GPS Based Scanning Tips

Several Uniden scanners support GPS based scanning. There are two main ways this works; Database based and Programming Based.

Scanners that support ZIP Code based programming (The HomePatrol and x36 types) can support GPS in both ways. Scanners that do not have the ZIP Code feature only support Programming based GPS.

ZIP Code based GPS scanning allows the radio to reload itself with the local frequencies based on locations provided by the attached GPS receiver. Instead of pulling over to change the ZIP code every once in awhile the GPS receiver sends the location to the scanner and it will update the location on a regular basis and reload the channels for that area.

Since these use the RadioReference database to provide the information, the GPS centers and ranges are set in the database and included when you update the scanner’s database in Sentinel.

Programming based GPS scanning requires that the Systems, Sites and Groups (or Favorites Lists) be programmed with GPS coordinates and ranges. The GPS sends the location to the radio and when the radio determines that you are within the circle drawn based on the location and range it turns on that item. When you leave the circle it turns it off.

If you use your scanner over a wide area a GPS can allow you to automatically turn on and off systems, sites, groups and/or Favorites Lists automatically and without having to punch in a ZIP Code all the time. If you only use the scanner at home or around a small area a GPS wouldn’t help you but if you travel a lot (RV folk, truckers etc.) it can be invaluable.

Most people use the Uniden GPS receiver with their scanners. It works on all Bearcat GPS-aware scanners without needing to configure it. If you want to use another GPS it has to support the older Serial format and the baud rate settings must be set to match that of the scanner. Most GPS receivers these days (Garmin, TomTom etc.) do not support Serial mode so you will likely be better off with the Uniden GPS.

Scanners that support GPS include: BCT15/15X, BCD996T/XT/P2, BCD396T/XT, BCD325P2, BC346XT, HomePatrol 1 & 2, BCD436HP and BCD536HP.

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Scanner Master to Demo the BearTracker 885 at Dayton!

BearTracker885If you are attending the Dayton Hamvention this year please be sure to visit the Scanner Master booth (Booth 3003 in Building #3) to see the new Uniden BearTracker 885. This is the revolutionary new CB radio with a digital police scanner built-in. Or is it a digital scanner with a built-in CB? Whichever way you look at it, it is a neat radio!

Join Scanner Master’s Rich Barnett and BuTel’s Gommert Buijsen as they demonstrate current radios, accessories and software as well as the new BearTracker 885.

While the BearTracker 885 is not yet available for sale pending FCC approvals, you can see it in person exclusively at the Scanner Master booth!

Hamvention is held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 19-21 2017 at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia OH, just north of Dayton.

Join the waiting list for the Uniden BearTracker 885.

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Pro and Con scanner vs Baofeng etc.

Over the past few years there have been many inexpensive two-way radios on the market that have been very popular. For under $50 one can get a Wouxen, Baofeng or other brand two-way radio that can operate on many of the common police, fire and EMS channels. While as capable as they are cheap they are not viable as a mission-critical device and are not particularly useful as a scanner. These are commonly called “CCR’s” (Cheap Chinese Radios).

There are several reasons these are not ideally suited as a scanner replacement. The frequency range of these is often limited to certain VHF and UHF ranges. While they may have some of the same features as scanners, like field programmability, limited scanning and others they do not behave like scanners in many ways. Most scanners cover more frequency ranges, have more channels, more flexible scanning and often other features not found in CCR’s.

While these CCR’s are fine for family communications and amateur use, they are not appropriate for mission critical or serious comms. Without trunking, digital modes and other features they are not usually a good replacement for scanners unless you have very limited monitoring needs.

 

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Antennas: Get creative!

Scannists are always looking for better antennas. The right anttenna can make the difference between hearing your target or not. It is often said that the antenna is more important than the radio it is connected too. One can spend more money on the antenna system that the radio, it is that important. Even more important that the antenna itself can be the coax that connects it to the radio.

That all being said, sometimes there is a way to improve your antenna situation without breaking the bank. In this spirit let’s look at a couple rules that can be broken creatively to get a decent antenna solution at a reasonable price.

Let’s start at the top. With antennas elevation rules all. The higher it goes the better, well most of the time anyway. Does it have to be mounted on the roof however? It might work quite well in the attic. Attic installations can also save on other matters. You usually don’t need fancy mounting gear for attic antennas, just hang it from a rafter or set it on the floor. Antennas in the attic are well protected from the weather and you can do installations in the rain without getting wet.

