Michigan State Police Communication's History
 

Information on these pages are derived from memories of retirees and MSP archival records and may contain some inaccuracies.
 

A most significant development in early State Police history began to unfold in 1929.  This was the department's establishment of the first state-owned and state-operated police radio in the world, Station WRDS.

Prompted by the successes noted by the pioneer Detroit city police radio, Station KOP, the department leadership foresaw the benefits of radio for directing law enforcement efforts on a statewide scale.  The Michigan Legislature liked the idea and not only appropriated $25,000 for initial equipment, but sent Governor Fred W. Green, Attorney General Wilber M. Brucker and a State Police delegation to Washington to obtain a Federal Communications Commission license.

The delegation was eventually successful, but not until after an argument during which Governor Green threatened to build the station whether licensed or not, the FCC yielded.  A 5,000-watt transmitter was set up at East Lansing and testing began in September of 1930.

Though WRDS was in operation only the last three months of that year, there were 745 messages broadcast.  The station in that same period had an important role in guiding the successful police search for the bank robber killers of Tpr. John S. Burke, the first intense manhunt ever directed by radio in a statewide scale.
 

First Radio Building
 

First Transmitter
 

The above picture was captured from the Movie CAR 99 which was made in 1935.  No one recognizes the operator so it's assumed he was an actor.  Important thing here is the transmitter in the background is the original AM transmitter installed in 1930.  The movie was cops and robbers with a love story.  Movie had lots of incorrect logistics, but did give the public the idea of how radio was being used in law enforcement.


How broad a reach WRDS had in its beginning was indicated by the report that there were receivers in only 44 State Police cars and a total of 80 other receivers in State Police posts, sheriff offices, and local police departments tuned to hear department radio messages.  With the exception of WRDS there were no other transmitters in the early days of the system.
 

First radio operator, Edward Fridgen, was a civilian. Civilian operators were later assigned as radio engineers and troopers took over the operator's jobs.

Trooper Alex J. Scribner, the voice of Station WRDS.  The ceramic lampshade he used as a gong for bank alarms is suspended from the shelf to the right. 1930

 
Centered on the State Police radio station and through the cooperation of law enforcement agencies, a police blockade system was worked out and completed in 41 counties in 1933.  This telephone-radio alert plan made it possible to notify every police officer in the Lower Peninsula within 10 minutes.  The State Police in 1934 established a two-way radio link with eight other states which permitted exchange of information with 21 other states.

Improvement in the State Police radio system naturally followed from time to time.  Additional department broadcasting stations were added, WRDP at Paw Paw in 1936 and WRDH at Houghton Lake in 1937.  Also in 1937 a new communications building was completed at headquarters and radiotelegraph, or CW facilities were installed.

While State Police radio, in retrospect, appeared to be an overnight success in 1929-30, it had undergone considerable study, beginning as early as 1922.  Commissioner Vandercook in a report to then Governor Groesbeck that year noted that "Experiments have begun with radiophone or wireless telephone for broadcasting of criminal identification and information."

Article from National Radio News 1931 by J. A. Dowie.

Even though R. James Evans did not make a report until 1978 about the early radio days, it is more appropriate to be read at this time:
  Evans Report 
 

In 1937 radiotelegraph commonly referred to as CW caught the interest of police agencies in many parts of the country and MSP was not to be left behind.  Construction of a CW network for point to point was begun and finished by years end.  The system was placed into service early 1938 which connected not only MSP districts but also other states.  



The transmitter shown here was a Western Electric ten channel CW and AM unit placed in service at East Lansing Headquarters in Jan of 1938.  The tenth channel was used as standby in case the 5000 Watt AM transmitter failed.  It was capable of transmitting on the AM channel and CW at the same time.


 
Frank Walker running CW position in about 1940
 
 

Houghton Lake post, picture on left was take in 1979. On the right was early 40's.

 
Note the radiogram that was used by CW operators.  If a message was to be sent, it was given to the CW operator in this format.  Messages received were also placed on a radiogram for filing.
                                    ____________

It wasn't until 1941 that the next important phase took place, prompted by recognition of the need for good communications in wartime emergency.  This was the provision of two-way frequency modulation (FM) radio initially in the industrially important Detroit and East Lansing districts.  Transmitters with an approximate 40-mile range were installed in patrol cars in these districts. The mobile equipment was capable of transmitting on two frequencies,  making possible both car to car and car to station contact.

Base stations were located at East Lansing, Detroit, Flat Rock and Ypsilanti.  The system was destined to be extended and to become at the time the first State Police FM two-way radio system in the nation and the largest two-way police radio link in the world.

The monumental task for for this project was a hectic period for the Communications Division.  Competent technical help was mandatory to get the project off the ground.  Fortunately MSP had personnel with adequate technical background, therefore, radio operators at East Lansing, Paw Paw and Houghton Lake were promoted to radio engineers, practically overnight. 

