Got a bad antenna? How to figure it out.

You spent a ton of money on a new scanner and another small fortune on a fancy outside antenna and feedline. Everything worked great until one day the scanner sent silent. Now what?

Here are some steps to try and figure out what happened. Did your target move to a new frequency or radio system? Did the antenna fail? The feedline? Maybe the radio itself isn’t working. Do this stuff and you can figure out where the problem lies.

First let’s do the easy stuff. Program in the local NOAA Weather station into the scanner. These transmit continuously on 162.400 thru 162.550 MHz. This makes them a great way to test your radio setup for proper reception. It is also an easy way to compare antennas and feedlines. If your radio picks up the weather transmitter then at least the system is working properly. Compare your outside antenna to the back-of-set antenna, the outside one should work better. If it doesn’t then there is probably a problem with it.

If you cannot hear your local weather station (and you know that you could before) then you need to figure out if the problem is with the feedline, the antenna or the connectors. First do a visual inspection of the connectors on the radio and coax and look for obvious problems. If you see nothing wrong then check the other and (at the antenna). If possible use an ohmmeter and check for continuity between the two ends of the coax and that the coax is not shorted. Disconnect the antenna from the coax since some antennas show a DC short when connected.

If you can hear the weather channel then the problem is probably not the antenna. It is more likely a programming issue or perhaps your agency has change radio systems. These days it is very common for many agencies to be converting over to large area-wide digital radio systems. It is often less expensive to do that than to replace older infrastructure. Some states have built statewide systems open to all local and county agencies to use. These states include NC, SC, MI, IN, OH, IL, MN, MO and others. Check your local area at the RadioReference.com database and see if there is a new channel or system listed there. Also check at the very bottom of the county page at RadioReference. If there are regional or statewide trunking systems listed check that system for your local agency.

If you find out that your local agency has moved to a new system then it is time for either reprogramming your current radio (if it will work on the new system) or replacing it with one that is compatible. We can help you pick the right radio for your area, just call one of our scanner experts. Don’t throw away the old radio, you can still use it for other things like aircraft, railroads or whatever old channels your agency retained after moving.

Basic Troubleshooting – How to fix a silent scanner

So your fancy scanner no longer works. Is it the scanner itself or did your local agencies move to new channels? Today we will discuss ways to find out.

The first thing I tell callers when they say their scanner is dead is to try the local weather channels. Almost everyone is in range of one of the National Weather Service radio stations on 162.400 thru 162.550. If you try each of the 7 channels (listed below) and nothing is heard then there may well be something wrong with the radio. If you have another scanner or weather radio handy try that one. If the other radio works then there is likely something wrong with the first radio.

Here are the weather frequencies that you can check to see if your scanner is working properly:

  • 162.4000
  • 162.4250
  • 162.4500
  • 162.4750
  • 162.5000
  • 162.5250
  • 162.5500

If the weather channel works on your scanner then we should look to programming. If the radio worked before but no longer hears the local police, fire or other agencies you used to listen to then they may have changed frequencies. Several states have recently updated their wide-area radio systems, if you live in Ohio, Indiana or South Carolina there is a great possibility that this is what occurred. Alternately, some agencies have switched to existing regional radio systems such as these states or those in Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan Colorado, Louisiana and Mississippi among others.

The best thing to do is check the RadioReference.com database and forums. If you recently lost your target there is likely someone else who has also. I had a caller the other day from northern Arizona say his police department disappeared, he listened to them over the weekend and then on Monday they were gone. We found that they had just switched to a new P25 digital system. While it was not yet listed in the RadioReference database it was being discussed in the RadioReference forums for Arizona.

If all this fails and you cannot find the target anywhere by searches with the scanner there are still a couple more tricks. Remember that public safety communications systems are expensive. They don’t go out and buy them on a whim. Purchases of that size usually must be approved by the local boards, City Council, County Supervisors etc. Look at these board’s websites for meeting minutes and agenda items. This is all public information and most places these days post them to the web. You can sometimes find all kinds of interesting information on the systems, sometimes even complete technical details, frequencies and talkgroup information get put up there!

