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A Fresh Look at the 512 As an Upstart Moves In

Marisssa Bartnett for KUT News

Starting tomorrow, you’ll need to dial ten or dial again. Austin is getting a new area code, 737, and from now on, everyone needs to dial all 10 digits of a local number, area code included.

For many, Austin’s 512 area code is so much more than a prefix.

“The first area codes had a zero in the middle, like 202, 703 -- East Coast numbers,” said Donna Nelson with the state Public Utility Commission, the agency that decides how and when to introduce new area codes. “And then the middle numbers had a 1, like 512.”

The reason why lies in the past. You probably haven’t seen a rotary phone in a while, maybe even ever, but they’re a big reason area codes are like they are. Bigger cities like New York, Chicago and L.A. had a 1 for a middle number, which took fewer clicks to dial. Zeroes were reserved for less populated areas, and entire states.

“And then, as we made it past the zeros and ones, the numbers were just generated randomly,” Nelson said.

While the numbers may seem random, their deployment isn’t. Joe Cocke, a senior area code relief planner for the North American Numbering Plan Administration, says there’s a science to selecting a new area code, especially if it will be alongside an existing one.

“It should not be an area code that is similar to an adjacent area code,” Cocke said. “And so we try to look at prefixes that are not in use.”

But area codes are more than three numbers -- for some people, a lot more.

Gerald G, an Austin emcee, has a new album called “I Am Mr. 512.”

“I never really named myself Mr. 512,” he said. “It was the people around me. ... I was going to different cities, 512ing everywhere, you know. So they basically gave me that title.”

This being change-averse Austin, some may be slow to warm to 737. But since 512 isn’t going anywhere, Gerald G is cool with the change.

“It’s probably a 50-50,” he said. “Half the people are going to like it. We’ll see what happens. I’m good with it myself.”

Also welcoming the change is Kevin Brand, founder and owner of (512) Brewing Company.

“It’s kind of our message anyway, that we want to be associated with the old-school Austin,” Brand said.

Even though Austinites can hang on to existing 512 numbers, it’s yet another way our city is changing. But Gerald G notes that it also creates new opportunities.

“’cause you know, I got the 512 down pat. So you know there’s a lot of people, they can go for the 737, know what I mean?” he said.

Austin should get its first 737 numbers later this year, when all the 512 numbers are exhausted.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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