OPINION COLUMNS

Pondering the scanner shift

By David Talley | Published Saturday, September 30, 2017
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It’s Friday, (as I write this) which means one Messenger reporter’s shift with the police scanner is ending and another’s begins. Today, that’s me.

David Talley

David Talley

I’ll pick up the office police scanner when I leave work today and listen tonight through the weekend to Monday morning at 8:30 when I return to the office. I’ll do the same every evening until next Friday. When I explain this to people, I usually say my shifts are 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., the opposite of business hours. We use a scanner that monitors only emergency channels at night, which affords us a chance to sleep through what would normally come over the speakers as a routine traffic stop. Generally, the information broadcast through the emergency channels are to alert medics, firefighters and police of car wrecks, fires, medical emergencies and injured person calls.

This is how we cover breaking news. It means I don’t know how much sleep I’ll get over the next week. I also can’t stray too far from the county because I need to be able to respond to breaking news. If I’m in Denton, it’s going to be hard to get to Boonsville to cover something as it happens.

It’s a little like the old health class exercise where students have to take care of a sack of flower or an egg for a week like it’s a baby. The scanner is my baby. I have to keep it with me at all times. It wakes me up at night and needs to be fed (plugged in to a charger) regularly.

This isn’t to compare my experience as a reporter to the jobs that first responders and law enforcement officers do. Most times, when a call is broadcast on an emergency channel, it isn’t something we’d cover, so I have the luxury of going back to bed. They don’t. Even when I do have to cover something, reporting on a fire for the paper and putting out a fire are very different jobs. Those people are heroes.

But to me, scanner shift is the most defining part of my job. It’s the part I always tell people about first. How many of us that aren’t first responders find ourselves driving across the county at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday? Covering breaking news regularly means driving across the county at odd hours to conduct interviews and take photos, so those that weren’t there know what happened.

But scanner shift isn’t all about breaking news. During the day, when all channels are broadcast, the quirkiness of news and crime in Wise County comes out.

I checked back over my Twitter feed, where I’ve posted some of the stranger things I’ve heard, which include:

  • A kid with his finger stuck in a hole in a bench at a local middle school. Medics and firefighters were dispatched to help get him free;
  • a possible accident that turned out to be an abandoned vehicle in a field. First responders were clued in when they discovered a bird’s nest in the vehicle (no word on if there were any birds in it);
  • several calls about a subject who said his first name was “Nerf,” like the football; and
  • parents of a teen who wanted a deputy to come over and help them spank their son.

While we don’t cover these things, they’re pieces of Wise County life that my shift on scanner means I get to hear about. Some, like these will be lighthearted, while others, like breaking news events, are inherently tragic. Scanner week means both are coming, and, like always, I’ll do my best to cover the hard news but find humor where I can.

David Talley is a Messenger reporter.

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