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.

Using a two-way radio as a scanner

One of the more common question we get here at the opulent ScannerMaster Palace is how do I program this (Brand X) radio to my local systems. Usually it is one of those off-shore $40 two-way radio with unpronounceable names that are flooding the market on eBay and in stores.

The basic answer is that you don’t. These radios are intended as Ham radios and are basically toys. Some can be made to receive on VHF and UHF conventional analog channels and even talk on them.  This is not a good thing. First off the build quality on these things is poor. They are designed not for performance but for cheapness. If the radio breaks it usually cannot be repaired.

If your area still uses VHF or UHF analog channels then these might be able to be used to receive your local channels but they cannot do any type of digital or trunked system.

These cheap radios are not ideal for most monitoring anyway. They lack the features scanner buyers have come to expect such as banks, scanlists or quick-keys. They also usually do not support other typical scanner features like CloseCall, Fire tone out, easy field programming etc. They often do not work on aircraft, either civilian or military.

For not much more than you will pay for one of these cheap toys you can get a decent basic scanner like the BC125AT or WS1010 that will run rings around  them with the feature sets.  Our basic scanners start out at under $100 and have way more features than these junk toys.

HP1 vs .HP2

The Uniden BearCat HomePatrol was a revolutionary design that transformed the scanner hobby when it was introduced. Never before was there a scanner that allowed one to just put in a ZIP Code to replace individual channel programming. The success of the HomePatrol led directly to the BCD436HP and the BCD536HP as well as location based scanners from Whistler (GRE and RS).

A couple years ago the HomePatrol line was extended with the introduction of the HomePatrol 2, the original HomePatrol is now called the HomePatrol 1.

So what is the difference between the HomePatrol 1 and 2? Well there are a few differences. The biggie of course is that the HP-2 handles APCO P25 Phase 1 and Phase 2 while the HP-1 only does Phase 1. If your area doesn’t use Phase 2 you could save some money and get the HP-1. The HP-1 has a silver front panel while the HP-2 is black.

In addition the HP-2 (like most other current handheld scanners) chargesits batteries from the USB port instead of using a separate jack like the HP-1. This allows the HP-2 to use common USB chargers of which you probably already have a bunch of. Since it uses common USB chargers it doesn’t come with one. If you are that one guy who doesn’t have a USB charger available we do sell them.

Other than the charger and Phase 2 the HP-1 and HP-2 are almost identical. The same software is used to update and program either radio. You can even take a memory card from one radio and use it in another. If you are using mounting gear the same gear can be used for either radio.

HomePatrol 2:

 

HomePatrol 1:

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.

All those weird ports on the back of the scanner

Modern scanners have a plethora of various ports, jacks and sockets on them. Here is a look at some of them.

Taking a look at the rear panel of the BCD536HP scanner there are 6 different ports on it. From left to right they are:

  • BNC antenna jack
  • External Speaker Jack
  • USB Port (used for WiFi unit only on the 536)
  • GPS Serial Port
  • 3-pin power port
  • Coaxial power port

Other common ports on scanners include:

  • USB programming port
  • Record jack
  • Headphone jack
  • Various serial ports.

Let’s look at each port and what it is used for: (*Bonus! See below for an explanation of the weird hole smack in the middle…)

Antenna Jack:  Of course this is used to connect an antenna to the radio. Most scanners these days use BNC, the little push and turn job you see in the picture. Some handled scanners use the smaller SMA connector. Some older scanners had Motorola or even SO139 connectors and some had both an external connector and an internal threaded connector with a hole in the case to insert it.

External Speaker:  These are used to plug in an external speaker and are different than headphone jacks. Speaker Jacks do not limit the volume like a headphone jack will. When you plug in a speaker into the external speaker jack the inside speaker is disconnected.

Headphone Jack:  The Headphone jack has a limiting circuit to protect from overly loud sound that can damage your hearing. Otherwise it works much like the external speaker jack. Headphone jacks are usually in the front panel of desktop scanners while speaker jacks are usually on the rear. Handheld scanners usually just have a headphone jack on the top.

Record Jack:  The Record Jack allows one to pull audio from the scanner at a constant level that is not affected by the volume control. This is important when the radio is used as a source for recording or streaming. Some older RadioShack scanners and some current Uniden scanners have record jacks.

GPS Serial Port:  Unique to Uniden scanners, the DB-9 Serial port (male) is used mostly to connect a GPS receiver to allow location based scanning. It can also be used to program or control the scanner with the properly constructed cables. Do not confuse this with the female DB-9 port used for programming on older scanners like the BC780XLT or the BC898T

USB Programming port:  Most scanners these days use a USB-Mini port on the front or side to program and control the scanner. On many handheld scanners these ports are also used to charge the batteries and power the radio. On the BCD325P2 a special cable is used to connect a GPS to this port.

