Digital radio not without kinks

News director Dan Olsen of Craig's K27 television station no longer knows which police calls are worth chasing to get the story for his viewers. Although the TV station's headquarters are near enough to the Moffat County Public Safety Center for employees to hear police cars scream by, a new 800-megahertz radio system used by local emergency workers may leave the media and others used to listening to police scanners in the dark.

"We're really close to police station and see cars going by, but we don't know what the story is," Olsen said. "We can't just chase every police car. It's probably going to hurt some of our coverage."

Local law enforcement officials have been using a radio system that broadcasts in the 800-megahertz range since July 1. However, police still have the capability to use the former VHF system, which is mounted alongside the new system in police cars.

But residents and members of the media who want to hear all emergency calls by tuning into scanners through dispatch's VHF system will have to update those devices to listen to calls broadcast over the new trunk radio system.

Making that switch isn't likely for Craig resident Tom Ward, though he enjoys listening to his numerous police scanners. Since the switch, Ward says he can hear only a portion of police calls, which often doesn't tell him the whole story. But buying a new digital scanner, with the lowest local sale price recorded at about $450, is out of the question for the retired man living on a fixed income.

"It would take me quite a while to save that amount," he said.

Although the new system is designed to create seamless across-state communication, it initially is causing a few headaches for officials of Craig Fire/Rescue. Because the new system doesn't allow paging, firefighters have to switch between radios during a call. That means firefighters are paged on the VHF radios from dispatch but have to switch to the new radios to communicate en route to an emergency. However, while on the scene, firefighters have to switch back to VHF to talk to one another, Deputy Fire Chief Bill Johnston said.

"We're having growing pains," Johnston said. "It's something new, and we're working our way through it."

In addition to that hurdle, firefighters are short 30 of the handheld devices. Officials have applied for a grant to pay for the pricey radios, which run $2,800 each. Johnston said the department should know the results of that request by the beginning of next year.

On the positive side, Johnston said the new radio system should come in handy because of its diversity. In the event of a large fire call, the incident can be broadcast on one channel.

Also, emergency workers can talk to others in different counties through the system. For now, agencies are using both systems until neighboring counties, states and other agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, convert to the new system.

"It is a very good system," Johnston said. "Eventually, we'll all be on it."

Moffat County Sheriff's Office secured a grant that provided 118 handheld radios and 71 mobile radios to outfit a number of emergency agencies.

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