For many reasons Pennsic 39 was a wash out for me this year. There was still a possibility that I’d be able to go out alone for the middle weekend, but that shriveled like my manhood under the gaze of a woman who would not be scorned. So, instead of simply sitting around drinking beer and sulking, we decided to sit around drinking in our tent and sing instead! Good Times were had by those who attended our mini Pennsic, I think. The “event” started for me on Thursday night, myself having taken off Friday to prepare the yard. By Friday afternoon the tent was set up and skulls and candles were in place for night time festivities. That night was nice, with only one friend and his kids making it out for a little pre-Pennsic party. Most of the fun happened Saturday afternoon into Saturday night as several of my similarly Pennsic-pitying friends showed up to share story and song supplemented by fine food and strong ale. We found many analouges to Pennsic in my back yard, though the town runs were much shorter and we didn’t have to wait for the honey wagon to clean Mr John. We all commented on how what we really missed about Pennsic the most were all the people who are really almost extended family who we miss very much. We also enjoyed star gazing and the Perseid meteor shower as the night grew older. I spent almost all Sunday out in the tent listening to Ceol na nGael with Eileen Ivers as guest host which made for an absolutely fantastic show and a perfect cap to my personal Pennsic. Finally got the tent down and stowed tonight after work
Several years ago I wrote a piece about my old GE portable radio. It was just a cheap portable AM/FM/cassette which got lugged around to keep me company while I was painting or doing chores. That radio eventually got relegated to the kitchen and was usually tuned (to the best of its ability) to the local NPR station during dinner prep. Cathy unplugged it yesterday, told me it was emitting a hum which made her nervous, handed it to me and I realized it was finally time to retire it.
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Just like my grandpa did, I like to buff police and fire calls on a scanner. Since I work in an emergency related industry, and occassionally had big trucks with reflective emergency tape all over them in the driveway, most of my neighbors have come to think of me as the local guy ‘in the know’ when there’s something going on. This rep was in serious jeopardy for awhile after my youngest
smashed my Radio Shack PRO-64 one too many times and it would no longer emit any sound whatsoever.I’ve had various scanners over the years, beginning with my grandpa’s old Bearcat, 10 channel stationary – now up at my mom’s. Many hours were spent listening to that I can tell you, but over the years the emergency services have changed the frequencies they use, as well as the technology they use to share those frequencies. Due to the vast amount of people using radios in this area, a simple one channel per precinct simply didn’t work anymore, and the county went to a Motorola type II
trunking system to allow the channels to be ‘shared’ between all users more efficiently.
Even if you had a scanner that could receive signals on this band (the 800MHz band), they were all jumbled up, such that a police call would be immediately followed by a taxi cab communication and then a bus company message making the result totally unintelligible due to the huge amount of communications occurring. Of course the actual users of the system didn’t hear this cacaphony of sound, since each has a ‘Fleet ID’, their radios only pick up those messages meant for their own fleet, but a citizen with a normal ‘non-trunking’ scanner would have to resort to button pressing tricks when attempting to follow a conversation.
I’ve been meaning to get a ‘trunk tracker’ radio that could follow individual fleet conversations for years, but it wasn’t until my current radio was disabled for several months that I decided to finally get one. I’ve always had fairly good luck with my Radio Shack scanners, and I went looking for a PRO-94 which another guy at work has, but found the
PRO-97 had just been reduced to the same price, so I got that.
It took me a little while to figure out how to program the thing, and I found
this site (from Georgia’s Gwinnet County) really more helpful to understanding what was happening than the manual. First, I picked bank 0 and erased everything that was pre-programmed (PGM, FUNC, 0, FUNC+CLR). Then I entered all the trunk system’s 866-868MHz frequencies (PGM, 000, freq, ENT). A great source for east coast scanning frequencies is at Jim Fordyce’s Long Island Scanning Resources, a site I have used as a reference for a really long time (although he’s moved the site to different servers over the years). The basic idea is to mark each of those frequencies as ‘MO’ first (PGM, 000, MODE to ‘MO’, PGM), so the scanner knows that you will be expecting to scan them as Mototola type. Then, you set up the trunking – each of the 10 bands are subdivided into 5 channels each. An example that you will see in the display might be 0-1, which is band 0, channel 1. Each channel can hold up to 30 ‘fleet IDs’. These are called ‘talk group IDs’ on the scanner and are indicated as ‘TGID#’. You can turn channels on and off, so the first job is to plan which fleet IDs you will want to group together so you can turn off (PGM, T to desired channel, FUNC+1) the groups of fleet IDs you don’t want to hear in order to focus on a particular channel of fleet IDs. For example, a simple set up around here might be to put two nearby precincts into it’s own channel (5th and 6th on channel 1, 3rd and 4th on channel 2 etc.), so you can listen to one group at a time. However, this doesn’t work with the scanner’s default settings because scanning can be done in one of two modes, open or closed. In open mode (the default), the scanner stops on any activity picked up on the trunking system. This results in the same problem I used to have on my old scanner. You have to set the scanner to ‘closed’ mode to be able to hear one channel of fleet IDs at a time as I described above. Type (MAN, 000, MAN) to get to channel 000 and look for the lo+ in the second line, press (FUNC+.) to change that to lo- which indicates closed mode. While scanning, just type in a numeric key to shut off a whole band – I use band 0 for police and 1 for fire, so I can turn police off and just listen to fireground operations if there’s a working fire.
One of the coolest things (besides being able to tune into one fleet ID at a time), is the text tag feature. You can assign a text tag to an entire band (PGM, FUNC, 0, TEXT, do the silly text entry thing which needs a little practice, ENT), and you can assign text to each individual Fleet ID that you enter (easy to do as you enter them by pressing TEXT at that time) such that as the scanner stops briefly for a transmission, you can read the text you typed in. This is great if you have lots of fleet IDs programmed in, since you can see who is talking at a glance.
Scanning was always considered one of those pasttimes that crotchety old men pursued from their easy chairs beer in hand, but with these portable radios, you’re not tied to a wall outlet anymore! No matter where you live, you will likely be shocked and amazed at what is happening around you at any time. The amount of incidents that occur near me around the clock is really sobering, and not having a radio for awhile made me feel incredibly vulnerable and ignorant when choppers are overhead and police cars whipped by at odd hours. It’s nice to know if a bad guy is running through back yards when those sirens are blaring or if there’s an accident blocking the highway before you go out. Even I can’t sit and listen all the time, but it’s good to be back ‘in the know’.