Red Boxing is Finally Dead!?!


RBCP’s First Redboxing Tape This 10 year old tape contains 1 dime tone, 8 quarter tones, a recorded prank call, then the awesome hits of Winger, The Cure, Skid Row and Paula Abdul!

Today I was reading the posts on the UPL BBS and I spot one where they’re talking about red boxing not working anymore. Bullshit, I think. For over 10 years now people have been telling me that red boxing no longer works. When I first read about red boxing on WWIVnet in 1991 I started asking people on there about it and several people went into great technical detail about why red boxing wouldn’t work. Some said it never worked and some said it used to but didn’t anymore. I didn’t listen and i tried it anyway with my mom’s old tape recorder and of course it worked. It took me about 30 minutes to record some good tones from one pay phone to the other. I probably wasted $10.00 in quarters that night trying to get the tones just right, not knowing that I could dial differently and not have to lose my quarters each time. But it worked and ended up being worth the money and effort.

The people on WWIVnet didn’t believe me. Some said that if I was successfully red boxing then my local phone company must be running really old equipment or the pay phones must really be old. I start driving all over town, creating a log of every pay phone that will accept my recorded tones. Pretty much every pay phone worked except for the few COCOTS in town. They said it must just be Illinois. So I start a cross-country trip of red boxing every pay phone I run into. It works everywhere and people finally start to believe me. 2600 Magazine does an article on converting a tone dialer into a red box and suddenly red boxing is a huge fad for the next decade.

For about 5 years now I’ve considered myself as some kind of hub for red boxing knowledge. Yeah I know, it’s a lame title to hold yourself to. Even though I quit red boxing years ago I get emails every day from people about red boxing. For these 5 or so years now people have always claimed that red boxing doesn’t work where they live. It was never true, the people trying just didn’t try hard enough or they were trying to box a COCOT or their tones were distorted or the volume was too low on their device or that particular phone was muted or the moron put the wrong kind of crystal into his tone dialer or they didn’t even actually TRY it before they told me it didn’t work. It was always something but red boxing always worked if you put a little effort into it.

Back in 2000 someone on a message board made a claim that red boxing was really dead this time so I went out and got a clearanced tone dialer and built a red box so I could try it and prove him wrong. It worked from almost every pay phone I tried so I got to point and laugh at this guy. Then recently on the UPL BBS ChaoS writes, “You can box local calls, but not long distance because at&t has discontinued use of their ACTS long distance service. So, only local calls are able to be put through.” Here’s another guy who didn’t try hard enough, I think to myself. But I’m getting a lot of emails from people lately saying the same thing so I decide to go out and see for myself. I dig around in a few drawers and locate my old red box that hasn’t been used in several years. I blow off a layer of dust and try it out but nothing. I check the batteries and see that they’ve leaked all over the place so I go to find some new ones. In a few minutes I’m off with my red box and camera in hand.

post office pay phone

I start driving through Alton in an attempt to prove ChaoS wrong. The first pay phone I drive up to on Milton Road is missing from it’s stand. The next one I find at Reister’s Auto is in such bad shape that I’m afraid to touch it for fear of disease. I finally find a drive-up phone at the Mini Coral. I dial a random number in South Carolina and a voice tells me, “We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check your instruction card and try again.” I look at the instruction card to confirm that I’m dialing correctly. I try another random phone number in Oregon and get the same message. Weird, maybe the coin box is full. I drive over to the next block and try the pay phone at the post office. (The very pay phone that Fuzzy Bird got pissed off about his calls being so damned expensive.) I get the same message. This isn’t going very well.

I walk around to the other side of the building and try the phone by Subway, same thing. Then I get back in my car and pull up to the phone in the parking lot only to get the same message again. I’m starting to believe it won’t work as I dial “0” to ask an operator about it. I tell her I want to make a call with coins and she puts me through to AT&T. AT&T asks for my number and then asks me to deposit $4.80 for the first 3 minutes. It works! I box in about $3.00 and pause to jingle the money in my ashtray by the phone as I say, “Boy, I sure do have a lot of quarters here!” so the operator will believe me. I was trying to get her pissed off so she’d say something comical like, “I’m going to send the police over there to get you!” but no luck. She believed my tones were real and put my call through. The random number I tried was a disconnected line so I guess she got the last laugh on that one.

parking lot pay phone

There’s still gotta be a reason I can’t dial my calls direct anymore so I call back in and get another AT&T operator to talk about my problem. She tells me that all the phone companies in the United States are completely phasing out coins on pay phones and very soon I won’t be able to even have a live operator accept my coins. “Do you know what date exactly I won’t be able to red box anymore?” I ask her. She says there’s no exact date but most likely by summer if not sooner. So it’s finally true! The days of red boxing are numbered. The days of coin refund checks are forever gone. I slapped a PLA sticker on the phone and stopped by the Piasa Pantry for a Pepsi. As Janay the cashier was taking my money I commented, “Did you know that AT&T stopped accepting ACTS tones so owning a red box is pretty much useless now?”

