Ah 1998, the year of the “10-10-three numbers and save money on phone calls” era.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the time of celebrities telling us to dial and save money on long distance calls with discounts even our phone companies couldn’t promise. It was 1998, and these numbers were everywhere!

I remember the days of dialing “1-800 Collect” whenever I didn’t have a quarter and needed a ride home from school. My parents always made sure we had plenty of quarters – and later, phone cards – so we didn’t try to “save them money.” In reality, these services were costly, and yet, we used them not knowing this was the case. We were dumb kids, and commercials lured us in.

Celebrity sells, am I right?

As I’ve said twice already, we’re in the magical year of 1998 this week, dialing and saving with two different “dial around” numbers. Today, we’re focusing on 10-10-321.

In this commercial, we’ve got John Lithgow, then of 3rd Rock from the Sun, and Reginald VelJohnson, just coming off of Family Matters, going one-on-one in basketball, with a bet in place for the loser of the game.

Find out what that bet is, when you click play!

Paying the winner’s phone bill sounds like such a 1990s problem, doesn’t it?

Well, for Reginald VelJohnson, it isn’t, since he dials 10-10-321 before the phone number of his choosing and saves versus though AT&T. But it also saves John Lithgow some money! In fact, it saves…

So the winner’s phone bill – and even the loser’s bill – won’t be astronomical! All because both the winner and loser dialed 10-10-321!

But of course!

10-10-321 was established as a “dial-around” in May 1996 as 10-321. When carrier access codes were increased to seven digits, an extra “10” was added. The service, along with the other trendy “10-10” numbers of its time, were owned by Telecom USA, which was part of MCI, which is now part of Verizon. The service is known as an interexchange carrier, which allowed consumers to bypass their primary long distance carrier and use a different one.

10-10-321, with the extra “10” was re-launched on July 1, 1998. While these interexchange carriers were around long before this time, they were publicized heavily through multimedia advertising campaigns featuring a big selling point – celebrities!

Lithgow and VelJohnson were only two of several celebrities who touted the wares of interexchange carrier dialing heaven. Tony Danza, Harry Anderson, and Marla Gibbs – with Reginald VelJohnson! – told ordinary people how to dial and save!

I wonder if saving on long distance with dial-arounds counted as the fine and “time served” on Judge Stone’s courtroom…

My grandma actually did use these services, as back in the 1990s, as all of the phone calls she made were long distance. For instance, my family lived 40 minutes south, and calling even inside our county, from the northernmost part to the southernmost part, was considered long distance. Add in my relatives in Central New Jersey and her brother in Florida, and you have a hefty phone bill. I remember she kept the 10-10 numbers written on a slip of paper inside the really cool antique phone cabinet she had in her kitchen. I was sixteen years old at the time, so I never really thought of asking how much she saved with them. All knew was that she liked them and used them frequently in their heyday, so I guess it must have been substantial enough to justify their use.

The services still exist today, but their heyday of saving callers money was pretty much over by 2002, with rate increases of 80%. As of September 2019, using 10-10-321 means shelling out 30 cents for per minute for calls with the United States and its territories. The decline of landline use and increase in cell phone usage since the early 2000s, which don’t charge for long distance, has rendered the service antiquated. There hasn’t been advertising for dial-around service pretty much since then, since it isn’t exactly brag-worthy enough to advertise about.

Personally, I never actually used “10-10-Anything” (my calls were all local), but man, do I remember these commercials well. During my sophomore year of high school (1998-1999), they wound up on several videos and advertised very heavily on the shows I watched, especially during Saturday Night Live, since they had alumni in these commercials.

And speaking of Saturday Night Live alumni and these “10-10” commercials, boy do I have a Flashback Friday for you. It wants to save you money and use celebrities to sell phone service dial-arounds.

But, that’s a story for another day…like tomorrow!

Have a great Throwback Thursday!


  1. Fantastic post! I liked the 10-10-321 commercials whenever I was younger. My favorite 10-10-321 commercial is the one with Marla Gibbs and Reginald VelJohnson, who are in a fast food restaurant. Marla Gibbs uses the microphone to talk about 10-10-321. I thought it was a funny ad.

    Liked by 1 person

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