The Brainerd Dispatch will shut down its Extra Access Audiotex services Aug. 10 after 11 years of providing information to readers via telephone.
The Brainerd School District will retain the phone numbers to continue operating the Brainerd School InfoLines, which keep parents and community members informed about school sports and activities, emergency school closings and community education information.
Pam Dyson, director of media technology for the Brainerd School District, said the district is expected to have its new phone system up and running by Aug. 16.
Dispatch Publisher Terry McCollough said technology has changed dramatically since Audiotex was installed. However, the Audiotex computer software and telephone system are no longer manufactured, making parts and support difficult to find. If technical problems arise, the Dispatch will not be able to repair the system and would then be forced to shut it down permanently.
Instead, the Dispatch has opted to shut the system down on the scheduled date of Aug. 10.
Extra Access Audiotex started in September 1993. It has handled about 1.5 million calls and shared more than 38,000 hours of information for people who accessed the phone service. The School InfoLines received 650,000 calls for information during the past 11 years. Extra Access programs included Brainerd School InfoLines, formerly Homework HotLine; Ranger HotLine for Crosby-Ironton Schools; Sports ScoreLines; Stock Quote HotLine; WeatherLine; LotteryLine; Horoscopes; Soap Opera Updates; and Associated Press News Updates.
"It's an unfortunate situation because we've taken tons of phone calls over the years, tens of thousands of calls," McCollough said. "It's not something we wanted to do, but a lack of technology forced us into it."
The Brainerd School InfoLines had allowed parents and students to remain informed about school activities and weather closings. Coaches could call and leave a recorded message for parents, telling them when the sports team buses would be arriving back at school. If school was closed because of inclement winter weather, school officials could leave information about the school closing on the InfoLines. Audiotex gave area residents the opportunity to hear up-to-the-minute results throughout election night as the votes came in on local and state elections.
The district's new phone technology will be able to offer the similar services. It is the same phone and computer technology that will be installed at the new Forestview Middle School in Baxter. When administrative offices are relocated to Washington Middle School in January after students have moved into Forestview, Dyson said the phone system and hardware will be moved there to replace Washington's outdated system.
McCollough thanked advertisers who helped support the Audiotex service, especially the Brainerd School InfoLines, which were offered at a low charge to the school district because advertisers were willing to sponsor the program. He also thanked Dispatch advertising sales staff member Carl Specht who worked hard to keep Audiotex up and running.
"Audiotex fulfilled a certain niche because not everyone has a computer at home," said McCollough. "I'm sorry to see it go. But we've been thrilled to have this great relationship with the school and we're pleased they're finding a way to continue the service on their own."
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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