Many times have the annals of the paranormal been graced with descriptions of Frank’s ghost box, an electronic device that is claimed to allow ghosts to communicate with us through randomly tuned radio broadcasts. Imagine turning the tuning knob on a radio (first, imagine a radio that still works that way), and recording the sound output. You’d expect a bunch of random noise from across all those stations you just swept past, and that’s exactly what Frank’s Box produces. But inventor Frank Sumption, and many imitators who have built similar devices, believe they receive intelligent communication in that noise. It’s basically an iteration of what ghost hunters call Electronic Voice Phenomena, the idea that ghosts communicate with us through electronics.
I should note that the impetus for this episode was an email I received from Frank Sumption’s niece. I won’t give her name or what she said in the email, but her point is that Frank is a good, honest, average guy who is notable only in that he believes he’s stumbled onto something. He doesn’t scam anyone; he’s neither selling his box with unproven claims, nor is he charging people money to talk to their dead relatives. Frank makes the plans to build his device available for free as a downloadable PDF file, and he has a page on SoundCloud where he posts his most interesting recordings, for everyone to hear. He’s a guy who has some bad information, and has failed to apply critical thinking to it within the context of scientific literacy. In other words, he’s exactly like 99% of the people out there. Nevertheless, most of the time when Frank Sumption has been mentioned anywhere, online, in print, or on a radio program or podcast, he’s dismissed as a crazy nutcase — and that’s precisely what prompted his niece to write. So today we’re going to look at the phenomenon of Frank’s ghost box and talk about how and why it occupies the place it does in pop paranormal culture, and hopefully find something more intelligent to discuss than hurling personal insults.
So let’s get to what you really want to hear, some of Frank’s received messages. Let’s get started with one just to get the idea. On his SoundCloud page, Frank posts clips that he has already edited down to just the moment that he considers significant, and then repeats each one several times as he adds equalization and/or changes the pitch to make the speech more distinct. Here’s one, and I’ll just tell you in advance that Frank has identified the words “Frank we’ll save you” in here:
Frank’s Box, or the “ghost box” as Frank prefers it to be called, is often described as a random radio tuner, but there’s a bit more to it than that. He first developed the idea in 2002, and there are three basic parts to his device. First is a component that generates either white noise, like this:
Or, a sweeping tone like this:
Then the voltage of that signal is moderated to the correct voltage that can be used to control the tuner of a radio taken from a car stereo, which is the second component. Car stereos are used whose tuners are voltage controlled, which in their original factory condition, would have come from the tuning knob; but in Frank’s case, it’s either a random signal that constantly tunes the radio all over the dial, or a sweeping signal that tunes the radio all the way from one end to the other. Frank has said he believes that the sweeping method gives better results than the random, or white noise controlled, method.
The third component is what he calls the echo box. It’s a box about the size of a shoe box with speakers and a microphone inside. The radio’s audio output is played over the speakers inside the chamber, and picked up by the microphone. The signal coming from this microphone is what produces the final product. So what you hear from the box is not the direct output of what the radio tuner picks up; you’re actually hearing it one generation away. It’s played over speakers into a small box and then that live audio is recorded and played for you.
Frank describes the purpose of the echo box . . .
Everyone likes a good paranormal tale. However, often the really interesting stories are not about ghosts and UFOs—they’re about the people who run after them with a notebook in hand.
The world is full of tireless paranormal researchers who spend countless hours in a never-ending attempt to understand the incomprehensible and find the truth behind the legends. These are their stories.
10 • William Hope And Spirit Photography
William Hope (1866-1936) was a famous British medium and paranormal researcher. He gained fame with his amazing “spirit photography,” a seemingly uncanny ability to capture the images of ghosts and spirits on camera. Although this technology is commonplace today (and, more often than not, known as “photoshopping”), Hope was the first man to produce these type of images. As such, his popularity as a medium exploded.
