The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Scanner Inquiries

Hello Everybody, Frank here.
Recently, I received a couple of emails and comments requesting information about scanners. The type of scanner we're talking about here is commonly referred to as your police scanner. Many radios now days will scan, some of them are notoriously slow, reason being their primary function is to transmit and receive. The scanning feature is just an added bonus. So, if you want to scan, then buy a scanner. Don't buy a $35 VHF radio that has a scan feature and expect it to do the same thing that a $100 - $500 scanner will do. Don't play head games with yourself.

Back to the issue at hand here. The most common question I get is, "What is the best scanner for me to buy?" This is what we're going to attempt to address here. Included below is an article I did a while back. It is filled with information about scanners in general. At the end of it I will include updated information about three specific scanners. But now to answer that question, "What scanner is best for me to buy?"

I am not going to address handheld scanners, most of them have the same features as their big brother scanners. What's left is the base/mobile scanner, in most cases they are the same radio. Prices run from about $100 to $500. Here's the difference. An analog scanner only receives analog type signals. It is less expensive and older technology. Where I live, this is the only type scanner I need, since there are no other signals other than analog. 

The second type of scanner is called digital. It will receive the newer technology digital type signals, and the older technology of analog signals. The digital scanners cost considerably more. Here is where the problem comes. If you live in an area or city that only uses analog type transmissions, then any decent analog scanner will work fine. If you live in an area that has digital type transmissions, then you will need a digital type scanner, which costs sharply more. 

The next question should be, "How do I know if my area is digital, analog, or a combination of both?" First, contact your county emergency management coordinator. They should be able to give you an answer. Should is the key word here, no guarantees. Next, try your local fire department, police department, or sheriff's office. Hopefully, somebody will be able to help you. No guarantees here either. Next, contact your local ARRL affiliate. These folks should be able to help you, but again, no guarantees. 

Now, back to the question, "What scanner is best for me?" I can't answer that question. Now, please read the article below, and at the end of that article I will review three scanners that I have attempted to use and why.


Originally published August 1, 2013

Hello, Frank here.

Let's talk about scanners. Back a few years ago, there was only one type of scanner - the type you set on your desk at home. Then with the mobility of man, and wanting to spend time in his car, mobile scanners came along. As technology improved, and electronic parts kept getting smaller and smaller, they developed a scanner you can carry around in your hand - a handheld scanner. 

Scanners are for listening only. So it is okay to listen to aircraft
landing, because you don't have to worry about sitting on a microphone. These are sometimes called police scanners, but actually that refers to any scanner. You can use these radios to listen to aircraft, police, fire, rescue, VHF/UHF ham frequencies, heaven forbid, I almost forgot NASCAR. You can listen to GMRS, FRS, MURS and of course, the weather frequencies. Some scanners are S.A.M.E. capable. Some scanners will receive local AM/FM commercial radio. Some will cover the CB frequencies, 26-27 MHz. Some will tell you your GPS location.

So, what do you want a scanner for? Most people use a scanner to listen to police and fire calls, monitor a few local VHF ham radio repeaters, that kind of thing. But mostly police, fire and ambulance.

A legal issue here. I have read in some states it is illegal to have a scanner in your vehicle. This is something you need to check out. Here where I live, we don't have those kind of laws. So if you want to put a scanner in your vehicle, know what you are doing. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

If you want to put a scanner in your house, most come with a little plug-in antenna that sticks in the back. Most base stations come with a power connection for AC. That's all you need. If you live a distance away from a city, you might want to put an external antenna up. A basic discone antenna works fine.
Remember, this is receive only. This will also work pretty good for FM radio reception and your weather alert radio. Some discone antennas you can even transmit on, but that is a different story.

Some base station radios are conveniently powered by 12 volts DC. If you have a 12 volt power system, or if you are already operating off of a 30 amp 12 volt power supply, or if you are lucky enough to have a 12 volt solar system, then you have power for your base station scanner and hopefully every radio that you power. Discone, power supply, radio - you can listen to just about anything you want to listen to that is above about 27 MHz. So this antenna does not service shortwave or HF ham frequencies.

 A mobile scanner is made to operate in your vehicle. Again, you will need a power supply. If you install it in your car, you have a 12 volt supply. If you put it in your house then you will need to have a power supply. A magnet mount antenna is what most folks use for a mobile scanner in their vehicle. If you choose to use this radio in your home, then the above mentioned discone antenna will work fine.

Handheld scanners are fairly popular now days. Most of them will scan frequencies from 30 MHz upward, which leaves out the CB frequencies.
A lot of people use these scanners in their automobiles in place of a mobile and they use a device that holds a cell phone so they can see it readily. Some people use these at home also instead of a base radio. A difference here, though, is that few handheld scanners use 12 volt power. Some are 9 volt, some are 6 volt, but most will come with the appropriate adapter that plugs into an AC power supply or regular wall outlet. So, for mobile, home use or handheld use, the handheld radio will do the job for any situation. You can still hook it up to an outside antenna, whether mobile or base. But the power supply for mobile becomes a little more tricky. 