If you live in an HOA then you might not be allowed rooftop antennas anyway so the attic might be the only way to go. It is not without its problems however. If you have a metal roof or other metallic structures above they would be a problem. Watch for metal backed insulation sheeting, HVAC hoses and other obstructions.

If you live in rental housing or a condo you might not even have the ability to use attic antennas at all. If this is the case then you are stuck with inside antennas. There are a couple things you still could do. Can you mount an antenna on a balcony or patio? How about putting a mobile magnet mount antenna on a refrigerator or air conditioner? Hang a rooftop type antenna from the ceiling or mount on the balcony? There are a lot of different things you can do when limited by space, rules or conditions.

When mounting an antenna on the roof or in the attic be sure to use quality feedline (coax). For scanners either 50 or 75 ohm coax works fine. Avoid the use of adapters as much as possible and try to use the shortest amount of coax as possible. Having 30 feet of coax coiled up in a corner will reduce the effectiveness of the antenna dramatically.

As always, if there are more questions you can ask your friendly (well sometimes grouchy) scanner expert here at ScannerMaster!

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What to do with my scanner when the cops go to encryption?

Encryption is a four-letter word among scanner enthusiasts. Encryption is the act of scrambling a signal to make it unmonitorable to radios not equipped with the proper technology and (most importantly) the proper key. The encryption keys are code numbers that are set up to assure that only permitted radios may hear and participate in a communication.

There is no way to decrypt a modern encrypted communication with a scanner, even with any of the various updates. Contrary to the occasional belief, the “Extreme Update” etc. does not open encryption. Neither will any firmware updates.

The only way possible to hear an encrypted communication is with a properly programmed System Radio programmed with the encryption keys. Occasionally police departments with encrypted systems will provide a system radio with basic talkgroups to media, wreckers, neighboring agencies and others that might have a legitimate need to monitor them. Unfortunately this privilege does not extend to scanner users.

So now what do you do if your agency goes to encryption? Often the police will be the only ones to go encryption so you may still be able to listen to other agencies like Fire/EMS, Street and Utility departments and mutual aid channels, often on the same radio system as the encrypted agency. Often the old channels are still in use for other purposes, as backup, tactical, or car-to car use. Some agencies only have encryption on certain channels, for example Tac or Swat, while leaving Dispatch in the clear.

Your scanner may still be used for many other services that rarely use encryption and you may discover all new listening experiences. For example, railroads, aircraft and business operations may still be monitored. Try listening to these services for a while and you might get interested in them. They can be fascinating, even more so than police traffic.

There is also the (slight) possibility that the agency could remove or reduce the use of encryption. In these days of mistrust of the police, however unjustified, encryption can be seen as a block to transparency. Some agencies have since removed encryption from routine dispatch channels for this reason.

PS: Modern encryption is most common these days on P25 digital systems but can also be used on other digital systems. Older analog systems occasionally used rudimentary scrambling that could be cracked with decoder kits or even monitored by some people that could make it out audibly. Those systems are pretty much all gone these days and rarely encountered due to the ease of being overcome.

Just because the police are gone from your scanner doesn’t mean the scanner is totally useless.

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Set up a feed on Broadcastify

Broadcastify is the largest collection of scanner feeds around. There are thousands of feeds available all over the world so one can listen to feeds from your home area or from thousands of miles away. These are used for routine monitoring or during major events. Feeds are set up by scanner owners or sometimes the agency themselves to allow anyone with a computer, smartphone or other device to listen in. While just like a scanner itself they can be used for nefarious purposes the overwhelming majority of listeners are just in it for the enjoyment of listening or to keep tabs on their home area.

Have you considered setting up a feed to allow monitoring of your local area on Broadcastify? It doesn’t take much. First off of course you need a scanner capable of hearing your target. Second you need a computer with a soundcard and Internet connection.

The process for setting up a feed on Broadcastify is fairly simple. You can download the free software required to run the feed from there. You need to file an online application describing the intended targets of the feed. Once filed the Broadcastify staff will review the application and presumably approve it. They will look at other area feeds to avoid duplication. They will also make sure you don’t intend on putting un-allowed communications on the feed. Things like broadcast, NOAA weather, sensitive tactical communications and certain others are not allowed.

