Phone Losers of America
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The PLA Logo
|Headquarters||Roy, New Mexico|
|Madhouse Radio, Prank Call Nation|
|The Snow Plow Show
The Phone Losers of America (PLA) is an American phreaking group founded in the 1990s, active on the hacking scene. The PLA e-zine was first written in 1990, and the official web site went up in 1994. It has ranked at the top of Alexa's "Prank Call" category. It now however only regularly hosts a podcast called, "The Snow Plow Show" that mainly does prank calls, and occasional phone mobs.
The Phone Losers of America has a history spanning more than 20 years. While the PLA didn't actually exist until 1994, the ideas and articles which were brought to the PLA began in 1992. By 1995, PLA became very well known in the computer underground for their odd contributions to the text zine scene. Most hacker and phreak related bulletin board systems carried the series of PLA text files.
The PLA text files continued until mid-1997, when RBCP suddenly put an end to them. Though the text files ended, the PLA never slowed down. Their website continued to flourish, PLA TV was born, and several prank call CDs were released. The PLA community continued to grow on IRC and on the various PLA Forums. In 2002, RBCP began an internet radio station which he called PLA Radio which still exists today as Cactiradio, along with an IRC channel.(PLA History, 2008)
The PLA e-zine was originally distributed electronically via a dial-up BBS, with an option to buy the magazine and have it shipped by mail. It is not recommended that anyone follow any instructions in any article, since for the most part, the humorous antics (such as Phone fraud) are illegal.
The editor of the e-zine was Brad Carter, who also went by the aliases of RBCP, RedBoxChiliPepper and Alex, the latter being his middle name. Most of the material in the e-zine was written by Brad, especially in the early issues where he was the only person contributing. Eventually he began accepting submissions from readers and the e-zine grew into a multi-article format, much like Phrack and other e-zines of that era. The e-zine also included several ads for breast augmentation devices, fool's gold detectors, and impossible Chinese finger traps.
Each issue of the e-zine usually centered around a single topic, such as BBS hacking, using a red box, revenge tactics, call forwarding hacking, etc. While most of the issue were informative and legitimately taught readers how to do these things, the issues were also heavy on humor and sprinkled with complete nonsense and things that would never work. Much of the fun in reading the PLA e-zine was spotting the nonsense and knowing that many people would take the ridiculous advice seriously. An example of this would be issue #33 (Issue #33, 1995), where PLA provided a phony secret code for pay phones that would cause all of the money to fall out of the change slot.
In early 2006, RBCP started releasing almost-monthly audio comedy shows called PLA Radio. The shows features comedy skits, commercials, parodies and lots of pranks. The show is released as a podcast and has been featured several times on iTunes and is regularly listed in the Top 10 on Podcast Alley. Some of the names used, like Chris Tomkinson and cactus, are inside jokes for the PLA's dedicated followers. Episodes are released sporadically, sometimes occurring monthly and sometimes only happening a few times a year. They consist of posting fake classified ads and mocking anyone who calls to respond. (PLA Radio, 2008)
Since canceling the PLA zine, RBCP has been regularly releasing short videos, usually revolving around various pranks that him and friends have pulled. Most of the earlier episodes feature RBCP and EvilCal, which includes the legendary Adventures of Elephant and Bird. RBCP still releases videos today, the most recent episodes revolving around modifying a toaster to broadcast on drive-thru frequencies and getting back at the religious people who constantly show up at his door. You can watch most of the PLA TV episodes on YouTube, which are linked from the PLA TV website.
PLA Voice Bridge
The PLA hosts a voice bridge. This bridge was previously hosted on the same extension but the provider changed phone numbers. There are daily conferences from 8pm to 12am EST. The voice bridge is very active during this time, with many people talking and background noise such as soundboards (which many users frown on). The bridge is also a popular place for Telephone Relay Service operators to gather.
A very small number of international enthusiasts have expressed support for an alternative meeting time to allow them to join the fun. (Currently the 8pm to 12am EST schedule occurs in the middle of the night for Europe, the Middle East, and Asia). There has been no official or unofficial secondary meeting time chosen as of March 2007. Most international participants make do with listening in for a short time very late at night or very early in the morning.
Occasionally, a user will create a "secret 800 number" which, when called, forwards to the voice bridge. This is usually accomplished by some method of theft of the toll-free 800 service, and is never officially sanctioned by PLA.
Brad Carter of the Phone Losers currently maintains a telephone network interface for the PLA. This number presents several options, including attempting to hack some answering machines that Brad has, calling the PLA conference line, calling PLA member TheN's home phone, or playing a choose-your-own-adventure story over the phone line.
PLA Community Forums
The Phone Losers web site has always had some kind of forums on their website. In 1997 they used WebForums which were continually attacked by backers of the rival Boulder News Forums. In 1998 and 1999, RBCP used his own forum software in Perl, called FruitWare. These were closed in February 1999 due to abuse.
