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TV Ad For Toll Call To Santa Outrages Parents

December 2, 1988

SEATTLE (AP) _ The switchboard at a Seattle TV station lit up like a Christmas tree after children were urged to hold a phone near the television for the tone-activated dialing of a toll call to Santa Claus, station officials said.

KTZZ program director Dan Lutgen said angry parents began calling Thursday afternoon about 10 minutes into a half-hour advertisement called ″Here Comes Santa,″ produced locally by a firm called Phone Quest.

The ad, including a story line and Christmas music, offered children a chance to talk with Santa Claus for $2 for the first minute and 30 cents a minute thereafter.

Reproducing the sounds used by tone-activated phones, the ad could ″dial″ a telephone if its handset was held up to the TV speaker.

The ad was edited at the independent station, but was not prescreened by station officials, Lutgen said. Once the complaints began pouring in, he said, he ordered that the words ″ask your parents″ be shown continuously on the screen.

Under the station’s contract with the production company, Phone Quest must reimburse parents for calls made without their permission, Lutgen said.

Phone Quest audio development director Vaughan McKelvy said he was concerned about the ″auto phone″ device when he worked on the ad, realizing that ″some people would be upset about it.″

McKelvy said he didn’t know how many other stations agreed to broadcast the paid program.

Nancy Bernstrom of US West, the local phone company, said she could not release figures on the number of calls placed during the program.

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