by Justin, KE8COY.
I’m pleased to announce we have a new book in the club library this month. Exploding the Phone: the Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell by Phil Lapsley.
The book came out in 2013 and my wife and I each read it then. I even wrote a review of the book for a previous issue of the Q-Fiver.
Before smartphones, before the Internet and before the personal computer, a misfit group of technophiles, blind teenagers, hippies, and outlaws figured out how to hack the world’s largest machine: the telephone system. Ever since I was a teen and had heard about these “phone phreaks” I’d been fascinated by their stories. Until this book came out there wasn’t a complete history of who they were, what they did, or how they did it. A lot of these guys were hams and some later became legit and went on to work for the telcos.
This past Winter Field Day I was hanging out with George Gardei N3VQW and Joe Maximetz KA2UYB. George and I were talking about books about hacking and I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed Exploding the Phone. Joe hearing me talk about the book piped up. It turns out Joe had been a phone phreak himself and was friends with a number of people in the book back in the day. Joe told me about how he would use a tape recorder with multi-frequency tones on it to explore the phone system and connect with other phreaks around the country. Too cool! Joe is also listed in the acknowledgments section of the book. Phil Lapsley had reached out to Joe while writing this history of a fascinating technical subculture, and now it can truly be said that Joe is in the history books. And because Exploding the Phone is such an excellent book, and because Joe is a member of Oh-Ky-In ARS it only seemed right that we should have this tome in our collection, so I grabbed a copy. I encourage anyone with an interest in the phone system, the early days of hacking and networking, and readers who enjoy well written narrative non-fiction to come check out the book and talk to Joe about his experiences exploring the empire of wires Ma Bell built.
Here is a brief description of the book:
Starting with Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary ‘harmonic telegraph,’ by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system had grown into something extraordinary, a web of cuttting-edge switching machines and human operators that linked together millions of people like never before. Unfortunately for the telephone company, the network has a billion-dollar flaw. And once people discovered it, things would never be the same. Phil Labsley’s Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time. It traces the birth of long distance communication and the telephone, the rise of AT&T’s monopoly, the creation of the sophisticated machines that made it all work, and the discovery of Ma Bell’s Achilles’ heel. Lapsley expertly weaves together the clandestine underground of ‘phone phreaks’ who turned the network into the electronic playground, the mobsters who exploited its flaws to avoid the feds, and the counterculture movement that argued you should rip off the phone company to fight against the war in Vietnam…AT&T responded with ‘Greenstar’…The FBI fought back, too…Phone phreaking exploded into the popular culture, with famous actors, musicans, and investors caught with “blue boxes,” many of them built by two young phone phreaks named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak…The product of extensive original research, including exclusive interviews and declassified government documents, Exploding the Phone is a captivating, ground-breaking work about an important part of our cultural and technological history.Provided by Publisher.