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In the early days of 900 numbers in 1989, Advanced Telecom Services was a start-up company funded by 20-somethings with second mortgages on their first homes. So, there wasn’t a lot of extra money to go around.
The very first 900 number program that ATS did was a 900 number television commercial for CD rates. In 1989, CD’s were not something that you listened to music with, they were an investment for certificates of deposit. Back then, you could actually get a decent rate on your money at the bank, not like today when I receive 0.17% on my bank deposits.
“It soon became obvious, however, that we couldn’t survive too many failures when we were buying advertising,” said Bob Bentz, president of Advanced Telecom Services. “Plus, there was the problem of cash flow from guys that quite frankly didn’t have a lot of it.” Advertising required pre-payment and the return from AT&T on the 900 numbers did not happen until 30 days after the end of the month.
One night, the employees were looking at the newspaper for a win-win-win solution for everybody when they noticed the crossword puzzle. Why not offer a 900 number for people to cheat on the crossword puzzle rather than wait for the next day when the solution is printed in the newspaper?
The team took the concept to The New York Times and the other major daily newspapers in New York City. A few months later, all of the major New York newspapers had signed up for the crossword puzzle answer line and the concept of having a 900 number cheat line in the crossword puzzle became national and ultimately international when ATS took the same concept to its London office–an office that still thrives today.