If you were like me you went to bed Monday night and right around the time you finally shut the tablet off you heard a thunderclap followed by a sudden downpour. Then your alarm went off and it was still raining. Then you drove to work and it rained all the way. And right around the time you ambled over to the soda machine or coffee pot for your mid-morning jolt, it started to sound like the entire sky was emptying out on the roof.
But here in the JG-TC offices, something different happened; just shortly after that last cloudburst started to dissipate, our trusty scanner started to chirp, beep and squawk. And after that I sat at my desk and listened to what an emergency sounds like over the scanner as the waters started to rise.
Funny thing, all that rain; even that Tuesday morning, even as you could start to see water starting to pool up in people’s yards and a manhole cover starting to turn into a little mini fountain, a flood was just something I hadn’t thought of. There was a moment here in the office, as all things flood-related were starting to die down, that I remarked that as long as I’ve lived in Coles County, I’ve seen ice storms, thunderstorms sure to rip up that Bradford Pear in your front yard, those blasted snow-rollers we got that one year, and even a tornado that came within spitting distance of taking out our beloved Hardee’s, but I’ve never seen an outright flood. Well, guess you can chalk that one off the big board, even though I experienced it all from the safety of my office chair and via our Realistic brand scanner. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one.
There’s just something about inclement weather that makes us menfolk act kind of weird; some effect that turns all of us into instant weather experts darting from window to window talking about “electricity in the air,” or that compels us to drag out that beat up canoe we’ve never used in years and start paddling down a flooded street. And just in case you are able to keep that guy in your life from doing something stupid, he’s probably still got his old Fox scanner on a basement shelf to help keep him connected to the local emergency crews in real time.
Scanners, along with their tech brethren C.B. radios, seemed to have been big business right around the same time, in those super-bad '70s when that long-haired dude in your life with the El Camino took his weekly paycheck from the auto garage and invested it not on your date night to Tomasso’s and the Skyway Drive-In, but over to Walden’s Appliance to pick up the newest in frequency scanning technology. Sure you didn’t get your garlic bread or a movie, but just take a look at that Walden’s ad from 1982 and tell me that black box with the spinning lights didn’t look cool on the shelf next to his stereo.
According to our archives, the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were a gold mine for items related to scanners, C.B.s and the general trucker culture they were intertwined with. I remember growing up it seems like we had plenty of all that stuff around, including a “utility room” that was supposed to be home to exercise equipment like a rowing machine and a stationary bike but still had a desk that was home to a C.B. setup fancy enough that I could have used it to start my own pirate radio station, and would have, if I had seen “Pump Up the Volume” yet.
I needed something trucker related for this week’s article and on a whim I typed “Breaker, Breaker” into our archives and was rewarded with the 1978 Skyway Drive-In ad for the debut screening of the Chuck Norris action film of the same name, showing as part of a truck drivin’ double feature with the Peter Fonda film “High-Ballin’”. “Breaker Breaker,” subtitled “The Battle Cry of the Great Trucker War”, was one of Chuck’s earliest feature films, and starred him as a truck driver doing battle with the corrupt sheriff of a small California town. I actually saw this movie on late night cable a few years ago and the main thing I can remember about it is that there’s only about five minutes of actual semi footage in the entire film until the last act when, out of options, Chuck picks up a C.B. and radios his trucker buddies for help, and minutes later a fleet of big rigs swarms the town and destroys virtually every standing structure without shifting a gear while Chuck roundhouse kick fights some guy in a dusty fenced-off cattle pen. And if truckers really don’t have the ability to summon a fleet of avenging 18-wheelers when they’re in trouble, please just let me believe.
As an aside, and because I know I’ll never have a chance to mention it again unless I could scrape up enough material to write an entire Throwback column about the career of Claude Akins, it was through researching this column I remembered the Revell model kit of a green and white 18-wheeler we used to have on the top shelf of the living room closet with the Uno cards was from the short lived “trucker solves problems” TV series “Movin’ On”. Dad used to show that model to me every time he’d get something off that top shelf and say, “someday we’re going to put this thing together.” Shame we never got around to it.
The picture of that scanner from the 1977 Journal Gazette was accompanied by an feature article from Craig Sanders envisioning a community full of concerned “Walter Mittys”(a James Thurber reference I’m sure he was dying to finally use) enclosed in their homes, in the dark, listening in on every fire, flood, break-in, and other various goings-on in the area thanks to their scanner. The article closes with a comment from then-mayor Roger Dettro about how he suspected the local police and firefighters would prefer not having everything they do listened to by folks on scanners.
Fair enough, but here it is nearly 40 years later and with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and yes, those scanners that are still scannin’ like a charm, I think we’ve proven that if technology gives us a chance to listen in on everything we think we’ve got business listening in on, we’re going to take it. Radio Shack decided to name their electronics brand “Realistic” for a reason, don’t you think?
"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.