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HEARD ON THE BEAT / Technology

Dial 1-900-AWARDS

March 25, 1996|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Greg Miller covers high technology for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at greg.miller@latimes.com

Oscar, Emmy and Grammy, meet your newest sibling, Alex. OK, so he doesn't have A-list friends like you do, and he's shaped a little funny. But give him a break, he's just getting started.

Joining a long Southern California tradition of self-congratulation, the 1-900 industry launched its own awards show last month with a black-tie affair at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City.

The awards categories included best classified and voice personals, best sports and gaming, best adult entertainment and best overall marketing strategy. But the most prestigious prize, the lifetime achievement award, went to Michael Cane of Tele-Lawyer Inc. in Huntington Beach.

Lifetimes are pretty short in the 900 industry, with most services collapsing within six months or so. But Tele-Lawyer has been around since 1989, when the 900 industry was born, Cane said.

The service charges callers callers $3 per minute to get advice from lawyers. Cane started the service with just three attorneys, including himself (USC, class of 1978), but now he employs 36 lawyers, and has plans to start selling Tele-Lawyer licenses around the country.

"Winning the Alex was wonderful," Cane said.

"We have exemplified the good side of the 900 pay-per-call industry."

Industry gatherings aren't quite as colorful these days, since new laws and other regulations have forced many phone sex services to slide over to 800-lines, where they collect their money not through phone charges but credit card transactions. But Cane said he's glad those days are gone.

"It used to be you'd come into these things, and they'd have girls scantily clad inviting you in," Cane said. "Now it's very business oriented. It's like the video industry. In the '70s you would never go into a video store without a trench coat and hat, but now it's all Blockbusters."

In another awards ceremony tradition, the Alex statuette--named for Alexander Graham Bell--defies description. "It's sort of a triangular cylinder," said Jerry Ginsburg, who writes an industry newsletter and helped organize the Alex Awards.

"It looks like a plexiglass kind of a thing with a wooden base."

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