With a single call, the chaos began.
“Is Jenny there?”
“No, I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”
“Is Jenny there?”
“No, you have the wrong number.”
“Is Jenny there?”
“Who is this?”
Charles and Maurine Shambarger and their four young children — Amy, Michael, Erick and Katrina — were leading quiet lives in the spring of 1982 on Mineola Avenue in West Akron.
Then the telephone rang.
The Shambargers didn’t know that their phone number — 867-5309 — was about to become a smash hit. Columbia Records had released California pop band Tommy Tutone’s song 867-5309/Jenny about a naive guy who dreams of romance after finding a woman’s name and number written on a wall: For a good time, call Jenny.
“Jenny, I’ve got your number,” the song wails. “I need to make you mine. Jenny, don’t change your number. 867-5309. 867-5309. 867-5309. 867-5309.
The insanely catchy, four-minute tune repeats the number nearly 20 times, practically brainwashing listeners into calling it. Songwriter Alex Call later explained that he made up the name and number because he liked how they sounded.
Retired Goodyear employee Charles Shambarger, 66, who now lives in Lincoln, Neb., said he never will forget that surreal experience from 30 years ago.
“It started out as an isolated phone call here and there,” he said. “We’d get a phone call: ‘Is Jenny there?’ I’d say, ‘No, I’m sorry, you have the wrong number.’ Maybe a couple of nights later, I’d get another phone call: ‘Is Jenny there?’ ”
The phone began to ring at different times of the day and night. Most callers sounded young and had rock music playing in the background. They often laughed before hanging up.
“This went on for a couple weeks,” Shambarger said. “But, man, the calls really increased in frequency, and I started getting irritated.”
Tracing the calls
The Shambargers didn’t know about Tommy Tutone.
Assuming that the crank calls were coming from the same location, the family asked Ohio Bell to put a trace on the line in an attempt to catch the hooligans. Shambarger checked with the phone company after 10 days to see whether there were any leads.
He remembers a puzzled worker telling him: “We don’t know what to make of this. The calls are coming from all over the place.”
The Shambargers started taking the phone off the hook before bedtime, but one night, they forgot. Around 2 a.m., the phone rang.
“Who is this?” Shambarger demanded.
“Man, I feel sorry for you,” the male caller said. “Your phone number is on the radio all the time.”
That’s how the family learned about the Tommy Tutone song being played on WMMS in Cleveland.
Listeners were calling 867-5309 — in those days, they didn’t have to dial a local area code — to see whether anyone would answer. Soon the video was in heavy rotation on MTV and climbing to No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
“Unfortunately, it’s very catchy,” Shambarger said. “For some reason, those numbers just flow.”
Daughter Amy Shambarger, 39, of Denver, was a 9-year-old pupil at St. Sebastian when Jenny entered her life.
“What I remember is my parents being irate over the number of phone calls we were getting from people we didn’t know,” she said. “We eventually figured out there was a song out with our number. We hadn’t heard it.
“My mom kept calling the radio station to get them to stop playing it. And, of course, that didn’t help.”
She even recalls playing Jenny on her Fisher-Price record player after someone gave the family the 45 RPM single. She also wore an 867-5309 T-shirt to summer camp that year.
Jenny mania seemed to be everywhere in 1982.
“I thought it was a good, catchy song,” she said. “But it didn’t seem to mean much …
“People had no idea what it actually did to those of us who had the number.”
A tale of disbelief
Michael Shambarger, 37, of Dillon, Colo., said nobody believes it when he tells people the story of his childhood phone number in Akron. He was 7 when the calls began.
“At first, it was pretty novel,” he said. “We thought it was pretty neat that it was our phone number. But it got old pretty quickly.
“I think at first you kind of entertained people. Later on, there’s a lot of slamming the phone down. There’s no Jenny here.”
He remembers hearing that about seven other people shared the phone number in various area codes across the nation during Tommy Tutone’s brief reign. Heaven forbid if any of those customers were named Jenny.
“It was always the same,” he said. “People would ask: Is Jenny there? Can I talk to Jenny?”
How strange and exciting it was to be swept up in a national fad as a young boy.
“I always kid that my 15 minutes of fame got used up for that moment,” he said.
After more than a month of telephone harassment, the family finally surrendered. Charles Shambarger hated to change the phone number, but there really was no choice.
“So we canceled it and got a new number,” he said.
Almost overnight, silence returned to the Mineola Avenue home — well, as much silence as possible with four young children.
“It was kind of a bittersweet day,” Michael Shambarger said. “We stopped getting the calls.”
Of course, there was one immediate drawback.
“I thought that our new phone number wasn’t nearly as melodic,” Amy Shambarger said. “It just didn’t have the right ring to it.”
It was harder to remember, but that was the point.
Today, anyone who tries to reach Jenny at 867-5309 will hear a variation of the automated message: “The number you have called is not in service.”
The family moved away in 1987 after Charles Shambarger accepted a Goodyear job offer in Lincoln, Neb.
“We still know quite a few people in the Akron area,” he said. “We were there for 18 years.”
Amy works as an administrative assistant for a Denver adventure travel company and is an emergency medical technician. Michael is senior vice president with FirstBank in Colorado.
Every once in a while, a catchy number comes back to haunt them.
Charles, now a widower, was in the grocery store the other day when he heard the familiar strains of 867-5309/Jenny wafting over the piped-in music.
“It’s still around,” he said.
“It makes me laugh now,” Amy said.
“I still like that song,” Michael admitted.
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a new book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send email to email@example.com.