KGPL (1931-1949) KBP514 (1978-1981) KJC625 (1981-present)

Copyright 1998, 2013 Harry Marnell

--KMA367*
(Since May 20, 1949)

An Unofficial History of the Los Angeles Police Department's Communications Division

Be sure to also visit the Department's OFFICIAL Website at http://www.lapdonline.org

Link Operator in the 1960'sMotor Officers on the Pasadena FreewayRTO at her Parker Center ConsoleThe old 'Tin can' Lights on the roof of a Black and White



NEW "LINKS"
Help! If any links on these pages are "broken" or out-of-date, please email me


A few miscellaneous pictures of the radios and the old "mike room" in City Hall, late 1940s

Some pictures of "New" radios for LAPD cars and motors back in 1949

More detailed information about LAPD's radio frequencies over the years on Page 2

 

LAPD Audio and Video Recordings

 

The Beginning

During the 1920s, police departments across the country began experimenting with radio as a crime-fighting tool. As criminals were making greater use of automobiles, the police were looking at technology to help keep pace. Between 1909 and 1929, the City of Los Angeles had more than doubled in size and population, with the annexations of San Pedro, Hollywood, Venice and the San Fernando Valley, and the LAPD was hard pressed to cover such a huge area.


Chief R. Lee Heath


Chief Davis tests a Radio

In May of 1924, at an Amateur Radio show held in Los Angeles, Police Chief R. Lee Heath observed a contest demonstrating home-built automobile-mounted radio receivers potentially suitable for police use. He was impressed with the results, and the following year, at the National Radio Exposition, Heath organized a demonstration of an airplane with an officer aboard following a "suspect's" car, radioing its movements to listeners below on 305-meter radio station KRCA. Heath was very much a man ahead of his time.

In 1929, Chief of Police James E. Davis ordered his staff to investigate the use of radio to "more quickly dispatch officers to where they are needed." Several years of testing followed, with the help of some local broadcasters and inventors. Like Heath, however, Davis' term was cut short due to the politics of the era, and it fell to the next chief to get LAPD on the airwaves.

     

The tests started by Heath and Davis proved successful. Under Police Chief Roy Steckel, and with strong support from City Council President Winfred J. Sanborn, LAPD was granted its first radio license from the Department of Commerce Radio Bureau (predecessor of the FCC) for station KGPL in February of 1931. Finishing work was then done on the transmitter, and receiving sets were installed in several patrol cars.  The final tests of the radios and the dispatch system were done during April, and LAPD Radio Station "KGPL" went into service on 1712 kilocycles on May 1, 1931.
Photo of Police Chief Roy E. Steckel, circa 1931

Chief Roy E Steckel
1929-1933

Los Angeles wasn't the first police department in California to use radio, however. In 1928, Berkeley had received a police radio license, followed by Tulare in 1929 or 1930. Neighboring Pasadena Police received their license in September of 1930...

"Click here and we'll run up to Pasadena for a minute"

 


1930s Complaint Board and Overhead Conveyor
In the beginning, calls were all received by the main City Hall switchboard operators. Those requiring police service were routed by a conveyor belt on top of the switchboard to a dispatcher (a policeman) in the remote-control room, who would broadcast it to the proper car. He then telephoned the information to the transmitting station in Elysian Park, where a second dispatcher would rebroadcast the call. This was to help insure that the message was received by the patrol officers. Elysian Park was the location of the 500-watt De Forest AM transmitter. Patrol Officers could receive calls, but could not "talk back" to the dispatcher.

Originally, 44 police cars were equipped with receivers. It was reported that "officers driving swift moving automobiles" took an average of only two minutes forty seconds to respond to any call in the city, so thirty-five additional car radios were added as soon as funds became available. The monthly report in June, 1931 indicated 12,644 radio messages were broadcast.

Before long, it was recognized that the value of police radio could be better realized by a more streamlined method of call-taking. On August 26, 1931 a new system was instituted, which increased speed in answering and dispatching calls. Now, police officers working the eight-position "Complaint Board" would receive all incoming public calls directly on a new "MICHIGAN 6111" telephone number, instead of having them relayed by the Central switchboard operators. It was reported that this change cut nearly four minutes off the time previously required for the civilian switchboard operators on the "FABER 6111" trunk line to find out from the caller their location, the nature of their call, which city department to refer them to, and transfer the call.

Policemen Working Old City Hall Complaint Board

These Complaint Board officers were required to have at least five years experience in the field. Routine calls were then sent by the conveyor belt to the radio room (in background, behind windows), which had five dispatcher positions and a "link" operator.

