Captain Crunch

By: Devin McKinney
March 11, 2015


If you were cruising the piney reaches of the Pacific Northwest in the very late Sixties, you might have unsuspectingly passed a VW van containing a computer switchboard and cabal of T-shirted techies led by a long-haired air force veteran and renegade engineer. They were driving from one remote phone booth to another, patching into the system with switches and gizmos which if manipulated correctly allowed free direct access to long-distance lines. These were among the original “phone phreaks” — guys who used technical manuals and analog ingenuity to get inside the system and make it run rings around the earth. The engineer was John Draper, aka CAPTAIN CRUNCH (born 1943) — so called because the plastic toy whistles once offered in boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal produced exactly the right 2,600-cycle pitch to fool a long-distance “trunk” into thinking it was another trunk seeking contact, thus opening the portal to globe-girdling phone phun.

The Captain and his cohort serve now as a ready-made prevision of the cyber-breaches and computer hacks of a later day. But the connection is remoter than that long-gone phone booth off an Oregon back road. Like the other pioneering phreaks, Draper was implicitly counterculture, but no wrathful system-fucker: he didn’t want to bring Ma Bell down, he wanted to get inside her, seduce and make love to her. His goal, fiddling the switchboard in Seattle, jumping trunks in London, and stacking tandems in Hong Kong on the way to calling the phone in his other hand, was not revolution, or even confrontation. It was pure knowledge, exploration of space and time, the spirituality of technology. In a way, his goal was communion — perhaps only with the air; perhaps only with his own shadow. If you consider that an “only.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Wanda Gag, Douglas Adams, Raoul Walsh, Hollis Frampton, Al Cleveland.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Anti-Anti-Utopian (1934-43) and Blank (1944-53) Generations.