Some but not all handhelds, operate off of AA or AAA batteries. If it does operate off of batteries, then great, you can just change out the batteries when you need fresh power. Some you can recharge rechargeable batteries in from the power supply, so when you disconnect from your AC source, you will always have charged batteries. Newer handhelds are also powered by a USB connection from your computer or a cigar type plug-in that will attach to your automobile power port. Then you can power your radio with the USB connection from your automobile power port. Many newer vehicles have a USB port as part of the power supply. This power coming from your USB is either 5 VDC or 5.5 VDC, either one will work to power these scanners. In some of these scanners you can insert AA or AAA rechargeable batteries and they will recharge via the USB power connection.

A side note here. I have recently added USB connections to my 12 volt power supply. This way I can charge my cell phone, or a cell phone headset and a couple of my new battery operated lanterns. It's always good to upgrade.

Now, something we have not talked about before. Adapters and connectors. My weather radio and my old scanner both use a RCA type connector for the external antenna. My newer old scanner uses
a BNC connector for the external antenna. Sometimes you are going
to need to connect a PL259 plug to an RCA connector, so the antenna signal will be compatible with your radio connector. I have included a link that has all kinds of adapters and connectors. Don't be intimidated by it. It's just adapts a square peg so it will fit into a round hole. This page is a great page. I would bookmark it.

But a little bit of teaching here. An RCA plug is the type of plug that you use to connect your stereo together. Your F adapter is what your cable TV comes in with. Don't let this get to you. It's just one more step in the educational process. When you are looking at these scanners and you go to the sites and you're trying to figure out what you want, read the reviews. If you want a scanner that will monitor CB frequencies then your average scanner will not meet your need. If you want one to carry in your shirt pocket, or in your backpack, then a base station or mobile will not work. There is no perfect scanner. 

Now. One more issue. A few years ago, police and fire departments started changing to a digital frequency. Some departments have changed, some departments have not. You are going to have to
check with your local emergency office to see whether they broadcast on a digital or analog frequency. Where I live, all signals are analog. So, about any scanner would work just fine. Some towns have gone to all digital. An analog scanner will NOT receive digital signals. This is not the same as when TV signals went digital a few years ago. They are not related. Where I live nobody uses digital, but some places do. Also look for this when you are considering a scanner. I've included two articles on analog and digital. In most cases an analog scanner will do you fine. But in some cases it won't.

Some of the digital scanners, and for that matter, analog scanners, are very difficult to program. I have a base station scanner that I thought was difficult to program until I bought a Uniden handheld scanner that I now never use. It's one of those cases, that if you don't use it on a regular, regular basis, you will not know how to operate it. And I bought two of those cute little handhelds that I never use, because they are too difficult for me to operate. But for the right person, they would be excellent scanners.

Play around. Look around. You will see that many of the things you have learned before are coming into shape. Antennas, power supplies, connectors, adapters - some are just for fun, some are life saving. This is all part of communication. 

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank 

Hi Everybody, Frank here again.

I have two older scanners that I use daily, but they will not accept some of the frequencies that I have tried to enter. So, here is what I did. I decided that I needed a digital scanner. I did a little research and bought a Whistler WS1065. It seemed to be the one made just for me. Why did I need a digital scanner? A little tongue in cheek here, so when FEMA is coming down my road with their buses and trucks using their advanced digital radios, I would know ahead of time and could avoid their intrusion into my harmonious daily life. Remember, don't get on the bus. One small problem here. Neither Fern nor I could figure out how to program this radio. This is the first piece of electronic equipment that we have ever failed to program. Here is the solution. We bought the after market program that will make one's life so much easier. Guess what? We still could not figure out how to program this radio. We didn't quit here, I asked for assistance from my local ham radio group. Silence. Then I asked for assistance from my regional radio group via radio and email. You guessed it, more silence. So if there is anyone out there that knows how to program this scanner, please break the silence. Serious inquiries only.

Moving forward. I bought a Uniden Bearcat BC345CRS. It is an analog only scanner. If analog is all you need, this scanner is easy to program, has an AM/FM radio, alarm clock with a built in battery back up. It is easy to manually program. If this meets your need, do a Google search for various prices. I have one and use it daily.

Next on the list is the Uniden Bearcat BC355N. This is a slightly different style scanner. It can be used as a mobile or base scanner. It will need to be manually programmed. It is a little bit more difficult to program than the radio mentioned above, but once you get the hang of it, it goes very quickly. It is analog only. Also do a search for this radio, and check out Amazon. This is a small radio, but it works quite well.

Now, which scanner is best for you? That is entirely up to you. The closest digital signal to me is about 60 miles away. For me to use an analog only scanner will work just fine. Unless, of course, FEMA is barreling down the highway. Find out from the folks mentioned above what type signals you have in your area, analog or digital. I really wish that I could give you a more direct answer, but I can't. Good luck.

We'll talk more later, Frank

1 comment:

  1. Very funny you mention "ignorance of the law is no execuse" when we now know our lawmakers don't read a bill until it is signed into law!