Subject: Introduction to Scanning Organization: AT&T Bell Laboratories, Naperville, IL Last changed: February 28, 1994 | Introduction to Scanning by Bob Parnass, AJ9S [NOTE: This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part in bulletin boards, networks, or publications which charge for service without permission of the author. Free distribution is encouraged.] This introduction is intended for people new to the scan- ning hobby and is oriented to scanning in the USA. It tells where you can buy your first scanner, what features it should have, where to get it repaired if required, how | to get frequency information, and mentions a few scanner clubs worth joining. Why Scanning? Every day and night, scanner hobbyists are entertained by what they overhear on their radios. Police cars, fire engines, ambulances, armored cars, trains, taxis, air- planes, and buses are all equipped with radios and you can listen to them. You can monitor the local sheriff and fire departments to hear about events "as they happen," before the news reporters hear about them. Hostage dramas, bank robberies, car crashes, chemical spills, tornado sightings are all fair game. In a single afternoon, you can hear a high speed police chase, Drug Enforcement agents on a sting operation, and undercover FBI agents as they stakeout a suspect. How about listening to a presidential candidate discuss strategy with his advisor from a 415 MHz radiophone in Air Force 1, or a team of G-men protect him while transmitting in the 167 MHz range? Listen in the 46.61 - 49.97 MHz range to your neighbors | deal drugs over their cordless telephone, or as their conversations are picked up and transmitted over the airwaves between 49.67 and 49.99 MHz by their sensitive | baby monitor intercom. * Stay ahead of road conditions by listening to highway road crews, snow plows, and traffic helicopter pilots. Take your scanner to sporting events and listen to race car drivers, football coaches, etc., in the 151, 154, and 468 MHz ranges. Monitor the everyday hustle and bustle of businesses, from cable TV repair crews tracking down pirate descrambler boxes, to security guards at your nuclear power plant or mall security guards chasing a shoplifter. You can even listen to the order taker's wireless micro- phone at the local McDonald's restaurant on 154.6 and 35.02 MHz! Is Scanning Legal? In the United States, scanning from your home or at work is perfectly legal in most situations. The Electronic Commun- ications Privacy Act of 1986 made it illegal to listen to mobile phones, common carrier paging, and a few other types of communication, but many scanners cover these frequen- cies, and it's clear that Americans still listen to what- ever they want in the privacy of their own homes despite the ECPA. Change is in the wind -- it will soon be illegal for companies to sell scanners which cover the cellular phone frequencies, but sales by private individuals will still be allowed. Speaking of privacy, federal law also requires you to keep what you hear to yourself and not use the information you hear on your scanner for personal gain. Be aware that several states have laws pertaining to scan- ning while in your car. Indiana restricts some portable scanners. A few states have recently enacted laws against | listening to cordless phones, but it's currently legal to | listen in most states. You can find out about these res- trictions in a 39 page paperback, ANARC Guide to U. S. Mon- itoring Laws, compiled by Frank Terranella, available for $7.50 from ANARC Publications, P.O. Box 462, Northfield, MN 55057. What Scanner Should I Buy? Radio Shack and Uniden (maker of Bearcat, Regency, and Cobra brands) offer a wide choice of scanners. Radio Shack scanners bear the Realistic label but are actually manufac- tured by both GRE (General Research Electronics) and by Uniden. Personally, I don't recommend AOR brand scanners. Programmable (synthesized) units have replaced crystal con- | trolled models as they don't require crystals and usually | have a keypad that permits you to store frequencies into | channels. Programmables are now so cheap it doesn't make sense to buy a crystal unit as your main scanner unless you get it for under $45 or so. You can get a battery operated hand held scanner, a bigger "base" scanner which is powered from an AC outlet, or a mobile scanner which connects to your auto's electrical system. There are tradeoffs -- base and mobile scanners | almost always provide more audio than portables, and port- | ables are usually more prone to interference when connected | to outdoor antennas than base models. But when severe | weather knocks out the power in your home, there's nothing | like having a battery operated scanner to monitor the power | utility and police frequencies! Make sure your first scanner: 1. has a "search" feature, which allows it to search all the frequencies between two frequency limits of your choosing. The lowest cost programmables can't search. 