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.

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.

When the data isn’t right: How to get your database scanner working.

So you went out and bought one of these fancy new database scanner like the HomePatrol, BCD436/536 or a Whistler TRX and set it up. The problem though is that you are not hearing your local channel that you expected. There are a couple things to try. The first is to double check that you have the location and Service Types set properly. If these are correct, did you accidentally lockout (“Avoid”) the Channel, Department or System?

If you have ruled out these issues take a look at the RadioReference Database at RadioReference.com. This is where the frequency information comes from. If the channel is listed there but not included in your radio then you need to update the database on your radio. Make sure you have installed Sentinel (Uniden) or EZ-Scan (Whistler) and run the update procedure for these scanners. After updating the database make sure you copy (“Write”) it to your radio and try it again.

If you find that the channel is not listed in the RadioReference database then you will have to do some detective work. If you know what the frequency or talkgroup is then be sure to submit it to RadioReference so it can be added or corrected in the database. All you need is a RadioReference user name and password, either a free or paid membership will work. In the meantime it can be added to a Favorites List or Scanlist via the software.

If you do not know what the channel’s frequency or talkgroup is then you will need to do a little more work. If you know they use a trunking system then create a Favorites List and set it to Trunked Search (if on a Uniden). If you have a Whistler then create a ScanList with that system and add a Wildcard to it. This allows you to listen to all activity on the system and when you hear the traffic you want make sure you note the talkgroup number for future reference. You can submit that talkgroup number to RadioReference to update the database and also add it directly to the Favorites List or ScanList with the appropriate name.

On conventional (non-trunked) systems you can do a couple things. First off, check the FCC license for the agency you want to listen to. Most of the time you can do this from the RadioReference database page, just click on the call sign. Since the RadioReference Database only contains information that is verified a new channel might be listed on the license but not included in the main database since no one has reported it as verified yet.

If the channel you seek is not listed there, check licenses for nearby communities, the local County or a regional dispatch center. The actual license might be held by another agency that does dispatch for your town.

Still cannot find it? Now it is time to get serious! Your scanner has a “Search” function. Learn how to set up a Limit Search. Check the most common scanner bands used in your area and set up a search for that band. Lockout the channels as you hear them if they are not your local agency, checking the RadioReference Database as you find them.

Regardless of how you find them be sure to share the knowledge. Submit your finds to the RadioReference Database system so that others in your area can listen in and so that future versions of the database include it. Remember that the database is updated weekly, usually Sunday or Monday. Submissions might take a little while to get processed however so wait to the following week after you receive the notification that your submission has been worked.

ZIP Code based scanning: How does it work?

One question we get all the time here at ScannerMaster Intergalactic World Headquarters is “when I put my ZIP Code in my (HomePatrol, 436 or 536) scanner how do I hear something in the next ZIP Code over?” The answer is that you already are… Let me explain.

On the Uniden ZIP Code type scanners (Home Patrol, BCD436HP and BCD536HP) when using the ZIP Code method of scanning (versus using Favorites Lists) you enter your local ZIP Code into the “Location” menu. You then can set the range (in miles). The ZIP Code acts as a center point on a map. The range is how big a circle that is drawn around the center point of the ZIP Code. More miles equals a bigger circle; a bigger circle equals more stuff programmed into your radio.

So if you live in Mayberry and your ZIP Code is 27031 you would enter it in the scanner. You then set a range; let’s say 15 miles. Draw a circle 15 miles in any direction from the center point of the ZIP Code and that is your primary coverage area. When the radio loads up it will load all the channels that are in that area, based on the service codes you enabled. Simple, right? Well, not so much.

The way the HomePatrol Database is constructed is that each entry itself also has a geographic location assigned to it with a range. So the various entries in the database all have their own circles. If any of these circles touches or crosses your circle then they will be entered into your scanner. For this reason you may hear things that are actually outside your circle.

