Scanning 101

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Introduction and Explanation

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

Don't worry, we've all been there. First off, welcome. You came 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 to 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? Its very confusing

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

Im 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.

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.

What is this rebanding I keep hearing about? Will my scanner still work after this happens?

  • The answer to this is pretty involved, so Rebanding gets an entire article.

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.

Where can I get up to date data for my area?
My scanner comes with preprogrammed data but I suspect its 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 data is to click on the state 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 should 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, and 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 it work correctly. Our Connecting scanners via USB should give you a head start.

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

  • The 'best' software is often in the mind of the user, but there are some packages that are much more popular than others. See our Radio Control Software article to answer this question.

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 seperated 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. Such websites would be listed by state or region in our Collaboration Gateway.

Id like to be able to record audio some I can listen later. How do I got about doing this?

  • There are a few tricks you need to know before making the connection. See our Connecting Radios to Soundcards article. Not all software can record; see the links found in our Radio Control Software for compatible applications. Generally speaking, older RS scanners cannot scan and record audio - it's not provided for in the firmware.

Equipment Questions

  • I am trying to monitor a trunked system in my area. I have an (insert model) scanner, and all I hear is noise. What's wrong?
    • You may be listening to the data on the Control channel as audio. The system must be programmed as a trunked system. Your scanner must support trunked system monitoring. See this category page to make sure you scanner can monitor trunked systems.
    • The system may be transmitting digitally-encoded audio.. Check the database for your area to be certain. The only scanners on the market that can receive non-encrypted digitally-encoded audio are those listed on this category page. No consumer scanners can receive encrypted digital audio, even if you have an encryption key.

  • Where can I find information on scanner antennas, filters, mobile mounts, etc?

  • Is the coax that important?
    • They can make the difference between hearing a signal (particularly if you are out in a fringe area) and not hearing well, or at all. The larger the loss, the less signal is received. The general rule is a 3db loss results in a loss of 1/2 the signal. In practical terms, if you are in a strong signal area, this won't mean much - but if you're a long way off, this kind of loss should concern you. These links explain this clearly:
    • NASA Coax Cable loss chart
    • Coax Line Loss Calculator

  • I keep on seeing references to DMA or object oriented memory in these new scanners. What is it and what are some of their differences?
  • See the following articles for definitions and explanations

  • What do these terms mean - Phase 1, Phase 2, DMR, MOTOTRBO, NXDN?
  • These terns are all defined in our Glossary. See the following entries;
    • See the APCO Project 25 article for definitions of Phases 1 and 2
    • See the DMR article that discusses this mode
    • See the MOTOTRBO article that discusses this mode, and finally,
    • See the NXDN article for a discussion of this mode.

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 (BC246T, BR330T, BCD396T, BCD996T, BCT15, BCD396XT, BCT996XT, BC346XT, BCT15X, BCD996P2, BCD325P2)
  • These resources from our Programming Your Uniden Scanner article will give you a start in learning how to work with these radios;
    • The manuals Uniden wrote for these radios has been universally panned as being poorly written. The Easier to Read manuals are the place to start.
    • The Uniden DMA FAQ has a great deal of information (particularly the first 2 sections) about what DMA is and relationships with the data
    • We have software links in our Uniden DMA Software Support article. One of the most popular freeware packages is FreeScan - and we host the user guide in our wiki

For the RS/GRE/Whistler object oriented scanners
  • First, let's define which scanners from these distributers are considered to use object-oriented technology:

GRE Model Older RS Model Newest RS Model Whistler Model
PSR-500 Pro-106 Pro-651 WS1040
PSR-600 Pro-197 Pro-652 WS1065
  1. Trunking w/ Analog Voice Only scanners, others shown in table can handle up-to Digital P25 Phase I

  • These resources from our Programming Your Radio Shack Scanner and Programming Your GRE Scanner articles will give you a starting point
    • See the Easier to Read links for downloadable manuals for these radios
    • We also have an Object Oriented Scanner FAQ for the most common questions
    • Unlike the Uniden DMA Scanners, there is no freeware for the object oriented scanners; the 3 most popular packages are ARC500, PSREdit500 and Win500 - and we host user guides for both ARC500 and Win500 in our wiki. See the Object Oriented Scanner Software article for links. All 3 packages will handle the RS, GRE and Whistler models listed above.