2. covers the 800 MHz band unless you live in a very rural area where this band is not used. Usage of the 800 MHz band is growing by leaps and bounds. If you're not sure whether you'll like scanning, don't want to spend much money, a 16 channel radio will do. In gen- eral, the more channels and banks, the better. Most of the action takes place on frequencies between 30 and 1000 MHz, so don't be misled by scanner models boasting coverage from 3 to 2000 MHz. There's currently not much to monitor in the 1000 - 2000 MHz range. If you are interested in receiving short wave, that is, signals in the 3 - 30 MHz range, it's best to get a short wave radio designed for that purpose. Although some scanners receive the short wave band, their performance in that range is often poor. Deluxe scanners can be controlled by a personal computer, although this feature isn't important to most scanner own- ers. Currently, the more popular scanners include the Uniden/Bearcat 760XLT (a/k/a 950XLT) and Radio Shack PRO- 2006 base/mobiles, and the Uniden/Bearcat 200XLT (a/k/a 205XLT) and Radio Shack PRO-43 portables. | Scanner Antennas | All scanners come with a built in antenna, permitting reception up to about 20 miles or so. Outdoor antennas, like the Channel Master 5094A or Antenna Specialists AV- 801, can extend reliable reception to 100 miles or more. If you do use an outdoor antenna, be sure to disconnect and ground it during storms and when not in use to avoid a lightning hazard. Discone and ground plane type antennas can be somewhat more prone to lightning strikes because they are not at "DC ground." Where Can I Buy A Scanner? Almost every community has at least one Radio Shack store, and you can find scanners there. Discount chain stores like Service Merchandise and Circuit City sell scanners, but carry just a few models. Department stores, like Sears and Montgomery Wards, sometimes offer scanners, although at high prices. The best buys on new scanners are from reputable mail order radio dealers, for example: - Grove Enterprises, 300 S. Highway 64 West, Brasstown, NC 28902. For a free catalog, call (704)837-9200. - Scanner World (Albany, NY). Telephone (518)436-9606. | - National Tower Company, PO Box 15417, Shawnee Mission, KS 66215. Telephone (913)888-8864. - Marymack Distributing (Katy, TX) sells Radio Shack scanners at discount. Telephone (713)392-0747. | Many ham radio dealers, like Amateur Electronics Supply (Milwaukee, WI, (800)558-0411), also sell scanners. Used scanners may be found at hamfests, flea markets, or listed in the classified advertisement section of your newspaper. Modifying Your Scanner | If you are handy with a soldering iron, you may be | interested in modifying your scanner to add features or | enhance its performance. Be warned this usually voids your | warranty. Modification article files can be copied from | several ftp sites including the /pub/ham-radio/mods direc- | tory at: | | | (IP address, | Scanner Repair Shops | Is your scanner broken? Aside from sending the scanner | back to the manufacturer for repair, here are least two | companies which repair scanners: | 1. Electronic Repair Centers (telephone 708-455-5105) - | Several people have been pleased with good repair | service from Electronic Repair Centers in Franklin | Park, Illinois. Although they are not authorized to | perform warranty work, this outfit has been repairing | Bearcat scanners for several years. They charge a | flat rate of fixing scanners, and shipping is extra. | Electronic Repair Centers will fix Regency scanners | if they can obtain the parts. | 2. G & G Communications (telephone 716-768-8151) - This | family owned company repairs scanners and stocks | parts for several older models. G & G sometimes buys | old scanners, too. They are located at 9247 Glenwood | Drive, LeRoy, NY 14482. | Where Can I Obtain Frequency Information? To avoid chaos, the FCC licenses two-way radio users and assigns them specific frequencies. Groups of frequencies are allocated to specific types of users, so you won't usu- ally find fire departments using the same frequencies as taxi drivers, for example. Scanner enthusiasts can obtain frequency information from several sources, including books, government microfiche records, or other listeners. Books: The most convenient source of fire, police, and local government frequencies is the Police Call Radio Guide, published each year in 9 regional volumes by Hollins Radio Data, and sold at Radio Shack and larger book stores. I also recommend the book, Monitor America, 2nd edition published by SMB Publishing, and available from Grove Enterprises for about $25. This single edition contains several pages of police, fire, local government, news media, sports, federal government, and commercial broadcast frequencies for all 50 states. It contains detailed com- munications system profiles and precinct maps for major metropolitan areas. Police and fire radio codes and unit identifiers unique to local agencies are listed for several cities. This differs from Police Call, which gives a more sterile, but uniform treatment of licensees, listing even the smallest of towns. Uniden has published several regional directories using the "Betty Bearcat" name, although there are much better direc- tories available from Scanner Master (Newton Highlands, MA) for some