In addition to their interest in computers, they shared a passion for music. “It was an incredible time for music,” Jobs recalled. “It was like living at a time when Beethoven and Mozart were alive. Really. People will look back on it that way. And Woz and I were deeply into it.” In particular, Wozniak turned Jobs on to the glories of Bob Dylan. “We tracked down this guy in Santa Cruz who put out this newsletter on Dylan,” Jobs said. “Dylan taped all of his concerts, and some of the people around him were not scrupulous, because soon there were tapes all around. Bootlegs of everything. And this guy had them all.”
Hunting down Dylan tapes soon became a joint venture. “The two of us would go tramping through San Jose and Berkeley and ask about Dylan bootlegs and collect them,” said Wozniak. “We’d buy brochures of Dylan lyrics and stay up late interpreting them. Dylan’s words struck chords of creative thinking.” Added Jobs, “I had more than a hundred hours, including every concert on the ’65 and ’66 tour,” the one where Dylan went electric. Both of them bought high-end TEAC reel-to-reel tape decks. “I would use mine at a low speed to record many concerts on one tape,” said Wozniak. Jobs matched his obsession: “Instead of big speakers I bought a pair of awesome headphones and would just lie in my bed and listen to that stuff for hours.”
Jobs had formed a club at Homestead High to put on music-and-light shows and also play pranks. (They once glued a gold-painted toilet seat onto a flower planter.) It was called the Buck Fry Club, a play on the name of the principal. Even though they had already graduated, Wozniak and his friend Allen Baum joined forces with Jobs, at the end of his junior year, to produce a farewell gesture for the departing seniors. Showing off the Homestead campus four decades later, Jobs paused at the scene of the escapade and pointed. “See that balcony? That’s where we did the banner prank that sealed our friendship.” On a big bedsheet Baum had tie-dyed with the school’s green and white colors, they painted a huge hand flipping the middle-finger salute. Baum’s nice Jewish mother helped them draw it and showed them how to do the shading and shadows to make it look more real. “I know what that is,” she snickered. They devised a system of ropes and pulleys so that it could be dramatically lowered as the graduating class marched past the balcony, and they signed it “SWAB JOB,” the initials of Wozniak and Baum combined with part of Jobs’s name. The prank became part of school lore—and got Jobs suspended one more time.
Another prank involved a pocket device Wozniak built that could emit TV signals. He would take it to a room where a group of people were watching TV, such as in a dorm, and secretly press the button so that the screen would get fuzzy with static. When someone got up and whacked the set, Wozniak would let go of the button and the picture would clear up. Once he had the unsuspecting viewers hopping up and down at his will, he would make things harder. He would keep the picture fuzzy until someone touched the antenna. Eventually he would make people think they had to hold the antenna while standing on one foot or touching the top of the set. Years later, at a keynote presentation where he was having his own trouble getting a video to work, Jobs broke from his script and recounted the fun they had with the device. “Woz would have it in his pocket and we’d go into a dorm . . . where a bunch of folks would be, like, watching Star Trek, and he’d screw up the TV, and someone would go up to fix it, and just as they had the foot off the ground he would turn it back on, and as they put their foot back on the ground he’d screw it up again.” Contorting himself into a pretzel onstage, Jobs concluded to great laughter, “And within five minutes he would have someone like this.”
The Blue Box
The ultimate combination of pranks and electronics—and the escapade that helped to create Apple—was launched one Sunday afternoon when Wozniak read an article in Esquire that his mother had left for him on the kitchen table. It was September 1971, and he was about to drive off the next day to Berkeley, his third college. The story, Ron Rosenbaum’s “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” described how hackers and phone phreakers had found ways to make long-distance calls for free by replicating the tones that routed signals on the AT&T network. “Halfway through the article, I had to call my best friend, Steve Jobs, and read parts of this long article to him,” Wozniak recalled. He knew that Jobs, then beginning his senior year, was one of the few people who would share his excitement.
A hero of the piece was John Draper, a hacker known as Captain Crunch because he had discovered that the sound emitted by the toy whistle that came with the breakfast cereal was the same 2600 Hertz tone used by the phone network’s call-routing switches. It could fool the system into allowing a long-distance call to go through without extra charges. The article revealed that other tones that served to route calls could be found in an issue of the Bell System Technical Journal, which AT&T immediately began asking libraries to pull from their shelves.
As soon as Jobs got the call from Wozniak that Sunday afternoon, he knew they would have to get their hands on the technical journal right away. “Woz picked me up a few minutes later, and we went to the library at SLAC [the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center] to see if we could find it,” Jobs recounted. It was Sunday and the library was closed, but they knew how to get in through a door that was rarely locked. “I remember that we were furiously digging through the stacks, and it was Woz who finally found the journal with all the frequencies. It was like, holy shit, and we opened it and there it was. We kept saying to ourselves, ‘It’s real. Holy shit, it’s real.’ It was all laid out—the tones, the frequencies.”
Wozniak went to Sunnyvale Electronics before it closed that evening and bought the parts to make an analog tone generator. Jobs had built a frequency counter when he was part of the HP Explorers Club, and they used it to calibrate the desired tones. With a dial, they could replicate and tape-record the sounds specified in the article. By midnight they were ready to test it. Unfortunately the oscillators they used were not quite stable enough to replicate the right chirps to fool the phone company. “We could see the instability using Steve’s frequency counter,” recalled Wozniak, “and we just couldn’t make it work. I had to leave for Berkeley the next morning, so we decided I would work on building a digital version once I got there.”
No one had ever created a digital version of a Blue Box, but Woz was made for the challenge. Using diodes and transistors from Radio Shack, and with the help of a music student in his dorm who had perfect pitch, he got it built before Thanksgiving. “I have never designed a circuit I was prouder of,” he said. “I still think it was incredible.”