Blog Archive

Monday, December 17, 2018

VHF low band is a blast from the past

The 1980s - a simpler time before social media, smartphones and most things digital. The world was still, by and large, analog.

In the '80s we became familiar with Presidents Reagan and Bush, CNN and MTV. (Did video actually kill the radio star?) There was big hair, glam rock, Michael Jackson and George Michael, and the launch of Madonna's long, controversial career. (Remember "Borderline?" Simple but catchy.)

Radio communications were simpler too.VHF low band, the segment between 30 and 50 MHz, was still home to police, state patrols and fire departments. It was cost effective and covered a wide geographic area without the need for repeaters. Best of all for hobbyists, the signals could sometimes be heard hundreds or thousands of miles away.

These signals, especially during the summer, tend to reflect off the ionosphere and land half a continent away - great for scanner listeners but a real nuisance for radio users who had to put up with the interference. "You need to repeat. You were covered by skip," said many frustrated dispatchers over the years.

For some of us, this was fascinating stuff. In the summer of 1985, I began tape recording audio from a Bearcat scanner connected to an outside antenna. Recently, I found one those tapes, filled with transmissions from the 39 and 42 MHz bands. Considering the age of the tape, the sound held up pretty well.

I converted the audio to MP3, and in order to share it here and on YouTube, I had to create a slideshow. (YouTube doesn't support audio only.) This is 19 minutes of exciting sound. There are sirens and southern accents and dispatchers frustrated by lost transmissions. About nine minutes in, there is a casual chat between two ham operators in Missouri, followed by transmissions from the Connecticut State Police, which operated on 42 MHz at the time.

If anyone can decipher where these police departments were located, please let me know. Sorry for the sketchy slideshow. I never really mastered the Movavi Video software, but it's not bad for a first attempt.

No comments:

Post a Comment