Let’s say that Mt. Pilot is 20 miles from Mayberry, where you are. If you set your range to 10 miles you may not expect to hear Mt. Pilot. In the database however the Mt. Pilot stations are set to a range of 15 miles. So the Mt. Pilot circle goes out 15 miles and crosses the 10-mile circle you set in Mayberry. Therefore you will have the Mt. Pilot channels in your scanner. Clear as mud, right? Well wait, it gets even weirder!

So, you see Mt. Pilot’s frequencies on your radio but you never hear them. Why is that? Your range is set to include them and they show up but the radio doesn’t stop on them. There are a couple possible answers:

The first reason may be that they are too far away. Just because they are within the range settings of the radio doesn’t mean your scanner will actually be able to hear them. Perhaps sometimes you can hear them and other times not. Radio signals are predictably unpredictable.

Systems are designed to reliably cover specific areas. When you are within those areas your scanner should be able to hear them all the time. When you are outside the main coverage area it all depends on things like elevation (yours and the transmitters), terrain, obstructions, distance and sometimes even the weather. If there is a mountain between you and them you may not hear them. If you cannot hear them you might want to try a taller antenna, but that is a post for a different day. A good rule of thumb is that if the agency’s radios work where you are your scanner should as well.

Another reason might include the database being wrong. The HomePatrol Database is derived from the database at RadioReference.com. This is maintained by scanner enthusiasts all around the world. Some areas are better covered than others. If there are a lot of dedicated scanner users in the area the database is liable to be more accurate.

Still another reason might be that your scanner is not capable of hearing the type of signals used.

Whistler ZIP Code scanners work differently. You select a location and the radio offers a set of systems and channels to enter into a ScanList. The same thing applies for distance however; you may not hear something that is closer than others due to obstructions, low antennas or power.

If this is all too confusing for you then have ScannerMaster perform its “Setup and Optimize” service on your scanner. We will set up Favorites Lists for your county or counties so you will only have the items programmed into your scanner that you really want!

EZ-Scan Install Hints

Everything you need to know about Whistler Scanners and SD-Cards in one handy location!

After installing EZ-Scan on a bunch of computers and talking to several customers on the phone it appears that there are issues installing EZ-Scan from the memory card. This occurs on on various Whistler scanners, like the new TRX-1 and TRX-2 as well as the older WS-1098, 1095, 1088 and 1080’s. It appears that the most problem-free method to follow is to download the installer from the Whistler website and install and update it before connecting to your radio.

Follow these steps and you should be good to go. While we have also installed it fine in some instances from the memory card there have been enough issues to warrant us suggesting this method to avoid problems.
1) Download the software from Whistler (https://www.whistlergroup.com/usa/updates/)
    (Do NOT install the version on the memory card)
2) Install it on your computer from the downloaded file.
3) Check for updates to the SOFTWARE and run them if applicable
4) Connect the scanner to the computer and run the database, firmware and DSP updates via EZ-Scan.
Here at ScannerMaster our folks have used this procedure on several computers with no issues. We did have a problem on a couple computers installing from the SD Card and reverted to the above procedures to make it work.
Remember that on Whistler scanners the scanner needs to be OFF to recognize the card for database updates and programming. This is the opposite of Uniden scanners. Also remember that you can use an SD Card reader to program your radio instead of connecting the radio itself. This is sometimes quicker due to the faster read-write times of a card reader. You still need to connect the radio (with the card installed) to do firmware updates.
Mac users: This worked fine in Windows 7 and Windows 10 using Parallels and BootCamp. Joy for the Rest of Us!
EZ-Scan has the ability to reformat SD Cards from within the application. Instructions are provided at the above software link. You can create spare SD Cards for your scanner in case your regular card gets corrupted. Certain SD-Cards may perform better in the scanner but also know when using larger capacity cards the radio will take longer to become active at startup. Once the radio is on it should work just fine with higher capacity cards, it just takes longer to load.
Whistler mobile radios (TRX-2, WS-1098, WS-1095) use full-size SD Cards (or Mini-SD Cards with the full-size adapter) while the handheld scanners (TRX-1, WS-1088, WS-1080) use Mini SD-Cards. Cards are cheap, buy a good one if you want better results and more reliability.

