The Masses Reach Out and Page Everyone : Communications: Motorola, the largest beeper manufacturer, says the number of U.S. subscribers will increase to 50 million by 2000.

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An insistent sound from Allen Gordon’s waist identifies him as part of a new movement in American society.


It’s the pager on his belt, telling the 30-year-old shipping clerk a buddy wants to go out for a beer or his girlfriend wants him to come home.

He knows it’s not his boss because he doesn’t know Gordon’s pager number.

“If something goes wrong at work, they can call me at home,” he said.

Beepers aren’t just for business any more. The little clip-on radio receivers, once the badges of service workers and professionals on call, are now marketed as communication tools for the masses.


Motorola Inc., the largest manufacturer, predicts U.S. pager subscribers, currently about 19 million, will rise to 30 million by 1997 and 50 million by the year 2000.

Many people forced to carry beepers for work consider them a pain. Technocritics call them strangling electronic leashes. But those who get beepers mainly for personal use--about half of new subscribers, according to the Washington-based research firm Economic and Management Consultants Inc.--say their beepers set them free.

Their spreading popularity is partly due to a multimillion-dollar industry campaign promoting beepers as a way for busy people to stay in touch with friends and family.

“Motorola’s pagers answer everyone’s needs,” the company boasts in a pamphlet that lists 100 possible beeper uses. (“When the baby sitter needs to reach you when you’re out.” “The golf course can notify you when your tee time is ready.”)

Pagerman, a character in a Motorola comic-and-coloring book, tells readers: “Remember, kids--pagers are the best way to stay in touch with the people you love.”

Teen-agers and twentysomethings need no convincing. Colorful, affordable, available at malls and simple to operate, beepers are hip accouterments among the young. Marketers say people 35 or younger account for up to 80% of retail pager sales, a booming business that barely existed before 1991.


Part of beepers’ appeal for some is a gritty urban cachet derived from their use by drug dealers, an association the pager industry and parents detest.

Twenty-year-old Lila, who wouldn’t give her last name, said she’s on her third pager in two years. Her parents keep taking them away.

“My mother thinks it’s for drug dealers,” sighs Lila, who uses her beeper to communicate with friends.

While kids are prohibited from wearing pagers in many schools for the same reason, some districts concede their usefulness. The school board in Manassas, Va., banned them last fall but makes exceptions for emergencies such as a student with a critically ill parent.

Busch’s Seafood Restaurant in Delray Beach, Fla., is one of a growing number of eateries that hand pagers out to customers waiting for tables. Diners can visit nearby stores and still be reached when their tables are ready.

“They thought it was a little strange at first. Now they’re so common it’s not a novelty,” says Audra Branscombe, the restaurant’s secretary.


Waiters at La Casita restaurant in Milwaukee carry soundless vibrating pagers that tell them their orders are up.

Brian Marks, co-owner with his father, Al, of a chain of pager stores in Chicago-area malls, said a customer bought a pair of beepers for his 4-year-old twins so he could page them in from the back yard.

Patti Edstrom of Elk Grove, Calif., uses her pager to stay informed about the blood-sugar levels of her diabetic 4-year-old daughter. The baby-sitter relays any unusual readings to Edstrom at work.

Her story won the $1,000 grand prize in an industry-sponsored contest to find novel uses for beepers. Among the other entries: a man whose martial arts instructor sends him codes that tell him which exercises to practice, and a man who put a beeper on his dog’s collar to call the pooch home.

A basic pager is smaller than a cigarette pack and costs less than $100 plus a monthly service charge starting around $10. A caller dials the pager number and punches in his or her own phone number. The pager then beeps or silently vibrates and displays the phone number the wearer should call.

Costlier models display both words and numbers. Paging services also offer voice mail, which allows the caller to leave a recorded message that the pager subscriber can retrieve.


Shoppers face a dazzling array of pagers. Motorola, based in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, offers its Lifestyle Plus and Bravo Express units in a rainbow of colors like Bimini Blue, Totally Teal and Ultraviolet.

Users can choose plastic or leather holsters to protect their pagers and buy gold chains to secure them.

A Swatch wristwatch pager introduced in the United States this spring is selling phenomenally well, said Amy Edelson, a spokeswoman for the Swiss watchmaker.