Whitten’s 2-Way Service began in Randy Whitten’s garage in 1957. Whitten, a ham radio operator, had had lessons from his uncle and through a correspondence course. Later, Motorola sent him to Chicago for formal training and awarded him its service contract for the area. After 30 years of growth, Whitten moved to its current site in the Brewer Industrial Park in 1987.
Through it all, the company has adapted to changing technologies. In 1957, most radios were bulky, vacuum-tube-laden affairs, but Whitten saw it through conversion to transistor-based devices, and as radios grew smaller and user needs changed.
In the 1990s, the shift to digital began as a way to escape the limitations of analog. The past 10 years has seen mass conversion, in part due to federal mandates for narrowbanding. A second round of narrowbanding it on the horizon.
“It’s ramped up pretty fast,” said John Kingsbury, president and general manager.
With digital have come many options, and today’s digital radios seem like science fiction compared to the early models. For example, Whitten’s Motorola MotoTRBO line has bells and whistles that will raise anyone’s eyebrows. Unlike most repeaters, which handle one group of radios, the MotoTRBO repeater can handle two separate groups. For example, if you had one group of radios for the police department and another for the fire department, you needed two repeaters. By working with two groups of radios, this dual-group repeated means less expense.
Then there are features like texting, email, GPS location, and even custom apps, just like on a cell phone. So why not just use cell phones? First, you don’t have to go far in Maine to lose cell signal. But, more importantly, it’s a lot easier to communicate with many radios than by calling every phone every time you need to communicate — and having everyone with a radio have to do the same thing.
And radios like the MotoTRBO have invaluable features not found on cell phones, such as limiting transmission to just one person’s radio, or blocking out certain radios from a transmission. And if someone isn’t answering a radio call, you can verify that his radio is on and even listen in on what’s going on. That feature could be life-saving in the law-enforcement world: Consider if an officer is injured or being held at gunpoint and can’t respond; dispatch could listen in and find out what’s happening.
Such radios aren’t just for law enforcement. Hotels, security, building maintenance, construction crews, logging operations, mills, and more use them. And Whitten’s technicians, some on the job for 25 or 30 years, have had to expand their education into the realm of computer networking to do their jobs. That’s the nature of what digital radios are today.
“It’s the new wave,” Kingsbury said.