Hope took many precautions with the plate cameras he used in order to rule out any possibility of fraud. However, this itself turned out to be a scam. In reality, the complicated rules he claimed to follow were little more than smoke and mirrors. Hope’s pictures were actually the product of skillful photo manipulation and advanced superimposing techniques. Still, although we can’t respect him as the herald of the supernatural world he liked to present himself as, we can at least give him a nod for his work as a pioneering photography artist.
9 • Independent Investigations Group
The Independent Investigations Group—or IIG for short—is a famous paranormal research organization that was founded in Hollywood, California in 2000, but now operates across America. They’re the largest and best known group of their kind in the US, and their founder, Jim Underdown, is a common sight at panels and discussions around the country.
IIC takes a decidedly skeptical stance in its investigations, but it always strives to give its subjects a fair chance to prove their mystical powers. They have an ongoing offer to pay a large cash prize to anyone who can demonstrate scientifically verifiable paranormal abilities. The sum was originally $50,000, but was recently bumped up to $100,000, possibly thanks to their collaboration with the James Randi Foundation, another famous skeptic organization.
Be warned, though: It’s not easy money. The video above shows the IIC investigating Anita Ikonen, who had claimed to have the power of “medical dowsing” (in this case, telling if someone is missing an internal organ).
It didn’t go well for her.
8 • EMF Meters
EMF (electromagnetic field) meters are one of the most common tools in the working kit of a ghost hunter. There is some confusion as to why they are so important. Some say it’s because ghosts actually emit electromagnetic radiation, others claim they merely disturb the area’s existing electromagnetic field. It doesn’t really matter which of the theories is true—either way, the ghost hunting community often accepts the idea that ghosts and other spirits can be detected with an EMF meter.
Obviously, the use of the device presents many problems. No one really knows how to interpret the readings—whether or not ghosts are right behind them. Certain researchers have even speculated that EMF anomalies might actually cause hauntings, rather than the other way around.
Some of the more enthusiastic paranormal researchers find their way around the problem by creating complicated sets of fine-tuning instructions for their EMF meters. However, it’s pretty safe to assume that most researchers just carry their meters around and if the needle starts moving, grab their cameras and hope for the best.
7 • Viktor Grebennikov
Viktor Grebennikov was a Soviet scientist and naturalist with a very strange interest in supernatural—or, rather, supremely natural—methods of transport. Grebennikov’s day job was as an entymologist (insect researcher), but he liked to dabble in the paranormal. Before his death in 2001, he had amassed a large amount of research on the art of levitation, and even claimed to have built a platform able to levitate a fully-grown man.
Grebennikov’s alleged levitation techniques were based on a specific, arcane geometrical structure he claimed he had built from insect parts. This bug machine was supposedly able to lift him for over 305 meters (1,000 ft) and could easily reach speeds of over 25 kilometers (15.5 mi) per minute. He was protected from these high speeds by an energy grid all around him.
Well, that’s his story anyway. When you actually look at the video material he left behind, it looks a lot like the few bug parts he’s able to move without touching them only do so because he’s creating static electricity by rubbing the surface under them.
6 • Ovilus
The Ovilus is a “ghost box” that has gained notoriety among paranormal investigators in recent years. It’s essentially the ghost hunter’s equivalent of a text-to-speech program. The Ovilus detects the subtle changes ghosts, demons, and other incorporeal entities make in their surroundings, and converts these messages into spoken words. It’s a dowsing rod, EMF meter, and a recording device, all in one machine. Ovilus III, the most recent model, is said to have a vocabulary of 2,000 words, along with a thermal flashlight, multiple operating modes, a recording function, and other neat extras.
As amazing as the Ovilus would be if it really worked, at least one reviewer is certain that the product is actually a fraud. Although it does have all the sensors and functions that it claims to, they do nothing to detect—let alone communicate with—ghosts. The Ovilus merely scans your environment and, when the conditions are right, the machine gives you a preset speech response from its memory.