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.

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.

Questions? We have answers!

Here are a few of the common questions we get here at ScannerMaster’s World Headquarters as well as the answers we provide. If your question isn’t listed please call us and ask.

Q: Do you have scanners that will allow me to hear Encrypted/Scrambled communications?

A: Nope! There are 2 reasons why we don’t sell scanners that work on encrypted channels. First of all it is illegal. Our people like sleeping in their own beds at night and not on cots at the county jail. Second, even if it were legal the technology just isn’t there to break modern encryption, especially on a device sold to the public.

Q: Do you sell scanners that can hear cell phones?

A: Nope, sorry, for the same reasons we do not sell encryption capable scanners, it is illegal and impractical. Years ago one could clip a diode and open certain scanners for the old analog cell phones but those days are long past.

Q: Can you tell me the frequency for my hometown police department?

A: Sure we can. You can also find the freqs at www.radioreference.com

Q: Are you guys the same guys at RadioReference? Broadcastify? Uniden? Whistler?

A: No, we are ScannerMaster. We are friends with these other companies and do business with them but we are all separate companies. We sell products from Uniden, Whistler and others but if you need support beyond what we are authorized to do we will refer you to the right place. We can often answer a quick question here and there about these places but we have no access to their files.

Q: Can you fix my scanner?

A: We do offer a programming service and programmed replacement SD Cards for ZIP Code scanners but we do not do repairs or sell internal parts. Newer scanners should be sent to Uniden or Whistler for authorized repairs, One great source for older scanners repairs and parts is G&G Communications, they can be reached at 585-768-8151 or http://www.gcomradio.com

Q: Can my scanner be upgraded to DMR/ProVoice/NXDN?

A: Well, that depends on the scanner you have. Here is a list of the scanners that can be upgraded for these modes. Some of these can change in the future so be sure to check back! If you have an older scanner then it cannot be upgraded for these modes.

Maker            Model             DMR               ProVoice        NXDN            Notes

Uniden            BCD996P2     Paid                 Paid                 No

Uniden            BCD325P2     Paid                 Paid                 No

Uniden            BCD536HP    Paid                 Paid                 No

Uniden            BCD436HP    Paid                 Paid                 No

Whistler          TRX-1            Free                 No                   Free     Via Firmware Update

Whistler          TRX-2            Free                 No                   Free     Via Firmware Update

Whistler          WS1095          Free                 No                   No       Via Firmware Update

Whistler          WS1098          Free                 No                   No       Via Firmware Update

Whistler          WS1080          Free                 No                   No       Via Firmware Update

Whistler          WS1088          Free                 No                   No       Via Firmware Update

GRE                PSR800           Paid                 No                   No       Only thru Whistler

RS                   PRO668          Paid                 No                   No       Only thru Whistler

RS                   PRO18            Paid                 No                   No       Only thru Whistler

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.

Hometown Programming, What it is and how it works

One of the services we have here at ScannerMaster is called Hometown Programming. You can send your scanner to us and we will program it for you. It is pretty much as simple as that! These services allow your radio to be ready to go as soon as you receive it.

There are actually 2 different programming services here, the right one for you depends on the radio you have or are going to buy. “Hometown Programming” refers to programming traditional scanners as opposed to “Zip Code” location based scanners. “Optimizing” refers to the updates and programming done on the various Location Based scanners, such as the HomePatrol, BCD436/536HP models and the newer Whistler WS1080/1088/1095 and 1098 scanners.

For Hometown Programming we will program in the county of your choice, including the local police, fire & EMS channels as well as the local State Police or Highway Patrol channels. One can add additional counties if they choose for an additional fee.

When we Optimize a location based scanner we will update the database on the memory card, make sure the radio firmware is current and create a local Favorites List for your area. We will also set the location to your ZIP Code.

We also offer firmware updates and installation of features like the Extreme or ProVoice Updates on certain capable scanners.

If you buy the scanner from us we can do the programming before we ship the radio to you. While this might delay the receipt of your radio by a short time, it saves the shipping costs and lets you enjoy your scanner as soon as you receive it, knowing that it has the most up to date programming available.

If you already have the scanner you can send it to us and we will program it then return it to you. Please make sure to use the forms found at

http://www.scannermaster.com/Articles.asp?ID=365

to make sure we have all the information needed to make the radio right for you. All the information you (and us) need is on the form, including the address to send the radio. Return time varies depending on the volume of radios in process but radios are returned as soon as we are done programming them.

While we do not do repairs on scanners there are times when all it needs is to be reprogrammed. If you aren’t sure call us at 1-800-SCANNER and one of our reps will help you decide.