 

The following advertisement appeared in an APCO magazine issue, May 1942.

Note, in the picture of the cars above Chief Eng MI State Police Frank Walker on the left and Gene Goebel Motorola Salesman on the right.


A radio engineer installs a new two-way radio system in the trunk of a patrol car at the headquarters garage, 1942.
 

In the subsequent years the department's continued use and expansion of FM radio and more powerful FM transmitters destined a change for the 1642 kilocycle AM transmitting at East Lansing, Houghton Lake and Paw Paw.  And with city police and sheriff departments beginning to operate their own two-way FM systems, the intersystem communications available to police agencies further reduced the need for the State Police to blanket the state with information from the three main transmitters.  So this equipment eventually was sold to commercial broadcast interests.

In accordance with Federal Communication Commission revision in 1949 of its station identification system, all four-letter radio station designations in police services were changed to letter and number combinations.  WRDS, widely known since 1929-30 as the headquarters station of the first State Police owned and operated radio system in the world, lost this well known identity with its past when it became KQA258.

The East Lansing transmitter was sold to Lansing broadcast station WILS and after several years of use it was sold to a broadcasting company in Mexico.

 

Back to 1942, Michigan police and sheriff departments began to avail themselves of FM radio for two-way communications with their mobile units.  Additionally, it became mandatory that police organizations be able to have fast and reliable communications with each other.  To provide such a service a radio system or network called the "Indiana Plan" was developed.  Each department installed radio equipment on a common frequency for a designated area.  Districts were set up to coincide insofar as possible with the State Police Districts who provided relay service to other areas in the State.  Thus, all law enforcement agencies were coordinated into an effective communications network with the capability of exchanging police information with each other agency in the State.
   

The map in the picture above was installed shortly after the FM system was originally built in the late 40s and was probably the first of what was known as operations.
 
To assist law enforcement agencies with their communications problems, and to present united efforts on behalf of these agencies, an organization known as the Associated Police Communications Officers was formed back in 1935.  The name was later changed to Associated Public-Safety Communications Officers, Inc. (APCO).
 
There was a 72MHz radio link installed in 1952 from East Lansing to Detroit for point to point traffic, it was later expanded to Paw Paw and Houghton Lake, it was referred to as the "Pipeline".  In the early 60s it was   decommissioned due to interference to Television Broadcast.
 
The Flint Tornado, June 8th 1953, prompted plans to construct an Emergency Communications Trailer and by late spring of 1954 the trailer was finished and put into service.  The unit was tested at Howell, MI under simulated emergency conditions and proved to everyone to be a huge success.

Over the years others were built upgrading always to the newest communications equipment.  They can be seen at many functions around the State, such as fairs, air shows and in use for emergency situations.  Click here for APCO article by R.J. Evans, July 1954.  Click here for more pictures of other later Emergency Communications Units.

No one seems to know exactly when Radio Engineer badges were first placed into service.  Assumption is early 50's, as Dave Held received one when he was first employed.

Normally radio engineers or technicians gained access to restricted areas with just their ID card.  

It wasn't until much later in communications history when they were truly necessary, the Detroit Riots was one occasion, and since officers worked in locations such as drug buy houses where communications were necessary, technicians had to make service calls.  If the tech came from outside their normal area with their unmarked vehicle, the badge helped, including when sent to other police agencies.

 
Click here for Promotional Examination Announcement of 1955
 

The Department inaugurated an active program in 1955, under the direction of the Safety and Traffic Bureau to test RADAR speed meters.  Twelve units were installed and tried over a period of several years in heavy traffic areas in the Lower Peninsula.  While they proved to be an effective means to check the speed of an automobile, the program was discontinued in 1961 pending further study.
 

Communications capabilities continued to change.  Late in 1956 the State Police became a member of the National Law Enforcement Teletype Service, or LETS, which at that time linked Michigan with the Midwest states.  The following spring 48 states were officially tied into LETS.  This link provided the department with excellent communications throughout the United States and lead to the discontinuance of radio telegraph, (CW).  The picture here shows a typical RTTY machine in a soundproof closet near the dispatcher.  


First microwave used by MSP was one of Motorola's first units in 1949, used for radio control from posts to tower sites with voice.  Many of these systems have their own stories.

Also in 1956 plans to provide a state-wide microwave system was developed which would provide radio control channels and telephone, also it would have the capabilities of handling teletype, facsimile and computer data.  Federal Civil Defense Authorities set aside 50% of the required funds for the system and the State of Michigan was to provide the remaining 50%, $500,000.00 in total.  The State Legislature failed to provide the necessary funds and after budget requests in three subsequent years were denied, the plans were abandon.

