Extra Goodies

Below are goodies that could not be included in the book due to space constraints. Enjoy.

Extra Goodies — Mark Bernay

"I'm supposed to say that making free phone calls was just an experiment to see if we could do it... But that's just not true. Phone calls were so expensive back then that we absolutely did use it to make free phone calls. But part of it was the intellectual curiosity to see if we could beat the system." — Mark Bernay

The son of a chess Grandmaster, Mark Bernay (a pseudonym) grew up in the Los Angeles area. He was an 18-year-old freshman majoring in physics at UCLA when he first became really interested in the telephone. His family had recently moved to a new place in West Los Angeles. Their old house, a little bit to the east, had been served by Pacific Telephone, but their new home got its telephone service from General Telephone, an independent telephone company. "I knew nothing about [phones] at the time," he says, "but suddenly I noticed that the phones just were different somehow. They just sounded different." That different sound was all it took to get him started playing with the phone.

Equipment That Fails In Interesting Ways

"General Telephone was just much lower quality equipment," Bernay recalls, "where it would break or calls wouldn't go through reliably. So you just kind of noticed little glitches here or there." GTE's equipment in Los Angeles was based on Strowger switches that had been augmented with some additional machine intelligence (a "Director") in front of them. Through trial and error, Bernay says, "I discovered a way to dump the director off the line." By carefully timing when he pressed the hook switch, and how long he held it down, he could bypass the director and dial directly into to the step switches. This allowed him to reach some areas of Los Angeles for free, as well as to connect to certain operators. More importantly, though, it piqued his curiosity. What else might be possible?

"UCLA had a good engineering library," he remembers. "I found that the Bell System and General Telephone both had laboratories and both had journals of their laboratories where they talked about all their equipment." The journals provided a rich diet of telephonic information. They even included hints about what else he might find in the network.

Like, say, loop arounds. "In reading these journals, I found out these existed, and I started searching for them," Bernay says. It wasn't too long before he struck pay dirt. "I had no clue that anyone else ever used them. Then one day I discovered someone on one of them! 'Oh my God! There's actually someone there! Why are you here, who are you?' It turned out that people did know about them and people would sometimes hang around on them, just to meet people at random."

Bernay also learned how to hack the local pay phones. By recording the noises that the pay phones made — ding for a nickel, ding ding for a dime, and dong for a quarter — and playing them back later, he was able to spoof the operator into thinking he had deposited money.

This was good for free calls, of course, but it turned out to be good for something else, too. Western Union, the telegraph company, had a service by which people could send telegrams from pay phones. You'd call Western Union to send a telegram and deposit the money into the pay phone. The phone company would collect it and later Western Union would get the money from the phone company. "Who cares about sending free telegrams?" Bernay asks. "We didn't really care about that. But they had this thing at the time called the Candygram where you could have a box of candy delivered to somebody with a message attached to it. So we would send each other free Candygrams just to get the candy" — all paid for via recordings of dings and dongs. At one point he even discovered a way to call the payphone operator from the comfort of his own home: she thought he was at a pay phone, so he could play his tape recordings of coins hitting bells without having to leave his own house.

Somewhere in the mid to late 1960s Bernay met Al Diamond, a fellow Los Angeles phreak who ran the Maps to Stars Homes conference line. The two became fast friends. Indeed, it was at Diamond's house where the prank occurred that gave Bernay the phone phreak handle "Mark Bernay." The eponymous Mark Bernay Society was formed not long afterwards.

The Johnny Appleseed of Loop Arounds

Bernay graduated from college in 1968 and moved up to Seattle where he worked for a large aircraft manufacturer. He made sure to move into a place served by Bell, not GTE: "Even though I liked playing with GTE, I remember being so disappointed with the quality of it and the reliability of calls going through that I remember wanting to live in Bell System territory ... I actually commuted a lot farther just to be in Bell territory."

It was in Seattle that he learned about blue boxing. "It was the one thing that people seemed to get in trouble for," he says. "I never saw anyone get arrested for black boxing or loop arounds or anything like that but I did hear of cases of people being arrested for blue boxes." So he decided never to build one. Still, he allows, "We got pretty good at making calls with a Captain Crunch whistle."

When Bernay got to Seattle, he says, "I discovered the loop around suffix but nobody was on them. I never, ever found anyone on one. So I just prepared some little posters and stuck them up in payphones... just advertising that loop arounds existed." His advertising campaing was a success and soon he had other people to talk to on the loops. Mostly, he says, he used the loops to meet other phreaks; he also met several of his blind phone phreak colleagues that way.

It was spring of 1971 when he was interviewed for Esquire. "I remember at one point Rosenbaum called us all up and interviewed us over the phone. I was still living in Seattle at the time." Rosenbaum's article made him not just Mark Bernay but the World-Famous Mark Bernay, christening him the Johnny Appleseed of phone phreaks for his planting the seeds of loop arounds up and down the West Coast. Bernay demurs, saying, "It was actually up and down the city of Seattle and later, San Francisco."

Later, as loop arounds began disappearing from the network, Bernay built his own conference system that tied two lines together so people could still talk to one another. In 1978 he expanded it to a seven-line conference system, sort of like that run by his friend Al Diamond. "Later, I copied Al's idea and ran a phone recording line with educational and entertainment programs that I changed frequently. I often put phone trip recordings on there as part of this material and the audience seemed to like them."

"Thinking back on my phreaking career," he says, "I think by far the most useful and lasting thing I have done is preserving the sounds of the old telephone network and making them available to the public. This includes my own recordings of phone trips and moreso by getting Evan Doorbell to contribute and narrate many of his recordings."

Sources and Notes

Much of the background material above, and all quotations from Mark Bernay, came from an author interview with Bernay in 2008 and an email exchange with him in 2012.


Al Diamond and the Mark Bernay Society.

Phone Trips, Mark Bernay's collection of old telephone recordings.