regions. The most readily available source of sensitive US govern- ment frequencies is still Tom Kneitel's 168 page Top Secret Registry of US Government Radio Frequencies. Published by CRB Research, the 6th edition is available from Grove Enterprises for about $19. Kneitel's book contains fre- quency listings for NASA, military, FBI, Secret Service, DEA, IRS, Border Patrol, arsenals, ammunition plants, mis- sile sites, and others in the 25 to 470 MHz range. Commercial Magazines: Although national in circulation, local frequency information is sometimes available in Grove's Monitoring Times (tel. 704-837-9200) and Kneitel's sensationalistic Popular Communications, (tel. 516-681- 2922). National Scanning Report is a national scanner magazine published bimonthly and is affiliated with Uniden's Bearcat Radio Club. The best scanner frequency lists are often found in club publications, not commercial magazines, and are discussed later. Government Records: Every year, the US Government sells FCC license information, in the form of microfiche, floppy disk, and magnetic tape, to the public through the US Department of Commerce National Technical Information Ser- vice (NTIS). The high cost of buying government records limits their appeal to hardcore enthusiasts. You can write for a catalog of FCC Master Frequency Database items to the NTIS, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161. Grove enterprises sells FCC license information on floppy disks. Disks for each state are sold separately, and the information is basically the same as the FCC "state sort," i.e., transmitter location (state/city), callsign, licensee name, and type of license. Do Your Own Frequency Detective Work When you try listening to a frequency for the first time, you'll want to know who you're hearing. Although FCC rules require radio users to identify their operations with their assigned call letters, most ignore the regulation. This often makes it difficult to know who is transmitting. Moreover, many radios are now being placed in service illegally, without first obtaining the required FCC license. There is a challenge in deriving new spectrum usage infor- mation on your own. Sometimes it requires several days of listening, taping, and compiling fragments of information. Other times, the frequency information is there for the taking - without hassle. You can approach from two directions: 1. Listen first: Monitor a frequency or frequencies, and try to determine who's transmitting and what purpose the channel serves. Once you identify the user, log the information. 2. Compile first: Take advantage of opportunities, such as examining the frequency label on a guard's radio, or reading the FCC license hanging on the "radio room" wall, to compile frequency lists, then monitor the listed frequencies to confirm that they are really in use. Readers are urged to abide by the rules of good taste and local laws in the quest for frequency information. Don't trespass, wait for an invitation. Most listeners use a combination of both approaches. You can examine the FCC license on premise. I have found the actual FCC radio license, complete with frequency assignments, hanging on the walls of places like the mall security office or company guard shack. You can examine the labels on radio equipment. Frequency information is engraved on labels on the back of many walkie-talkies, or inside the battery compartment, like in the Motorola HT220 model. Most pagers have labels on the bottom or inside. Like passwords taped onto terminals, it's not uncommon to find labels embossed with frequencies or call letters glued to the front of base stations. You can make your own opportunities for eyeing the equip- ment or take advantage of "open house" events. If informa- tion is displayed publicly, then a reasonable person could assume it's not government secret. Hobbyists are urged to exercise a modicum of restraint and good judgement, how- ever. How Can I Use Equipment to Uncover New Frequencies? If you don't know the exact frequency, but have a general idea of the range (e.g. 150 - 152 MHz), use your scanner's "search" mode. Most programmable scanners afford the abil- ity to search between two frequency limits set by the user. A few models, like the ICOM R7000/R7100, and R1, and older Bearcat 250 and Regency K500, have the ability to automati- cally store active frequencies found during an unattended search operation. To find the frequency of a hotel communications system, one fellow installed his Bearcat 250 in his car and parked in the hotel lot, leaving the scanner in the "search and store" mode. He left the antenna disconnected so the scanner would only respond to a transmitter in the immedi- ate vicinity. Aside from a scanner and antenna, the most useful piece of equipment for sleuthing is a voice actuated (VOX) cassette tape recorder. You don't need a high fidelity model or anything fancy, a Radio Shack CTR-82 will do. It's best to use a shielded cable to feed the scanner audio into the recorder rather than relying on the recorder's internal microphone. VOX recorders allow one to compress a whole day's worth of monitoring onto a single tape. I