The site remained without forums for the next couple of years, but communicated with each other on the PLA Email List. In 2002, EvilCal took over by creating Cal's Forums which lasted until he shut them down in April 2006, setting up Cal's Content Kingdom in its place.
Today, the PLA community forums are administrated by RBCP, and were established on 03-21-2006. There are currently over 1,600 registered users, with over 50,000 posts on topics mostly related to the PLA. PLA Forums
Additionally, there is a dedicated PLA Subreddit with active users PLA Subreddit
PLA: The Books
In 2010, the Phone Losers of America book was released. PLA Book The book contains many of the best stories that were found in the original PLA e-zine, such as the Fred Meyer remote intercom pranks, the story of Dino's cordless phone, and the call forwarding experiments. Also included are more recent PLA events, such as RBCP's eBay feedback pranks and the changing of a McDonald's sign. Everything was re-written for the book and some stories are brand new, but based on content originally found in the PLA e-zine.
In 2011, a second Phone Losers of America book was released, called Phone Losers of America: The Complete 'Zine Collection. PLA: The Complete 'Zine Collection This book was simply an archive of all of the original issues of the PLA e-zine, in a mostly unedited format. This book was released "at cost" as a paperback book and for free as an e-book.
The PLA celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2004. While some of the textfiles show dates as early as 1991, RBCP claims the PLA as its current incarnation didn't fully exist until 1994. Several members of Cal's Forums put their heads together to find a way to celebrate the anniversary in a unique way. Rob Vincent aka Rob T Firefly, Judas Iscariot, Big-E, Liife, I-BaLL, and Murd0c headed up a panel at The Fifth H.O.P.E. conference.
The panel occurred July 9, 2004 at 11pm and was seen by over 800 people in the audience and countless more via streaming media from 2600. Widely regarded as a success, the group played prank videos, held impromptu question and answer sessions, played recordings of prank calls, and nearly caused a riot when giving away free PLA Media CDs. All of the attention caused mentions in USA Today, Wired and The New York Post.
There were also problems when RBCP suggested that Cal (the webmaster of the PLA forums) was planning a hostile takeover of the PLA. Many agreed with this RBCP theory, and many expressed their support when he led a crusade against Cal. But some said RBCP had gone "off his rocker", and was making unfounded threats. The Phone Losers were divided until April 2006, when it was announced that they would lay their differences aside and concentrate instead on pranking people and trying to find "the original spark that united the PLA". (PLA Website Update, 2004)
A second PLA panel was scheduled for July 19, 2008 at 11pm at The Last H.O.P.E.. The presentation included a full multimedia work up of the new pranks the PLA has pulled in the four years since the previous panel, question and answers and live pranks at the hotel. Returning speakers included Murd0c, Rob T. Firefly, I-BaLL and Sidepocket.
A "Cactus" has become the PLA's mascot, as well as catchphrase. The origin of the word dates back to an old prank call by RBCP, where he would say nothing but the word "cactus," over and over. In common usage, It can be stated with a question mark "Cactus?" or as an exclamation "Cactus!" Similar "Cactus" themed prank calls are often made by PLA members. Themed prank calls were often made under the pseudonym, Mildred Monday. (PLA issue #35, 1995)
The PLA has regularly received a fair amount of attention from the media, beginning with a front page article in the Sunday issue of the Belleville News Democrat on September 3, 1995. (PLA Issue #35, 1995) An editorial was written several days later, followed by another front page article on the PLA a week later. (PLA Issue #38, 1995)
The website and zine received regular writeups in computer magazines such as The Net, The Web and Internet Underground throughout the 1990s. (PLA's press page, 2008) PLA received national attention in 2002, through a segment on Tech TV (YouTube, 2008) and then once again in 2005 when RBCP was interviewed live via satellite on CNBC's On The Money. (YouTube, 2008) PLA was also interviewed in 2005 for an article about Wal-Mart in the Boston Herald. (PLA's press page, 2008)
In August 2015, the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Missouri featured the PLA in an article about a series of "strange calls" received by local residents who had signed a petition against a crosswalk construction project. The article quoted an FBI representative who allegedly told the Tribune that the calls to Columbia residents "would likely be prosecuted on the local level." However, no prosecution of the calls ever occurred.
United Phone Losers; a PLA Spin-Off
In 1998, Southern California phone phreak "linear" [sic] created a spin-off group of the Phone Losers of America, and dubbed it the United Phone Losers. Though the group reportedly started as a joke, they picked up momentum when RBCP of the PLA recognized the UPL and asked them to take over the now-defunct PLA Telephone Director0y (later renamed the UPL/PLA Telephone Director0y), a comprehensive list of interesting and/or humorous telephone numbers.
The UPL had a popular message board forum and released 28 issues of its own ezine up until 2002 when they ceased production of the ezine (to return later as sporadic releases). They did continue to host their website, however, and actively maintained their message board and archived ezine and site content until 2004, when the website, http://www.phonelosers.net, was "domain sniped" by cybersquatters. Reclaiming the domain was initially decided against due to the group members' declining interest in continuing the project and focus shifts to other projects and aspects of their lives. However, more recently in 2008, the group and the website have returned (see below).
