A peek back into the phone sex world of the '90s


Before the internet revolutionized sex work and erotic fantasy fulfillment, "1-900" numbers enjoyed a brief heyday as the cutting edge of adult entertainment, connecting horny callers to live sexpots ready for a hot pay-per-minute chat. Operator, a new eight-episode podcast from Wondery, gives listeners a good feel for that outmoded industry, once revolutionary in its own right.

Narrated by author and former sex worker Tina Horn, Operator revolves around American Telnet (ATN), a Florida-based company that dominated the nascent phone sex world in the 1990s. Through interviews with former ATN executives and employees, Operator explores the fun, sexy, and innovative parts of the business as well as ATN's internal power struggles, the stigma staffers faced, and the attacks the industry received from activists, journalists, lawmakers, and bureaucrats.

Like many of today's sex-tech companies, ATN provided a decent and stable income to its employees and made its executives rich while angering regulators and politicians. And like many popular digital-age companies that make money facilitating fantasies, the phone sex industry had to contend with payment processing troubles, "think of the children" hand wringing in the mainstream media, anti-porn crusaders left and right, and a constant struggle to stay one step ahead of government meddling.