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.

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.

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

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.

VLog – Unication G-Series P25 Receivers

In this Scanner Master Vlog learn more about the Unication Pager-Receivers. A rugged mini-handheld receiver that solves the problem of APCO P25 digital simulcast distortion. Monitor conventional channels as well as digital trunking.

Links
Unication Software –
http://www.unicationusa.com/downloads-new
Get a Unication Receivers – http://www.scannermaster.com/Unication_Pagers_s/779.htm

VLog – Scanner Master DIY – Reformatting SD Card for the Uniden HomePatrol

In this Scanner Master VLog we show you how to fix a corrupted SD Card for your HomePatrol-1/2.

Links
Software download – http://info.uniden.com/twiki/bin/view/HomePatrol/HomePatrolSentinel

The Digital Blues (or why does my local digital system sound like #$^?)

So you bought that fancy new digital scanner and while it usually works great, sometimes on certain digital systems it doesn’t seem to sound right. Sometimes it just drops words or phrases but sometimes it drops the whole conversation.

You try moving the scanner around or connect to a better antenna and it doesn’t help or even gets worse. Before you throw the scanner against the wall in frustration read on:

We feel your pain! The problem isn’t you or in or the programming. It is called “Simulcast Digital Distortion” or more commonly “Bit Error”. Our friends at RadioReference have a great technical explanation of this in their Wiki at http://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/Simulcast_digital_distortion

The 10 cent explanation of this is that you have signals from more than one tower arriving at your radio at ever-so-slightly different times. These signals compete with each other and tend to null each other out. This is why sometimes the radio will stop but you won’t hear any or part of it.

There are a couple things you can do to help get past this issue. If your radio has an attenuator function try that first. This reduces the signal and hopefully will force your radio to only be able to receive a single tower site. You can also try moving the antenna around the room to see if you can find a “sweet spot”. If you are using a telescoping antenna try adjusting it to different lengths or angles. Also try opening the squelch all the way. If all you are listening to is the digital system then this will not affect other channels.

If all of this fails then you may need to try a directional antenna. Commonly called “Yagi’s” these antennas will direct your reception in a single direction and hopefully force your radio to hear only a single tower.

This type of digital distortion usually is less prevalent with newer models of scanners and firmware updates usually reduce it as well. Make sure you have a current model scanner and that its firmware is up to date.

 

Scanner Tip of the Week: Plural Radios, Single Antenna

So you really got bit by the scanner bug and have several scanners to really keep tabs on the action. You really want to have a better antenna for them all but don’t want an antenna farm growing on your roof or your attic. What to do?

There are several good ways to share one antenna with 2 or more radios. There are also several bad ways. The bad ways might work good enough to hear some local stuff but that is about it.

The best way to share an antenna with multiple radios is by use of a Multicoupler. A Multicoupler has a connector for the antenna and 2, 4 8 or more ports for radios.Multicouplers allow signals from the antenna to pass thru it to multiple radios and prevents interference between them. “Active Multicouplers” have low power pre-amps in them to overcome the connector loss present whenever you put something between the radio and its antenna. “Passive Multicouplers” do not have the amplifier and will degrade the signal a bit.

Stridsberg makes several models of Multicouplers tailor made for scanners. Stridsberg is the most respected name in scanner multicouplers and ScannerMaster is proud to carry them. Up to 8 scanners can be connected to a single scanner antenna without loss. Check these out at http://www.scannermaster.com/Multicouplers_for_Police_Scanner_Radios_s/43.htm

If your needs are less stringent then you could use a splitter. Splitters are different in that they merely provide a way to share an antenna with two or more radios. These do not have the circuitry to reduce or overcome signal loss. Splitters can usually be used in the reverse way, to allow 2 antennas to feed a single radio, something that multicouplers usually cannot do.

One could just use coax “T” or “Y” adaptors but these provide no protection against interference or signal loss and are not recommended.

Regardless of the methods use there is no substitute for quality cables. Using high-quality coax, both for the downlink from the antenna and for the jumpers to the radios will reduce the loss and increase the signal strength. Don’t forget to use quality connectors if you make the patch cables yourself. Avoid the use of adapters as much as you can, everyone adds a little more loss to the line.

Selecting Your First Radio Scanner

Scanner FrequenciesBuying your first radio scanner requires understanding the differences between radio systems and scanner frequencies. While you do not need to know exactly how each radio system works, you do need to know which ones are used in your area. It is never safe to assume, just because you live in a small town, your needs will be met with a basic analog scanner. You would be surprised by how many smaller communities have state-of-the-art radio systems, requiring either trunking or digital scanners to listen to two-way radio communications.