Original installation date of a system called NAWAS is unclear, but it was a wide open line link connecting National and State.  Testing was a roll call starting from DC to all states, once Michigan answered the roll call in Operations at East Lansing they flipped a switch and it went to a State net Operations, EL then ran a roll call that included all MSP District HQs and a few major cities. If it was to be an extended test then each MSP District HQs called a bunch of small towns and sheriffs offices.  It was an alert warning system for attack or natural disaster.  MSP technicians did not do maintenance on this system, it lasted till the late 80s. 

Handie Talkies were added to the system sometime before, but proved their worth, especially with the Dog Program.  Dog handlers equipped with a HT had instant communications while searching with his dog.

In 1966 a state-wide radio system for Civil Defense was activated allowing "fan out" or dissemination of disaster messages to posts.  Each post had base stations on a common frequency in their own district area with tone access on 45MHz.  4th and 7th districts were on the same frequency, but different PL tones.  This system stayed in operation until mid 90s 
 
With the State Police performing a leading participant role, the department's fiftieth year was especially distinguished when Michigan's new computer-based electronic law enforcement information network (LEIN) became operational in mid-1967.  The Legislature approved the state-financed system the year before and provided funds to start it, this following a feasibility study.
Described as a most sophisticated system and the first of its kind on a statewide basis in the nation.  The electronic capabilities of LEIN appeared to be destined to even surpass the earlier day importance to law enforcement of the miracles of police radio.  LEIN's central computer and several terminals were installed at State Police headquarters.  LEIN terminals were linked throughout Michigan to serve law enforcement agencies and in the Department of State (driver services and motor vehicle registrations).  LEIN also was tied in at East Lansing to the FBI's new national crime information center at Washington, D.C. better known as NCIC.  Michigan was one of 16 areas in the country initially joined to NCIC.
 


This sign could be found at
 all MSP base station sites.




At right is first L.E.I.N. machine
that went in at Redford in 1967.
A model 28 teletype.


 

From the late 60s through the 70s and into the 80s radio communications remained pretty much the same FM two-way radio system.  The radios went from tubes to transistors to micro processors, from direct two-way, to remote base stations to repeaters.  LEIN and NCIC information went from punch tape to computer terminals.  Reports by officers went from pencil and typewriter to computers.
 
Some time in the late 60's Citizen Band Radios became very popular and almost every truck driver on the road had one.  Motor Carrier officers, not under MSP at that time, would also put them into their vehicles.  This made it very handy for Weigh Stations, which had them also, to talk to truck drivers and move them across the scales.
MSP officers would also buy their own and radio technicians would make them capable to be hooked up and moved from patrol car to patrol car with a magnetic base antenna.  MSP HQ began to recognize the advantage for troopers and started buying units and installing them in patrol cars, the program went on for a long time.
Some time in the 70's a CB system on I-96 called Operation "BEAR" was built and covered from Grand Rapids to Detroit.  MSP got special authority from FCC to remote control the CB base stations on channel 9 from Operations on a special console for it.  In first week a couple lives were saved from CB operators calling in people who had heart attack and accidents on Freeway.  Cell phones came along and made it obsolete.
 
In 1974 Harris Vehicle Repeaters were first installed in Dog Handler vehicles, this gave the handler direct contact to a post when he was in the field.  This also prompted the use in regular patrol cars, Harris, Aerotron and the Motorola PAC-RT in that order were installed throughout the state and stayed in use until the 90's.
 
Also in 1974 Moving Radar became one of the greatest tools for speed enforcement.  The Custom MR-7 came first followed by Decatur and much later Lazar radars.  Radio technicians went to out-of-state schools for the MR-7 and Decatur units and many also went to Expert Witness school to testify in court.
 

In the late 70s an Illinois system called ISPERN went into service.  The state of Illinois bought base stations for each state police post and mobiles for every police car in the state on a high band channel for Interoperability/Mutual Aide, it was so successful that the Michigan State Police wanted to do something similar.  MSP did not have the financial backing that Illinois had but the Michigan Frequency Allocations Committee dedicated a channel state wide for the purpose on 155.865MHz.  MSP obtained a federal grant to buy base stations and licensed all the base stations and controlled most of them (but not all) from MSP posts. The mobiles were responsibility of local police and sheriffs departments, people operating on high band obtained mobile only licenses and added the channel to mobiles.  MSP first had the channel just in intelligence units as they were the only ones on high band, as MSP began to add radios on local county and 911 systems on high-band the MEPSS channel was included.
The system is in service yet today and used by locals during special events, and political visits. MSP techs were responsible for maintenance of all the MEPSS base stations state wide.  MSP has dropped technical and financial support of this system but it is very active among local jurisdictions on highband.

Also in this same time period many radio techs were asked by the radio operators why they had to put up with all the interference they were getting from other police agencies around the United States and also Spanish speaking stations.  It was a natural phenomena caused by
sun spots, commonly referred to as skip.  But also over the years the FCC had licensed more and more police agencies in the US to operate on many of the same frequencies.

