In the discussion thread: A round of applause for the person who put their scanner online and Ustream for not censoring it. [View all]
Response to Paul E Ester (Original post)
Fri Apr 19, 2013, 08:48 PM
Paul E Ester (952 posts)
19. SCANNER FEVER
Right now, on eBay, you can buy a police scanner for anywhere from thirty bucks (Uniden Bearcat, sixteen channels) to four hundred and fifty (a thousand channels, G.P.S. capabilities, etc.). Such devices have been on the market at least since the nineteen-thirties and grew in popularity in the seventies, a byproduct of ham radio. In a piece called “Action at Your Fingertips,” a 1977 issue of Popular Mechanics encouraged hobbyists to “peek into the worlds” of police and fire units, taxicab drivers, forest rangers, ship-to-shore conversations, weather forecasters, rescue workers and “newsmen calling in stories.”
Law enforcement and journalists often keep scanners in their homes, finding odd comfort (and a paycheck) in the ceaseless crackle and fuzz. A police scanner can create a personal connection between a listener and some distant drama: the voices are those of the actual men and women in the field, working a scene, their experiences unfolding in real time. To hear events as they happen, on one’s own terms, is to experience a news event in an entirely different kind of way. But things get tricky when the untrained listener decides to go public with what they overhear.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the manhunt for Boston Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev is the speed with which ordinary citizens on the Internet’s bleeding edge discovered the old, analog law-enforcement tool. In the early hours of the operation, a swelling audience of thousands Googled and link-shared its way to online live-streaming versions of the police scanner, and to the tense voices of officers and tactical units in Watertown referencing “long guns” and calling for robots and dogs and “retreat!” Snippets of presumed fact hemorrhaged their way into a rapt world in a-hundred-and-forty-character bursts, often via undiscriminating human tidbit dispensers.
The events provided the perfect (if that is the right word) circumstances for the scanner to emerge as an everyman device: a dramatic manhunt paired with legitimate public-safety concerns and an urgent need to understand what was happening. Insatiable, impatient voices appeared as the hunt intensified: “Stuff happening on the news is so slow,” one person tweeted. “Glad im listening to this scanner or else i would be about a half hour behind.” Listening gave danger-zone residents information they needed: stay inside, get down, don’t open the door; if you’re driving, take shelter, and don’t stop for anyone. Not everything heard over the scanners was so useful, though.
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