“Yeah I found that out the hard way during Christmas break,” she replied. “It’s not like it matters though, all the cell phone carriers are practically giving away free calls so it’s almost pointless to red box anymore.” And she’s right. Who the hell red boxes this millennium anyway? Anyone who owns a cell phone can talk for free on the nights and weekends (and sometimes more) and they don’t even have to be inturrupted every 3 minutes to deposit more money. And just about every other method of free illegal phone calls will still work. Using calling cards, diverters, PBXes and call forwarding isn’t going to die any day soon. The only thing red boxing really ever had going for it was that any idiot could do it and it was an extremely cool thing to show off to people. When I got home I dug through my email and found one where a guy named Ben Lazan sent me an article about pay phones no longer accepting money. The article is actually a press release from AT&T’s web site, stating that they’re eliminating coins as a payment option. You can read it here.

So you heard it here, red boxing is most likely over with. Sometime soon I’ll update my Red Boxing for Dummies page to reflect the change. I honestly never thought it would happen but it seems like it finally has. I already decided to stop selling the crystals as PLA merchandise since Radio Shack discontinued the tone dialers a few years ago. Don’t go selling your red boxes though, remember those are a piece of H/P history! And to all the people who’ve recently bought 6.55 MHz crystals from me only to read this article and find out that it doesn’t work anymore, I say, “HAHAHAHA, YOU SUCKERS, I SURE SCREWED YOU GOOD! BUHAHAHAHA! You shouldn’t be trying to steal from the phone company anyway.”

Updates on the death of red boxing

1/25/2003 – An email from Lucky225 says, “I had this story covered since it first ceame out, as soon as AT&T started playing that recording that you’ll find at the above url(which I recorded) I followed up on it and wrote an article that apears in summer 2002 2600mag
I’d appreciate if you linked the above site as it contains much info about redboxing’s downfall.” You can click here to visit this page and to listen to the recording you get when you try to make a coin call.

And an email from TOMM III aka Ameritake says, “As far as red boxing being over, that’s only half-true. The long distance companys have stopped accepting coins as payment, this is true. At&t was the last to still do that. But as far as inter-lata (I think thats what it’s
called…you know the area just outside of the local area) it’ll still work, at least around here, with ameritech. and local calls work too, as far as my experiences. I don’t think the local co’s are going to stop accepting coins anytime soon. The long distance co’s were losing money I guess doing the paperwork to transfer the money from the local companys and people usually don’t pump fistfulls of quarters into a payfone to talk state to state anymore.”

An email from Missy Misdemeanor Elliott says, “It’s your fremme neppa venette.”

And finally, Evilcal says, “Seeing as no one on here ever bothers with a photoshop contest I decided to have an MS Paint contest. The theme is one of two choices: What a funeral for a redbox looks like or alternative uses for a redbox.”
You can view the contest thread by clicking here. EvilCal hasn’t told us what the prize is going to be. If there even is a prize.

User Comments

02/13/06 – John from Dallas: Back when I lived in Dallas probably in 95-96 redboxing was still alive and well on southwester bell telephones you would just call long distance operator would prompt you then you would play the tones and they would say thank you… Im in the northeast nowdays I havent at all been into phreaking since that era but it would be intersting to know if any type of payphones worked up here? Anyone have any detail?

11/30/05 – Ace from England: yeh bullshit man it still fucking works !!! i never tried playing it straight through to the phone i went straight through to the operator and used a little social engineering and when they asked for the coins to be placed into the slot all u do is play back the tones the english phone system may be alot different to the american one but hey i got a free phone call using a microcassette recorder so hey man red boxing isnt dead :P
11/07/05 – gambling from bonus : casino

08/10/05 – Will from Arkansas: Redboxing still works i use a pocket pc with recorded tones. If you cant get it work you dont know what you are doing!

07/10/05 – Austin from Forestville: That sucks. What about Phone1 phones? They use ACTS for local calls and COCOT circuitry for long distance. Is there any way to screw those over?

Brad Carter

I run this town.

2 thoughts on “Red Boxing is Finally Dead!?!

  • May 15, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Red boxing still works in my area. I’ve tested it once today with successful results.

  • December 24, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    I tried redboxing at a local payphone; It seemed like it was responding to the tones but kept repeating the message “please insert 35 cents” over and over. I used my ipod with the tones from the beginning of pla radio episode 12. I dialed 0 and it sent me to a long distance operator who said if i wanted to use quarters I should try 0 again and see if it sent me to a local operator. I still think redboxing is cool and its downfall won’t mean the end of phone phreaking; I just wish I’d had a chance to successfully try it before its functionality was stripped away. MaYbe the local payphone was an isolated incident. Idk.

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