Other serial ports:  Some older scanners use different type serial ports. Older Unidens (like the “XT” series) use a unique 4-pin square connector for programming and connection of the RH-96 remote head. HP-1 and HP-2 scanners use that same port style for connecting to a GPS. Older design RadioShack/GRE/Whistler scanners use a jack that is just like a headphone jack for serial port connections.

Coaxial Power Port:  Most desktop/mobile scanners have a coaxial power port to provide 12 VDC to the scanner. There are 2 different jacks in common use. The majority of Uniden mobile and desktop scanners use a “Type M” male jack while most recent RadioShack, GRE and Whistler mobiles use a “Type T” female jack. Both use center-pin positive. Some older handheld scanners use smaller coaxial power ports but newer portable scanners usually use the USB port for charging and external power.

3-pin power port:  This is another unique to Uniden port, similar to the power port used on some of their CB products. On Uniden scanners there are the regular black and red wires for power and a third orange wire used to control the brightness of the display when connected to the lighting circuits of the car.

Discriminator Jack:  This is probably the most popular jack that doesn’t come on scanners. Discriminator audio is used to provide an unfiltered audio source mostly for data decoding. This type of decoding usually does not work from the record or speaker jacks due to the filtering circuitry in the radio. Scanners usually do not come with jacks for this but it is often added on by advanced scanner hobbyists to allow data decoding.

 

Bonus Round

See that threaded hole smack in the middle of the back panel in the picture at the top of the page? Most Uniden base/mobile scanners have that. It is used to allow a rear bracket to stabilize the radio under the dashboard. It is not mentioned in the owner’s manuals but is shown in the diagrams.

WiFi on BCD536HP. How does it work?  What you can and can’t do with it.

The Uniden Bearcat BCD536HP is the only scanner that has the capability of being directly controlled by WiFi. By using the included WiFi dongle one can connect a smart phone or tablet to the scanner and listen to and control the scanner with the device. There are some other uses for the WiFi dongle as well.

Uniden has provided free “Siren” software (available for free via the Apple iTunes store or Google Play Store) to allow you to use your smart device as a scanner controller. You can even use this as a remote head for the scanner if mounted in a vehicle or to listen to your scanner from the patio or another room of the house for a scanner installed in the home. Some third party software allows you to use the WiFi feature to connect the canner to the computer without the need to plug in a cable.

There are a few things that the WiFi dongle will not work for, this includes database and firmware updates and other programming.

The Wifi dongle is designed specifically to work with your home or office WiFi network. While we have read of people using it for remote access this requires such networking tools as VPN, if you know how that works you probably can figure it out. Sorry, we cannot help with notworking issues like this!

To use the WiFi feature you need to understand the two modes involved; Infrastructure and Access Point.

Infrastructure Mode allows your scanner to connect to your home or office WiFi. This then allows you to connect to the scanner via third-party software like ProScan or RadioFeed or to the Siren application.

To get to Infrastructure Mode use the following steps:

Press Menu then select WiFi Setup>Select WiFI Mode>Infrastructure Mode

The radio will look for local access points and list them. When it displays the list select your router’s SSID name.

Then enter your password for the WiFi access point. This is the same password you would use for setting up any other WiFi device on your network. To enter the password you scroll thru the letters and use the 4 and 6 buttons to move the curser.

Access Point Mode allows you to connect you scanner to a smart phone or tablet (iOS or Android) using the free Siren software. You would use this when you are not in range of your WiFi system, such as when the radio is mounted in a vehicle. This allows you to use a phone or tablet as sort of a remote control head for the scanner.

In Access Point Mode the 536 acts as an Access Point and provides an SSID which you can change or leave at the default. You then connect your phone or tablet to that WiFi SSID and enter in the IP address in the Settings of the device. The IP address can be found in the WiFi settings on the scanner.

Siren is the free app available at the Apple iTunes Store for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch’s. It is also available for Android devices at the Google Play Store.

Siren is a neat way to use your 536 scanner but there are limits to it. It will only work with the 536, and it has limited abilities for control. It can set the range, select Quick Keys, set the squelch and start and reply the recording features but that is pretty much all she wrote. There is also a 2-3 second delay in hearing the audio compared to the radio itself.

The WiFi feature on the 546 is unique and useful as long as you know its limits.

The BearTracker 885: Is it a scanner or not?

BearTracker885
Uniden 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.

Download Uniden BearTracker 885 Flyer

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.

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.

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.