Code talk: Milwaukee shows appreciation for '414' designation

Code talk: Milwaukee shows appreciation for ’414’ designation

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A new area code is coming to Wisconsin. The prefix "274" will join 920 in the Green Bay/Fox Valley area. 

That, along with the recent 414 Day in Milwaukee, got us wondering how area codes are assigned?

Back in the 1940s, the prime area codes were the easiest to dial on a rotary phone, and they were given to large cities.

Today, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is responsible for utilities in the state, and made the announcement of the new 274 area code. But Laura Fay, Universal Service and Digital Equity Manager for the PSC, says a little known division of the FCC called NANPA actually assigns the numbers.

"They choose in advance what these codes will be before they are needed," Fay said.

Milwaukee is one of the few large cities in the country without an "overlay" or second area code. We asked Fay if the 414 area code ever runs out of numbers, could they request or have a say in the next one that is assigned? In short, no. Fay calls the selection process a combination of art and science.

"The goal is to choose a code that is different from surrounding codes to avoid confusion," Fay said, "they choose in advance what these codes will be before they are needed."

Area codes are kind of a big deal. It is a source of local pride for many cities across the country. Ludacris dedicated a hit song to area codes, shouting out the 414 back in 2001.

Fred Gillich not only sells 414-based merchandise in the Third Ward, he helps plan Milwaukee's 4/14 Day. Gillich says he's excited to have seen this holiday grow over the past 10 years.

"Harley is doing a thing... the Brewers did something, the Admirals are involved this year, like everyone's adopted it," Gillich said.

There may come a day when area codes, 10-digit dialing, even phone numbers altogether become obsolete. But Gillich says that "414" will live on as a symbol of local pride.

"I think that some of the best people on the planet live right here," Gillich said, "I think they're telling someone without having to open their mouth saying that I'm from Milwaukee, and its damn cool."

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