  • It sounds like these scanners are a lot of work to program. Are there any that come pre-programmed for my area?
    • Almost. These scanners have the entire RadioReference database stored on a SD card. You use software- for the most part, proprietary in nature - to pull data from the SD card into the area(s) you want to cover. These are the models from GRE, Radio Shack and Whistler, and utilize object oriented technology;

GRE Radio Shack Whistler
PSR-7007 Pro-1077
PSR-8002,5,8 Pro-6682,5,8 WS10802,3,8
PSR-9009 WS10952,3
  1. Released around the time the PSR-800 was, but lacking additional/advanced features SEE #5.
  2. Project 25(P25) Phase I and II decoding.
  3. Capable of DMR decoding, with a free Upgrade to the latest Firmware via Whistler's EZ-Scan software.
  4. Capable of NXDN decoding, with a free Upgrade to the latest Firmware via Whistler's EZ-Scan software
  5. Ability to be Upgraded for DMR (and add P25 Phase II to Pro-18) decode with a Paid Upgrade with User paid shipment to Whistler, returned by them. Once, returned, continued forward support is possible via Whistler Repair and EZ-Scan Software, with all the newer additions and features of a WS1080.
  6. Variant with Keypad
  7. Trunking w Analog Voice Only
  8. ALL THE SAME after UPGRADE except silk screening
  9. Never released publicly, subsequently became WS1095

It should be noted that GRE has since left the scanner market, but has a dedicated page on their website to support owners of their scanners here.

The Unidens have SD Driven scanners as well, utilizing a form of DMA memory managment, which is different from the object oriented scanners above.

For these scanners, you should start by looking at the Easier to Read manuals, which are linked at the bottom of these pages:

For the scanners in the table above, see the GRE/RS PC Object Oriented FAQ
For the HomePatrol-1 and HomePatrol-2, see the Uniden Home Patrol FAQ
For the BCD436HP and BCD536HP, see the BCD436HP and BCD536HP Scanner FAQ

For the RS PRO-97, PRO-2055, GRE PSR-300 and PSR-400, PRO-163 and 164
  • These resources from our Programming Your Radio Shack Scanner (covers the PRO-97, 2055, 163 and 164) and Programming Your GRE Scanner (covers the PSR-300 and 400) articles will give you a starting point
    • See the Easier to Read links for downloadable manuals for these radios
    • We also have an article for operating hints for the PSR-300 and 400
    • The PSR-300/400 Software and USB Support article has links for software support


Id 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 discones (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.

I've heard that scanners can sometimes hear transmissions on frequencies that don't match the displayed frequency. Can this be alleviated? Can I use this to my advantage to extend the range of my scanner?

  • Some scanners are susceptible to reception of Image Frequencies. This is a characteristic of super-heterodyne receivers and this phenomenon can be used to receive frequencies that your scanner isn't designed to receive..

So where do I go from here?

At this point, you should realize that information is king. So do the following;

  • Make yourself familiar with all the forums on the site. Don't stick to viewing new stuff only, at least for now. Be aware that there are numerous forums for many different topics.
  • Make yourself familiar with 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
  • Make yourself familiar with the forum for your state
  • Find out (thought I was going to say 'make yourself' again, didn't you? :.>>) whether there's a mailing list (such as those found on for your area. Join it. If there's a good scanning related website for your area, bookmark it. Become familiar with the data and websites in your state, as listed in our Collaboration Gateway
  • Wander through the wiki. It's open to anyone to view, but you would need to register to edit it. With 10,487 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.

Additional References

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