In the spring of 1993 the Motorcycle program was restarted after many years of being dropped.  Click here for motorcycle pictures readied for operation at that time. 

 

It was also noticed that as time had progressed, many of the base station tower sites had more homes and businesses moved closer.  The noise floor of the receiving devices was getting higher and making the reception of mobiles out on the fringes harder to be heard.
 

The 1940's FM radio system was discussed by many, from technicians all the way up to top commanding officers.  They had seen how clear VHF and especially UHF communications were but also noted that it took more sophisticated equipment to cover the same range.  In 1984 the Michigan State Police formed a committee to evaluate its two-way radio system.  They decided to bring in several state departments which included not only State Police but Natural Resources, Transportation, Management and Budget, Military Affairs and representatives of the state House and Senate Fiscal Agencies.

 

The committee recommended building a new system, a network that would be large and flexible enough to support all state and local public safety agencies.  In 1992, after several years of system design planning and cost studies, specifications for a request for proposal were finalized and sent to potential vendors.

 

The Michigan Legislature approved the funding for the new system in June of 1994 and Motorola was awarded the contract of $187,275,915.00 to build the Michigan Public Safety Communications System (MPSCS)At this point in time Communications Division was placed under MPSCS, still under the Department of Michigan state Police.
 

Communications Steps Into the 21st Century 

 

September 1995, the state broke ground on Phase One construction. Phase One, covered all of southeast Michigan, including the Detroit, Jackson and Lansing areas and was completed in 1997.  Phase Two had already begun and was completed in 1998, it included all of southwest lower Michigan.  Phase Three was completed in 2000 which covered the the northern Lower Peninsula.  Phase Four which covered the entire Upper Peninsula plus upgrading the complete state wide system with ASTRO®25 6.0 was finished November 2002.  The State of Michigan now had complete coverage with 800 MHz digital radio service, and is the largest system in the nation.

 

One has to realize the complexity of this total installation of the state wide system, so many things had to be covered over the seven year span.  Phases were being constructed before earlier phases were completed, towers being built by contractors, Motorola people and MSP radio technicians installing equipment at tower sites and patrol cars being totally changed over to the new system.  At no time was any patrol cars left without communications, they were either on the old system or new.  Technicians and installers would meet at a post and completely change over every unit they had before the day's end.

 

When Phase one started more MSP radio technicians were hired, schools for all the various equipment were attended both in and out of state.  Some of the equipment covered at these schools and seminars were microwave, base stations, uninterruptible power supplies, mobile equipment, handie talkies, net working, control consoles and much more.

Before any equipment was shipped to Michigan each phase had to be
set up and tested in Illinois by Motorola and MSP personnel.

The capabilities of the system are immense, not only does it support local area communications with no interference but it is possible for a car in Detroit to talk with say a detective at Iron River.  Network Control Center,
(NCC), can change an operation on the fly, example:  Say an emergency such as the Flint Tornado happened and patrol cars from different parts of the state were needed at the seen, before they arrived they would all have communications with the mobile command center.

 

The system has all state agencies on it and current MPSCS subscribers such as Sheriff departments, Fire departments and so on.  In some cases departments are integrated with simulcast subsystems, in other words say a local Sheriff department already has a system on VHF or UHF, they can be connected to the MPSCS system so their units can communicate with MSP units.

 

After each phase of the new system was activated, all old tower sites were dismantled, equipment, generators and towers removed.

 

Prior to November of 2002 the state government elected to make a new Department called Department of Information and Technologies, "DIT".  Since the MPSCS was for all state and even outside agencies, it was changed from Department of Michigan State Police over to the Department of Information and Technologies.  Technicians and personnel from MSP, DNR, MDOT and others were all moved under MPSCS, MSP Technicians no longer carried MSP identification cards or badges.

New badges were issued for MPSCS technicians for their safety and allow admission to secure locations for MSP and other agencies where MPSCS equipment needs servicing.

The saddest part to this scenario is the fact that technicians that worked for MSP no longer receive MSP Retired ID cards when retiring.  

Fundamentally this is where MSPRG was mainly interested in covering the Department of the Michigan State Police Communications history.  Even though much of what follows was put together during it's tenure, it gives a glimpse of what continues.  It is assumed that MPSCS will document it's history for the future.

In 2006 the MPSCS again updated its operating system platform, enhancing security, enabling over the air re-keying of encryption, and adding data capabilities.  It still has the ability for expansion and upgrades.
 

Click here to see pictures and information of the modern day 800MHz radio system
 

This is a picture taken at Dispatch in East Lansing, there are 5 of these dispatch centers around the state,  Detroit, Rockford, ELOPS, Gaylord, and Negaunee; with this one actually being the smallest.  The TV monitors keep track of News, Weather, Government and on site headquarters cameras.