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On the Media: Roger the Scanner Guy has the attention of Santa Barbara

It can be hard to tell fact from fantasy. But this insightful though anonymous poster on Edhat, a community website, is drawing a following.

June 05, 2010|James Rainey

A report came over the police radio: Suicidal subject. With a knife.

A standard-issue police reporter wouldn't give that mundane tidbit a second thought. But it unlocked a memory in Roger Dodge, who described it online in a spooky, lightly punctuated bit of free association: "A long long time ago in Fort Wayne Indiana I was walking with this kid in the middle of the night. We were runaways, these guys were on the other side of the street there were words between my friend and one of these other guys. The guy ran over pulled out a butcher knife and stabbed my friend in the gut, he died in my arms ever since I've been afraid of knives."

His ending? "It's funny some of the memories that flow out of me when I listen to the scanner."

And it's funny how those memories, ribald humor and doses of indignation and empathy have turned a onetime drifter and self-described failure into something of a new-media phenomenon in Santa Barbara.

"Roger the Scanner Guy" said he spends four to 14 hours a day listening to police and fire calls at a small cottage in his adopted hometown. He stirs the snippets of misdemeanor and mayhem into a stew of recollection, political cant and fantasy, posting the results at least three times a week on a popular community website called Edhat.

He calls himself Roger Dodge or Roger Dodger. But those aren't his names. He said he doesn't want to get too public just yet. That makes the Scanner Guy, as one fan wrote, "a Santa Barbara icon, without being an icon."

He said in an interview this week that he liked to keep people informed and make them laugh. Otherwise there doesn't seem to be much method to his mashups.

Maybe that's why, in a report about a distress call from a man yelling "Help me, help me!" Roger added: "I tried to imagine the look on a police officers face if he broke down the man's door only to see a half man, half fly, caught in a spider web."

It can be hard to tell sometimes where the straight police blotter ends and fantasy begins. The Edhat people do their best to check Roger's spelling. But nobody's busting his chops about accuracy or precision. That's one of the joys of being a novelty act rather than a journalist.

It's been nearly four years since meddling by owner Wendy McCaw in news content triggered a mass exodus of reputable journalists and turned Santa Barbara's oldest daily paper, the News-Press, into a malign mediocrity.

Multiple entrepreneurs are trying to become the premier news source for Santa Barbara, including Edhat, the town's top information aggregator. Establishing itself a couple of years before the News-Press meltdown, the site has become a go-to bulletin board, particularly during local crises like last year's Jesusita fire.

Founder Peter Sklar, 48, leaves serious political and government reporting to competitors, upstarts like the Daily Sound, Noozhawk and the venerable Santa Barbara Independent, the alternative weekly. Sklar prefers to link to that work and to host a community conversation, often over lighter fare like favorite pets or contests identifying local landmarks.

Sklar insists that the website's name remain as much a mystery as the Scanner Guy's true identity. "I've worked here two years, and I don't even know what Edhat means," said Leah Etling, the site's manager and sole full-time employee.

One voice of the "neighborhood block party" particularly caught Sklar's attention with his caustic commentaries, particularly on crime and the local homeless. "I'm not a journalist," Sklar said this week, overlooking a trash truck yard and the distant harbor from his loft office. "I'm a computer guy, a statistician. But I saw that Roger was an amazing voice, and I wanted that in Edhat."

Roger agreed last summer to begin regularly filing his emergency radio observations. Over the months, readers began to pick up snippets of his profile — tales of long ago brawls and bouts with alcohol and homelessness. His most revealing post came in late April, on what he wrote was the 39th anniversary of his father's death.

"His death left a lot of unresolved issues in my life," the Scanner Guy wrote. "He used to knock the Hades out of me here and there.… When he died I thought I killed him with my thoughts."

Roger then whipped through a ghastly biography that included military school, multiple flights from home, gang life and sexual victimhood. Around the time of his 52nd birthday last month (he actually e-mailed that he was "364 years young, in dog years"), a little more biography crept into his posts. He said he washed out of the Navy, lived on the streets of Salinas and once became so deranged that he took an ax to what he thought was a snake. It turned out to be his uncle's $4,000 sprinkler system.

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