VLog – Scanner Master DIY – Reformatting SD Card for the Uniden HomePatrol

Links
Software download – http://info.uniden.com/twiki/bin/view/HomePatrol/HomePatrolSentinel

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Basic Scanner Types

There are basically 3 different types of scanners, “Basic” “Digital” and “ZIP Code”. Which one is best for you depends on the systems used in your area. There are 2 basic formats of scanners, handheld and desktop/mobile.

What we call “Basic” scanners are those inexpensive scanners that usually have analog reception only and do not handle any type of trunking systems. Current “Basic” scanners include the Uniden BC75XLT, BC125AT and BC365CRS as well as the Whistler WS1010 and WS1025. These scanners are fine in areas that do not use digital or trunking systems, they also work well for aircraft, marine and railroad monitoring.

“Digital” scanners have the ability to monitor digital and analog trunking systems (EDACS, Motorola, LTR, P25). Some of these scanners also include “Phase 2” systems, which is a newer form of P25. Some radios also will allow you to monitor ProVoice, DMR or NXDN digital systems.

“ZIP Code” or “Database” type scanners are digital trunking scanners that allow one to select a specific area and import channels from an on-board memory card. These memory cards can be updated when needed. These will work almost anywhere in the country and are ideal for those who travel often.

What scanner is best for you? Call us and we can help you decide. We have access to the world’s largest database of scanner frequencies and can quickly look up your area and let you know which radios would work best for you.

When you do call us we will ask a couple questions, including the location you wish to monitor and what format radio you want. With this information we can make a couple suggestions of scanners that will work in your area.

Most of the time we can suggest a couple different scanners with different feature levels. Conversely if you have your heart set on a specific radio we can tell you whether or not it should work in your area.

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The BearTracker 885: Is it a scanner or not?

BearTracker885Uniden recently released its new BearTracker 885 CB-Scanner combination. Here are a few things to know about it:

1) It has a LIMITED FUNCTION scanner.

The 885 has a specially designed scanner built in that will receive local police, fire, EMS and Highway Department channels based on your location. The radio will tell you whether the channel is Police, Fire etc. but it does not indicate the agency or channel name. You can hear the traffic, the display will tell you that it is police or whatever, but it won’t tell you whether it is Mayberry or the Highway Patrol.

2) You can UPDATE but not program the scanner part.

The 885 has a free software program that simply updates the database the radio uses to hear local traffic. You cannot add/delete or modify channels. To update the radio is fairly simple, take out the full-size SD card, insert it into an SD-Card reader attached to your computer and run the updater program. (The radio does not come with an SD-Card reader, if your computer doesn’t have one you can get them for a few dollars.) The updater software pulls the latest data from the RadioReference database and loads it onto the SD-Card. The database is updated weekly but you only need to bother updating the database once or twice a year.

3) How does the 885 know where I am?

The 885 comes with a GPS receiver. The small receiver is connected to the GPS by an included cable, just put the little box in view of the sky (on the dashboard etc.) and plug it in. If this won’t work for you then you can manually enter in the location from the front panel controls of the radio. When using the GPS the radio’s location is updated regularly and the scanner part will reload itself with the local channels.

4) What about the CB?

The 885 is a basic 40 channel CB. It does not do SSB but it has the typical CB features needed to communicate or listen to other vehicles so equipped. It can also be used as a PA (PA Speaker not included) or as a weather receiver.

5) Is it legal?

We are not lawyers and do not offer legal advice. That said, CB’s are legal for use in the USA and Canada without a license. As far as the scanner goes check with your state and local authorities about whether a scanner is allowed in a vehicle. Laws may vary for commercial vehicles. Since this device has no radar detector it is not prohibited from commercial vehicles for that reason.

If you are interested in scanning specific agencies or want a scanner that allows you more choice then perhaps the 885 is not the radio for you. If you are looking for a CB and like the idea of hearing local emergency scanner traffic then this radio could be ideal.

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DMR, ProVoice and Ultimate Self Updating

Most people who want the various paid updates for Uniden scanners (DMR, ProVoice or Ultimate Updates) have our staff add the updates to the radios when they buy it. It is simpler and worth the little bit of added expense for a lot of these folks.

There are times when it is not convenient for one to have us do these updates at the time of purchase. Maybe you bought the radio elsewhere (shame on you!) or didn’t know you needed the update until later. Perhaps the target you want to listen to changed to a new system.

You can send the radio to us using the regular Mail In Programming Order Form and have us do the update for you. We can do the updates with or without the programming services.

If you cannot send the radio to us for the updates you can get them directly from Uniden.com. If you live outside the USA or Canada however then Uniden cannot process your credit card for payment. We can!

The first thing you MUST do is to update the firmware to the latest version. On each radio except the 996 and 325P2 it is done thru Sentinel. For users of the 325 and 996P2 you download it from Uniden’s website and run the updater.

