Difference between revisions of "Scanning 101"

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'''I'm getting interference from my cable TV. What can I do to fix this?'''
'''I'm getting interference from my cable TV. What can I do to fix this?'''
* See our [Alleviating CATV Interference Issues]] article
* See our [[Alleviating CATV Interference Issues]] article
==So where do I go from here?==
==So where do I go from here?==

Revision as of 06:18, 1 August 2011

  • I want to hear my local police/fire, and don't know what I need.
  • I just got this scanner. What do I do next?

Don't worry, we've all been there. First off, welcome. You've come to the right place. As a basic definition, scanning involves listening (and, at times, looking) on frequencies just below, above and around the standard FM and TV broadcast bands. There are numerous services that use this spectrum - from police and fire, to the guy that picks up your garbage and lots in between. The challenge comes when you decide what you want to hear and the equipment necessary.

Before we continue, a few notes about wiki conventions as applied on this site are in order;

  • Anything in blue or underlined is some kind of link. A link might send you to another article on this site, to a specific forum on this site, or to some external site.
  • Heavy use is made of a convention known as a category. This is nothing more than a gathering of numerous articles under a common theme. You can think of it like a table of contents in an encyclopedia (anyone remember those?) All you need do to access an article in a category is to click on the title.
  • If there are more than 3 topics on an article, the MediaWiki software automatically creates an index at the very top. If you want to go quickly to a particular topic on an article, simply click on the desired entry in this index.
  • Our Wiki user's guide has information on many of the most commonly asked questions about procedures, policies, conventions and so forth as used on this site. Users are encouraged to read it, and contact the admins if there are any questions

General Questions

What is a scanner? How can I decide which one is right for me?

Where can I look up some of this odd looking terminology? It's very confusing

  • From stamp collecting to scanning and everything in between, there's often a bewildering amount of terminology and abbreviations, most of which are specialized to the activity that defines them. Our glossary has links that define numerous terms you will see on RR, along with several online glossaries that can be referred to for more information.

I'm told that my area is on a trunking system. What is this, and how can I understand how it works?

  • Trunking can be loosely defined as a set of frequencies that are shared by numerous agencies. A better definition can be found in this article (PDF format) written by Paul Opitz of Uniden. And also, check out our Trunking Basics article.

How can I program my scanner manually?

  • Many feel that manually programming the scanner is the best way to learn about it. However, sometimes with the newer scanners, the instructions are obtuse, or very hard to follow. We have a category article with numerous FAQs and Tips that you may find helpful.

I lost the manual that came with my scanner. Where can I find a replacement?
I got this scanner off of eBay and it doesn't have a manual

  • See our Manuals and Publications article for a listing of sites from where you might be able to download a copy. Some are free, others charge for the service. Notably, Radio Shack is quite good about having information on their website about *very* old scanners.

Where can I get up to date data for my area?
My scanner comes with preprogrammed data but I suspect it's outdated. Where can I find more up to date information?

  • Look at the blue toolbar under the logo. Click on DATABASE and follow the prompts and pulldowns from that point. It's pretty simple to navigate. Another way to access your state's/province's data is to click on the state/province in the map.

How do I interpret what I see in the database?

I have some additional questions....

  • You made it this far. Good. See if the Scanning Q&A article addresses them.

PCs and Software

How can I hook up my PC to my scanner? Why would I want to do this?

  • There are more than a few reasons for this - you travel a lot, and want to be able to load a new configuration quickly. There are too many channels to program manually. You wish to research your system. Whatever the reason, making the connection is problematic these days, because most newer PCs don't come with serial ports. They do however have USB ports, so we need a way to make the connection between the serial the scanner needs and the USB the PC needs. USB to serial converters abound, but there are some tricks you need to know to make them work correctly. Our Connecting scanners via USB article should give you a head start.

Where can I get software for my scanner? What is the best software for it?

I now have the software and scanner, but I need to find data for my area

  • In some cases, this is indirectly related to the software being used - the popular software seems to be those that can download data from our online databases. Once downloaded, the user can edit or change this data to fit their needs. To enable this function, one must first purchase a premium subscription. The next step is to select the application - to that end, see that topic in the Web Service article.
    • While using the database is a popular approach, another one is to obtain a file from someone - or another website - in a format that the software you are using can support. Two widely supported formats are comma separated value (or .csv - often mistakenly written .cvs - which is the abbreviation for a popular drug store chain :.>>) files (written by Excel, or sometimes by other scanner applications) and .usd files. These files are written by applications that support the newer Uniden scanners called the Uniden Advanced System Director (or UASD). These, and other formats, can be used as import sources. PDF files are never used as such a source - no program supports this. For more information, please see our Programming Files article.
    • Or you can mix the two, depending on how much typing you want to do; some software supports direct entry of the data, which you can view without a subscription -- though it's probably worth the money to let the computers do the talking.

