If Chicago is “drug busts and chasing murderers” and Portland is “somewhat sleepier than Los Angeles,” then what might Baltimore sound like? Eric Eberhardt’s online project, youarelistening.to, offers a glimpse into the personality of certain cities from a very particular angle: the crackle and chatter of their police scanners. (As of right now, I can report that Baltimore sounds like traffic control and blocked roads. “I’m still stuck in traffic,” one officer just said. Parades make for slow crime-fighting days, it turns out.)
Listening in on conversations between dispatchers, first responders, and police officers can feel like eavesdropping, but Eberhardt’s project takes advantage of the fact that police scanner audio is a part of the public domain. (You can find a whole bunch of cities’ police/fire/EMS audio feeds here.) As a result, police and dispatchers are careful to speak in codes and numbers, and to not give away identifying information over the feed. And Eberhardt’s addition of unobtrusive ambient music playing along with the police audio somehow makes the whole thing weirdly soothing. As Emily Badger writes for the Atlantic Cities, “The resulting sound is made up as much of white noise and house calls as breathless car chases. But the charm of the site is the mellow background music that blends all of the incidents – cinematic and mundane – into one endless and almost tranquil track.”
I can testify that even when it’s just talk of license plates and street names, the audio feed is weirdly hypnotizing. It’s a peek inside the working world of our city. Let us know if you hear anything interesting.