Who ya' gonna call?............

Dirtball Busters!

It was in the late '83, early '84 timeframe. A time when the Personal Computer was in its infancy.  Names like the TRS-80, Apple 2, and the Commodore 64, were the PC's of choice for this first wave of home computer users.  While I have always been a "radio geek" first and foremost, I started dabbling into computers when they became cheap enough to afford.  I was first a proud owner of a Commodore VIC-20, and then later a Commodore 64. The BASIC programming language held some promise, and I was always tinkering with little programs. Well one day, I had an idea to interface the computer to a recent radio addition, a Realistic TRC-459 computer controlled base station.

trc459.jpg (44165 bytes)

This radio utilized a microprocessor to control channel and mode selection, and scanning functions.  Function entry was accomplished through a numeric keypad. The idea here was that if I were to interface the Commodore 64 to the TRC-459, that I could create something which could change channels, modes, and even transmit automatically under program control.  The first hurdle was to build the interface. I settled on micro relays to mimic keypad entries, and I utilized an 8 bit parallel binary decoder to decode the binary word sent from the C-64, and translate it into equivalent keypad functions. I had to tap into the radio for a PTT transmit control line, and a COS line from the squelch circuit, which would become active if the squelch was opened.

After a few initial quirks were ironed out, the radio-computer interface was working!  I wrote a BASIC computer program which allowed me to "talk" to the radio via the computer. I could change channels, modes, and put it into scan mode, and even activate the transmitter. It was working pretty well. So now the question became, what do I do with this thing now that I've done all this work?

Well around this time, there was another CB'er in the local area, who went by the handle of Scorpion, whom we had nicknamed "Dirtball".  Dirtball was a few years younger than we were at the time, and still somewhat immature. Anyway, one night we had had some sort of argument.  I don't remember the particulars of what it was about, but at some point I threatened that if he didn't "wise up", that I would plug his ears and he wouldn't talk to anyone.  He accurately pointed out, that I couldn't be on the radio 24/7, I had to sleep and go to work sometime and that he'd just wait until then to talk.  Sensing my next thought, he also pointed out that he would simply move to a different channel if I locked the mic on, or tried planting a "Bush Boogie".  He had made some good points, but I was not yet ready to concede defeat to this intelligent but belligerent miscreant.  As I tried to come up with a solution to this problem, I looked over at the computerized marvel which I had recently created,  and suddenly, like a bolt of lightning from heaven, I suddenly knew the purpose of my evil creation!  With newfound confidence, I casually remarked to Dirtball,  that I had the means to shut him down 24/7, even when I was not around.  He had already dug himself a hole with his antics so far, and he was about to commit himself to lying in it, when he made the next statement along the lines of; "You can't do that".  Oh?  Nothing drives me harder than a good challenge!

One of the programs which I had for the C-64, was a voice synthesizer program called "SAM".  SAM had a voice which was similar to the early NOAA weather automated voice.  Very robotic, with what sounded like a slight Russian accent.  SAM could translate written text into verbal "words" (Sometimes you had to spell them phonetically for the correct pronunciation). Anyway, by utilizing the talents of SAM, I created a series of lengthy monologues with the sole purpose of lambasting Dirtball with wonderful prose, colorful metaphors, and witty commentary.  I then programmed in BASIC, a program which would start the radio scanning channels until it saw the squelch open. It would then stop the scan, and proceed to transmit one selection from a random sample of the SAM monologues for about 30 seconds. It would then un-key and resume scanning.  Since I didn't want to interfere with anyone beyond the local 1/2 mile area, I turned the power in the radio down to around 1 watt.  Not powerful enough to bother anyone in the distance, but still strong enough to plug Dirtball's receive, being that he was just a little over 1/4 mile away.  I set the squelch to maximum, so that only very close strong signals would open it.  Then that night I set it loose on the band.  Fortunately for me, at that time, there were only 2 or 3 people strong enough to break the squelch on "Dirtball Busters". The only one of them, besides Dirtball, who was really active at that time of night, was Art, and he was clued in to what I was doing.  So he sat back, drank a few Buds, worked on one of his many projects and prepared to have a few laughs.  Dirtball tried to talk that night, but every time he did, he would un-key only to hear one of many pre-programmed monologues.  Changing channels didn't help, as "Dirtball Busters" was relentlessly scanning every channel.  I left it on for the rest of the night and went to bed. After another perilous night, Dirtball finally cried "uncle".  I had won that argument, and proved my point.  It was made all that more sweet because I had managed to use technology to solve an attitude problem. Since he now knew that I had the means to carry out my threat, he was a little less aggressive in the future.

Some of the locals who had witnessed "Dirtball Busters" in action, wondered what it was and I received a lot of questions about it as a result.  Most of the people thought it was pretty cool.  Naturally, I also had requests to make a similar device for them, but that ended up being far too impractical and expensive.  Once they found out the costs and equipment involved, they generally lost interest.  I later modified the program somewhat to adapt it for other uses.  But as things were prone to happen back then, I was soon presented with a horse trade offer for the TRC-459 (without the computer interface),  and I took it.  So the brief career of "Dirtball Busters", ended just as fast as it had started.  But like most other projects, it was a learning experience.  I learned a lot about digital interfacing from all that playing around, and had a ton of memorable fun in the process.  Art and I still talk about that night almost 30 years later.