What are the best radios for a feed? Probably the easiest radios to set up are Uniden scanners like the BCT15/15X (for analog communications) or BCD996 series (for digital). There are two main reasons these are ideal. First off is that they have a separate record jack that allows for a constant line level to be sent to the computer regardless of the volume setting on the radio. This allows you to use the radio for local listening as well as the feed.

The second reason these Uniden scanners are ideal for feeds is that they can also provide the channel tag to the feed software thru the radio’s serial port. This will help the listener see what channel is talking as if he were looking at the scanner itself.

While almost any radio can be used to provide the audio for the feed you should either have a constant level source (like a record jack) or be prepared to leave the radio’s volume setting fixed to provide a proper volume for the feed. If you don’t have a record or other constant-level source you could wire one, a Google search should help you find instructions.

For more information go to www.broadcastify.com

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Sentinel, Sentinel: What’s the difference?

Owners of Uniden ZIP Code scanners can use the free Sentinel software to do database and firmware updates as well as create and edit Favorites Lists. While they look and feel very much the same, the versions of Sentinel for the HomePatrols is different than that for the BCD436HP and BCD536HP.

The HomePatrol Sentinel works for both the original HomePatrol 1 and the newer HomePatrol 2. When installed on your Windows computer it will have a brown shield icon on the desktop.

The BCDx36HP Sentinel works for both the BCD436HP handheld and the BCD536HP desktop/mobile scanners and has a green shield icon on the desktop.

You can easily share Favorites Lists between HP-1’s and HP-2’s as well as between 436’s and 536’s. In order to share Favorites Lists between HomePatrol’s and “x36’s” you need to export from one and import it to the other.

If you have both types of radios you will need to install both versions of Sentinel. Even though they look and feel the same they cannot handle the other radio types. There is no additional learning curve but there are a few terminology differences. For example, in the HomePatrol Sentinel the menu used to read or write to the radio is called “HomePatrol” while the x36 version it is “Scanner”.

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Trunking System Types Glossary

Earlier we discussed the differences between Type 1 & 2 and Phase 1 & 2 trunking systems. This week we will discuss some other formats of trunking. I choose to use the easier to understand mnemonics of 1 and 2 rather than the more correct I and II for some of these systems. These mnemonics are often interchanged.

“Motorola” trunking systems include Type 1, Type 2 and Type 2i systems. The original Type 1 systems used a 3600 baud control data signal and a Fleets/Subfleet programming style. In time it was found to be too limiting, it restricted the number of subfleets and radios that could be accommodated within the Fleets. Motorola developed what was called Type 2 trunking that used a similar 3600 baud control data signal but removed the restrictions about Fleets and Subflleets and removed many of the limits on radios. Type 2 systems could have more than 65,000 individual radio ID’s and thousands of Talkgroups.

Some Type 1 systems were upgraded, either to Type 2 or to a hybrid system that allowed both Type 1 and Type 2 radios, this was commonly referred to as Type 2i. A later version of Type 2 trunking, called APCO P16, used the same Type 2 control data but allowed either analog or digital modulation.

APCO P25, as we discussed last week, is an all-digital format sold by several manufacturers, including Motorola, Harris and others. The format was developed by and for APCO and is licensed from them. The system was designed to be interoperable between the several vendors but often they add features that only they can provide so as to rope in customers to continue buying their radios instead of radios from other companies. One way to tell a Motorola designed system apart is by the control channels. On Motorola systems the Control Channel rarely changes and there are only 2 to 4 channels that they would rotate to if one becomes unavailable. Harris designed systems can use any of the channels for control data and some of these rotate the control data regularly.

P25 voice is also commonly used on conventional (non-trunked) channels as well.

There are two main types of P-25; Phase 1 and Phase 2 (or Phase I and II). Phase 1 allows a single conversation on a voice channel while Phase 2, a form of TDMA, allows 2 on each channel, effectively doubling the capacity of the system.

Most scanners these days only require the current Control Data channel for many of the P25 and Motorola trunking systems to track them.

EDACS is a trunking system originally sold by General Electric as a competitor with Motorola Type 1 and later Type 2 systems. This comes in 2 different types, the 9600 Baud control data commonly used on 800 MHz. systems and 4800 baud control data mostly used on UHF and 900 MHz. EDACS systems can use either analog voice or digital voice, called ProVoice. While any trunking scanner can handle analog EDACS systems only certain Uniden scanners (BCD325P2, BCD996P2, BCD436HP and BCD536HP) scanners can monitor ProVoice operations and these require the ProVoice paid upgrade.

