Don't Touch That Redial

Ever Wondered How the Scalpers Always Get Tickets?

I have seen rock 'n' roll future and its name is Dave Hoch.

The 39-year-old MIT graduate does not front a band or play guitar (though he is a dedicated golfer like Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop). Instead, Hoch, a self-described "gadget person," is a hero to some music fans because he is the inventor of the PowerDialer, a $249 device that gives prospective concertgoers—not to mention oily scalpers—an edge in the battle to break through Ticketmaster's daunting telephone logjams.

Hoch's device, which weighs about a pound and is the size of an external modem, repeatedly dials a busy number, sounding an alarm when it finally breaks through. And while most telephones include a redial button, the PowerDialer offers a hands-off alternative to hours spent huddled over a phone doing the flash-redial-flash-redial dance. Local telcos also offer repeat redialing (the *66 option), but this service operates slower than the PowerDialer.

As any frequent phoner could attest, repetitious dialing leaves you in a trancelike state where it becomes hard to discern the difference between a busy signal and a ringing line. Last year, I fell into this telephonic K hole and twice hung up a ringing Ticketmaster line, tragically costing me World Series tickets.

In addition to convenience, Hoch's product is able to redial more quickly than a standard telephone and can also detect a busy signal—whether it be a "fast busy," a "slow busy," or one of those grating "all circuits are busy" messages—in a split-second, thereby adjusting itself for maximum redialing efficiency. And compared to "wardialer' software used by computer hackers, Hoch said the PowerDialer is far more technically advanced at detecting the cadences of these various busy signals. "It's super robust," he noted.

Since inventing the PowerDialer about four years ago, Hoch has sold thousands of units (primarily via his Web site at www.technologyarts.com), with about half purchased by ticket brokers or concertgoers. Other big customers are serial radio contest entrants and golfers forced to dial for premium tee times at public courses.

While Hoch touts a maximum redial speed of 25 times a minute, a Voice road test of the Power-Dialer—conducted during Ticketmaster's May 22 sale of Bruce Springsteen tickets—produced an average of 15 redials a minute. But that's all right with me, because the gadget produced results almost immediately.

After a 10-minute setup that saw the unit conduct tests to determine the fastest speeds at which Bell Atlantic could handle redials and how quickly the phone company could provide a new line following a hangup, I unleashed the PowerDialer on Ticketmaster's swamped line.

Perched on my kitchen counter, the unit began redialing at 8:55 a.m. Saturday, five minutes before Springsteen tickets went on sale. At 8:58 a.m., the gadget chirped, indicating that it had broken through. The Ticketmaster recording, though, stated that order lines were not yet open.

The machine went back to work and was quickly chirping again. Were I not staring at my Caloric stove's clock, I wouldn't have believed that I was hearing the prerecorded "Thank you for calling Ticketmaster" greeting at precisely 9:01 a.m. After an hour and 15 minutes spent on the phone with an operator ordering the tickets, it took only 25 more minutes for the PowerDialer to get through again.

Yes, thanks to the PowerDialer, I gorged myself on orchestra tickets for multiple shows. But I'm now suffering from survivor's guilt: Why did I get 11th-row seats for one concert when my pal Andrew hammered away unsuccessfully for three-plus hours? Why did I get a pair in the fourth row for another show while poor Miles risked index-finger RSI only to come up empty-handed? I'm hoping to pull myself out of this funk by July 15, opening night of Springsteen's U.S. tour. I have two in the 10th row.

 
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