After you update the firmware call us and provide the below information and we will then email you with the one-time code to unlock the feature set on your radio.

Model (HomePatrol 1, Home Patrol 2, BCD436HP, BCD536HP, BCD325P2, BCD996P2)

Electronic Serial Number (Not the one on the label!)

HP1, HP2: Press Menu>Advanced, scroll down then press Version Information

All others: Press Menu>Settings>See Scanner Info> Firmware Version

Sum Code (HP1 and HP2 it is the 3 digits right of the dash after the ESN)

Of course will need your email address to send you the code as well as the proper billing address and credit card information.

Once you get the code from us go to the Update menu on the radio and enter it via the keypad. Once the code is entered it remains on the radio forever, you cannot erase it or transfer it to another radio. On the 325, 996, 436 and 536 scanners you can have either or both of the DMR and ProVoice updates. The HP1 and HP2 only support the Ultimate Update.

If you have questions on these updates you can call our scanner experts at 1-800-SCANNER.

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Force Write full Database (HP1, HP2 BCD436 and BCD536)

When updating a HP series (HomePatrol 1 and 2, BCD436HP and BCD536HP) scanner one of the update is the database that the ZIP Code feature relies on. If the database has old or incorrect data then it can affect whether you will be able to hear your target. If you update the database on a regular basis you can help ensure that you will hear what you want.

When you update the database within Sentinel (the free software provided by Uniden to support these scanners) it doesn’t actually update the database on the scanner itself. You have to “Force-Write” the database to the scanner. This is easy; after you “Update Master HPDB” in the Update menu just click the “Force-Write Full Database” button on the Write to Scanner (or Write to HomePatrol) item in the Scanner (or HomePatrol) menu.

This ensures that the Master HomePatrol database on your scanner is up to date.

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When the best scanner isn’t a scanner (Unication Receivers)

If you live in an area covered by a Simulcast P-25 radio system you likely have suffered from Simulcast Distortion. This is the interference and missed calls caused by simulcast sites of these radio systems interfering with each other. All scanners have this issue and there are various things one can do to remedy the situation. This includes relocating or reducing the antenna, use of a directional antenna or turning on the attenuator.

Sometimes even this doesn’t help. If you really get in a bind there are other ways to get better reception. For some this means getting a specially programmed two-way radio set up on the system and using it as a monitor. While sometimes these can be programmed for receive only there are problems with this approach. First off is legality. Unless authorized by the system owner it may be illegal to have such a radio set up on the system due to the use of a “System Key”. Some states even This is considered to be intellectual property and restricted to authorized personnel. Even if you got past this hurdle two-way radios for these systems are expensive, sometimes over $5000. Add into that programming software ($300) and cables ($200) and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

The Unication receivers provide a possible solution that is much more reasonably priced, does not require permission or special codes or keys for the system but with reception rivaling that of the expensive radios at a fraction of the cost. The downside is that the Unication is not as flexible as a scanner and does not allow for field programming.

The Unication provides professional quality reception at a hobbyist price. While more expensive than scanners, it receives P25 Simulcast systems as well as the expensive two-way radios do at a much lower price.

ScannerMaster can program the Unication radio for you, be sure to select this option at the time of purchase if you want it. You can also do the programming yourself with a Windows computer, the software is free from Unication. Of course if there are any questions our knowledgeable staff is here to help!

The Unication G4 works in the 700 and 800 MHz. bands. The G5 works in these bands plus another, such as VHF or 2 different UHF bands. Currently they work on Phase 1 systems only but a Phase 2 upgrade will be available soon. This will be a paid update but pricing has not yet been announced.

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Update the firmware on your scanner!

Why would you want to update the firmware on your scanner, and how do you do it?
First, let’s explain WHAT firmware is. Firmware is the operating system of your radio, it works behind the scenes and tells the radio how to deal with things like keyboard inputs, frequencies, etc. Just like your computer or phone has an operating system (Like Windows 10, iOS etc.) scanners do too. Remember, scanners these days are miniature computers; they work much in the same way.

Firmware updates are released for a couple reasons. They either fix a problem or add/change features. Sometimes they do both. As an example, the BCD436HP’s most recent firmware update added the ability to add ProVoice and DMR digital protocols, before that firmware updates addressed an issue with clock settings.

When updating firmware one must follow ALL instructions CAREFULLY! You have the possibility of “bricking” your radio if you don’t do it right. This means that your $500 scanner may now be more useful as a brick than a radio… Follow the provided instructions to the letter and make sure that the program and firmware file you use is intended for your radio. The firmware for the PRO106 will not work on the WS1040!

