July 10, 2013 in communityblog, ghost

Since the Asylum episode aired, the forums have
been flooded with posts enquiring about Frank’s Box, the (alleged)
‘telephone to the dead.’ How does it work? Does it actually work? Why does it sound like a bad radio? What about the suggestibility of the listener? Read on for all this and more.

Thankfully Frank Sumption has the plans for the original box online, so no reverse-engineering is necessary. The concept is relatively simple. The
principal premise is to generate a random voltage derived from a
transistor with the base acting as an antenna in order to tune a
frequency in the AM band. So if it sounds like a broken radio, that’s because it more or less is one. This
signal is then filtered for the audio, which is then amplified and fed
through a speaker located at one end of an acoustic chamber. This is in turn received by a microphone at the other and re-amplified for either another speaker or a line out. That’s the greatly abridged version of the device’s inner workings. Please click the aforementioned link for more details and plans to build the device from the inventor himself.

As for how it ‘works’; I’m of two minds. Please remember I’m an engineer, not a scientist. As such, my theories are admittedly not scientifically rigorous. The first theory is that the device, by changing stations in quick succession, is simply acting as a biased noise generator. This
is hardly a new concept, as EVP recorders (the individuals, not the
audio devices) occasionally add a white or pink noise generator to their
arsenal. By some means, the entities are able to use this
spread spectrum of audible frequencies to generate phonemes and thus
form words and phrases. The other theory is that by influencing the RVG
(random voltage generator), the spirits can use the existing voices
already present on the current radio broadcasts to communicate.

Of course both of those theories have holes in them the size of small planets. With
the first theory (and recorded white or pink noise in general), the
words are very subjective and the listener is subject to apophenia. The mind wants to find a pattern even in randomness—and eventually it will. Unless
a large group of individuals can listen to the audio and pick out the
same words (without foreknowledge of the potential interpretation OR
contextual clues given by the investigator leading the EVP session), the
data is as meaningless as the noise it is constructed from. Garbage in, garbage out. On the other hand, there have been groups that claim successful results from this very method.

The second theory is even worse. First there is the potential for apophenia as previously mentioned. But then there is the sequence of events that has to be true for this concept to have any validity. The entity must be able to influence the random voltage generator to precisely select a station. It
must be able to tune to all frequencies over a given bandwidth and do a
sweep of those frequencies fast enough to maintain real-time speech
detection. If necessary, decode the frequencies from their carrier to audio. And the entity must be able to prognosticate at least a few seconds into the future in order to determine what will be said if a given station is selected.

Of course there is a third theory—it doesn’t actually work. Instead
it becomes a tool that a psychic or medium can focus their conscious
mind upon while allowing their other talents to come through. Much like rubbing a stone or crystal, flipping through a tarot deck, or watching “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” Of
course that relies less on science and more on psychic phenomena,
something that is just as questionable as the existence of entities. You can’t hire the Jersey Devil to track down Bigfoot. So we may as well disregard that theory entirely as it is not testable. Besides, the device conforms to what the inventor wanted it to do, so in this manner it does indeed ‘work.’

By now, I’m certain you can see the degree of my skepticism. Starting into the Asylum case, my disbelief was no less. In fact, several members were questioning the merit of this case, as indicated by REDACTED. I was among them. Furthermore, there were moral questions that came into play in regards specifically to the apparatus. How was this any different from employing a Ouija Board? Is there an intrinsic element of danger? Can this device be used to help people? Is this something we should be unleashing upon an unsuspecting populace? Should this be a PSA? Well, perhaps the questions weren’t quite so dramatic, but the elements were present. In retrospect, it’s about as hazardous as an EVP session.

Chris Moon popped in on short notice and
quickly began the first of several sessions after giving a brief
technical description of the device (which closely matched Frank’s
description.) We first tried using the lineout to directly record to one of the digital recorders. Unfortunately
this resulted in a disconnect from the internal speaker—which meant we
had to decide between recording the session or participating in the
conversation in real time. We decided on the latter, naturally. Even so, we maintained a minimum of two recorders on or near the box during all of the sessions. During most of these sessions there was little that was instantly recognizable.

However, there were a few instances where something relatively distinct came through. The trouble is that Chris was constantly interpreting the messages. The mind is malleable and, given a bit of context, easily led. Because
of the inability to record directly and Chris’s rapid-fire translations
coming in just moments after the initial statement, it is well nigh
impossible to remove the element of suggestion from the equation. Given the circumstances, even the relatively clear bits have to be questioned. This is a shame given the possible relevance of the responses, even if they were entirely coincidental. If
the opportunity presents itself, revisiting the box with a stereo
splitter, a set of external speakers, a few recorders, and a fresh set
of ears removed from the session could lend some validity to the

Not everyone was present during each session. Because of this, we were able to salvage a bit of our objectivity. For
the audio analysis, there were at least three PRS members listening on
headphones while the recorded audio from each of the sessions was played
back. At each clip from the box, the audio was paused just
as Chris was about to interject—in order to reduce our inherent
suggestibility—and the clip replayed a number of times. The clip was time-stamped and listened to from each of the synchronized recorders (three, most frequently.) From
these time-stamped clips each reviewer logged whatever was heard (if
anything), marked the appropriate time, folded the paper upon which it
was written, and placed it in a secure location for later tallying. Upon completion of the analysis, the papers were retrieved and reviewed. It’s a straightforward, but effective system Sergey came up with. The results cannot be shared due to the availability of some of these clips on the PRS forums. Once more it’s all about suggestibility. Have a group of people (preferably a group that hasn’t seen the episode) listen to the clips presented and post your feedback.

Speaking of the forums, there are a few minor bits to clear up with particular note to the posters. Chris had no accomplice as far as we were able to discern. Of
course if he did, then the chap needs a stronger transmitter, because
while the experience was intriguing and left us wanting to understand it
better, it was less than staggering. The box should only
be in the medium-wave AM band (it’s based on a vehicle radio tuner,
after all), though I did not verify its frequency range. The
recorder audio is time and date stamped, so it should be entirely
possible to align the messages with a radio programme for AM stations in
the area. I have seen a few other owners of the box (online) listen to a regular AM radio solely to reconstruct their session. It’s a good idea and certainly one worth trying the next time around. “There’s a demon blocking.” Blast, not this again! I heard nothing more sinister than a radio that had insufficient signal to lock onto a station. This caused the radio to sweep through the stations until a station could be located. Standing next to a window to ‘draw signal’ is only logical—there’s less material shielding the RF signal. Of course I have seen the box used but once—perhaps there is more to it than was witnessed.  But I rather doubt it.

Despite my skepticism and reservations about
the device, it’s truly nice to see someone injecting new life into the
paranormal field. Thanks Frank. You can only do so many EVP sessions before pondering what else can be done. Whether this goes the way of the Spiricom (remember that?) or not, only time will tell. In either event, there are a number of variants on the original design already springing up. Hopefully this will, at the very least, inspire the next generation of spirit communication devices. If
Chris and PRS’s paths cross again, hopefully we can rectify the
problems with the session, keep the experiment more objective, and
determine if there is more to the device than meets the eye.


1 response to Frankly

  1. I have always wondered about the Frank’s Box as well. There are so many variations of it now available on the market. I’ve seen one used, and the “leader” of the session clearly translated, which instantly turned my roommate and I off the whole session.

    I’ve often wondered if the more people taking part in the session would help or hinder as well…

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