In 1981, California-based power pop band Tommy Tutone released the enduring one-hit wonder–“867-5309/Jenny.” In addition to topping Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, “Jenny” enumerated the single most famous phone number in radio history.
According to songwriters Jim Keller and Alex Call, both the number and the titular protagonist were fictional.
But some pop songs have real-world consequences. And so it was for those who owned this previously anonymous phone number.
This is their story:
Lorene Burns from Lakeland, Alabama—205-867-5309
According to a 1982 article from the Lakeland Ledger, Lorene Burns owned 205-867-5309. Suddenly, in May of 1982, strangers began inundating Ms. Burns with calls.
Most callers professed to be in search of a good time.
Burns reported that calls would begin just after school hours on most days. Then, the phone would ring well into the middle of the night.
“When we’d first get calls at 2 or 3 in the morning, my husband would answer the phone. He can’t hear too well. They’d ask for Jenny, and he’d say ‘Jimmy doesn’t live here any more.’”
After receiving 2 to 3 dozen calls a day, the Burns family disconnected their old number. But as of late ’82, Lorene Burns was still mad as hell about the ordeal.
Quoth Lorene, “Tommy Tutone was the one who had the record. I’d like to get hold of his neck and choke him.”
Charles and Maurine Shambarger from West Akron, Ohio—216-867-5309
The phone calls began with a trickle in late 1981 as Tommy Tutone’s song began to pick up steam on the West Coast. By the time it had cracked the national Top 40 in early ‘82, Charles and Maurine Shambarger were drowning in phone calls.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, the Shambargers hadn’t heard the song, so they couldn’t understand why callers were obsessed with finding Jenny. They called the phone company in hopes of tracing the prank callers. Ohio Bell hadn’t heard the song either. They explained to the Shambargers that “We don’t know what to make of this. The calls are coming from all over the place.”
The Shambargers only learned the reason for their plight from one of their daily callers. An empathetic 2AM drunk-dialer said, “Man, I feel sorry for you. Your phone number is on the radio all the time.”
The Shambargers gave up and disconnected the number. They returned to a quiet life of anonymity.
Principal Johnny Whitesides from Gastonia, North Carolina—704-867-5309
In the spring of 1982, Gastonia, N.C., Southwest Junior High School Principal Johnny Whitesides struggled to comprehend the reason his school’s unlisted number was suddenly receiving as many as 200 calls a day, from all over the country.
Unlike Lorene Burns and the Shambargers, Johnny Whitesides was actually compensated for his troubles. After learning of the song’s existence, Whitesides managed to get in touch with the Tutone team.
With the support of local WROQ radio in Charlotte and Columbia Records, Tommy Tutone actually sponsored a dance for the Southwest student body.
Anonymous Woman from Chicago, Illinois—312-867-5309
As “Jenny” reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May of ’82, a woman in Chicago gladly relinquished her number to the local WLS radio station.
Their phone began ringing off the hook the minute their new number went live. By their own report, WLS logged 22,000 calls in just four days.
Presumably, the line became too hot to handle even for WLS. Today, when you call the Chicago number, you’ll hear a prerecorded message inviting you to rent the “Jenny Line.”
Jeffrey Steinberg from Philadelphia PA—800/888-867-5309
At one point, a Philadelphia-based business owner named Jeffery Steinberg owned both toll-free versions of the number. He had acquired the numbers in the early ‘90s as part of a pizza delivery promotion, but ultimately rented the numbers out to interested companies and campaigns.
In his estimation, as of 2004, the numbers were worth millions. At the time, Steinberg claimed to have rejected a $1 million offer for his number from a national weight loss company.
That said, calling the 1-800 number today reveals a disconnected line.
The 1-888 number leads to a vague automated menu with a not altogether clear raison d’être. No mention of Jenny is made.
Jenny Don’t Change Your Number
In fact, quite a few would-be Jennys disconnected in the immediate aftermath of Tommy Tutone’s MTV-era smash.
By 1983, 97 of 106 owners had unplugged from the suddenly famous phone number.
That said, there are no rules against assigning the number today. Snopes reported in the early 2000s that the number was intentionally unassigned in many area codes, but that at least a dozen or more were still active. That number is likely lower today.
In fact, it’s scarce enough that holders of the number have occasionally attempted to auction the famous digits on eBay. It turns out that you technically don’t own your phone number—the phone company does. So while you can’t sell it, you can sell a business attached to the number.
But in reality, the vast majority of area codes lead to dead ends. Jenny has indeed changed her number.
On the other hand, if you live in the Minneapolis metro area (312) and you’d like to enlist the “legends at Paul Bunyan Plumbing and Drains” for your frozen pipe repair needs, the number is easy to remember.
Songs about phones…