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The art of the dial: Why we like hotlines and phone calls with strangers

Israel Sebastian
Getty Images

Hotlines: whether you realize it or not, you’ve likely used one before. From emergency services to customer service and crisis lines, they often fly under the radar in our daily lives.

This hour, we’ll look at the history of hotlines and then meet some people who have created innovative ways to talk to strangers on the phone: from a hotline for advice from elementary schoolers to an app that calls you to talk.


  • Dr. Lee Humphreys: Professor of Communication at Cornell University
  • Jessica Martin: An artist who leads an art program for West Side Elementary in Healdsburg, California. She’s also the co-creator of the kids-advice hotline, Peptoc
  • Danielle Baskin: An artist who co-created Dialup, a voice-chat app that connects you to strangers
  • Michelle Rorong: An architect in Indonesia who wrote about her experience using Dialup during a COVID-19 quarantine period


  • Peptoc — 707-8PEPTOC
  • Butterball Turkey Talk-Line — 1-800-BUTTERBALL
  • Callin' Oates — 719-26-OATES

For the next two weeks, you can call the Colin McEnroe Show Hotline Hotline at 860-275-7214 to learn more facts about hotlines that didn't make it to the show!

Woman in the background of the image holds up her phone, displaying a video chat with another woman who's smiling and waving at the camera
Michelle Rorong
A portrait of Michelle and Joyce, a woman from the Philippines who she met on Dialup

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Colin McEnroe, Frankie Graziano, Sabrina Herrera, Jonathan McNicol, Cat Pastor, Lily Tyson, and Chion Wolf contributed to this show.

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Carolyn McCusker helps produce The Colin McEnroe Show. She loves making true radio stories and listening to fake ones. In the past, she’s worked for NPR and WNYC, and she’s glad to be back at CT Public after interning in 2019. Carolyn can be reached at cmccusker@ctpublic.org.