Over the past couple weeks business of all types transitioned from in-person interactions to telephone interviews, email, online press conferences and video conferences in order to practice the social distancing recommended by the Center for Disease Control to limit the spread of coronavirus.
As a reporter, I’ve been spending a lot more time on the phone than ever before. (I’ve always preferred in-person interviews when I can get them.)
Monday evening, March 23, Rep. Pete Aguilar hosted a telephone town hall to field questions from District 31 constituents. It was a big phone call with lots of people on the line.
On Tuesday, March 24, Highland City Council voted, by teleconference, to declare a state of local emergency.
This had me thinking of the very first “big phone call,” the first major international conference call.
On June 28, 1966, Chevrolet General Manger Pete Estes, in the Detroit Statler-Hilton Hotel, called two dozen automotive journalists on multiple continents, for what he dubbed the first and last meeting of SEPAW, the Society for the Elimination of Panthers from the Automotive World. It was the first time 14 cities had been connected for a conference call. Nearly every continent was represented. Estes was about to announce the new Chevy Camaro.
In the short call, Estes quickly stated, “The Panther is dead. Long live the Camaro,” and hung up. (Panther had been the codename for the new car Chevy was developing for the burgeoning pony car segment.)
The journalists were left puzzled and scrambling for elaboration.
Once they reconnected with Estes about the meaning of the call and the strange new word he stated that a camaro is a small vicious animal that eats horses.
At the time, it was the world’s biggest phone call and it launched a fierce, decades-long rivalry with the Ford Mustang, which continues to this day.
With extraordinary leaders like Estes running things, General Motors couldn't help but dominate the auto industry and claim approximately 50 percent of the automotive market in the '50s and '60s.