Radio Skip: Washington County Sheriff's Office, July 1979
Weather and atmospheric conditions can do strange things to radio signals.

Radio “Skip” can consist of intelligent radio traffic between two points hundreds of miles away, that normally we would be unable to hear. Other times, it was a howling roar that came out of the radio speaker, covering local and distant traffic with equal severity. Typically, this occurred on the lower frequencies, rarely but sometimes it would affect the high-band channels in our case, the 150 MHz band. It almost never affected UHF Frequencies, for us the 460 MHz Band. On this day, it was affecting lo-band and high-band.

Weather and atmospheric conditions can do strange things to radio signals. I won’t go into the technical details of how this works, but will just let it be said that during this particular summer, from my location at Blair, (just north of Omaha,) Nebraska, it was no problem to have two way radio conversations with base stations and units in Louisiana. This occurred on the lo-band police frequencies in the 39.00 MHz rage, as well as to CB radio traffic in the 27 MHz band. A few weeks earlier, Bob Goodwin went into pursuit, south, until he was in Omaha. Any attempt he made to call me on 39.84 MHz or 39.90 MHz was covered by skip, to where I could not hear him at all. Interestingly, the sheriff’s Office at Morgan City, Louisiana could receive Godwin just fine as well as me at my base station in Blair, and were able to successfully relay radio messages for us.

I was working 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM “B Shift” Dispatch for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Day shift on a Sunday in a small town Sheriff’s Office can be extremely slow. This day was no different. I was doing something intelligent, like reading a comic book with my feet on the desk. Bob Goodwin was the Duty Officer, or in this case, the only Sheriff’s Deputy on duty in the county. It was a slow day for him as well, and he was up to something in the jail’s kitchen. Two Blair PD Officers were on duty and on patrol. The Officers and Marshals in the other towns would not come on until after 7:00 PM or so. About the only thing remarkable about the shift was the constant radio skip. It was taking its toll on both high and lo-band.

We had a CB Radio Base Station in the radio room tuned to Emergency Channel 9. Most of the time, calls we received on the CB where from motorists with breakdowns or, asking directions to local businesses, and such. It was no big deal when voice came clearly through the skip: “Break Channel 9 for the local Sheriff’s Office!” I leaned over, picked up the mike, and replied, “Go ahead, you’ve got the local Sheriff’s Office.” The excited voice came back, “I need some deputies or juvenile officers! There’s two boy shooting at me and my house. I need some help NOW!” This brought my feet down off the desk. “What’s you location? I called back. “I’m four miles north of Hickory on Highway 41!” Now I’m a little confused. We didn’t have any towns named Hickory in the area, and we didn’t have a Highway 41 running through our county. We were near the Iowa State Line, and I though perhaps this might be a call from Iowa. “Sir; Are you aware you’re talking to the Sheriff’s Office at Blair, Nebraska? “No shit?!? My name is Buster Coffin. I live four miles north of Hickory, Louisiana on Highway 41! Get me some help!” … and he was gone. I tried calling him back. But he was just gone.

I called for Bob in the kitchen, and told him about what had just occurred. Bob said, it was probably some trucker out on Interstate 29 jerking my chain, and advised that I just blow it off. I pulled out the NCIC Directory, kind of like a directory for law enforcement agencies, only with teletype addresses instead of telephone numbers. I opened the directory to Louisiana, but could not find a listing for Hickory, and was starting to figure that Bob was right about having someone “jerking my chain.” But I just couldn’t let it rest. The sound in that guy’s voice was clearly one of fear. I looked up the address for the Louisiana State Patrol Headquarters at Baton Rouge, and sent this straight forward message:

TO: HEADQUARTERS, LOUISIANA STATE PATROL
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA

THIS OFFICE RECEIVED EMERGENCY CALL FOR ASSISTANCE ON CB CHANNEL NINE FROM BUSTER COFFIN, RESIDING FOUR MILES NORTH OF HICKORY, LOUISIANA ON ROUTE 41. STATES SHOTS FIRED AT HIS HOME. HAVE LOST CONTACT WITH REPORTING PARTY.

SIGNED SHERIFF’S OFFICE BLAIR, NEBRASKA
92914 SCHULZE

I sent the message off, fully not expecting to hear anything more about it again.

About a half hour later, the teletype came to life..

TO: SHERIFF’S OFFICE, BLAIR, NEBRASKA
ATTENTION OFFICER SCHULZE

TWO DEPUTIES FROM ST. TAMANY PARISH ARE ON THE SCENE OF THE COFFIN RESIDENCE NORTH OF HICKORY. TWO SUSPECTS ARE IN CUSTODY. THERE ARE NO INJURIES.

YOUR QUICK ACTION IS A CREDIT TO YOU AND YOUR AGENCY. IF THERE IS ANYTHING WE CAN EVER DO TO ASSIST, PLEASE DO NOT HESITATE TO CONTACT THIS AGENCY.

SIGNED LOUISIANA STATE PATROL, BATON ROUGH

Well! That was pretty cool! I showed the message to Bob, who exclaimed, “I’ll be damned! You were right!” I filed the message away with the other teletype messages, and forgot about it.

I had two days off, and returned to work on Wednesday afternoon. As I came into the radio room, the Chief Dispatcher was leaning on his desk, and said, “The Sheriff wants to see you in his office.” Sheriff Jim Kelley was a mountain of a man. By trade, he was a tug boat captain on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. He was most definitely not a man you wanted pissed off at you.

My mind racing over what I could have done to incur the wrath of the Sheriff, I knocked on his office door. “You wanted to see me sir?”

“Yes Randy. Come in and sit down.” Sheriff Kelly opened his desk drawer and pulled out a copy of the message I had sent to Baton Rough,

“Did you send this message?”

“Yes sir.”

“Is this the reply you received?”

“Yes sir.” I figured I was about to get dressed down for sending off an out of state message without first obtaining authorization, or something.

“Damned fine job, son! Excellent initiative.” The Sheriff invited me to come with him into the front office, where he introduced me to a newspaper reporter. I was quite the celebrity for a short time! Got my picture in the paper, sitting at the teletype machine.


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