He had an ear for it

To Joe Engressia, his gift of perfect pitch offered up far more than musical promise. With it, the blind University of South Florida student learned he could make free long-distance phone calls.

A mathematics student at USF in the late 1960s, Engressia found he could whistle into a pay telephone the precise pitch -- the 2600-cycle note, close to a high A -- that would trip phone circuits and allow him to make long-distance calls at no cost.

That talent earned the Tampa student the nickname "The Whistler" and a place in history. A 1971 Esquire magazine article crowned him as one of the granddaddies of telephone hacking, known as "phone phreaking."

Engressia once even called around the world (for free) and talked to himself on a second telephone. "It took eight seconds," the Miami native said. But his hobby eventually came to USF's attention and, encouraged by the local phone company, he was disciplined by the university.

Engressia moved to Tennessee, where law enforcement officials raided his home, confiscated his equipment and refused to let him have a telephone. He received a suspended sentence. That ended his days as a phone phreaker.

Engressia didn't become a math professor or an electronics engineer. Instead, he wound up studying scriptures and philosophy and got a ministerial certificate from what he called a "community of spiritual seekers" in Florida. Now in his late 40s, Engressia lives in Minneapolis. He has legally changed his name to Joybubbles.

Engressia, who survives on his Social Security disability pension, says he took the name and decided to remain a child. He spends most of his time with kids, sharing children's songs and poems. He spreads his vision -- how else? -- by telephone.

He can be reached at:

22 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404-2539
(612) 871-5555

e-mail: joybubbles@hotmail.com

His "Stories and Stuff" line is at (612) 953-5555.

The information above was culled from an "Off The Hook" interview conducted on November 20, 1991. Streaming Real Audio can be picked up at http://www.2600.com/offthehook/rafiles/112091.ram.

Join the Blue Ribbon Online Free Speech Campaign

Last updated April 8, 2004
Links last verified on July 23,2000Thanks to Web Counter!
This page has continually been on the internet since July 23,2000.