  1. Find out what radio systems are used in your town. The first step to selecting a radio scanner is to conduct a little research and find out what radio systems fire, police, and other agencies use for communications. The easiest way to do this is to use our free scanner comparison tool. All you have to do is choose your desired listening range and enter in your zip code. Next, select the counties you want to monitor on your new police scanner to see important information about the radio systems used.
  2. Compare scanner radios based compatible with your location. Our scanner comparison tool also shows you several different models of hand-held portable, mobile, and desktop scanners that will pick up scanner frequencies in your location. The key thing to remember is that it is not what features and options are on the scanner, but the type of radio systems used in your area. Every location is different, and the police scanner has to be matched to the radio systems.
  3. Consider what agencies you want to monitor. Most people buy a scanner to listen to fire, police, and emergency medical responder transmissions. A small percentage of people also use their scanner radios to listen to other government agencies, railroad communications, campus police, and racer/pit crew communications at live NASCAR racing events. Choose a scanner based on the scanner frequencies you want to hear.
  4. Radio systems used in your town can change. Police, fire, emergency responders, and other agencies do upgrade radio systems from time to time. Keep this in mind when selecting a compatible scanner. For instance, if your city currently uses a basic analog radio system, they might decide to upgrade it to a trunking system in the future. Unless you have a scanner capable of picking up both analog and trunking communications, you would no longer be able to monitor any frequencies moved to the new system. You may want to check with your city or county planning commission to find out if there are any plans for upgrading the radio system in the near future before purchasing your new police scanner.
  5. Support options for the scanner. If you know you are going to need help programming and updating the scanners firmware, it is recommended you look at models that can be plugged into a computer. This way, in most cases, you are able to receive remote desktop scanner support without having to send in your scanner any time you need help.

For more information about police scanner radios or friendly assistance from one of our scanner experts, contact us today at 1-800-SCANNER (1-800-722-6637).

The Uniden BCD536HP and BCD436HP Are User Friendly Scanners

There are all different levels of users in the scanner community, ranging from new hobbyists, to long time scanner enthusiasts, to professionals using scanners as part of their jobs. Finding the right scanner to fit your skill level with the features you want is essential in order to be able to get the most out of your scanner. The Uniden BCD536HP and BCD436HP are two scanner models that are ideal for users of all skill sets and include a wide range of features to make owning and using a scanner radio fun and enjoyable, such as:

Scanner Radio

  • TrunkTracker V Support: Monitor LTR, X2-TDMA, Motorola, APCO Project 25 Phase I and Phase II, and EDACS trunked radio systems.
  • Multiple Frequency Coverage: Monitor the scanner frequencies used by numerous agencies, like police, fire, public works, university security, forest rangers, and more.
  • Simple Programming: Choose from several flexible channel selection options, like GPS, zip code, or service types, and select your locations and the frequencies you want to hear. The BCD536HP and BCD436HP radio scanners automatically program the channels based on these selections.
  • Auto Update Using a GPS: By plugging a GPS into the scanner, radio frequencies are automatically updated as you move from one location to another. This feature is ideal for those who listen to their scanner in their vehicle while traveling.
  • Easy Scanning: The scanners allow you to select from your favorites lists, the main frequency scanner database, or custom combinations of these to monitor transmissions.
  • Sentinel Software: Install the software on your laptop or desktop computer, and plug the scanner into any USB port any time you want to update the firmware or the scanner database, as well as edit, manage, and create your favorites lists.
  • Front Panel Programmable: Both Uniden scanner models allow users to program their scanners using the front panel, without being complex or complicated.
  • Selectable Scan Control: Scan radio frequencies by pushing the channel hold, dedicated system, or department buttons, or use the quick key access to use your favorite lists.
  • Remote Access: The BCD536HP includes Wi-Fi access, so you can monitor and control your scanner from anywhere in your home using your smartphone or tablet. The Wi-Fi access feature gives you full control of your scanner radio over an Internet connection while you are away from home. You can even configure the Wi-Fi settings as a remote access point, if the scanner is installed in your car, and use your mobile device to control and listen to the scanner in your vehicle.

Who Uses Uniden BCD536HP and BCD436HP Scanners?

The types of people who use the BCD536HP and BCD436HP scanners include law enforcement radio systems technicians, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, news agencies, hobbyists, homemakers, truck drivers, and other people from a variety of backgrounds and professions. Anyone can own and operate a scanner radio to monitor what is going on in their community or while they travel around the country. People use their Uniden scanners to monitor traffic conditions, road closures, weather alerts, accidents, fires, and crimes in their community.

For more information about Uniden BCD536Hp and BCD436HP scanner radios, feel free to contact us at 1-800-SCANNER (1-800-722-6637).