EDACS is commonly used for public safety and less often in business applications. It shares many features with the Motorola trunking formats but is not compatible with it. It can be used as Single Site, Simulcast or Networked or some combination of these.

After several years GE sold the EDACS product line and it bounced around to several companies before landing at Harris Communications. Since EDACS is no longer sold or supported by Harris many of the systems have been shut down or converted to other formats. At some point EDACS systems will all be shut down as parts become unavailable for repairs.

To program an EDACS system into a scanner one needs to put the channels in their proper assigned slots. This is called the “LCN” (Logical Channel Number). This is because the radio only sends the channel number, it is up to the scanner or other radio to match this with the actual frequency.

LTR (Logic Trunked Radio) is a popular format for business users and occasionally used for public safety. This format does not use a dedicated control channel like Motorola, EDACS or P25 systems do. Instead data is sent piggybacked onto the regular traffic on the channel advising specific radios to go to a channel for a message. While this allows all channels to be used for voice messages it is not as robust as other systems so is not often used for police and fire use.

One can tell is an LTR system is in us, there is a characteristic repeater key-up on most channels. This is sending data to radios assigned to that channel as it’s “Home Channel”. Most trunking scanners can handle LTR systems, the trick is determining the LCN slots properly.

DMR/TRBO/NXDN systems can be either conventional or trunked. Some systems can be trunked with a single channel, using sub-audible codes to separate the groups. These systems use TDMA for voice traffic so multiple conversations can be carried on one channel.

While used mostly for business activities these systems occasionally are used for public safety, especially in the SE states.

MotoTRBO is a brand name used by Motorola for it’s DRM offering. While there are slight differences a DMR scanner works fine for unencrypted TRBO systems.
DMR is available on certain Uniden and Whistler scanners.

NXDN trunking is very similar to DMR but just different enough to require a different mode. As of this writing (Spring 2017) NXDN was only available on the TRX-1 and TRX-2 scanners by Whistler.

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Type 1, Type 2, Phase 1, Phase 2, what’s the difference?

There is often confusion between different types of trunked systems. One of the most confusing things is the names of some systems. We get calls and letters all the time asking about Phase 2 and Type 2 systems and whether a particular scanner will work on them. They are different and the difference will determine if your scanner will work with it.

TYPE 2 (more accurately but less often written as TYPE II) systems are older Motorola trunking systems that use 3600 baud control data channels. These are commonly referred to as just “Motorola” systems when programming scanners. These were an evolution from the original Type 1 and Type 2i systems. The difference between Type 1, 2i and 2 systems is the way talkgroups are developed. Type 1 systems use a Fleet/Subfleet system that resulted in limited flexibility to assign talkgroups. Most of these systems have been shut down or updated and very few remain in use. Type 2 systems had a different method of assigning talkgroups and allowed greater flexibility. Some systems were called Type 2i, and were a hybrid between Type 1 and Type 2 systems.

Newer Type 2 systems, referred to as APCO P16 systems, allowed either digital, analog or both forms of modulation. There are still many of these systems in use all over the country.

PHASE 1 and PHASE 2 (more accurately referred to as Phase I and Phase II) systems are totally different than Type 1 or Type 2 systems. Phase 1 and 2 systems are forms of APCO P-25 digital systems that use 9600 baud control data channels and all digital modulation. Phase I systems have a single voice path per frequency while Phase II allows 2 voice paths per frequency, effectively doubling the amount of traffic a set number of channels can handle.

It gets even more confusing when programming some radios. Some scanner program the Type 2 and Phase 1 or 2 systems with the same system type, others have different selections. On the user end, most Motorola P25 (Phase 1 or 2) radios are also capable of being used on the older Type 2 systems.

Next week we will look at some of the other trunking systems like EDACS, LTR and TRBO.

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2017 Dayton Hamvention

The 2017 Dayton Hamvention is going to be held from May 19 thru 21, 2017 at the Greene County Fairgrounds and Expo Center in Xenia OH. This is the first year for Hamvention to be held in the new location and we are very excited about attending this year!

Rich Barnett and Gommert Buijsen (Author of the Butel ARC programming software) will be manning the booth this year. We will of course have a wide variety of scanners and accessories available at great prices.

Be sure to stop by at Booth 3303 (in Building 3) and say Hi to Rich and Gommert!

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