Friday, August 15, 2014

A DXer's View of the Violence in Ferguson

One of the hobbies I have picked up in recent years is monitoring public service radio traffic, especially police radio traffic. Over the past week, my Radio Shack PRO-2052 has received a lot of radio traffic coming out of Ferguson. This is in relation to the violence that followed a police-involved shooting in that town that's made international news. I'm sure you may have heard this over the BBC (either on satellite, shortwave or your local BBC outlet) in recent days.

I have lived most of my life in Hazelwood; the only time I have not lived in Hazelwood was the four years I lived outside of Atlanta (Woodstock from 1988 to 1991, and Marietta in 1991-92). I still remember the time the verdict in the Rodney King beating case was handed down in 1992. The local TV stations had cut into programming for live coverage of the violence around Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University; I still remember the afternoon drive DJ at Clark Atlanta's radio station (WCLK, 91.9 MHz), the late Ken Batie, making a plea for peace on the airwaves during his "Hot Ice" Contemporary Jazz show. Even WSB 750 had wall-to-wall coverage of the events in Atlanta back in 1992.

Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think something like this would happen close to home until last Saturday, when this shooting occurred. On Sunday, I had both of my TV sets on in the shack, tuned to two local stations. I switched back and forth between KMOV 24 (4), KSDK 35 (5) and KTVI 43 (2) for their coverage. Reminded of what happened 22 years ago down in Atlanta, I tuned into my old radio station, WFUN-FM 95.5, now known as "Old School 95.5". One of the DJs on the station is DJ Kut, whom I worked with at 89.5 KCFV back in the early to mid-1990s. Around 0142 CDT on August 11, I tuned my radio to Old School 95.5 and recorded more than 20 minutes' worth of programming for posterity. The recording included a message from St. Louis native Cedric the Entertainer (who grew up in nearby Berkeley) and a simulcast of KTVI's coverage of the violence. KMOX 1120 was nowhere to be heard as the violence was happening; they were running "Overnight America" instead of providing continuous coverage of what was going on. KTRS 550 was also missing, running "Red Eye Radio" instead of continuous coverage of the story. R&B radio came to the forefront as the events unfolded; local news/talk radio was, for the most part, absent.

I had my scanner on for several nights after that; the police helicopters flying over the area were using 154.725 MHz (used by several communities in northern St. Louis County, including Overland and Breckenridge Hills), later switching to 155.730 MHz (the Missouri Sheriffs' Net frequency). The latter frequency is close to the Hazelwood police frequency of 155.745 MHz. I also heard radio traffic on the frequencies used by St. Louis County Police (notably 155.655 MHz; the North County frequency is 155.130 MHz) and St. Ann Police (460.450 MHz), among others. Several municipalities in northern St. Louis County, including Dellwood, Jennings and nearby communities, use 155.550 MHz for dispatch and communications. Ferguson's police operations are primarily on 155.010 MHz. The law enforcement point-to-point frequency of 155.370 MHz has gotten quite a workout the last several days. I had even monitored the developments on satellite radio (I've been a Sirius-XM subscriber since 2007) via the BBC World Service and CBC Radio One; the story got coverage on the BBC World Service on August 11 (one of the people interviewed on that day was a reporter from KMOV). That night, the violence was covered on CBC Radio One's "The World at Six"; the first fifteen minutes of "As It Happens" that day was devoted to what was going on in Ferguson.

I began my broadcasting career in Ferguson nearly 30 years ago, at KCFV 89.5 MHz. I also spoke to the station's current General Manager, Paul Huddleston, on Tuesday (8/11) to talk about what's been going on. Neither of us knew, in our wildest dreams, that this would happen so close to home. I worked with Paul back in the early to mid-1990s at KCFV. A number of the air personalities on the station today are African-American; I'm sure they would have plenty to talk about, as far as the events that have unfolded are concerned. I worked with several African-Americans during my two tours of duty at KCFV; I retired in 2009 from a radio station which has a sizable African-American audience (WSIE, 88.7 MHz). None of us thought something like this would happen in Ferguson 30 or 20 years ago; not even three weeks ago.

I also talked about the events in Ferguson on the local Amateur Radio nets, starting with the Monday night net of the Lewis and Clark Radio Club (145.230 MHz, negative offset, PL tone 79.7 Hz); I also talked at length about it on the Tuesday night net of the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club (146.850 MHz, negative offset, PL tone 141.3 Hz). The events in Ferguson were also on the minds of many in the local Amateur Radio community.

I was also reminded that Dellwood was the longtime home of the late DXer Terry Klasek. He probably would have been searching for coverage of these events on the few stations still on shortwave. A back room of his old QTH on Vickie Place was devoted to his radio endeavors. Having a tabletop scanner in my shack allows me to monitor the radio traffic coming out of the area. This was one piece of equipment another long-gone DXer, Rich Eddie, had in his shack in Webster Groves.

The events of the past week also reminds me of being prepared for the worst. As a member of St. Louis Metro ARES, I've taken part in several practice deployments. While the Amateur Radio community hasn't been called upon to provide backup communications for the riots (this is a rare occurrence), they were called upon when an EF2 tornado hit Hazelwood in April of 2013. Monitoring the police radio traffic from the relative safety of my shack, five miles from the epicenter of the violence, allows one to find out the basic information about what's going on before it appears on the local, national or international news.

During times of disaster or violence, it's an excellent idea to have a tabletop or handheld scanner within reach. (The picture below is of my shack, taken in June 2014.)

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