The Universal Telephone Ring
Hollywood Lost and Found

Sound Effects

The Universal Telephone Ring

Another of the most often heard sound effects - especially in TV shows produced at Universal Studios during the '70s and '80s - is the sound of a telephone ringing.

This sound effect was especially made famous by opening every episode of "The Rockford Files," heard just before Jim Rockford's answering machine automatically picked up the phone.

Sound Designer Ben Burtt, in an interview with Bantha Tracks Newsletter in August of 1982, called Universal's telephone one of his least favorite sound effects. "No matter where the scene is, an office, an outside payphone, or deep in a cave - all Universal telephones will ring with the same 'tittle-little-little-ling.' I don't like it because it's so artificial."

Nevertheless, it was used endlessly on television (in such TV shows as "Leave it to Beaver," "The Six Million Dollar Man," "The Bionic Woman," "McCloud," "Quincy," "The A-Team" and "Magnum P.I.") and in many films as well (including "The Sting," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Tootsie," "Ghostbusters" and "WarGames").

Sound Editor Mark Mangini thinks it should be retired, especially since most copies of the sound have a "wow" distortion in them (occurring during the transfer of the sound when the speed of the recording was wobbling) - which is most obvious during the end reverberation. Regardless of this, Mangini most recently used the infamous phone ring in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” – a film which takes place in the '70s, when the sound effect was heard on television most often.

- Steve Lee
Updated 5 August 2004

Universal Phone Ring

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