‘You are Listening to Philadelphia’ pairs city police scanner with ambient music

Eric Eberhardt lives in San Francisco.

In 2010, when the Giants won the World Series, the town went wild. People were rioting, and police could barely keep up. And Eberhardt heard the whole thing — at home, listening to a live stream of the city’s police scanner.

“It was really cool to listen to, but after awhile I kind of got bored, so I started playing music in the background,” said Eberhardt. “I was playing techno and jazz and I was like ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ So I wanted to send a link to people so they could hear what I was hearing. But it was kind of complicated.” In fact, it took a few months of tinkering to get simultaneous streams of music and police radio activity to match up on a sharable site. But he did it, and it’s live in a number of cities now, including Philly.

Here’s how it goes: His curated tracks of ambient music set a pensive atmosphere. A synthesized progression may be just hitting its peak when a garbled, urgent, anonymous voice blasts an emergency situation.

“Man with gun. Gunshots fired. Black male. 19-year-old. White tee shirt, blue jeans. On foot.”

That was the message on a recent afternoon in Philly.

Here’s Another: “Diamond and Front streets. I have a man who needs rescuing from this location. He’s walking but he’s in a wheelchair.”

Eberhardt says it taps into something deeper than morbid curiosity.

“One of my favorite comments someone made about the site early on was ‘It makes me feel like some sort of melancholy Batman. Like, looking out over the city,'” Eberhardt said.  “Another story I like is when somebody turned the thing on for the first time and then realized that the police scanner was talking about something that was happening on their block,” said Eberhardt. “So, for some people I think that connection can be really close to home.” He admits it’s a little creepy, but says the mixture of moody music and real-time crime make it tough to turn off.And he’s got plans to make a mobile app so you never have to. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.