ProVoice, DMR, MotoTRBO, NXDN and scanners FAQ

Recently Uniden and Whistler announced scanners with capabilities of handling new digital formats. Each company has announced updates to their top-tier scanners and Whistler has also announced new models.

Here are some of the more frequently asked questions:

Q: What is DMR?

A: Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) is a digital format, similar in function to APCO P-25. It is mostly used by businesses but occasionally by public safety users. It is less expensive than P25 for the end user but it is not compatible with P-25 radios. It can be used in conventional or trunked modes.

Q: What is MotoTRBO?

A: It is Motorola’s implementation of DMR. They added a few features to the DMR standard and named it TRBO. DMR scanners can handle TRBO.

Q: What about encryption?

A: If the user selects the Encrypted mode then scanners cannot monitor it. There are no modifications or upgrades that can be made to get past radio encryption.

Q: What is Uniden offering?

A: Uniden has announced updates to its BCD436HP (handheld) and BCD536HP (desktop/mobile) scanners. One update is for ProVoice, a digital format used for some public safety purposes in parts of the country. They have also announced updates for DMR and MotoTRBO formats occasionally used by public safety but more often used by business users. Each of these updates are paid and ScannerMaster can install them for you.

Q: What is Whistler offering?

A: Whistler has announced updates for its WS1080 and WS1088 (handheld) and WS1095 and WS1098 (Desktop/mobile) scanners for DMR and MotoTRBO. These are free updates that are installed by updating the firmware in EZ-Scan. Again, ScannerMaster will be happy to install these for you as part of our Setup & Optimize service. No ProVoice upgrades have been announced for Whistler scanners.

In addition, Whistler has announced 2 new scanners. The TRX-1 (handheld) and TRX-2 (desktop/mobile) will work on DMR and MotoTRBO out of the box and will be updatable later for NXDN. (Expected about January 2017.)

Q: What about NXDN?

A: NXDN is a separate digital format used by some public safety agencies and businesses. It is slated to be used by the nations railroads once the required updates are made to the railroad’s infrastructure and radio fleet.

Whistler has already announced that NXDN will be available sometime in late 2016/early 2017 for its TRX-1 and TRX-2 scanners but will not be available for others. Uniden has not announced any NXDN updates yet but has said they are working on “other formats”.

Q: What about DMR trunking?

A: Both the Uniden and Whistler scanners will track DMR trunking systems.

 Q: My question isn’t answered here. Where can I go for more information on these scanners or to buy them?

A: You can send your questions via email or call 1-800-SCANNER.

Firmware, Firmware, who needs Firmware?

OK, you have this whiz-bang multi-hundred dollar scanner sitting there and you want to make it much more better! You read about Firmware Updates but haven’t a clue what this means. Should you update the firmware on your scanner? If so how do I do it? What does it all mean? What is the meaning of all this? Can you do this for me?

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 digital, the version before that 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 PRO97!

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 use also a Mac as long as you are running Windows on it (with Bootcamp, Parallels, Fusion 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
  • 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 peoples 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 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.

 

When bad things happen to good scanners: SD Card Corruption

All of the various “Zip Code” type scanners such as the Uniden HomePatrol, BCD436HP or BCD536HP, Whistler WS 1080/1088/1095/1098 or the GRE and RadioShack versions use a Micro-SD Card to store the database and recordings. This SD Card is much like a disk drive without moving parts, it can be written to and read by a computer or a device; in this case your scanner.

Occasionally these cards can get corrupted which causes them to stop functioning. The scanner will display an error message and will not operate until you repair or replace the SD Card. Thankfully this is not usually a serious issue and rarely results in anything other than some annoyance. The worst that can happen is that you lose your Favorites Lists and any recordings you may have on the card.

First let’s talk about WHY this happens. Most of the time it is due to the power being removed from the radio abruptly. These scanners are basically small computers and, like all computers, they need to be shut down properly. By doing so the radio has a chance to finish writing information to the SD Card. If the power is removed before this is done then an incomplete or corrupted file may be left. When you turn on the radio the next time it doesn’t know what to do with the file and displays the error message. While this does not occur every time the radio is improperly shut down, it only has to happen once to ruin your day.

Now there is always the possibility that the card or even the radio itself is defective but that is very rare.

What can you do to prevent this from happening to you? The best thing you can do is to make sure you turn the radio off before removing power to it. If you have it mounted in a vehicle be sure to turn off the radio by use if the volume/power knob before starting the car or turning off the ignition. If the radio loses power while still turned on then the card can get corrupted. Same goes for portable radios. do not pull the batteries unless the radio is turned off.

OK, my card got corrupted, is my scanner dead? Usually no. These cards can usually be reformatted and the database rebuilt. Even if the card is shot it can be replaced and the new card set up for your radio. You can get replacement (or spare) Micro SD Cards almost anywhere.

What can you do if this occurs to you? First make sure the card is really corrupt, some times they are just loose. Remove the card and reseat it, making sure that it clicks into place. When you turn on the radio, if it works then you are back in business. If you still get the error then you will likely have to reformat the card.

Of course the easiest way to get past this is to let us fix it for you! Just download, print and fill out the form at http://www.scannermaster.com/v/vspfiles/files/pdf/homepatrol-servies-order-form.pdf. Send it to us with the radio and we will do the rest!

To reformat the card it is best to use an application specifically for this. You can use a free program available from https://www.sdcard.org/downloads/formatter_4/. Download the one for your version of Windows and install it. You can use an SD Card reader if you want or leave the card in the radio and connected to the computer in Mass Storage Mode. If you reformat it using Windows directly it may not be done in the proper format. Sorry Mac guys; you need Windows for this!

Once reformatted you need to reinstall the database. On Uniden scanners this is done as follows:

1: In Sentinel under the Home Patrol menu select Clear User Data, click on the Display All Drives box.

2: Be sure to select the correct drive letter then click OK. (You do not want to erase your C Drive!)

3: Run Sentinel on the computer and select the Update Master HPDB option in the Update Menu.

4: In Sentinel under the HomePatrol menu select Write to HomePatrol .You may need to select that drive again, but it will not show the serial number of the radio this time.

5: Eject the card and put it back into your scanner (if not already there). When you turn on the scanner you should be all set. You many need to reset your location, Service Types etc.

Of course this requires that you have Sentinel running in a Windows computer. If you don’t have Sentinel installed (it comes on the SD Card…) you can download it from Uniden’s website.

Whistler, GRE and RS scanners use slightly different procedures, check the manual for your radio for these.

 

When bad things happen to good scanners: Heap Errors

On certain Radio Shack, GRE and Whistler scanners, specifically the ones using Object Oriented programming, one can be beset with an error message that reads “Heap Error” along with some seemingly random text.

These are caused when the radio doesn’t know how to deal with an Object programmed into the memory, usually a Talkgroup (TGRP) not assigned to a  Trunked System (TSYS).

If you can get into the radio programming you should make sure ALL talkgroups entered as Objects are assigned to a Trunked System. This is pretty easy to do in ARC500 or other programs but a lot more difficult without software. These radios are hard enough to program manually let alone find orphaned TGRP objects.

When programming by hand be sure to associate every TGRP with a TSYS BEFORE saving it. When programming with software sort the TGRP list by TSYS and make sure all are assigned to a TSYS. If it says “New” for the TSYS then you need to change or delete the TGRP. Also check for duplicates in your list of TGRP’s. These can also cause errors.

If you don’t have software to program the radio and can’t get into the radio to edit the objects you may well have to reinitialize it and start all over. (Press 0, then 1, then enter during the startup screen.) While this will erase the radio it will get rid of the dreaded Heap Error. If you have software you can usually read the radio even if a Heap Error is present.

Object Oriented programming is used for the following scanners:

GRE: PSR310, PSR410, PSR500, PSR600

RadioShack: PRO-106, PRO-197, PRO-651, PRO-652

Whistler: WS-1040, WS-1065