Published: March 1, 2011 By


I was walking down a Libby Hall corridor one spring day in 1969 when I noticed the TV room was packed. About 50 people were watching a basketball game on a big set with a rabbit ears antenna.

Or were trying to. Every few minutes the picture broke up. It was so bad that a tall guy was permanently stationed next to the set, endlessly fiddling with the knobs and the antenna.

Especially the antenna.

As the game went on, he held the antenna ever higher to get a picture. By the time the game ended he was standing on a chair, holding the antenna as high as he could in one hand, kind of like the Statue of Liberty. It was pretty funny.

As the crowd filed out of the room I heard someone say, “There’s a guy in the back with a TV jammer who’s bleeping up the picture.”

I hung around and tried to figure out who it was. Yup, there was a guy sitting in the back row, trying to look relaxed while everyone else was leaving. That’s probably him, I figured.

Years later I heard that Steve Wozniak (Engr ex’69, HonDocSci’89), aka The Woz, co-founder of Apple Computer and designer of the Apple II, the first practical personal computer (i.e., with a keyboard and monitor), attended CU but had, uh, issues.

That had to have been him in the TV room, I thought. It’s karmic.

And it turns out it was. I bought an iPad a couple months ago, and one of the first books I downloaded was Wozniak’s autobiography, iWoz. He fesses up in Chapter 4.

It seems a neighbor taught him how to build a TV jammer while he was in high school. It only took a single transistor, and the whole thing could fit in a hollowed-out, 9-volt battery case. His jamming capers on campus took on the character of Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks, albeit without the hanging. Amazingly, he was never caught.

But he was busted for, of all things, computer abuse. Seems he took a computer programming course that gave him access to CU’s mainframe. He spent hundreds of hours on the machine doing personal and class projects, utterly oblivious to the fact that mainframe computer time costs big bucks. The final bill came to thousands of dollars and exceeded his class budget for the year by 500 percent.

So CU put him on probation. And maybe it was a good thing because the incident helped convince him everyone should have her or his own personal computer. So he invented one and transformed the world.

Sometimes I wonder what the guy on the chair with the rabbit ears thinks of all that.

As a jazz fan, Paul Danish (Hist’65) firmly believes when a genius is jammin’ you let him jam.

Photo from Coloradan archives