Emergency "Hot Shot" Calls

When an emergency call such as a robbery or shooting came in, the complaint board officer could press a button and his telephone conversation would be carried over "hot-shot" loudspeakers installed in offices such as Detective Headquarters Division, in Robbery and Homicide Divisions, and others. This served to alert detectives to a possible call for them, as well as to reduce the chance of human error by the board officer.

Radio microphones were installed at the complaint board, so the officer receiving the call could broadcast it immediately. Even today the term "hot-shot" still refers to a crime in progress, which the call-taker will immediately broadcast rather than only routing it to the radio dispatcher (RTO).

Cramped early Radio Room at City Hall

Soon, sergeants' vehicles also got radio receivers, and major calls could be answered by field supervisors as well as by the concerned patrol car. Divisional desk sergeants and detective offices were equipped with receiving sets. When the station supervisor felt it appropriate, he could send the division "emergency car" on a call. In the infrequent event - less than 1% of all calls - that the radio car officers did not receive the broadcasts, this ensured that the police were indeed responding, and provided the additional manpower that might be needed at a major incident.

LAPD broadcasts were monitored regularly by the Orange County Sheriff, the police departments of Beverly Hills, Alhambra, Santa Monica, Culver City, San Fernando, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Park, Burbank, Glendale, La Habra, Moorpark, and as far off as San Clemente, as well as several Fruit Patrol agencies in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.  LAPD had agreements with a number of police agencies to broadcast their emergency calls.

Beginning in 1933, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office and LAPD conducted a number of tests to determine whether police radio was adaptable to the more-rural Sheriff's patrols and constables. These were mainly done on busy weekend nights, and eventually Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz decided that radio would work for his department. Until the county got its own radio station, KQBV, on the air in 1938, LAPD dispatched radio calls for eight of the sheriff's nine substations, at a charge to the County of 15-cents per call. This generally amounted to $2000-$3000 per year.   Pasadena police were contracted to dispatch for the Altadena sheriff's station, as the Los Angeles transmitter didn't cover the foothill areas very reliably.

With the inauguration of the radio-communication system, the city was divided into 60 radio-patrol districts, scattered throughout the 15 geographical divisions. This was also the start of numbering patrol units according to their division of assignment. Central Division, then as now, was Division No. 1. It was divided into six radio patrol districts, numbered 11 - 16. Each patrol district was further divided into two sections, the second section receiving a "W" suffix, such as Sections 11 and 11W. The radio car's unit number was the same as the section number to which it was assigned.

There was a large patrol-district map in the complaint-board room at City Hall, and each radio car had a duplicate map on curtain rollers attached to the car ceiling! Each car on radio patrol duty was similarly-equipped, so it could be reassigned to another district when necessary.

The "Radio policemen" worked in two-man cars on day watch, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. As both officers were assumed to be out together handling their calls, once a unit was dispatched it was considered out of service until the officers phoned in the disposition of their call and that they were again "clear" or available.

On night watch, 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., and mornings, 2:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., there were originally three officers in each radio car; two officers would investigate the calls, while the third remained in the car to monitor the radio for any nearby emergency calls. Manpower shortages ended that procedure within a year or two. It should be noted that the radio cars were only dispatched on high-priority calls. Routine calls would be assigned to other officers either at the station or when they made their hourly telephone or "Gamewell" check-ins.

Complaint Board amd Mike Room in the Police Department's north wing of City Hall, c1947


"Calling all cars, calling all cars..."

It should be remembered that the early 30's were the deepest of the depression years, and people didn't go out much.  And while radios had become very popular, good radio programs had not yet been developed.  Since police broadcasts were just above the AM broadcast band - LAPD was first on 1712 and then moved to 1730 kilocycles (kcs) - most home radios could tune them in. 

At night, the signal of LAPD could be heard all across the country, even as far as the east coast and Hawaii. In late 1945, LAPD received a letter from the crew of the Navy Fleet Tug USS Sarsi, stationed in the Aleutians, complaining that a "loud, husky voice" was constantly interrupting good programming they were listening to, reporting "a stolen car in the Wilshire district, or trouble on Main St.," and would they "tune that radio so it won't reach Attu." (Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1945)

In the 1930s, Los Angeles Police experimented with a number of radio sets, both "home-brew" and from the handful of manufacturers, such as Sparton, Philco and Galvin/Motorola. This is the 1936 Motorola "Police Cruiser" mobile radio, a redesigned car radio preset to KGPL's 1712 kc frequency. A separate transmitter set was needed when two-way radios were introduced in 1938.

     
In the early days of police use of radio, it was customary for a dispatcher to end a call broadcast by giving his last name. One of LAPD's first radio dispatchers in 1931 was Sgt. Jesse Rosenquist (1899 - 1966). Rosenquist, it seems, became quite famous across the country, because of the way he said his name. He had a deep voice, and he dragged out each syllable, "Rose-n-quist." So people everywhere became familiar with "Calling all cars, calling all cars...that's all. Rose-n-quist." In Southern California in the 1930s and early 40s, Jesse Rosenquist was practically a household word. 

