffic cameras to see how things are looking.

RELATED: 5 takeaways for Ohio from the National Climate Assessment

"Before you had the traffic cameras, if I was uncertain about the weather in a certain city, what I would do is I would just call a number at random in those cities. And [when someone answered], I would tell them 'Well, I'm sorry, I've got the wrong number. By the way, how's the weather there in Cincinnati?' "

Allen employs a few other forecasters to help him cover all the cities he provides weather forecasts for, but he's always on the job. If there's bad or dangerous weather in a city, he may update the recording several times a day. He's never taken a vacation, and he doesn't make very much for his services.

When you talk about a labor of love, this isn't a job, it's a calling.

"I want people to trust me," he says. "I want people to know that when they call me, they're getting the most up to date and most timely product that they can get."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.