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What is a Pager?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pagers are one of the simplest telecommunication devices in use today. Used primarily for short messages, the pager is often utilized by a number of professionals in various disciplines. Prior to the widespread use of cell phones, personal pagers tended to be the main technology used to make quick one way and two way communications when a phone call to a land line was not possible. Even with the popularity of cell phones today, many businesses still consider the pager to be a viable form of communication.

The concept of paging was first introduced in the 1950’s. At the time, the main function for pagers was to reach healthcare personnel in the event of an emergency. The basic premise for the portable pagers was built on the use of internal paging systems that were common in hospitals of the day. Use of the portable device made it possible to reach a doctor when he or she was outside the facility and could not be contacted with the use of a telephone.

From this simple beginning, the pager continued to advance. While the first pagers had a rather limited range, advances in telephony and related technologies made it possible for the pager to receive a signal from fifty to a hundred miles away. As the device became more user friendly, use of the pager began to spread to professions other than healthcare. By the 1980’s, everyone from attorneys to security guards were carrying pagers.

While the original technology of the pager allowed for only one way paging, later developments made it possible for individuals to respond with a short message. The two way pager proved to be helpful in several ways, since it allowed the receiver to acknowledge the sender immediately. The receiver could also ask a short clarifying question and get a response, or refer the sender to another source if necessary. Two way pagers continue to be very popular today for many persons who are on call after normal business hours.

Pagers vary in their levels of capability. Some are set to only send and receive numeric pages. This, the sender may page a receiver with a phone number to call. Other types of pagers allow alphanumeric communications. This would allow the sender to transmit a phone number to a receiver, who could then acknowledge the transmission using a word or two. In some cases, the alphanumeric pager of today has some ability to receive a text message as well as a quick page.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By geekish — On Sep 01, 2011

Some of my friends had pagers in high school and they were great, for both them, us, and for their parents. This allowed us to keep in touch and their parents to know where they are at all times (because if they did not answer a page within a certain amount of time some of them had strict enough rules that punishments such as grounding ensued for rule violations).

We also started to have pager language - like I remember 143 meant "I love you" because the number of letters in each of the words matched the numbers used.

I say we started to have our own pager language because shortly after my friends received their pagers, it seemed cell phones began to take off. And needless to say that kept us preoccupied up till... oh about now as cell phones have continued to change.

By suntan12 — On Sep 01, 2011

@Cafe41 - I also think that doctors still use pagers while working because I imagine it is easier for them to see the phone number and know who is calling then to have to stop what they are doing to take a cell phone call.

I know that my children’s pediatrician’s office uses a pager service that contacts the doctors during after hour calls. This way, if my kids have a medical problem that can’t wait until the office opens then the pager service will have the doctor call me back within the hour.

I have had to call them in the middle of the night, and I cannot tell you what a blessing it was to have the doctor call me back so quickly.

For privacy issues, I also think that a pager service is better for a doctor because the patients shouldn’t have access to the doctor’s personal phone number.

By cafe41 — On Aug 31, 2011

The only time that I have ever used a pager was when I was given a restaurant pager while waiting for a table at a restaurant.

I think that this use of a numeric pager really makes sense. With all of the customers coming in and waiting for a table, I can’t think of a more efficient way to let customers know that there table is ready.

It would be really unprofessional for a hostess to yell across a crowded group of people that a table is ready for a specific party. I think that I would be embarrassed if a restaurant did that to me.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Aug 31, 2011

Its strange, I see the pager as the precursor to the text message but I do not remember anyone using a special language like LOL or OMG with pagers the way they do in texts. You would think it would make just as much sense. It was a real pain to type into a pager and the fewer letters the better.

Maybe that "Text speak" that everyone uses is just an evolution from pagers. People had to send long and frustrating messages and realized that they need to be more efficient. With the full qwerty keyboards on cell phones these days abbreviated texting seems kind of unnecessary but the expressions seem to be here to stay.

By whiteplane — On Aug 30, 2011

Wow, I haven't thought about pagers in years. There was actually a time when I carried three at once but that was years ago.

Pagers kind of seem like VHS tapes or projection screen TVS. They were a technology that was really big and exciting for a while but which was made obsolete almost overnight. And they are not the kind of thing that anyone will ever be nostalgic for. Cell phones do everything a pager could just better.

Pagers had a solid 10 year run but I can't remember seeing anyone carry one for years. Oh well. No love lost.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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