Copyright © 1999, Neal McEwen
Much is told about coastal and marine radio operators, military radiotelegraphers, and early commercial wireless telegraphers, but little is told of police radiotelegraphers. Bob Hickman, AA5WE, recounts his days as an Arizona Highway Patrol (AHP) CW operator and gives us some insight into the largely undocumented police CW nets. Here are Bobís own words.
"I worked for AHP for twelve years. I'll run off the top of my head for a bit."
"There were three allocations of frequencies, only one of which I remember exactly. Each grouping had one calling frequency and two working frequencies. The daytime block was somewhere around 7300-7400 kHz (Kcs), but we in the west used only one of the three. I seem to have 7435 stuck in mind, dunno why."
"These frequencies allegedly belonged to the US Navy at night. After sundown traffic went to 5195 kHz for the calling frequency and 5140 and 5135 as the working frequencies. The lowest block was somewhere around 2300-2400 kHz but we, in Flagstaff, AZ, never seemed to have any success there. The Illinois State Police and some others in the east seemed to have those frequencies tied up with local traffic--or so it seemed. It may simply have been that we were never heard."
"I had a major move in 1981 and many papers seem to have disappeared in that move. Among them was a list of all the working stations, their calls and their short calls. That was the data I was attempting to obtain from APCO. The only assigned calls I can recall are: KPF46 (NF), AZ HP Flagstaff, AZ, KOB34 (NX) AZ HP Phoenix, AZ, KMA89 (SL) LAPD Los Angeles, CA and KMA25 (SS) CHP Sacramento, CA. One other call was KKB90, but I cannot recall whether that was assigned to NMSP Santa Fe or to DPS Austin, Texas."
"The letters in parentheses were the station short calls use for calling or fast ID in lieu of the full call, which of course had to be given in full at certain required times. Other short calls for stations worked out of Flagstaff, some of them not often were: OR Salem, Or, DR PD Denver, Co, OG OHP Guymon, Ok and OK OHP Edmond, Ok, KS at KHP Topeka, Ks, TA DPS Austin, Texas, JC Jefferson City, Mo, LN Lincoln, NE. KY ASP Frankfort, KY, BO MPD Mobile, Al, NO NPD New Orleans, La., DM DPD Detroit, MI, PS ISP Springfield, IL and I guess that's where my head quits."
"Flagstaff traffic was a mix of AZ originations and messages being relayed east to west and west to east. There were days when I took my lunch home with me because there had not been time to eat. On other days---blah. Our equipment consisted of a Collins 1KW transmitter (don't remember model) tuned to nine crystals and controlled from the operating position by telephone dial. The transmitter was located in the highway department yard about 100 yards from the AHP dispatch center. The antennas were parallel fed fanned dipoles strung north/south and as I recall only about 60 feet in the air."
"We had three National Receivers (don't recall the models) and the receiving antenna was relatively low and ran along the north side of the building in an east/west direction. The operating position had a mill, telephone and teletype machine positioned so all one had to do was swivel. We kept a pencil log and a typed log. Everything was logged....really appreciated that when an FCC monitor dropped a slip on me----but, he apparently was not hearing all of what was going on and the log saved the day."
"A few years ago the SOWP WW BEACON carried SK information on one of the founding fathers of the Police CW Net. My memory says Cleveland, Oh was the city but I am not sure. I've gone through all of the Beacons I can find but have not been able to turn up that copy. It had to have been after 1992 because I did not join until then. Also, not an article directly concerning the net, but QST sometime since 1990 ran an antenna and/or special interest story about a Ham who was an Illinois State Police operator--I found the article somewhat humorous because it told about the techs building a beer can vertical and placing it in use at the barracks."
"Traffic was mostly routine police traffic but priority messages were provided for. A "P" in the preamble usually got a green light through any stack of routine stuff. Most of the messages were requests for drivers license and registration data, record checks on individuals, warrant checks, All Points Bulletins (both regional and national) for wanted persons, vehicles etc."
"In Arizona all law enforcement agencies were accommodated. If a sheriff's deputy in some hole in the wall wanted a check from an out-of-state location he would call his information in to the sheriff's dispatch center. The sheriff's office would relay the request via voice or teletype to one of the AHP dispatch centers. If that was not Phoenix or Flagstaff it would be relayed on to Phoenix or Flagstaff where the CW operator would put the information into the proper message format, assign a number to it and get it onto the net. Frequently Phoenix would originate under KOB34 and then pass the messages via teletype to KPF46 to be put on the net."
"When a message was received at KPF46 or KOB34 the appropriate logging was executed and then the message relayed via voice or teletype to the agency that had made the request."
A sample originating message would look like this:
234 KPF46 x 2230 date
DRIVERS LICENSE INFO JOHN HENDERSON WMA DOB
FOURTEEN JULY TWENTY FOUR SIX TWO BRN BLU FORMER
PD PHOENIX AZ
An All Points Bulletin, "APB" would look like this:
324 KOB34 P 1500 date
APB AZ CA NM TX
WANTED MURDER THREE WHITE MALES NFD DRIVING FIFTY FIVE
RED OVER WHITE OLDS FOUR DOOR AZ LICENSE MARY CHARLES PAUL
FOUR SIX EIGHT BELIEVED ENROUTE ELPASO BUT COULD GO TO
SAN DIEGO LAST SEEN ON US SIXTY SIX IN HOLBROOK AREA TEN AM
DATE CONSIDER ARMED ADDITIONAL INFORMATION SOON
NAVAJO COUNTY SHERIFF HOLBROOK AZ
A return message would look like this:
232 KMA89 X 1450 DATE
PD FLAGSTAFF AZ
201 KPF46 RICHARD OBRIEN NO WARRANTS MISDEMEANOR
ARRESTS FOR LOITERING NO FELONY RECORD
PD LOSANGELES CA
"Telex and Fax were last resort channels if the situation demanded it--expensive though."
"We had a very good working relationship with CHP Sacramento. On more than one occasion when I needed a driver's license check "NOW" I could call SS, tell him what I had and he would give me the next number off his serial, while he was pulling up the DL info via teletype I would block out the message form with number, call sign etc. When he had he data on the teletype he would give me a beep, I'd give him a "K" and he would send the information as he read it off the teletype. Then he would dummy up a message on his end to cover what we had just done. Sometimes a turnaround like that took less than ten minutes--and in those days that was almost as fast as I could get one in state from our MVB using a dedicated phone line."
"Also, Paul Mitchell at PD Detroit used to contact NMSP SFe about the time we in the west changed from 7 to 5 MHz and ask Lou to check with me for traffic to the northeast. If I had any, and sometimes there might be eight or ten on the hook, Paul would work cross frequency with me to take my traffic--usually he could hear me well on 7 but I had to listen for his "R" "K" on 5195 because it was too late in the day for him to work on 7. Fun times really."
"I left AHP in 1969 and at that time KOB34, Phoenix, was being used only intermittently. Phoenix AHP had become a teletype switching center for the TTY net that was replacing CW. My best information on KPF46 was that it was closed in 1972."
Many thanks to Bob for telling us this story before it becomes lost or faded in memory.