This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Jesse Rosenquist (1899-1966)

Jesse Rosenquist joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 1923. In 1931, the LAPD became one of the first law enforcement agencies in the world to begin dispatching officers by means of radio. Sergeant Rosenquist became one of the first officers to be a radio dispatcher. His calls were said to be an example to other dispatchers. He spoke slowly and clearly, ending each transmission by saying his name, "ROSE-n-quist."

Now a word has to be said about how this was all done in the early days. The frequencies used for police calls were just past the normal AM/Medium Wave band. The procedure for a law enforcement agency to get a broadcast license was no different than for any other individual or group to get a broadcast license. First the Department of Commerce Radio Bureau, later called the Federal Radio Commission (FRC, today known as the Federal Communications Commission or FCC). had to be petitioned for application. Once approved, there were weeks of test broadcasts. And then the law enforcement agency was given a call sign, whose letters could be chosen by the petitioner. The LAPD was given KGPL at the frequency of 1712 kilocycles (they weren't called kilohertz for another 40 years) on May 1, 1931.

Los Angeles did not have the first radio dispatched police department. Berkeley(KSW) got its radio license in 1928. Tulare (WPDA) got theirs around Christmas 1930. Neighboring Pasadena (KGJX) got one in September 1930, which would receive the first two-way motorcycle officer dispatch system in November 1947.

At first, all talking was done by the dispatcher only. It worked like this: A citizen would call MIchigan 6111 to LAPD headquarters at Los Angeles City Hall. Then the civilian (not a police officer) dispatcher would telephone the police dispatcher situated at the transmitter site at Elysian Park, in the hills at FAber 6111. The broadcasts would be heard but there could be no verbal response. That wouldn't happen until the cars got microphones (with separate transmitting units) in August 1931.

Because there was less electronic activity in the sky in the 1930s, at night, when almost everything stopped, police calls from Los Angeles could be heard as far as the East Coast or Hawaii. Sergeant Rosenquist's broadcasts were heard widely. He was heard all over Southern California, Southern Nevada and Western Arizona.

This didn't go unnoticed by those in the entertainment business. CBS Radio writer William N. Robson (1906-95) was new in Hollywood at that time, working at KHJ. He had the idea of making a radio program out of Sergeant Rosenquist's broadcasts. The program was Calling All Cars. The program began with Rosenquist's original broadcast, supposedly the way he originally said it, calling officers to the scene of an infamous crime. Then the story was presented, with Rosenquist filling in a few spots. It ended with Rosenquist announcing the criminals were caught and to cancel any help that could have been used. (It was a very definite formula show.)

The Rio Grande division of Sinclair Oil was the sponsor of Calling All Cars. Rio Grande gasoline was only sold in three states, California, Nevada, and Arizona (roughly the area that Sergeant Rosenquist's broadcasts could be heard in the late afternoon). So Calling All Cars was only sent to radio stations in those three states. As an advertising endorsement, it was so stated that Rio Grande Cracked Gasoline was used by most law enforcement agencies in the broadcast area, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the National City Police Department, and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, or any other agency's name they chose to drop at the time.

The show started November 29, 1933, over the CBS Don Lee Network (selected stations). When CBS bought radio station KNX in 1937, KHJ, which had broadcast the show from the beginning, became a Mutual network station, and the show was broadcast from KNX. The last broadcast was heard over select stations (which included the states of Washington and Oregon) on CBS on September 8, 1939.

Since Sergeant Rosenquist was still a sworn officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, he often had to work at the time Calling All Cars aired. Usually the actor who took his place was Gale Gordon (1906-95). His transmissions were ended, "Gordon."

When the law enforcement agency in the episode was other than the Los Angeles Police Department or the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (the LAPD and other neighboring agencies handled their calls until 1938), Rosenquist never mentioned his name. Rather he would say, "That is all." It was thought that, when NBC News correspondent W.W. Chaplin ended his war broadcasts the same way some ten years later, it was thought he got that from Rosenquist.

By the mid 1930s, Rosenquist was so popular that all public service announcements were called Rosenquists at that time. Also, his voice was used in several Hollywood motion pictures at that time, including the 1936 films, Tough Guy and Absolute Quiet.

In 1949 the LAPD call sign was changed to KMA367. The frequency changed from an AM location to a higher frequency in the 1950s. It recently went to a digital frequency, much higher.

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Did you know: From 1933 until the 1950s, the police emergency phone number in Los Angeles was 116? Children in public schools had a little song they would say, "When in a fix, dial 1-1-6!" All emergency telephone numbers ended with 116 for many years.

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