Listeners of recent radio transmissions among Pittsburgh police and first responders may have caught the usual chatter: ambulance dispatches, animal bites, noise complaints. But those who stayed tuned long enough heard about more outlandish incidents, like a group of Carrick construction workers fighting with tire irons. A porta potty reportedly on fire in a Downtown park. Police responding to a man driving up to people on Butler Street in a convertible, laying on an airhorn, then speeding away.
These were just some of the calls overheard by the Pittsburgh Scanner Twitter account (@pgh_scanner), described in its bio as, “Two guys with a couple radios.” The account listens to police, fire, and EMS broadcasts in the City of Pittsburgh via handheld radio scanner, curates a daily selection of calls, and posts them on Twitter.
Recently, the tweeted calls have been so bizarre, the account’s veracity has been questioned. In particular, the weekend of June 3 brought a spate of strange incidents, including an “irate customer” at the infamous South Side Burger King, a case of vodka falling off a delivery truck and “causing a frenzy,” and a man identified as a “known biter” evading police by jumping into the Allegheny River and clinging to a buoy. In one of the account’s most-liked tweets, a “male in gray shorts” repeatedly hit people with a broom in Mount Washington. All of this occurred over the span of 48 hours.
The account’s popularity quickly boomed, with 96.1 KISS FM’s Mikey and Bob featuring the “loaded weekend” on their morning show the following Monday. It’s also been highlighted on KDKA NewsRadio and elicited TikTok reactions, causing more than one follower to wonder if it’s a parody.
“I can assure you what you read on this page is brought to you by the wonderful residents of this city, not our imaginations,” the account responded on June 4.
Nick is the 34-year-old steelworker who created Pittsburgh Scanner from his couch. Until now, he has remained largely anonymous. This was his first-ever interview.
Currently, the Pittsburgh Scanner account has more than 25,000 followers, with a cross-section of notable Pittsburghers including former mayor Bill Peduto, multiple sitting city council members, comedian Bill Crawford, writer Robert Yune, and the official Pittsburgh Regional Transit account counted among them.
Nick thinks the whole thing might’ve been his wife’s idea, originally. “I’m nebby,” Nick tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “Honestly, I am. My wife always gives me shit about it. But I don't really watch TV. So [this is] what I do … I just think it’s entertaining.”
For however eccentric or unbelievable the Pittsburgh Scanner account may be, Nick himself is almost too on the nose, exactly who you might expect to be the city’s chief onlooker. He arrives to our interview after working overtime as a U.S. Steel machine operator, wearing a Pirates cap.
The account’s origins go back to his Pittsburgh childhood. Growing up in North Braddock, Nick’s father was “always” listening to Mon Valley happenings on a police scanner, and he acknowledges there’s a “nostalgic” element to carrying on the hobby.
Though he first bought a scanner six years ago, he started listening regularly to digitally broadcast feeds on his phone in 2020. Often, he was at work, on the overnight shift.
“I’d be alone in a cab and it would give me something to do all night,” he says.
When he switched to day shifts, he would listen at home when he got a spare moment while caring for his two young children. The father of a 2-year-old son — who was a month old when the account started — and an 8-month-old daughter, he still catches calls during nap time and while doing dishes.
One day, a call came from a woman who reported seeing someone parachuting Downtown; she wanted the police to investigate a possible plane crash, and it stuck with him. “Why do you think that's what happened?” Nick asks. His reactions to calls are often bemused. “Do you think that's a pilot that’s fallen out of the sky?
He noticed other cities had police scanner feeds. Pittsburgh itself maintains several police and public safety Twitter accounts, but he found them to be “cut and dry” with a “professional” tone and lingo a layperson might not understand. His vision was to create something “a little fun and different” that would still be informative. Nick still believes in reporting roadblocks, fires, shootings, and other crimes as a public service.
Naturally, the account’s most popular tweets are generally its lightest, involving colorful characters.
Nick also acknowledges it’s a fine line to walk between being entertaining versus exploitative, since these calls, of course, involve real people. He doesn’t post everything — for example, he says he omits calls reported as psychiatric incidents.
Though part of the appeal is listening in on occurrences across all of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, Nick has a soft spot for Downtown, where “it’s always busy.” Summertime, heat, and full moons also really do spike weird run-ins, he believes.
Until recently, Pittsburgh Scanner was a one-man operation. But a follower named Mike reached out to Nick on Twitter, and now helps cover calls (thus the “two guys” in the bio). The pair hasn’t met in person yet. Mike’s improvement to the account is that he uses a recorder, allowing for playback and greater accuracy. Previously, everything Nick posted he heard once, in real time, “live and uncut.”
They’re unsure what the future of the account holds, but they’re toying with the idea of merchandise next: T-shirts or beer koozies, and possibly a giveaway for a police scanner.
City Paper asks Nick about the account’s popularity, if it captures some part of Pittsburgh’s nature, like the Florida Man meme.
“We’ll give him a run for his money,” Nick says.