I'd like to be able to record audio so I can listen later. How do I go about doing this?

Equipment Questions

I have bought a (insert scanner model here) but don't know how to use it

  • If you've made it to this point, and read the articles in the various links presented so far, you've read most everything you need to know to understand the basics of scanning. However, we now need to get a little more detailed and specific. How to use the scanner depends greatly on which model you have.

For the Uniden DMA scanners (BC246, BR330, BCD396, BCD996T, BCT15, BCD396XT, BCT996XT, BC346XT, BCT15X)
  • You should read the first 2 sections of the Uniden DMA FAQ. This will get you started in understanding how DMA works.
  • At the bottom of the FAQ, there is a series of links for the Easier to Read manuals. These are much more readable than the manuals Uniden supplied.
  • If you are using one of the XT series scanners, also see the Uniden Scanners Users Guide (Twiki) website
  • While the UASD (Uniden Advanced System Director) was a good place to start in its day, it hasn't been updated in quite a while, while the scanners have had several firmware revisions. In addition, no UASD was ever coded for the XT scanners. A much better (and free) software package that supports these scanners is FreeScan. Here is the user guide for Freescan. BcTool has just been re-written with many major upgrades, and is also freeware.

For the RS/GRE object oriented scanners (GRE PSR-500, PSR-600, RS PRO-106, PRO-197)
  • Read the GRE/RS Object Oriented Scanners FAQ. In this FAQ, there is a link for the Easier to Read manual for these radios.
  • There currently isn't any freeware for these scanners- however, the FAQ links to an article that links the 3 most popular packages- ARC500, Win500 and PSREdit500. In addition, there are separate wiki articles that describe how to use ARC500 and Win500.

For the RS PRO-97, PRO-2055, GRE PSR-300 and PSR-400

For the GRE PSR-700, PSR-800 RS Pro-107, Pro-18

For Uniden's Home Patrol


I'd like to be able to hear more (or stations further away). How do I do this?
Do I need an amplifier for my system?

  • Hooking up an antenna outdoors, nice and high and away from obstructions, along with buying the right coax cable, are the best ways to increase the range of what you hear. The ScanTenna(c) and various discone antennas (such as those made by Diamond or Icom) are very popular, but there are others as well. Check the Scanner Antennas article for more. Be sure to buy the best coax you can - using cheap RG-58U or 59U at high frequencies can be very costly in terms of signal loss. Avoid amplifiers if you can, particularly if you live in an urban environment. These can cause issues with overloading and other complications.

I'm hearing (pagers, FM, TV audio) when scanning in some bands. Can this be alleviated?

  • Unfortunately with the growth of urban areas, comes pagers and other unwanted services that show up in places you don't want to hear them. Consumer grade scanners can be susceptible to such interference. A temporary solution is to use the scanner's attenuator (if it has one), but this has the added consequence of reducing the scanner's sensitivity. A better solution is to add filters in between the scanner and antenna; see the filters section of the Milcom Receiving Equipment article for more on this topic. Note that some newer scanners can program their RF attenuator on and off on a channel by channel basis.

I'm getting interference from my cable TV. What can I do to fix this?

So where do I go from here?

At this point, you should realize that information is king. So here's a plan for you to assemble some more:

  • Familiarize yourself with all the forums on the site; go to the main forum list page, and scan all the way down. Don't stick to viewing new stuff only, at least for now. Be aware that there are numerous forums for many different topics. Some are separated by geography -- US states, Canadian provinces, and other countries. Some are separated by type of radio service -- military, utility, GMRS, Ham, etc. And some are separated by technology: trunking, digital audio, and such.
  • Look at the database entries for your area. In most cases if you float your mouse over a term, you will get a balloon with more information
  • Check out the geographic forum for your state
  • Find out whether there's a Yahoo scanning group for your area. Join it. If there's a good scanning related website for your area, bookmark it.
  • Wander through the wiki. It's open to anyone to view, but you need to register to edit it. With over 5000 articles currently, there's likely something to jog your interest.

Finally don't be afraid to ask questions. Do so in the proper forums. If you want to find out about programming in your area, when you ask, be sure to state where you are (city/county will do), the scanner you are using and any software you are using to program it. Modify your user profile so that it shows the city/county you live in. Doing these things will get you assistance in a much more timely fashion.

And, if you want to invest a little bit of reading time now to contribute to your receiving better answers later, when you need them, check out Asking Questions The Smart Way, a article that will give you some great insight into why people help others on the Internet, and what you can do before asking a question to improve your odds of getting an answer. (While the article was really originally written for computer hardware and software hackers, scanner and radio enthusiasts often have the same sorts of questions, and the same types of online resources to try to solve them. So read past the parts that don't seem right on target for you, and you'll likely get a good deal of use out of the piece.)

Welcome to Radio Reference, and we hope you have as much fun scanning as we do!