often leave a recorder "armed" and connected to a scanner at home while I am at the office or doing something else. When call letters are mumbled, I can play and replay the tape until I hear and understand them. Test equipment can aid in the quest for new frequency information. I've used a spectrum analyzer connected to an outside antenna, and a frequency counter for close-in work. Are There Any Scanner Clubs? One of the best parts of the hobby is sharing it with other radio buffs. Trading information with other hobbyists about frequencies, communication systems, and receiving equipment is more valuable than any pile of magazines. The world's largest scanner club is the Radio Communica- tions Monitoring Association (RCMA). Founded in 1975, the RCMA is the "first national and international organization of monitor radio listeners." There are several regional chapters which hold regular meetings. Club dues are $24.00 per year, which includes the monthly RCMA Journal, which consists of approximately 95 pages. Although the focus is on VHF and UHF ranges, there is coverage of HF utility sta- tions below 30 MHz. Inquiries about RCMA membership should be sent to RCMA Gen- eral Manager, P.O. Box 542, Silverado, CA 92676, USA. All Ohio Scanner Club A smaller club is the All Ohio Scanner Club. Its bimonthly publication, The American Scannergram, is about 60 pages long. Although concentrating on Ohio, there is frequency information from other states, and plenty of good product reviews and scanning tips. Annual dues are $18 and more information is available from: Dave Marshall, Managing Editor All Ohio Scanner Club, 50 Villa Road, Springfield, OH 45503. AOSC questions can also be sent electronically to: rccons! or FidoNet: 1:108/240.0 AOSC also has a MEMBERS & EDITORS Scanner related echo, AOSCNet, distributed via FTN on 6 BBS systems, and via Internet Mailing list. Rick Christian advises these strict | rules for the AOSCNet Scanner Radio Echo (as of 2/1/94): | 1. No discussion of cellular modifications or discussions | on how to monitor cellular transmission. | 2. No discussions on topics which would violate the ECPA | '84, TDDRA '93, (18 USCA 2510 et seq.) or Communica- | tions Act 1934 & 1984 as amended (47 USCA 705), i.e., | decoding/reception of paging, cellular, encrypted | stuff, descrambling etc.. | 3. No Aliases. | 4. No discussion of Shortwave or Amateur Radio material | (except SAREX). | For info on the ECHO only, contact: R.E. Christian, AOSC PA/AOSCNet Founder PO BOX 12763, Pittsburgh PA 15241-0763. FAX: 412-831-5860. Internet: rccons! rccons! FidoNet: 1:129/220.0 To receive a file of info on the All Ohio Scanner Club via Internet send to: rccons! In body: get This will send a UUENCODED info packet to you. The file contains an outline of the material you will find in the American Scannergram, the AOSCNet, and an application for membership. (Note: This file will not be sent back to * addresses.) Chicago Area Radio Monitoring Association | The Chicago Area Radio Monitoring Association (CARMA) is | the foremost club for scanner radio hobbyists in the north- | ern Illinois area. CARMA was formed from the Chicago | chapter of the Radio Communications Monitoring Association | (RCMA), and we have been meeting since the early 1980s. | Many CARMA members are active in ham radio and GMRS, but | the club is devoted to scanning and scanners. | Meetings are held on Saturdays at area restaurants, about 6 | times a year. Although lunch starts at noon, the meetings | begin officially at 1 PM and often run until about 4 PM. | You must purchase a lunch since we get the room for free. | Meetings consist of a quick review of club business, some- | times a special presentation, and a "round table" | discussion/question & answer session. Large quantities of | information and frequency lists are often distributed in | the form of free handouts. Members sometimes sell radio | equipment at the meetings, too. | In addition to regular meetings, there are two CARMA | picnic/field days during which members meet at a park, | erect antennas, eat, and operate scanners from battery | power. CARMA members take organized tours of various com- | munications facilities in the area. | Club meeting dates and times are published in the CARMA | newsletter, published 6 times a year. A one year subscrip- | tion is available by mailing a $10 check, payable to Kim | Moran, to: The Command Post | attn. Kim & Ted Moran | 6143 W. Touhy Avenue | Chicago, IL 60646 | Many CARMA members participate on the CARMA computer bul- | letin board, run by Will Sperling. If you have a modem and | terminal or computer, you can reach the CARMA BBS by cal- | ling (708)852-1292. | Here is a tentative meeting schedule for 1994. All meet- | ings will be held on Saturdays at the Destiny Restaurant, | 1440 Rand Road, Des Plaines, IL: | February 19 | April 16 | June 18 | August 13 | October 15 | December 10 | Bring a notebook and your appetite. -- ============================================================================== Copyright 1994, Bob Parnass, AJ9S AT&T Bell Laboratories - - (708)979-5414 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------