The world lost one of its most valuable characters yesterday. Jimmy Liston was a rare friend who was completely immersed in the world of public safety, radio, weather, aviation and all things cool.
Jimmy grew up in Englewood in the 60s. He became a ham radio operator when he was 11-years-old. He studied physics at DePaul University and built AM radio station WDPU where he was its first Technical Director and Assistant Station Manager. He became the Technical Manager of Northwestern University’s medical campus in downtown Chicago where he designed and built the dispatch center for their police department.
Jimmy joined the Chicago PD and was a patrolman and field training officer for 30 years in the toughest beat of one of the roughest districts, 1011. He was shot in one leg in 1986, the other in 1988. Everybody in the hood, no matter how much they hated the police, loved Jimmy, who they nicknamed “Sonny”. Jimmy always took and scored high marks on promotional exams, but not because he wanted the promotion, but because he wanted to let the hundreds of young officers he trained know how to better themselves in preparation for it. Jimmy absolutely loved his police job, but also loved his other brotherhood, his adopted Chicago Fire Dept. family. It was a deep relationship sparked one night when he stopped to write a report in front of Engine 77’s house and began hearing laughter.
I met Jimmy around 1990 while out driving around on the West Side looking for a story. He started asking me about the radios I had in my car, and when I looked in his squad and noticed he had a HAM portable and shortwave receiver sitting next to him I knew we would get along. Jimmy was a member of the CARMA scanning club, many HAM repeater clubs and the 5-11 Club, and was a long-time volunteer at the Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show. We had been working together in early summer on the Radioman911 project before he began having health issues that kept him from enjoying his well-deserved retirement.
Jimmy’s favorite place was in his incredible basement radio room. In 1997 the Chicago PD moved its Communications Operations Section from the old CPD HQ at 1121 S. State St. to a new 911 center. Some of the old consoles went on display in lobbies and to the Motorola Museum and the rest were junked. Jimmy was able to pay the fair market scrap value for the Citywide 1 and 3 dispatch consoles and maps. Rescuing those items from the scrap yard, cleaning off the dirt, grime, and 30+ years of cigarette smoke in order to display them in his HAM shack was undoubtedly one of the proudest moments in his life.
God bless you Jimmy, aka L1011, aka N9HSH. You were one of a kind. Our paths were bound to cross and I’m glad they did when they did. I wish you would have had more time to enjoy your retirement life with all your fellow hobbyists and with your awesome wife Kathy Cronkhite Liston who should no doubt be on a short-list for sainthood. I’m sure by now Jimmy’s talked his way into a communications officer post so the chances of that happening are good!