March 20, 2000

KMUD’s Pirate Radio Adventures at the Mojave Phone Booth

janggolan weblog

The Mojave Phone Booth was a phone booth in a remote region of the Mojave National Preserve that rang almost 24 hours a day 7 days a week. People from all over the planet called the most remote phone booth known on earth with the hope that someone would answer. Installed shortly after World War 2 at the request of local miners, the phone booth was miles from civilization, 15 miles from the nearest highway, near Death Valley.

For more than fifty years it was the most curious landmark in a wild and desolate area until it was removed by park officials in May 2000.

On March 20, 2000 an adventurous and enthusiastic crew from shortwave pirate station KMUD descended on the Mojave Phone Booth for a historic broadcast from the site. The phone booth had been recently publicized in the media including the nationally syndicated Art Bell show. One of the KMUD operators that night called the Art Bell show from the booth and spoke with guest host Peter Weissbach. KMUD was allowed to give the time and frequency of their broadcast but not the phone number (which was 760-733-9969). However, the phone number was easily available on the internet, setting the stage for a live call-in show transmitted by KMUD on 6851 and 3450 kHz.

KMUD crew members spent three days and two nights in the Mojave National Preserve and recall the weekend as being perfect for their activities. Careful planning had gone into the technical arrangements. Antennas were set up and transmitters finely tuned. Batteries were charged and ready to go. An audio pickup and mixer were connected to the phone. Wires and cables were strung everywhere, turning the booth into a scene from an electrician’s repair shop.

Everything seemed to work like a charm. No park rangers visited the phone booth that weekend and thankfully no one from the Federal Communications Commission. After half an hour of testing, KMUD signed on with Art Bell’s “The Chase” theme. The signal went out in AM mode with about 20 watts of carrier power. A CD of wolf calls played atmospherically in the background as the KMUD crew interviewed callers on the air. The effect worked beautifully – no one seemed to notice that coyotes, not wolves, are indigenous to the desert.

KMUD’s broadcast featured conversations with callers, some music and station IDs, and the announcers encouraging listeners to call the phone booth. An interesting woman caller suggested that the Mojave Phone Booth was drawing its power from a UFO held at “Area 51” in Nevada. Two callers reported on reception conditions. Two reporters from Canadian Television arrived at the phone booth just prior to the KMUD transmission. They interviewed the KMUD crew before the show and videotaped them fielding phone calls. This must have been a first – shortwave radio pirates broadcasting live being interviewed by television journalists.

One woman who called during the weekend was an official with a Zurich based financial institution. She called from St. Moritz where she was facilitating a seminar for corporate CEOs. Several weeks earlier the woman had been touring the desert and happened upon the phone booth. She answered some calls and learned all about the booth’s story. After returning to Switzerland she decided to call the booth herself.

The KMUD broadcast from the Mojave Phone Booth was well documented in audio and video. It is unclear how many people actually heard the broadcast but those who did were witnesses to pirate radio history. The beautiful, stark Mojave environment was a natural setting for people connecting with other people, their voices shimmering through the phone lines and the ether, the power of radio bringing them all together.