Check with your local officers and administrators. While often they might not be technically savvy they might know that “we switched to the County system” or something. Also look for the type of radio they are carrying or have installed in the vehicle. That can sometimes point to the radio system type they are using.

Once you find out what system they are using and the frequencies etc. reprogram or replace your scanner to match.

Hosting a stream

One of the most popular ways to listen to the local scanner action these days is via a live-streaming service over the Internet. By far the largest source for this is Broadcastify.Com. While this is a great place to listen, it is dependent on someone hosting a scanner for the area you want to listen to. If no one does you can do it yourself. Here is what you need to set up your own feed:

Step 1:    Make sure there is no feed already covering the traffic you wish to stream. If there already is one look at the noted for that feed and see if there is something different that you will do.

Step 2:    If you are not already a RadioReference or Broadcastify member (with user name and password) set up an account. You can set up a free account, paid accounts offer great benefits but are not needed to host a feed. If you are already a member skip this and go to Step 3.

Step 3:    Go to the Broadcastify site and submit a Feed application. They need your information, the channels you plan to stream and some other details. Once you submit your application it takes a few days (usually) for a response, and if approved they provide a code that is entered in your feed software to enable it.

Step 4:    Set up the hardware. This is the computer that you are going to use and the radio itself. You will need an audio cable to connect the computer and radio. If you are using a Uniden scanner you can also connect a USB or serial cable so allow channel tags to be sent along with the radio traffic. See below for the best scanners to be used for feeds.

Step 5:    Set up the software. The software is free from Broadcastify, you can download it there. It is pretty simple to install and set up, print out the instructions that come with it and follow them. If you follow them correctly it will work great!

Step 6:    Adjust the levels. Once your feed is live listen to it and make sure the audio levels are set properly. If the channels you set up are not very active try programming in the local weather channel for a few minutes to use to set the levels properly. Once you have the levels set where they sound best be sure to note the settings in case you need to move something later. Don’t forget to get rid of the weather channel!

What is the best radio for a feed? Well, it is the radio you have that will listen to the traffic you want to stream. Remember, once you commit to hosting a stream that radio must be dedicated to that stream 24/7.

If the radio you use does not have a record jack then you need to set the volume and leave it where it is. Be sure to mark the level with a dab of White-Out in case it gets moved.

For feeds the Uniden BCD15X (analog) and BCD996P2 (digital) are favored by many streamers since they are reasonably priced and have a record jack on the back. The Record jack is ideal for feeds, as the sound level is not affected by the volume control. You set the sound level with the computer’s sound controls and you can use the scanner volume to allow you to listen to the scanner locally without affecting the feed volume. They also support sending channel tags so the listener can see the channel names.

Streaming hints and tricks:

No one likes to hear static, noise etc. Make sure you monitor your stream to be sure that it doesn’t lock up on noise or interference. Make sure the audio levels are good and that the feed sounds good.

How many channels can I stream? The best answer is less is more. If you have a lot of channels or a bunch of real busy ones then the scanner is going to be busy all the time and some channels are going to be missed. Some really busy feeds (like Chicago PD) have just a single channel that is active almost continuously.

What kinds of channels can I stream? These rules are listed in the Terms of Service for the streaming service. Broadcastify has rules against certain tactical or sensitive traffic. Make sure none of the channels you have include the prohibited traffic.

Can I stream 2 radios at the same time? Yes! Set up one radio to the left channel and the other to the right. Possible scenarios are police on one and fire on the other. Make sure you note this in the feed description!

What do I do if the agency doesn’t want me to stream them? Well, that is up to you. Streaming is legal and the agency cannot force you to stop streaming their traffic. They can however add encryption, then it will not be able to be heard at all by anyone.

Broadcastify has a complete set of rules and procedures on it’s page at Broadcastify.com. If you use a different service be sure to read their rules before setting up your feed.

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.