Is It Illegal to Listen to Live Police Scanner Audio Feeds?

Scanner radioOne common question people have about police scanners is whether it is against the law to listen to live police scanner audio feeds. It is not illegal to monitor police audio feeds and police scanner frequencies with radio scanners from the privacy of your own home or business. However, each state sets its own laws in regards to monitoring police radio frequencies with portable scanner radios and using online police scanner apps on smartphones. If you intend to listen to these transmissions, it is your responsibility to check with your local government agencies to find out more about the laws and regulations in your area.

Why Do People Listen to Live Police Scanner Audio Feeds?

People monitor police scanner frequencies and listen to live police scanner audio feeds for various reasons. For instance, reporters and journalists rely upon these transmissions to learn about potential news stories they feel should be shared with the general public. Off duty police officers, volunteer firefighters, and other emergency responders listen to scanner chatter to know exactly what is going on, especially during emergencies, to determine whether they need to report for duty, such as during a major power outage. In addition, people use a police radio scanner to find out about accidents and traffic congestion, so they can avoid these areas and take alternate routes.

What Information Is Shared over Police Scanner Frequencies?

The information communicated over police scanner frequencies is normally limited to specific details between the dispatcher and the responding agency. For instance, if there is traffic accident, the dispatcher normally alerts police, fire, and ambulance services. Upon arrival at the scene, the responding agencies may communicate whether anyone is injured and if towing services are needed. However, more sensitive information, such as the names of those involved in the accident and extent of injuries, are communicated through other secure channels, rather than publically broadcasted over live scanner audio feeds.

How to Select the Best Police Scanner

Finding the top police scanner to use to monitor and listen to scanner communications largely depends on how and where you want to use the scanner. If you are going to be using the scanner radio at home or your business, or your local laws allow you to install it in your vehicle, a base or mobile scanner is a good choice. On the other hand, if you want a scanner to use for emergencies, or your local laws allow you to carry a scanner radio with you wherever you go, then you should consider a portable scanner. The key to selecting the best scanner is not getting distracted by the features or number of channels offered on a particular model, but ensuring the model you select is capable of picking up the radio frequencies used by your local fire, police, and other government agencies.

For further assistance in selecting an appropriate scanner compatible with the radio frequencies in your area, contact us today at 1-800-SCANNER (1-800-722-6637).

Journalists Monitor Police Scanner Frequencies for News Stories

Police ScannerDid you ever wonder how journalists and news agencies learn about breaking stories as they occur? Many newsworthy stories are obtained by journalists monitoring police scanner frequencies using scanner radios. They might learn about a fire at a local apartment complex, a break-in at a local business, or some other type of emergency. Police, fire, public works, and other government services use radio frequencies as a means of communications. These radio frequencies are normally not blocked, so anyone with a radio scanner can access the communications between dispatchers and the responding agencies.

Journalists listening to police scanner frequencies do need to confirm their stories for accuracy before releasing the information to the general public. Not all information is openly shared between dispatchers, police, fire, and other responders over police scanners. More sensitive details about the situation are typically communicated over other secure devices, such as inboard computers and cell phones.

For example, a journalist hears fire and ambulance services were dispatched to the home of the mayor. Unless other details are shared over the scanner radio, they have no other information to report until they can follow up on the story. The only information they could share on the evening news or in the local paper is that emergency responders were dispatched to the mayor’s home. Journalists need to be careful to avoid elaborating further on the story until they have obtained all of the facts.

Is It Beneficial for Journalists to Share Information from Police Scanner Frequencies?

There is some debate as to whether the information obtained from police scanner frequencies should be shared with the general public by journalists. Most local government agencies do not mind if communications are shared with the general public, as long as they are reported correctly without any conjecture. What they expect from journalists, as well as from others using police scanners in their homes, is to be responsible with the information obtained from scanner frequencies. Thanks to modern technologies and the Internet, information is shared at a faster speed today than it was in the past. Journalists and others can post status updates on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, as well as news web pages. Since information is easier to share, accurate reporting is essential in order to avoid creating wide-spread panic in local communities.

In addition to reporting on news pieces, journalists can use scanner radios to report details about weather emergencies, such as major snow storms, tropical storms, severe thunderstorms, and hurricanes. Sharing details about weather emergencies is beneficial for local government agencies. Journalists are able to assist police, fire, and other emergency responders in getting people off of streets, informing them to stay at home or go to their local shelters, as well as to share updates about the weather emergency.

If you are a journalist or want to monitor police frequencies at home, contact us to order your scanner or scanner package today, by calling 1-800-SCANNER (1-800-722-6637).