A commenter from a previous post was asking what their first choice should be in a police scanner. Since it has been a while from when I last discussed this topic, I decided to make it a blog post.
A “police scanner”, or simply “scanner” is a VHF/UHF communications receiver. They typically cover “land mobile” and other frequency ranges from around 30-1000 MHz. This range includes public safety, government, business, aircraft, military, utility (electric, water, et al), amateur radio, and industrial services. Since these services are intermittent in the nature of their transmissions (as opposed to broadcasters that transmit continuously), a scanner is programmed with several frequencies into its memory channels, and the scanner then cycles or “scans” through them until it reaches one with activity. It then stops, allowing you to hear the communication, and then resumes when the transmission stops. Those of you who’ve read my book will know this to be a “point search.”
Many scanners also have additional features. Some have the capability to decode the control channel of trunked radio systems. This enables you to selectively monitor different talkgroups on a system, and uniquely identify them by their talkgroup ID. Some can demodulate P25 Phase I and II signals in addition to AM and FM. Some can search a range of spectrum between two frequencies, aka a “band/sector search” looking for signals.
Many ham radio transceivers can perform as a scanner. They have extended receive (and often transmit) capability outside the VHF/UHF ham bands they cover, have scannable memories, and a search feature. However, they will be unable to decode trunked system control channel data or demodulate P25. If the majority of radio systems in your AO are in the VHF-high or UHF LMR bands, non-trunked, and analog FM, then that Baofeng HT will work as a scanner for you, provided you are intimate with how to operate it.
For the time being however, we’ll assume you want a police scanner. Scanners have become overly complicated in programming and operation as of late, especially with trunked radio systems. Back in the 1980s, you would hit “manual”, the channel number you wanted to program, maybe “program”, type in the frequency, and then hit “enter”. Done. If all you need to monitor is a few analog conventional (non-trunked) frequencies, that old $50 pawnshop special Radio Shack or Bearcat scanner will do the job for you with minimal grief and no computer programming.
Of the two brands, the worse offender when it comes to hand programming is Uniden/Bearcat. Whistler (former GRE/Radio Shack) seems easier to get up and running without using a computer/software. Using a computer may be easier, but there will come a time when you won’t have that option. Whatever model you get, learn how to program it without needing a computer and software.
There are four models of scanner that are designed for the beginner, and very easy for a novice to get up and running. They are:
- Uniden Home Patrol II
- Whistler WS1080
- Whistler WS1095
- Radio Shack PRO-668
All four of these scanners are currently in production. They all do trunking, and all demodulate P25 Phase I/II. They all are pre-programmed for all 50 states via the radioreference.com database. For the beginner, it gives you 90% of what you will want to monitor in an easy to use manner. The trade-off is that they cost some money.
There are alternatives that cost less. I don’t own any of those models. For where I am, an old Radio Shack PRO-96, PRO-97, and Icom R-5 get the job done, along with a few 1970s vintage multiband portable radios for monitoring specific single channels. This state runs a VHF P25 trunked radio system, but still has enough analog comms that I need a a couple more scanners for decent coverage.
You need to do the research for your area to find out what would work best for you. If your AO employs unencrypted P25, then you should save your money to be able to afford a P25 capable scanner. In the meantime, if all you have is one of those Baofeng (or other model) VHF/UHF HTs, use it as a scanner. Find the local frequencies in your AO that are analog/conventional, program them in the radio, and scan them. See what you can hear. Find out what they use them for, and then use the relevant ones to keep abreast of happenings in your AO.
The Baofeng UV-5R has 128 memory channels, and frequency coverage of 136-174 and 400-520 MHz. That’s the VHF-high and UHF bands that in many areas carry the lion’s share of LMR traffic. The Anytone TERMN-8R has 200 memory channels and a receive frequency coverage of 2.3-30 (AM), 108-136 (AM; VHF aircraft band), 136-174, and 400-520 MHz.; also AM and FM broadcast band. You can also use it as a shortwave broadcast and CB receiver.
If all you need is an analog police scanner, I would suggest the Icom R6 Communications Receiver. It has a frequency coverage of 150 KHz. to 1300 MHz. (minus the 800 MHz. cellular phone band), 1300 memory chanels, and scans at 100 channels per second. Brand new they are just under $200. You can find the older version, the R5, for less on the used market. These miniature Icom receivers are very simple and easy to use.
Whatever the situation, use what you have right now, and start monitoring what you can with it. Figure out what you need to properly expand your monitoring capabilities for your AO, and proceed.
Those of you who would like further, more in-depth, personalized instruction on the art of VHF/UHF scanning can attend my next classes being held in Riverton, WY on September 19-20th and Birmingham, AL this weekend September 5-6th. Visit my class page for more information.