By Mary Cotoia
On July 8, 1999, the game show "Jeopardy!" featured this Final Jeopardy question: "In 1999 several counties around Cape Canaveral, Florida were assigned this new telephone area code."
Every launch from Kennedy Space Center begins the same 3-2-1. This unique area code, symbolizing the iconic countdown to a rocket launch, has become synonymous with the region. In 1999 Brevard County residents were notified they would be splitting from the 407 area code and voluntary use of a new 321 area code could begin November 1st. However, as of Oct. 1, 2000, use of the 321 area code would be mandatory in Brevard County and customers who dialed the 407 area code for Brevard numbers would receive a recording that instructed them to hang up and dial using 321as the area code instead.
This change came from the efforts of one man, Robert ‘Ozzie’ Osband, fondly known as the ‘Rocket Hobo’. Ozzie had a passion for space and oddly enough, for phones. Growing up in Rochester, New York, Osband became a “phone freak” at about the age of 12. "I was just interested in telephones, how they worked, I would hang around with the telephone man when he was in the neighborhood. And just generally enjoyed playing with them, and hooking them up, and doing strange things with them," Osband stated during a "Stay Curious" podcast, hosted by Mark Marquette, American Space Museum community liaison and host-producer of "Stay Curious."
A resident of Titusville since 1987, Ozzie, a ham radio operator, and data programmer, noticed the 321 area code was up for geographic relief. "3-2-1, haven't I heard that number before?" he laughed. "Of course! Countdowns! And I live in the countdown capital. Now I know what area code I want." He immediately went into action to petition the Florida Public Service Commission for testimony. He was granted the opportunity to present his testimony on September 24, 1998 at a meeting in Orlando. The commissioners loved the idea, and the rest is history. On November 1, 1999 Gov. Jeb Bush made the very first 3-2-1 call to the Kennedy Space Center. On the other line, KSC Deputy Director James Jennings answered with Osband sitting by his side.
For four decades Osband, a self proclaimed ‘space geek’, rarely missed a rocket launch from the Space View Park in downtown Titusville where he would provide commentary and answer questions prior to launches. On occasion, his enthusiastic “10-9-8…” countdown would humorously coincide with a liftoff, a playful quip among many friends due to the unpredictability of “T-0” timings and communication delays.
Ozzie Osband was passionate about the space program. For 20 years he served as a volunteer at the American Space Museum, Cape Canaveral Space Force Museum and Sands Space History Center, organizing talks and radio events in the early days of the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Foundation, the museum’s non-profit institution. He was featured in both the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal for hatching the 3-2-1 idea. The man who dialed up the idea said of himself, "Had to be a combination of 'Space Cadet' and 'Phone Freak,’ to come up with the idea,". The quirky out of the box thinker passed away on August 6th 2023, leaving behind his 3-2-1 legacy.