9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

William P. Rutledge, the Father of Police Radio

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, February 2012, Historical Perspective
Written by Richard Rybicki, Historical Committee, chair

So when did all this radio transmission technology begin?

The earliest application of Marconi's wireless was for ships at sea.  They had the first wireless operators on board ship.  The story goes that the radio operator on the Titanic, after it struck an iceberg, was the first to use the SOS, the international distress signal.  This was in April 1912.

Commissioner Rutledge of the Detroit Police department became intrigued by radio when he heard of the sinking of the Titanic.  He envisioned a fleet of automobiles that were linked by radio to police headquarters for dispatching of automobiles.  He surmised that if a ship at sea could pick up radio waves, why not a moving automobile.

Rutledge contacted his nephew Bernard D. (Barney) Fitzgerald, a wireless amateur.  He was the first official radio operator.

The first transmitter was a one-tube self-excited oscillator.  It was on the second floor of the 9th Precinct station house.  It had the amateur license 8BNE and operated in the 200 meter band.  The receiver in the vehicle was a tunable receiver with earphones.

In 1921, Rutledge authorized patrol cars to have radios and ancillary equipment installed.  This was a daunting task that had its fair share of failures.  In December 1922 a radio transmitter was installed at police headquarters.  The Commerce Department, through the Federal Radio Commission, issued Detroit a radio license, KOP.

The Radio Commission also ruled that since it was a commercial license, the radio station, KOP had to broadcast entertainment during regular hours when no police calls were broadcast.  This evoked the reply from Rutledge, "Do we have to play a violin solo before we dispatch police to catch criminals?"

One interesting decisions was made by Rutledge concerning the station, KOP.  In June 1924, he ordered there would be no more musical interludes on the station when not broadcasting police business.  Did this cause the Radio Commission to cancel their license a year later?  The last date of broadcast for KOP was October 1925.

An amateur license, WCK, was issued at a new frequency in April 1926.  The new frequency and other technical problems caused Rutledge to shut down the station one year later.

He did not give up on his idea of police dispatch radio.  He just needed time to consider other avenues.  He enlisted the aid of police officer Kenneth Cox and a young radio engineer, Robert Batts, to keep working on the problems.  These two developed a radio receiver with fixed tuning that was very reliable.  The story is they took it into the commissioner's office and dropped it on the floor, and it continued to work.

In 1928, a Purdue undergraduate in electrical engineering, Batts built a radio system for use in the patrol cars of the Detroit police department.  The police department already had a transmitter.  Batts created the receiver: a three-stage, tuned-radio frequency superheterodyne with a two-stage audio amplifier.  The receiver operated from an external storage battery on the car's running board and B and C batteries under the floorboards.  The antenna was woven into the car's fabric roof.  The first radio-equipped patrol car - #5, a Lincoln cruiser, received its first transmission on April 7, 1928.  Batts' success with one-way transmission attracted national attention, and by 1933, two-way police radios had appeared.

Between the new receivers, a move away from the noisy downtown area to Belle Isle, a better antenna system and approval by the Commerce Commission, police radio communications began on a permanent basis on April 7, 1928.

The first full year of operation in 1929, there were 22,598 police messages and 8,228 runs were dispatched.  In December 1929, continuous 24-hour operation began.  This happened after Rutledge tried to get a car dispatched and was informed that the radio division did not work on Sundays.  Another development: To ensure the radios were working properly, the time and call letters were broadcast to the vehicles every 15 minutes.  This has not become standard practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment