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.

FRS/GMRS/MURS/CB: The Personal Radio Services

Anyone can use one of several types of two-way radios, most of which do not require a license. From something the kids can play with to serious business uses there are a bunch of different types of varying quality and usefulness. These are called CB, FRS, MURS and GMRS. Only GMRS requires a license, the others do not. Each of the four services have different intended functions.

  • FRS: Family Radio Service (low power, short range, intended for families and individuals)
  • GMRS: General Mobile Radio Service (high power, longer range, intended for families)
  • MURS: Multiple Use Radio Service (mid-power, medium range, intended for business)
  • CB: Citizen’s Band Radio Service (low power mobile)

You ever go into Wal-Mart or Best Buy and see those cheap little two-way radios encased in one of the most devious inventions of man-kind (Bubble Packs)? They boast wild range figures (“35 mile Range!”) and are made by many different companies like Motorola, Midland and Cobra. These are called “FRS Radios” (Family Radio Service). FRS radios are restricted to ½ watt, non-removable antennas and are intended for short-range person-to-person communications. While titled as the Family Radio Service they are commonly used by businesses and government organizations. In my neighborhood I hear construction crews, hunters, the local school and the golf course maintainers on FRS channels. Just about everything but families… There are few restrictions on what you can use it for so business and personal communications are allowed.

FRS is actually pretty interesting to listen to in many cases. While a lot of the traffic is inane nonsense, like kids wearing out the noisemaking alert beep button, occasionally there is some interesting stuff to listen to. I live in a fairly isolated area 20 miles from the nearest town. There is construction going on and the crews use several FRS channels to coordinate activities. There is a school in the area that uses FRS radios too. The golf course guys use FRS when performing maintenance or to corral loose duffers. Local landscapers use FRS as well.

Listening to FRS channels at the mall or around amusement parks etc. can also be fun. The stores and shops often use FRS radios for clerks and stockers, customers use them to keep in touch with their family.

A lot of the FRS channels are shared with GMRS, so listening to one set of frequencies you may hear both services.

GMRS is a little different than FRS. Since a license is required and power levels are higher they tend to be used in a more formal matter. FRS also allows repeaters so you may hear traffic from all over the area. GMRS is often used by REACT and other volunteers as well as family businesses and often for just idle chit-chat and radio clubs. Sometimes it sounds a lot like ham radio.

MURS can be very interesting. It is on VHF and allows higher power than FRS but in many other aspects it is very similar. Like FRS there are few restrictions on what you can use it for. Since the radios tend to be a little more expensive MURS channels tend to be more business oriented.

CB these days is mostly a wasteland of unintelligible noise. It is still popular with the highway crowd but between high-power illegal amplifiers, over-driven power echo-mics and other noisemakers it is no longer a viable communications tool. It can be interesting to listen to however!

If you put these frequencies in your scanner you may find some interesting communications. You might also be bored silly but you won’t know until you try it.

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)

  • Freq (MHz)              Remarks                  
  • 462.5500                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.5500)
  • 462.5750                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.5750)
  • 462.6000                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.6000)
  • 462.6250                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.6250)
  • 462.6500                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.6500)
  • 462.6750                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.6750)
  • 462.7000                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.7000)
  • 462.7250                 Repeater Output/Simplex    (Repeats 467.7250)
  • 462.5625                 Simplex (5 watts)
  • 462.5875                 Simplex (5 watts)
  • 462.6125                 Simplex (5 watts)
  • 462.6375                 Simplex (5 watts)
  • 462.6625                 Simplex (5 watts)
  • 462.6875                 Simplex (5 watts)
  • 462.7125                 Simplex (5 watts)

Family Radio Service (FRS)

  • Freq (MHz)              Ch #         
  • 462.5625                 1
  • 462.5875                 2
  • 462.6125                 3
  • 462.6375                 4
  • 462.6625                 5
  • 462.6875                 6
  • 462.7125                 7
  • 467.5625                 8
  • 467.5875                 9
  • 467.6125                 10
  • 467.6375                 11
  • 467.6625                 12
  • 467.6875                 13
  • 467.7125                 14
  • 462.5500                 15 (Shared with GMRS)
  • 462.5750                 16 (Shared with GMRS)
  • 462.6000                 17 (Shared with GMRS)
  • 462.6250                 18 (Shared with GMRS)
  • 462.6500                 19 (Shared with GMRS)
  • 462.6750                 20 (Shared with GMRS)
  • 462.7000                 21 (Shared with GMRS)
  • 462.7250                 22 (Shared with GMRS)

Multiple Use Radio Service (MURS)

  • Freq (MHz)                                                 
  • 151.8200
  • 151.8800
  • 151.9400
  • 154.5700
  • 154.6000

Citizens Band (CB)           

  • Freq         Ch #          Freq         Ch #         
  • 26.965    1                27.215    21
  • 26.975    2                27.225    22
  • 26.985    3                27.255    23
  • 27.005    4                27.235    24
  • 27.015    5                27.245    25
  • 27.025    6                27.265    26
  • 27.035    7                27.275    27
  • 27.055    8                27.285    28
  • 27.065    9                27.295    29
  • 27.075    10             27.305    30
  • 27.085    11             27.315    31
  • 27.105    12             27.325    32
  • 27.115    13             27.335    33
  • 27.125    14             27.345    34
  • 27.135    15             27.355    35
  • 27.155    16             27.365    36
  • 27.165    17             27.375    37
  • 27.175    18             27.385    38
  • 27.185    19             27.395    39
  • 27.205    20             27.405    40

Favorite Scanners: BC125AT

Another entry on our favorite scanners, past and present!

Today we look at the BC125AT
The BC125AT is the premier analog conventional scanner in Uniden’s line. While it does not work on digital or trunking systems it is a fantastic scanner for analog and conventional systems. It is a favorite for planewatchers and railfans due to it’s small size and large display. It comes with the rubber-duck style antenna and beltclip. It improves on the less expensive BC75XLT in that it supports alpha-tags and PL/DCS.

I spend a lot of time trackside or at airports and the BC125AT is almost always with me. I clip it to my camera strap and it works great. The small size really helps!

This also works in the old-fashioned “Banks & Channels” programming mode. It has 10 banks of 50 channels each totaling up to 500 available channels. If the newer modes of scanner programming confuses you then this might appeal to you.

I use Banks 1 and 2 for rail channels, I put them in AAR Channel positions,  for example AAR Channel 79 is in channel 79 on the scanner. I have a bank each for a few of the local airports and a couple for some local operations. I leave the last bank open to enter in anything I might want to listen to on a trip or event.

The BC125AT uses regular or rechargeable AA batteries and can charge with the USB cable. Free programming software is available from Uniden or you can use the awesome ARC125 software from Butel for an even better experience.


Scanner Tip: Why doesn’t a charger come with my scanner?

Until recently most handheld scanners came with an AC wall charger/power supply and some even came with mobile power cords for the car. Newer models these days often do not. Why is that? Is Uniden or the others trying to save a buck here and there? Is there a conspiracy to sell more chargers?

Well, the answer is complicated and there are a couple reasons involved. The most important is that the various manufacturers are switching many portable devices, including scanners, to charge off of common USB devices. Since many different devices are going this route, like cell phones, headsets and others, scanner manufacturers are following suit. This lets consumers use a single charger with many devices. This is a good thing! Sure, scanner makers might save a buck or two here but so will you.

Another reason is regulatory. Some states have set up rules to govern consumer electronic devices including scanners and cell phones; USB charging is one way to comply with these rules.

By using USB to charge or power your scanner you can use any of the several chargers you likely already have at home. If you are reading this you almost certainly already have a USB charger. Don’t think so? How about the computer? If it has a USB port chances are it will charge your scanner just fine. Got a cell phone or tablet? Chances are it comes with a USB charger. The cable may be different but the USB charger will probably work with the scanner.

Newer scanners with USB usually come with the USB cable. This is used for both programming and charging. Older Uniden scanners, like the BCD396XT, have serial ports instead of USB and have non-USB charging ports. GRE & Whistler built scanners have either a direct USB port (like on the WS-1095) or serial ports (such as the older PSR500/PSR600)

The USB cable that comes with most scanners is called the “USB-Mini”, most newer non-Apple cell phones and cell phone accessories use the “USB-Micro”. You can usually use any USB-Mini cable for the scanner so there is a good chance you already have some lying around. Leave one in the glove box to charge the scanner in the car and another in the camera bag. ScannerMaster sells replacement cables as well.

Another thing to remember is that handheld scanners will generally NOT charge the battery while the radio is turned on. USB has limits as to the power available so if you need to charge the batteries turn the radio off. USB will power the radio if the batteries are dead or missing but it cannot power and charge at the same time.

If you don’t already have a spare USB charger and cable or two lying around ScannerMaster sells them for both the house and the car. You can also use external battery chargers; these tend to charge faster than charging in the radio. (AC Adaptors)  (Mobile Adaptors)

Also remember that while most handheld scanners these days use AA batteries you cannot charge Alkaline cells. Do not try to charge alakalines. They tend to leak, burn or do other nasty things that can destroy your radio and melt your brain if you try to charge them.

One more note to remember: Base/mobile scanners that have USB ports but that do NOT run on batteries (like the BCD996P2 or BCD536HP) cannot be powered by USB, they need their included AC adaptor or some other source of 12 volts DC. These scanners use the USB port for computer access only.

Scanner Tip:  Aircraft Listening with the Air Scanner Package

One of the favorite uses of scanners is for aircraft. It is exciting to listen to control towers, air to air, air shows and other aviation communications.

Some airports have viewing areas that allow you to watch aircraft operations. A scanner will allow you to listen to the operations and know what is coming along next. For the aviation photographer a scanner is essential!Uniden BC125AT Air Scanning Package

One of the best aviation scanners is the Uniden BC125AT due to its compact size, easy operations, low price and great features. We put together an Air Scanner Package based on the BC125AT specifically for the aviation fan, this include the W901 Airband antenna, leather carry case, AC and DC power adaptors and a Starter Aviation Frequency list. This package gets you up and running quickly!

The BC125AT handles the civilian VHF aircraft band (108-137) and the Military UHF Aircraft band (225-380) as well as other analog communications like railroads, some police, fire, EMS and business traffic. This is an easy to program and use scanner at a great price. For serious photographers we suggest keeping a scanner in the camera bag as well, at this price it is very affordable and the size is small enough to leave plenty of room for lenses and camera bodies.

Check out the BC125AT Air Scanning Package!


Scanner 101 – Installing New Firmware for the BC125AT

Firmware Update
Download Firmware Update 1.02.05 (April 26, 2012)

This update makes the following changes:

  • Update the frequency steps in the VHF band to match the latest FCC Narrowbanding band plan.
  • Change the opening screen to include the current firmware version.
  • Apply a one-time routine to convert the memory image of existing channels to the new format required by the narrowbanding change.
  • Change how Marine channels are displayed during service search.
  • Fixed a bug that could cause scanning/reception to stop with certain combinations of Close Call and other features selected.

Directions using Internet Explorer and Windows7 as the operating system

Step 1
Download the Firmware loader for the BC125AT – Download here

Step 2
When download prompt pops up select “Open”
(this will take a few minutes to download)

Step 3
A window will pop up select BC_VUP_V3_00_01 folder

Step 4
Select Setup_BC_VUP.msi and then click run

Step 5
Click close on the Installation Complete window

Step 6
Open the Firmware loader in programs under Uniden , then BC_VUP3

Step 7
When software opens a “Select Model” window should appear. As seen in the photo bellow.
Click Next
BC125AT-Soft001 Step 8
At this point you should have your Uniden BC125At turn on and connected to the PC via the data/power cable. Once this is done Click “OK” (Note: Uniden BC125AT drivers must be installed – Click here for directions)

Step 9

Click “Auto Detect”, when the comport is detected then click “Next”

BC125AT-Soft003 Step 10
Click read and then click “Start”
BC125AT-Soft004Step 11
It will take about 3 minutes for the new firmware to be written to your BC125AT Scanner. Once you see the screen bellow your firmware update is complete.


Scanner 101 – Installing PC Drivers Uniden BC125AT

Installing Drivers for the Uniden BC125AT

Step 1
Download the driver for your Uniden BC125AT
Click here to download

Step 2
Select Save as, then save the file to the desktop

Step 3
In your start menu, go to “Control Panel”

Step 4
In the Control Panel select “System”

Step 5
Select “Device Manager” (Top left)

Step 6
Plug in the Uniden BC125AT info the PC Via the USB Cable

Step 7 
“Other Devices” should pop up on the list as seen bellow.

Step 8
Right click on “BC125AT” and select “Update Driver Software”

Step 9
Select “Browse my computer for driver software”

Step 10
Click the “Browse” button and select “Desktop” and then hit “Next”

Step 11
You computer will find and install the drivers for the Uniden BC125AT Scanner.

Step 12
Take a look at your “Device Manager” window you will see the “BC125AT” listed under “Ports (COM & LPT)”  Once you see this you have successfully installed the drivers.

Scanner Master Road TripLas Vegas Part 2

Scanner Master Road Trip
By Jonathan Higgins

Part 2
Race Day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Sunday, March 11, 2012

What to bring with you?
I would recommend packing all your scanner gear into a cinch bag, this light weight bag can be worn on your back. You can bring non open bottles of water into the track. Don’t forget the camera!

