How Evan Doorbell Become a Phone Phreak

A semi-well known early phreaker known as Evan Doorbell, who is so well known in the normal world he doesn't even have a Wikipedia article, made a series of recordings (podcasts as the kids say) about how he became a phreaker.

These recordings don't just contain his personal history, but are full of great records of old busy signals, rings, phone company error recordings, and tons of insight into how a lot of the old stuff worked. They're extremely well edited as well, making them even more entertaining.

If you're interested in this kind of thing, I suggest you these out (mp3s taken from Phone Trips to save their bandwidth):

Episode 1 [ mp3 (00:25:24) @ 128kbps ]

Evan recounts how he first began getting curious with phones due to, what he felt, was an error message given in a slightly sexy manner. He reviews different error messages and error codes, and goes into how he speculated what different error codes meant. I think the most interesting aspect is how he talks about dialing special codes such as 660 (a "party line" out of Long Island, New York), figuring out how tones were different between the phones and phone company equipment, and some other insights.

Episode 2 [ mp3 (00:27:00) @ 128kbps ]

This begins in the summer of 1970 and how he's at summer camp and begins to broader his experimentation with the phone network. Including: how dialing 1 before an area code did not work where he lived, yet the phone company said to do this way; how the phone company changed their dial tone in 1965 (in his city); test circuits; and getting into figuring out how all of these things had to do with the type of switching equipment. And also, exploring phone prefixes, phone intercepts, and more.

Episode 3 [ mp3 (00:20:00) @ 128kbps ]

In this one Evan goes down to Atlanta, Georgia on a family trip and discovers more differences between Atlanta and Long Island.

Episode 4 [ mp3 (00:30:25) @ 128kbps ]

Interesting codes (prefixes, half numbers, etc) out of Long Island, NY in the late summer of 1970.

Episode 5 [ mp3 (00:32:42) @ 128kbps ]

Evan gets his own phone line as a teenager on a new prefix and tons of new things open up.

Episode 6 [ mp3 (00:34:50) @ 128kbps ]

An overview of the old billing "message" units, as used in the New York area in the 1970s. Even more recordings and information into party lines, phone switches, etc.

Phone Phreaking and Party Lines (Incomplete)

When talking about phreaking and party lines, sometimes there's slight confusion when it comes to younger people or non-phreaks, because there's the official term Party Line, which you can read about on Wikipedia, and the more colloquial term used among phone phreaks also just regular people screwing around on the phone in the 1970s.

Party Lines are basically like conference calls and phone companies had official ways of doing them, mostly through special dial ins and things like that. Everyone would dial a special phone number and all be connected together (one manner), and you can read more about that on Wikipedia.

At other times when people referred to party lines (especially in the phreaking community) what they were referring to were things such as:

  • Dialing test circuits, which would play a constant 500Hz tone, then flash the phone (fast hang up on old telephones), which would stop the tone, but keep you on the line.  These old test circuits no longer exist, instead have been replaced with ring-backs.
  • On many switches years ago, error messages such as a phone being disconnected would be played from one place, so if people made the same "mistake" in dialing, they would be able to speak to each other.

Among others, if you have another way this was done, please detail it in a comment and I'll add it.

A terribly uninformative guide to cross connect boxes, RTUs, SLCs

For some reason beyond me, in all of the years I've messed around with phones, be it working with them or doing things as a hobby, I can never remember the name for this:


So I wanted to create this post so in the future when I go brain dead I don't have to go search around for it for 10 minutes. It breaks down like this:

  • Cross Box or Cross-Connect Box – Most common name, but in Ma Bell terms it usually refers to ones slightly smaller which contain jumpers from customer to the central office. These aren't to be confused with VRAD which are similar, but smaller, and often sometimes next to cross boxes or remote terminals.
  • Remote Terminal – Also sometimes called this, and so-called because they were like a tiny remote central office. These, unlike regular cross boxes, have slots for cards of what kind of circuit was being installed. For example a SDN line would have a card that takes two slots. Another sign of a Remote Terminal Unit versus a regular Cross Box is that RTUs have batteries in them. Some RTUs are bigger and are buried underground with sump-pumps and air conditioners and fancy stuff.

    Everyone loves slots
    Slots inside a Remote Terminal, a more modern one, smaller, at an industrial site.
  • SLC or SLC96 – Sometimes referred to as this, but these contained pair gain multiplex equipment in them. SLC itself stands for "subscriber loop carrier" or "subscriber line carrier". The 96 though refers to the fact it broke down into 96 lines.

And there we go, things I can never remember.

Thanks a lot to the phone woman for some extra insights into this post.