Phone company

Blake Pontchartrain: The Story of Radiofone, a New Orleans Mobile Phone Company | Blake Pontchartrain | Weekly Gambit

Hi Blake,

My first cell phone in the 1990s was from Radiofone. Was it the first local mobile phone company? What is his story ?

Dear reader,

Brothers Larry and James Donald Garvey were among the pioneers of mobile telecommunications in the New Orleans area when they founded Radiofone in 1958.

According to The Times-Picayune, their parents had established a local medical paging service, Doctor’s Exchange, in 1921. The sons used this experience to launch their Radiofone paging service. They added cell phone service in 1960, although the technology was primitive compared to today.

Radiofone’s Cellular One mobile phone was introduced in 1984, shortly after the service was demonstrated at the World’s Fair. It costs $99 per month, with 45 minutes of usage free each month and additional charges beyond that.

“Our cell phone can go with you wherever you go,” Larry Garvey said in a 1986 Times-Picayune article. “We are a society that is never at home or in one place all the time. It’s hard to keep in touch. People don’t like to be on the phone 24 hours a day like they used to. Car cell phones and laptops meet this need.

As one of only two wireless service providers in the New Orleans area until 1994 (the other early company was BellSouth Mobility), Radiofone grew to serve 300,000 subscribers in 11 states with a annual turnover of 132 million dollars.

The company was known for its philanthropy and television commercials featuring Buddy Stall (who was also a local author and historian) promoting various charities.

In 2000, Radiofone was purchased by SBC Communications Inc. (the successor to Southwestern Bell Corp.). Later that year, SBC sold Radiofone to Alltel Corp. of Little Rock for $400 million. Alltel was purchased by Verizon in 2008, creating the country’s largest wireless carrier at the time.

The first edition of Picayune appeared on January 25, 1837.