My Cinch bag had the following:

Getting the track!
This was my first time attending a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so it was quite the experience. If you’re staying on the strip I would recommend checking out the shuttles available. If you want to get there early like I do, I would recommend renting a car. If you don’t plan on having a car for the full vacation, I would recommend getting the rental car the night before. I would recommend reserving a rental car well before your trip, cars can be hard to get on Race weekend. For the best selection of rental cars and companies I would recommend renting from the McCarran Airport.

Our Hotel was the Luxor on the southern part of the strip, the track is north of the strip, approximately 30 minutes away without traffic. The Track is easy to get to, Simply get on to I-15 North to Exit 54 “Speedway Blvd” and follow the signs.

Our seats were just before turn 4 on the top row in the “Blue seats”.

Neon Garage
We also purchased two “Neon Garage” passes. You can peer into your favorite driver garage stall as they are getting the car ready for the race. You will also have access to pit road before the race. There is live entertainment, and food available inside the Neon Garage area. This area can be access via a tunnel under the track near the start/finish line.

Listening at the track
You can get frequencies for the upcoming race from Racing Frequencies Online (from Scanner Master), you can also purchase a frequency list at the track for $5.00 at Racing Electronics Haulers.

Driver Channels
These channels change week to week. Most driver have about 4 channels but they only use two channels during the race.

Carl Edwards #99
466.2750 – Primary
468.8250 – Alt. Channel

  • The Primary channel is used for driver communications between the spotter and crew chief.
  • Alt. Channel, is used as a back-up if the primary is having interference issues .
  • Some teams use NEXEDGE Digital for non driver communications, this type of communications cannot be monitored by a scanner at this time. For example Carl Edwards team uses the NEXEDGE channel for communications between the spotter and crew chief. The channel acts as a relay if the main channel is tied up.

Track Officials
461.2000 – Race Control 461.2000
464.6000 – Race Control / Back Up
451.2250 – Safety
451.5750 – Qualifying
MRN/PRN Radio Broadcast

Track Operations
For track operation frequencies I would recommend checking Here is what I found for Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Putting the Uniden BC125AT to the test at the track
Great scanner for the race track! The large display made it simple to see who talking. I had to enter a few more frequencies at the track, it was super simple to field program without a PC. Audio and reception was great! If you’re looking to replace or buy a scanner for the race track, I would consider the Uniden BC125AT Scanner for sure!

Make sure you check out Part 1
Visiting and listening to Las Vegas!

Scanner Master Road Trip Las Vegas Part 1

Scanner Master Road Trip
By Jonathan Higgins

Part 1
Preparing for the trip
Monitoring on The Las Vegas Strip

Destination: Las Vegas, NV and Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Last weekend my wife and I took a weekend vacation to Las Vegas to see the NASCAR Cup Race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Before we the trip we pack our gear for the race which includes:

We spend our long weekend checking out the sites, Las Vegas Strip, Hover Dam and Grand Canyon West Rim. Our accommodations were at the Luxor Hotel on the Southern Part of the strip. I brought the BC346XT for the race and to monitor the public safety in Las Vegas area.

Programming in the BC346XT

My Favorite Drivers
(Systems 1-10)

Las Vegas Metro Police
-All channels (System 11)

Clark County – South Nevada Area Communications Council (SNACC)
Motorola Type II SmartZone (System 12)
– Las Vegas Fire Talk groups
– North Las Vegas Fire Talk groups
– North Las Vegas Police Talk groups

Nevada Shared Radio System
EDACS Networked Standard Analog (System 13)
– Nevada Highway Patrol Talkgroups

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
LTR Trunking System (System 14)
– All talkgroups

Excalibur Hotel and Casino
Motorola Trunking System (System 15)
– All talkgroups

Monitoring Notes

The Uniden BC346XT was a great unit for the Las Vegas area. All of the systems in Las Vegas is using analog conventional and analog trucking.

Las Vegas Metro Police
Most of channels on Metro Police System are using the (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department) – OpenSky Trunking system, but they are simulcasting on the old VHF System. The short time monitoring the simulcasted channels, it seem like the OpenSky System is plagued with problems. Multiple times I hear the dispatch “could you please repeat that”. At one point I hear the system get stuck, the officer audio was studding. Very much like the audio I heard from the story out of West Palm Beach FL reported on back in May 2011.

Clark County Trunking System & Nevada Shared Radio System
Pretty descent coverage, lots of towers to choose from we were in range of a few towers from our Hotel. You can hear the NV Highway Patrol on this system.

Monitoring the Hotels
I would say the Security talkgroups were the most interesting to monitor. I wasn’t able to monitor the Trunking system in the Luxor because it’s a Nexedge Standard Trunking system.

Make sure you check out Part 2
Race Day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Sunday, March 11, 2012