LAKE COUNTY RADIO DEPARTMENT HISTORY
Lake County began using radio communications in 1934. When Harry Quandt was hired as chief radio engineer, the radio system consisted of a one-car receiver and four motorcycle receivers. Radio broadcasts were provided by Chicago on a telephone-message relay basis. The county did not have its own transmitter site. In the fall of 1934, a 50 watt transmitter was donated to the Sheriff's Office. Up until then, all servicing and maintenance work was done by high-priced local radio shops. In 1936, Quandt started maintaining the radio equipment with a $400 annual budget and additional mobile regenerative receivers were purchased.
The radios operated on a frequency of 1714kc (now called Khz). This frequency is very close to the AM broadcast band which caused continuous interference. The receivers lacked crystal control and had to be consistently realigned. In 1939, the Sheriff's Office purchased new 33.22 MHz radios. The old equipment was transferred to various towns in the county and a county-wide network was born.
During the war years, Quandt researched the concept of two-way radio communications. The cost of conversion was very expensive and the technology was unproven for public safety use. Shortly after the war, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decreed that all police radio systems would be required to shift their operation to the Very High Frequency (VHF) bands. This meant that all police radio systems in the country including those in Lake County would have to be replaced with much more complex and expensive equipment that operates between 150 and 160 MHz. The Lake County Board of Supervisors met this challenge Feb 1, 1949 by creating the first coordinated police radio system at a cost of $250,000.
Thus, in 1949, a 250 foot radio tower and service building were constructed north of Libertyville. This included five service stalls, a radio repair shop, dispatch facilities, radio transmitters/receivers and an apartment for the radio engineer. Radio equipment was operated and maintained for all police and fire agencies within the county at a cost of $10 per month per agency. An assistant radio engineer, Jay McClasky, was hired to help maintain the new radio system. The Lake County Radio Department maintained more than 200 radios from these facilities.
The radio system consisted of both mobiles and bases operating on the same frequency. The control station or dispatcher was equipped with a radio transmitter and receiver which used antennas mounted on the 250 foot tower. Radio communications between dispatcher and mobiles were adequate however radio communications between mobiles were poor. A mobile repeater system was purchased by the county to overcome this limitation. The repeater system allowed lower-powered mobile radios to retransmit on the higher-powered Libertyville radio transmitter. Mobiles could now communicate instantly and directly to all other mobiles and bases in the Lake County system.
In 1952, tone-actuated alert receivers were installed in the homes of volunteer firemen throughout the county. These radios eliminated the need for telephone communications which were not very dependable at the time. Radios were also a faster, more efficient way to alert all personnel of major incidents. More than 1,000 tone actuated receivers were purchased in the county. The majority were used for fire alerts while others were used for civil defense programs at Lake County schools.
A county-wide highway radio system was installed in 1957 for the Lake County Highway Department. This system also was utilized by some of the township highway departments. The system started off as a dispatch to mobile (simplex) communication system. Later in the 1970s, the system was upgraded to the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band and a repeater system was installed.
The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service was established in 1959. This was a county and federal sponsored group that provided back-up radio communications in the event of a disaster or emergency situation. Communications were conducted on amateur High Frequency (HF), VHF low and VHF high bands.
The FCC ruled in 1961 that fire departments would no longer be allowed to operate on police frequencies. The Board of Supervisors for Lake County approved and established a mobile repeater system for use by county fire departments.
In 1962, a hospital radio system was established by placing two-way radios in each of the hospitals in Lake County. A radio in the Sheriff's dispatch facilities was used to communicate with the various hospital units.
A county-wide local government radio system was put into operation in 1969. The system was used by county officials, building inspectors, animal wardens and other agencies not authorized to use the county's police radio system.
Jay McClasky eventually became Director of Radio Communications and the department was staffed with 10 technicians who maintained radio equipment for the entire county.
In November of 1987 the radio department was one of the smaller departments in the county. It nevertheless played a significant role in keeping the vital communications link intact. The biggest problem was keeping up with rapidly changing radio technology. Wallace Heller was Director of Radio Communications. The Radio Department consisted of 7 technicians.
Wallace Heller H.S. Choi Tom Kleiner KassayeTafla
Bob Stark Comm. Technician
The airwaves were getting so crowded and there were so few available frequencies that digital communications became the hope of the future. Instead of using voice communications, operators would be able to type out requests on a keyboard and send the information in a matter of seconds.
In 1993, Tom Kleiner assumed the duties of Department Director and the department size was reduced to 4 technicians.
The Radio Department experimented with three digital display units on loan from a company. Two were mounted in squad cars and one was installed at the base station. Lake County shared one channel with Racine and another with Milwaukee to prove the point of radio frequency spectrum demand.
In 1997, Garry R. Gorr became Director of the Radio Department.
In September of 1997, a team was formed to study the need and justification for a new county radio system. This team, consisting of the Director of the Radio Department, Director of the Purchasing Department, Assistant County Administrator, and members of the Sheriff's Office, determined that the county's radio system could no longer support the radio communication requirements of the county. Studies show that the present radio system lacks necessary coverage, was very congested and was interfered by neighboring cities, counties and states. All these variables impeded the service and safety to citizens of the county. Associates from RCC Consultants, hired by the county, recommended a public safety 800 MHz trunked radio system as a reliable solution.
A license from the Federal Communication Commission was obtained in May of 1998 and specifications for an "Intent to Bid" were developed and released.
Vendor selection was based on the bidder's ability to meet the required specifications at the lower bid. The bids were evaluated using these nine guidelines:
- Compliance with the technical specifications and system performance
- Bidder qualifications in similar applications
- Coverage performance
- Mutual aid functionality
- Reliability and redundancy
- Expansion capabilities and versatility
- Local availability of maintenance support
- System pricing including initial purchase and maintenance support
- Organization and quality of bid
The team determined that the recommended vendor demonstrated a radio system of the highest quality, dependability, reliability and confidence of design. The system, its components and support, must have the functionality and flexibility to endure well into the next century. A state-of-the-art radio system will provide an answer to the critical radio communication needs of the County.
"As of March 1, 2001, all Lake County Departments utilizing the old VHF/UHF radio systems have switched to the new 800 MHz trunked system" says Garry R. Gorr, Communications Administrator for the County.
"The transfer was very successful with little or no loss of radio communications within departments."
The new 800 MHz system provides county-wide portable radio communications for all Lake County agencies utilizing the new 800 MHz radios.
The next phase of the project is to give other local government police and fire agencies the opportunity to utilize the new trunked system. Placing other local government agencies on the new system will enhance inter-agency inter-operability.