Can you hear me?

Trunk radio system to leave scanner listeners with more static

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Tom Ward likes to know what is going on in the emergency realm, so he keeps a police scanner on his hip when he is out in public. The Craig man also has four more scanners scattered throughout his house, tuned to different channels to keep him updated while at home.

But even Ward, who is accustomed to always having scanner chatter in the background, isn't about to fork over hundreds of dollars for a digital scanner that may be necessary for residents who want to listen to law enforcement and emergency operations.

"I've told people I'm going to lose a lot of entertainment at home," he said.

Reportedly, residents who still want to hear the latest in police calls by tuning into scanners through dispatch's current VHF system will have to update those devices as area communications plan to switch soon to a trunk radio system that broadcasts in the 800-megahertz range.

Digital scanners currently cost about $500 for one of the most inexpensive models and go up from there, said Ed McGuiness, a sales clerk at Jackson's Radio Shack in Craig.

"Once they find out how expensive they are, they won't come in," he said about residents shopping for the updated scanners.

McGuiness said scanners that residents use to track emergency calls run about $50.

But Sheriff Buddy Grinstead said dispatch may have to use both radio systems for about five years, as Moffat County is the first county in Northwest Colorado prepared to make the switch soon. That may mean that residents using standard scanners still can tune in to some calls, such as calls that include ambulance, fire services and Road and Bridge departments. Other calls that still may be picked up by nondigital scanners include emergencies that extend to Moffat County's neighboring counties and states.

"(Residents) will get something besides static," Grinstead said. "We're still going to have VHF until 100 percent of our neighboring counties have the 800-megahertz system."

A specific date for the digital radio system to go online still is unclear but is expected sometime between mid-spring and summer. A total of 118 portable radios and 71 mobile radios were purchased with the help of about $853,000 in grants from the Department of Homeland Security.

Verlaine Harris, regional manager of the Craig regional communication center inside the Public Safety Center, said the new system will help dispatchers communicate with other agencies in the state.

Agencies on Colorado's Front Range already are tuned into the trunk radio system.

"It's going to make it easier for us," Harris said. "We can talk to anybody in the state, and they can all hear each other."

But the switch won't help Jim Meineke of Craig with his more than 30-year connection of listening to a scanner in his home.

The cost to purchase a new digital scanner isn't worth the benefit of listening in to what he calls "entertainment."

He said his wife and daughter first started listening to the scanner to determine what was happening when Meineke formerly worked in emergency services.

"It's kind of a toy," Meineke said.

"I'll probably be curious about what's going on, but I won't miss it."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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