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The RECALL button on a phone

...and how to be able to Press RECALL even when your phone has no Recall button on it!


On a phone you sometimes see a button marked "R" or "Recall". On a modern pushbutton tone-dial phone it's usually there, and on pulse-dial phones it's sometimes there but not always. I've even see Recall as a pushbutton on the old dial phones.

The Recall button on a phone has various special functions which take place at the exchange. When you press R/Recall, it sends a signal to the exchange to access different modes of operation. It's a bit like the "2nd" function on a calculator or the CTRL key on a computer keyboard.

Notably at the time of writing this page, the Recall button is mentioned in How to Do 3-way Calls, but there are other purposes to which Recall can be used.

The reason for writing this page is because not every phone has a Recall button. So then what to you do? It's no good reading instructions which say "...and then you press the Recall button, and then..." etc when the phone has no recall button to be seen anywhere! It's not like the tone/pulse button which is usually hidden underneath the phone!

Well you could buy another phone, and I'd be happy to show you British Telecom's online phone shop and receive a modest commission for putting the good word in, but I'm also going to explain an alternative way of doing "Recall", without buying a phone, just by knowing the knack!

Recall buttons have been around a long time, and the technology is very basic. Pressing Recall has to send a signal to the phone exchange on old-style lines and without using any fancy digital stuff or even a special frequency beep. What it does in practice is to send a pulse of known length, a bit like a dash in Morse code. This is achieved by the phone effectively hanging up for a short interval. It's not long; less than a second, but the coded length of the pulse tells the exchange "a recall button has been pressed". Therefore, in theory, you can simulate this, even without the phone having a recall button, by hanging up for just the right length. You put your finger on the "hooks" briefly and let go, and the phone exchange is convinced you've pressed a recall button (which you have not got).

In theory is all very well, but what about in practice? Well, it takes practice! Give it a try and see if you can do it:

Pick up the phone and listen for the dial tone. Then, hold down the hooks of the receiver (or whatever modern equivalent your phone has). If this is very brief, a quick click, the exchange will take it as a "1", ie as if you have dialled a digit ONE on an old dial-up phone. If instead, it's a long hold, a few seconds, the exchange will take this as hanging up, and when you let go you'll hear the dial tone again. Inbetween these durations is the medium-length pulse of just under a second, which the exchange regards as "RECALL".

If you've ever played an electric music keyboard you can imagine holding a note for a particular length, and visualising this helps to get the phone "recall" trick perfected. There are some tunes which have the first note as the right length, and then it's just a matter of remembering it.

Another way to learn the length of a phone Recall pulse is to test it on a phone which already has a recall button. Trying it on this phone here it's... about half a second? So now I can do the same thing with the button that the receiver hangs on and get the same function. So now, when I'm on a basic phone with no recall button, I can do RECALL!

This type of trick has a certain finesse which will nodoubt appeal to followers of The Matrix and if you're wondering if there are other techie tricks and techniques like this, well, yes, loads! If you're wondering if it's legit fooling a phone system by means of a fish-noodling pinball googly, and if it's more akin to old style notions of getting free phone calls, don't worry, as no-one loses out just because you have the recall. It's no more harmful than knowing how to type odd symbols on the computer keyboard (Silver Lamé Motörhead 2˝ pints of Nescafé etc).

Also relevant to this style: the noble art of computer programming, other phone tricks, how to hide your email address, how to hypnotise a chicken, etc. Plus, even more of these on the section of Advice. (Makes you wonder why no-one's told DIGG about these pages?!)