A netherworld of dead people, mug shots of killers and old press releases
By Carys Mills
It’s 4 a.m. in the Toronto Star’s Radio Room and the scanners are quiet.
I was reading scattered, multicoloured Post-Its plastered in the office at this point of my last overnight shift.
They displayed quotes radio roomers had heard over the scanners years before.
But the Star’s in the midst of a major makeover and just over a week ago the Radio Room moved to a new office. In preparation for the moving day, the Post-Its were taken down along with the Box’s other layers of history.
It took the 13 students who staff the 24/7 operation weeks to pack up our office into blue plastic storage bins.
We only moved 30 steps across the newsroom but moving an institution is no easy task.
This year’s radio roomers, like the hundreds before us, listen to police scanners, monitor emergency websites, staff the phones and do everything possible to get breaking news online and in the paper.
The Box was once staffed by City reporters but an internship program was eventually created, reporters told me. Now, university and college students work a couple of eight hour shifts a week.
Not much had changed since the Ryerson Review of Journalism wrote about the Radio Room 13 years ago.
“A 15-by-10-foot room in The Toronto Star newsroom, the box is a netherworld filled with photos of dead people, mug shots of killers and old press releases about Paul Bernardo,” wrote Alex Gillis, who sat in on at least one shift with a student for his story.
Add a few maps of policing districts and his description is similar to the Radio Room I knew.
“A counter circles the room stacked with electronics: seven radio scanners, two computers, two telephones, a television, a fax machine and a portable radio,” he wrote.
“Under the counter are black cabinets filled with files of past murders, sexual assaults, robberies, fatalities and thefts.”
The move was planned for 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 26. That meant the Radio Room had to disconnect from the world, at least briefly. The radio roomer working then, Liem Vu, was stationed at another desk while the scanners, computers and TV were unhooked and storage bins moved.
Before moving, Liem did some last minute cleaning and found a dusty cigar behind our mailboxes. We can only guess how long it had been there and who it belonged to.
The night before the move, I was cleaning I found papers older than I am, packed up dusty books and took down those Post-Its (I remember one mentioned a suspect with the last name Innocent).Later that night, two staffers stood in the Box, saying goodbye to what they called an institution.
It will take a while but I’m sure this new Box will have the same status one day.
Moving day photos by Liem Vu
New radio room photos by Carys Mills