Guest writer Dan Scott, an amateur ham radio operator and founder of SanDiegoHaunted.com, offers an informed and practical review of the controversial Frank's Spirit Box.
Frank's Spirit Box (a.k.a. "Frank's Box," or "Spirit Box")
The original device was created by Frank Sumption. Sumption was experimenting with various methods, to produce better EVP's. Sumption began tinkering with electronic voice phenomena (EVP) in 2000, eventually leading to use of a program called EVP-Maker, invented by the German researcher Stefan Bion. Sumption believed he was not just receiving messages from spirits, but also, spirits were relaying messages for non-tech savvy spirits. Sumption was left with the desire to create a way for all spirits to be able to communicate equally.
The Original Receiver
Frank's first spirit boxes consisted of four basic components
- White noise generator
- Random Voltage converter (with in tolerance of receivers tuning).
- An AM radio receiver capable of voltage tuning (common in 80-90s).
- A wooden echo-box
The concept is simple: randomness is generated via white noise. The white noise is manipulated to produce a random voltage that coincides with the tolerance of the AM receiver's voltage tuning. The output produces a split second of audio from a random frequency in the AM broadcast range of 535 - 1605 kHz. The audio is then pumped into a wooden echo-box for final acoustics. After initial trials and experimentation, Sumption determined random frequencies were unnecessary and opted for use of Linear sweep tuning of the AM broadcast band. In essence, randomness was removed. The tuner would start at a fixed point (535 kHz, for example) and continue at 1 or 10 kHz steps, eventually ending at a frequency greater than the starting point (1605 kHz). This process would start over and continue till the device was powered off.
After Frank Sumption
Pros Of the Original Frank's Box Device
- Use of (mostly) white noise to produce randomness
- Random Tuning of received frequencies.
Randomness is very important. Since 1998, the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) has monitored a geographically distributed network of hardware random number generators in a bid to identify anomalous outputs that correlate with widespread emotional responses to sets of world events, or periods of focused attention by large numbers of people. The GCP is privately funded through the Institute of Noetic Sciences and describes itself as an international collaboration of about one hundred research scientists and engineers. Surprisingly, many scientific correlations have been documented between global events--such as 9-11 or the death of Princess Diana--and a global "shift" in randomness.
Cons Of the Original Frank's Box Device
- Lack of scientific reasoning.
- Use of heavily populated frequencies such as AM and FM modulations.
The idea that spirits can communicate via modulated radio waves is self-defeating. Logic would dictate simply tuning a radio to a static-producing frequency should produce identical results. The second major issue is that bits and pieces of audio from active radio stations are being reused as a basis of the received spirits. Lastly, the device could be prone to hoaxing by use of easily produced homebrew AM or FM transmitters.
Illustration Credit: Frank Sumption (ITC Voices)
My Thoughts on Frank's Box
I was actually pretty excited when first reading about Frank's Box and the results being achieved through its use. My interest in amateur radio began in my teens when my brother (a Navy cryptographer) brought home his ham radio gear. I built my first 40-meter CW QRP radio when I was 15 (without a ham license!). I now focus mostly on digital trunked systems, civilian government and shortwave listening. My radio interests seemed to fuel my interest in Frank's Spirit Box. The initial design really caught my attention. The use of white noise to generate a random tuned frequency is unique. Scientists have used white noise as a means to generate (closer) true randomness. Obtaining true white noise is very difficult. With most available IC's (microchips) the presence of pink noise (or "flicker") complicates the design of white-noise generators for frequency ranges that extend to a few Hertz or below. A semiconductor device generates noise that always has the characteristic signature of pink noise. I think random tuning was a very clever way of adding credibility to Frank's design. A lot of money and research has gone into the Global Consciousness project. GCP has provided compelling evidence that quantum randomness can be affected by widespread emotional responses. Death is already very emotional, especially so if it resulted from unnatural causes! Frank's original design takes this fact into account. Determining the odds of similar intelligible phonetic groupings, via such randomness becomes, impossible.
However, with a closer look into Frank Sumption's design I saw a serious flaw: the final result audio (though random snippets) was still coming from earthly sources, such as AM radio station broadcasts. I believe, to counter this fact, Sumption added an echo chamber. The original (earthly) voice input would output something unique. My first scanner radio was only 20 channels and crystal controlled. I remember the radio scanning through each crystal frequency, stopping and giving a brief pause of audio before going to the next frequency. Unfortunately for me, the scanner came with 20 crystals for frequencies not active. In hours of listening to static (before buying new crystals) I never heard a single sound that resembled anything tangible. If I took that scanner to a haunted location and words started spitting out I would be pretty excited; however, my old scanner is not Frank's Spirit Box. Frank's Box relies on voice modulation from existing radio stations and other operators. Random white noise, by itself, does not produce intelligible phonetic groupings. Sumption has since switched from random to linear tuning, creating greater credibility issues. I think switching from random tuning to linear tuning was a big red flag for me.
My other big problem with Frank's Box is that unknown science behind it. Is Sumption indicating that ghosts inject audio into both modulated and unmodulated signals? Perhaps ghosts produce their own carrier wave?
Despite all of this I still think Frank's box may inspire paranormal investigators to design, build, and test relevant new working equipment.
Ideas for future Spirit Box Design and Testing:
- Determining a range of voice frequency with regards to a wide array of applicable EVP's. Humans usually produce a voice around 60 to 7000 Hz.
- Producing a (mostly) random white noise background with in tolerance of determined EVP range.
- Producing an external measurable method of manipulation such as EMF, vibration, and temperature--things we suspect ghosts can manipulate with ease.
- Transferring measurable method of manipulation, into modulation within random white noise range.
- Exporting the frequency modulation as live audio.
- Using a calibrated frequency counter to detract contamination, either in proximity or internally, to record odd spikes.
The Frank's Box and variants should be excluded as a viable means of information gathering with regard to the paranormal. Frank's Box relies on existing manmade carrier waves and voice modulation of said wave. Further experimentation and design changes may eventually yield better results. Frank's Spirit Box as of now (in my opinion) receives "0" for not having any measurable scientific support.Rank Range* influential evidence scale2- strong measurable scientific support
1- low measurable scientific support
0- non measurable scientific support
Guest writer Dan Scott is founder and administrator of San Diego Haunted (sandiegohaunted.com), a not-for-profit on-line resource for research and background information concerning San Diego locations of paranormal interest.