Before trying to update the firmware on your radio make sure you have properly downloaded the firmware file itself as well as the installation program (if needed) BEFORE you start. If you do not have a replacement firmware file to install do not start the process since this erases the existing firmware to make the radio ready for the new version. No new version means no radio once you get going.

Some radios firmware updates are easier than others. The HomePatrol type radios use a program called Sentinel to check for new firmware versions and install them (easy, safe). Other Uniden scanners use a “Bearcat Version Updater” program to install a new update. GRE/RadioShack/Whistler scanners also use an application to install new firmware versions (nerve-wracking maybe).

What they all have in common is that they require a computer running Windows to update. (You can do it with a Mac running Windows with Parallels, Fusion, Bootcamp etc.) You also need the appropriate cable to connect from your computer to the radio. This is usually done via USB but some older radios use a Serial port.

Before updating your firmware make sure you have the following on hand:
• The radio you want to update
• The proper cable for your radio, along with the drivers already installed (if needed)
• The Firmware Updating program appropriate for your radio
• The actual firmware file itself (Imperative!)
• A strong sedative or plenty of alcohol to calm your nerves (optional)

Follow the instructions included with the firmware update TO THE LETTER. Make sure your radio and the computer can communicate properly. If you have programming software for your radio then read it first and save the programming file just in case you need to restore it to the radio. This also ensures that the radio and computer can communicate.

We also suggest that you check the RadioReference forum for your radio to see what other people’s experiences have been. Reading about someone else’s mistake is a lot easier than trying to fix your own.

Owners of PRO651 and PRO652 scanners that had tried to update their radios’ firmware versions had issues since no firmware updates were available until recently. Now one can download them and install them so previously bricked radios can be reincarnated.

ScannerMaster can update the firmware on many different models of scanners. Download the Hometown Programming Form for your radio and check the Firmware Update option if you would prefer our expert programmers to do this for you. We keep them heavily sedated all of the time already so their nerves are steady. Firmware Updates for “Zip Code Scanners” (HomePatrol, 436/536 and the TRX/WS1080/1088/1095/1098 series scanners) is included with the Setup and Optimize package already, it is an extra cost option for other scanners. If you aren’t sure call us and we will let you know.

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Got a bunch of scanners and only 1 antenna? Get a Multicoupler.

Got radios (plural)? If you have more than 1 radio and want an outside antenna you can share the antenna with multiple radios. There are 2 ways to do this, the cheap way and the right way.

The cheap way is to just put a passive splitter or “T” adapter. While this will work for 2 radios listening to strong local signals, it will not work well for anything else. It also opens you up to interference between the two radios.

The right way is to use a multicoupler. A multicoupler has special circuitry to isolate the radios from each other so they don’t cause interference. It also reduces loss and maintains proper impedance matches. Active (powered) multicouplers include a small amplifier that overcomes the insertion loss caused by the multicoupler itself so that the signal appearing at the radio is the same as it would be if the antenna were connected directly to it.

The Stridsberg line of Active Multicouplers are well known as the best way to allow many radios to share a single antenna. With the isolation and amplification provided by it there is little or no interference between the scanners. You can connect up to 8 receivers to one antenna with no loss or interference.

Stridsberg multicouplers come in 4 or 8 port versions. They use BNC connectors for the antenna input and radio outputs. ScannerMaster also sells BNC cable jumpers to connect the multicoupler to the scanner.

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DMR, ProVoice and Ultimate Updates for Uniden Scanners.

ScannerMaster offers a service to install the various paid updates for Uniden HomePatrol, x36 and P2 series scanners. These updates include the HomePatrol Ultimate Update (for HomePatrol 1 and 2 scanners) as well as the ProVoice and DMR/TRBO updates for the BCD436HP, BCD536HP, BCD996P2 and BCD325P2 scanners.

If you buy one of these scanners from ScannerMaster we offer a service to install these options for you before we ship the scanner. You can also send the scanner to us to perform the update, we then send the radio back to you.

Sometimes however it is not practical to send the radio to us. For US and Canadian customers it is pretty simple to buy the update directly from Uniden and install it yourself. For customers in other countries however it is a different story. Uniden can only accept credit cards from US and Canadian addresses. If you live in other countries then Uniden cannot accept your credit card for payment for these updates. They will refer you to a third party like ScannerMaster to obtain your updates.

ScannerMaster can accept credit cards from most countries. As long as the card works on our payment system we can provide you with the secret code to unlock the update for your radio. There are a couple things you will need to do to make this all work out:

First you need to update the FIRMWARE for your scanner. This is so important that if you don’t do it the paid updates just will not work! On the HomePatrol and x36 scanners it is done thru the Sentinel software, on the 325 and 996P2 radios it is done thru a separate (free) program available from Uniden’s website.

