phone phreaking

The death of notable phone phreaker Joybubbles in Minneapolis this month reminded me of one of the indiscretions of my youth.  I was a phreaker; I  hacked phones for a time back in the sixties.

In junior high we learned this trick to make free calls on a pay phone.  First, you needed to short  the low-voltage phone current by bridging the metal in the microphone of the hand set with a ground, usually the master screw on the faceplate of the phone.  A straightened paperclip was ideal for this because you could just stick one end in the small holes of the speaking part of the handset, and touch the other end to the screw.  You could hear a scratching noise when you made the connection.

Once it was shorted, you could dial your destination number by tapping the hook (the thing you hang the handset on when you’re finished).   You’d just tap out your number: tap-tap-tap for number 3, tap-tap for number 2, etc.  Timing was important because if your tap was too long, your call would hangup.  Long numbers like 8 or 9 were a nuisance, but at least we only had to tap out 7 digits in those days.

This technique worked like a charm every time.  The only challenge was getting a wire to make the electrical short.  I remember scouring the ground looking for material.  A bobby pin would work, but you had to scrape off the plastic on the tips.   In a pinch, you could even peel the foil of a gum wrapper and carefully roll it into a wire.  Sometimes we just carried a paperclip for the purpose.

I’m sure I even called my parents a few times this way, and they had no idea I was engaged in an outlaw anarchist phone phreak political act.  Heck, I thought I was just saving 10 cents.

6 thoughts on “phone phreaking”

  1. No, we didn’t know about this one. We DID know how, in high school, you called a girlfriend in California. You found two unoccupied adjacent phone booths, and placed the two handsets speaker-to-mouthpiece. Then you dialed one phone and the operator heard each number’s distinctive tone. Then you hung up the dialed phone and got your coins back, and she (always a “she” in those days) made the connection with the other phone.

    You WERE a devious one.


  2. Oh my! As the years go by, youthful shinanigans are revealed and bring forth a grin of warm feelings about the best years of our lives.
    Grandpa Reed


  3. You showed me this trick at the shopping center in Niu Valley. It was a good month to be a little brother because you also loaned me, “Steal This Book” (Hoffman – 1971).
    The book had great advice on many topics. The phone trick was my favorite.



  4. His walkie-talkie.

    The book is online at many sites. Re-printed without permission (of course).

    Scanning some sections, I couldn’t find the walkie-talkie item. Your phreaker trick is in Chapter 8 – Free Communication


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s