In 2005, RBCP of the PLA compiled all 28 issues of the defunct UPL ezine and hosted them on the PLA website, stating "So now the tables have turned - the PLA is stealing all of the UPL's material and putting it on their site. This page is a homeage [sic] to the old UPL site and is a complete archive of the UPL issues."
Shortly thereafter, RBCP released an "unauthorized" 29th issue of the United Phone Losers ezine, explaining what happened to the old UPL website as well as including previously unreleased material.
In 2006, linear gained back domain registration of phonelosers.net once the former cybersquatters lost interest and let their registration expire. The site sat still as an archive of the old UPL issues until March 2008 when linear announced that the site and the group had returned and would become active once more.
In June 2008, linear "hacked" PLA Radio and released an "unauthorized" episode with cohost bex0. The episode explained that the take-over was retaliation against RBCP for releasing the issue #29 of the United Phone Losers ezine. In October of the same year, the UPL released the 30th issue of their ezine, bringing it back after about 6 years since a previous "authorized" release.
The Snow Plow Show
Following the end of The Phone Show and PLA Radio, RBCP (Brad Carter) started hosting a podcast, which he named "The Snow Plow Show". The name is in reference to a joke made in an online classified ad for a snow plow for sale Brad had come across, in which the author questioned the reasoning behind the fact that the words "snow" and "plow" do not rhyme, despite being spelled similarly.
The current host of The Snow Plow Show is solely RBCP, who also records, edits, and releases the podcast via the Phone Losers website, Stitcher, Youtube, and other locations. The style and organization of the show is notable for its more complex, creative, and clever means of carrying out its prank calls.
The calls that take place in the show are all made in a manner that avoids crossing the line of being either illegal or unethical. RBCP avoids making his calls crossing the line of illegality by refusing to make any threats, calls to those aged under 18 (minors in the United States), making a "harassing" number of unwanted phone calls, impersonating law enforcement, causing property damage, inciting physical harm to an individual, or otherwise inciting panic in the recipient which could reasonably cause the person to perform such activities. Besides the above-guidelines summarized that are explicitly followed, RBCP also takes additional care to make the calls ethical by avoiding direct insults, overly-vulgar humor, or allowing any personal details to be publicly revealed. Despite all of these guidelines and principles being carried out, recipients commonly threaten to call the police during the course of the phone call, and sometimes the victim actually makes a call to the police to report the call despite the lack of any illegal activity having had taken place.
As of early 2016, the show often opens with a memorable prank call made on an earlier episode, the official introduction plays, RBCP introduces the show and summarizes the premise of the upcoming show and makes any relevant announcements regarding phones or the show itself. The main part of the show is then played, which may have been either pre-recorded or broadcast to a live audience, many of whom participate in a chat room with RBCP as he makes the calls to suggest ideas and make comments. Lastly, "the voicemails" are played, which are composed of short voicemails left by listeners on a line maintained by RBCP, who responds to each message left. There are several notable characters and listeners that appear on the voicemail fairly regularly, including "Corbin Guy", "Gloria", "Olga", "Crimson", "Brad", "Uncle Scott", and "Ahmed Omadi".
Oftentimes, a business such as an Auto-Repair Shop, Pizza Delivery Restaurant, or 1-800 catalog business is called and made to believe that the prank caller is in fact the respective business' corporate office and that "the orders aren't coming through". They are then told that to resolve the issue, "the IT department" says that the orders can be looked up on their computers by putting in, among other things, the customer's phone number. The employee on the business' phone is then prompted to divulge several of the business' customers' phone numbers, as well as other information about the customer's order. Using this information, prank calls are then made to the customers whose information was just given, the prank-caller often impersonating an employee of the business itself. The customer is often left without any option but to believe that the call is being made from an actual employee of the business because the prank caller often spoofs their phone number to the organization/business' actual phone number as well as reveals information that only the business would know (for example, the person's pizza order, shoe size, or what service was performed on their car).
In another popular type of prank call, listeners of the show from around the United States are encouraged to leave a note on strangers' parked cars stating "Sorry I Dinged Your Car - Roy", along with a provided phone number which, when called, is directed to a voicemail of the fictional "Roy", actually maintained by RBCP. The voicemails that are left are then listened to and the numbers called back by RBCP as "Roy" and commonly told a confusing and/or ridiculous story about how the "ding" was made and/or why the note was left. This style of prank call is now reserved for a single specified period announced once annually for listeners to leave the notes, usually taking place for approximately a month in the fall.
- MJ Morning Show RBCP's prank calls to MJ et. all are recorded in the PLA media pack.
- Tube Bar prank calls
- "Snow Plow Show - Website". Phone Losers of America. Retrieved 04-09-15. Check date values in:
- "PLA's Voice Bridge: 253-397-1819 - Phone Losers of America". Phone Losers of America.
- "Strange calls about College Avenue project were YouTube prank". Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 2016-06-04.