Once you have done the Firmware Updates then you need to obtain the “ESN” (Electronic Serial Number” from your scanner along with the “SUM” code. Here are the procedures for this:

HomePatrol-1 and HomePatrol-2:

  • Press Menu
  • Press Advanced Menu
  • Press the down arrow to get to the second page of items
  • Press the Version Information Button.

The ESN is listed and starts with 36 for the HP-1 and 37 for the HP-2. The SUM Code is the last 3 digits past the second dash. The ESN will look something like 36327-0040012345-123, the SUM code is the “123” part.

BCD436HP, BCD536HP, BCD325Ps and BCD996P2:

  • Press Menu
  • Select Settings.
  • (If you do NOT see “Upgrade” as an item in the list go back and update the firmware and start over!)
  • Select See Scanner Information
  • Select Firmware Version
  • The ESN will be listed as “SN37……”
  • The SUM Code will be a 3-digit letter/number combination.
  • We need both the ESN and the SUM Code. Don’t worry about the M-VER code.

We need the complete ESN and the SUM Code as well as the model of radio you have. With this info we can obtain the one-time code that unlocks the feature you want and send that code to you. You then go to the Upgrade menu on your scanner and enter it using the rotary knob to select the numbers. Once the code is properly added the radio will think it over for a minute or so and then announce that it was successful.

Once properly updated the code will stay working on the radio and will not need to be reinstalled. The code will only work for the radio it was obtained and if you dispose of the radio there is no way to transfer the code or feature to another radio.

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Reading the RadioReference Database

One of the best sources for scanner information available is the RadioReference.com database. This is a huge listing of frequencies used thruout the USA and Canada for all types of two-way radio operations.

If you do your own scanner programming then the RRDB is invaluable for information. It is usually more accurate than the agencies themselves have! Even if you only use a database scanner (like a HomePatrol or TRX) then it helps to understand the database so you will have a better idea of what you are listening to. Remember: The data in your scanner came from RadioReference in the first place.

To read the RadioReference database and understand how it works you need to understand how it works. Without understanding how it is laid out it can be daunting, there is a whole lot of information at your fingertips.

To understand it you need to know a couple things. There are two main types of data available, trunked and conventional.

First we will look at a conventional frequency listing. Then we will look at trunking information. (Conventional means that it is not trunked.)

Here is the frequency page for Lee County Florida. It shows several fields:

  • Frequency       (Actual frequency used or the repeater output)
  • Input               (Repeater inputs)
  • License            FCC Callsign, click on this to see what frequencies and other info is available for it.
  • Type               Base, Repeater, Mobile only etc.
  • Tone                Could be PL, DPL or NAC 9for P25) etc.
  • Alpha Tag       A short tag used on some scanners, akin to channel numbers etc.
  • Description     A longer description of the channel and its use.
  • Mode              FM, AM, Digital etc.
  • Tag                  The classification that the channel falls under.

If you hover over the column title it will tell you what the codes mean.

Since so many areas use trunking systems these days one might miss a lot of the info needed to monitor the area. Look at the bottom of the county’s page to see a list of trunking systems active in the county. If you see one that appears to be used there click on it to see the data. The first part you will see it the basic info:

At the top you will see an info box with the system name, location, type and other info. Below that you will see the System ID’s (some scanners will show the System ID to identify it) and other info.

If you scroll down the page next you will see the trunked system Sites. Sites is where you will find the actual frequencies used by the system. Some systems only have 1 or 2 Sites, others (like the one shown) have dozens.

This is a portion of the Site List for the huge Illinois StarCom21 system that has many sites all over the state. There are several columns:

  • RFSS is the Zone number (RF Subsystem), then the Site Number within the Zone. Sometimes Sties are shown in other contexts as X-YYY (1-012 meaning Zone 1, Site 12) or just XYY (112).
  • Next is the Site Name, usually the city or location the site is located in. The county the site is in follows.
  • Last are the frequencies used at that Site. Some freqs will be shown in red, these are known to be “Primary” control channels (mostly for P25 systems). Other freqs will be in blue, these are known to be “Alternate” control channels. The rest are shown in black, these are not know to be used as control channels but are used for voice. Unless you know for sure otherwise, it is usually best to include all channels of the Site in your scanner.

The last part of the Trunked system information is the Talkgroup List. These are the virtual channels used to allow the correct people to communicate within the system.

The columns here are:

  • DEC (Decimal)           The most common way to identify a talkgroup in scanners.
  • HEX (Hexidecimal)     Another way to view Talkgroups, used mostly by the fleet radios.
  • Mode                          Tells you if it is Digital (D), Analog (A), Encrypted (E) or TDMA (T).
  • Alpha Tag                   The short channel name
  • Description                 More inclusive description of the channel and its use
  • Tag                              The classification (Service Type) for that talkgroup.

By understanding the way the data is laid out you can apply this to your programming and understanding of the systems you listen to.

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