Listen to a few seconds of Jesse Rose-n-quist!

So "KGPL" and "Rosenquist" and "Calling All Cars" and "That is all" began a tradition that later continued with Jack Webb's "Dragnet" and "Adam-12," in projecting the sounds and activities of the Los Angeles Police Department around the world.

  


BEFORE SCANNERS...

For nearly three quarters of a century, people in Los Angeles - and across the country - have been listening to their police and fire calls over a variety of radios, and now, even over the internet.
Click here for a look at some of the ways they've tuned in...





LAPD MAKES USE OF "PUBLIC" POLICE BROADCASTS

The PR and Community Relations aspects of the public "listening in" weren't lost on the Department either. On November 29, 1933, William Robson's radio series "Calling All Cars" debuted on the CBS Radio Network. Chief James E. Davis was right there from the get-go, being an announcer and narrator for most of the early programs, many of which were based on actual L.A.P.D. cases. This series was designed for two purposes..."to sell 'Rio Grande' Gasoline and to tout the use of radios in police cars.

Chief James E Davis
1926/29 & 1933/38


"As such, the stories revolved around just how fast squad cars can get to the scene of a crime now (1930s) as compared to a few years before, because of the radios ... and the increased speed and power of Rio Grande Gas! At times Davis sent subordinates to fill in for him, and many of the police officials that appeared as narrator, were just plain awful.  They were awkward, missed cues and lines and mispronounced just about everything." (  -Jerry Haendiges, of the Vintage Radio Place) 
 

Years later, in 1950, less than a month into his historic 16-year term, Chief William H. Parker was asked to allow the use of actual LAPD radio calls in a proposed CBS television show called "Prowl Car." As Chief Davis had before him, Parker understood the widespread popularity of listening to the department's police calls on KMA367. He immediately consented to allowing the production company to record LAPD radio calls, his only condition being that the Department be allowed to review the film and police-call sound track before its airing. It is unknown if the TV show ever actually made it to the small-screen.



In 1934 the Los Angeles Fire Department  installed Los Angeles Police radio receivers in their fireboats and Battalion Chiefs' cars. While LAFD continued to rely primarily on telephones and street-corner fire alarm boxes, their "Westlake Signal Office" on 6th Street near Alvarado, or "Coldwater" near Mulholland Drive, would phone LAPD Communications when they had fires or other urgent messages for their battalion chiefs.

 

Engine 58 - 1946

The actual calls were seldom broadcast over the radio however, as the fire department remained skeptical for years about the dependability of two-way radios. Instead, the chiefs were simply told to "Phone Westlake (or Coldwater)." They carried telephone handsets in their cars, and would stop at the nearest fire-alarm box (frequently co-located with the police "Gamewells"), plug in, and receive their information from the fire department dispatcher. It wasn't until 1946 that LAFD's engines and trucks became equipped with two-way radios, in the 33-megacycle band, which they used well into the 1980s.



*KMA367 was the FCC callsign for most of LAPD's radio transmitters from 1949 to the early 1980s, when the UHF-band "ROVER" radio frequencies went into operation.  This included the "AM" band frequencies heard across the country and the VHF frequencies which followed them.  Because of the wide coverage on the AM band, and its use on such TV shows as "Dragnet" and "Adam-12," KMA367 will probably be associated with the Los Angeles Police Department for years to come.  There are still a handful of special-use frequencies with those call-letters, but the booming "KMA367" on the dispatch channels has been replaced with a recorded "KJC625."


LAPD Radio Goes "Digital"

On Monday evening, June 18, 2001, the Department ended its seventy-year tradition of "open" broadcasting, that interested folks could listen to with just a little bit of simple equipment. They have now switched to "digital modulation" on the voice frequencies, which now allows for twice as many frequencies within in the existing radio bandwidth. The down side of it, from the public's point of view, is that it now requires a relatively expensive scanner ($500 range, usually) if you want to listen in.

Uniden, Radio Shack, and GRE America now have scanners available that can receive and "decode" LAPD's digital radio frequencies.

If you have a digital-capable scanner, here are some of LAPD's commonly used radio frequencies

 


A FEW CREDITS

While this website is not in any connected with or endorsed by the Los Angeles Police Department, I wish to express my thanks to the many employees of the Department, sworn and civilian, active and retired, who have contributed to it over the years with pictures, sounds, documents, their own stories and reminiscences, as well as for arranging access to facilities and records connected with Communications Division, both historical and current. While "naming names" inevitably risks leaving many people out, I do wish to specifically thank the following:

..and many others who prefer to remain shy





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