Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scanning the airwaves

I’m an avid Police/Fire scanner enthusiast. When the sirens sound, I reach for my scanner. I’ve heard everything from criminals stealing police cars to cops chasing bank robbers on foot. If it’s happening, I want to know about it. So when I went on vacation this summer I took my scanner with me.

I have two scanners – a RadioShack Pro-97 and an ICOM IC-R5. Both are programmable via serial cable and offer a thousand or more memory channels, but that’s where the similarity ends. The PRO-97 scans both trunked and conventional frequencies, but scans only within specific bands (25-54 MHz, 108-136.9875 MHz, 137-174 MHz, 216.0025-221.9975 MHz, 222-225 MHz, 225.025-405.975 MHz, 406-512 MHz, 806-960 MHz excluding cellular frequencies, and 1240-1300 MHz), all using AM / FM modes. The IC-RX5, on the other hand, is a wide band receiver (495 kHz – 1309 MHz with cellular frequencies blocked), and AM / FM / WFM modes are selectable.

Neither scanner is particularly user-friendly, something that seems to be a common characteristic of scanners. The only reasonable option is to clone frequencies using a PC and a cable. Fortunately both scanners have good PC-based software alternatives.
For the Pro-97, Win97 (www.starrsoft.com/) offers the best mix of features and ease of use. The GUI is clearly labeled and allows copy-and-paste from one section to another, and from spread sheets. Even better, Win97 lets you download and import frequencies from RadioReference.com. Note that this requires a premium membership from RadioReference. Win97 is stable, even on Vista.

An added benefit of the Pro-97 is the PowerScan feature that picks up any strong signal within 1000 yards. Don’t know the exact frequency, but you’re close to the action? Hit PowerScan and you’re in business.

The ICOM requires either the OPC-474 cloning cable (radio-to-radio) or the OPC-478U with Windows cloning software. The ICOM software is functional, if unimaginative. ICOM does offer a very clumsy download feature from their site that lets you select stations based on various criteria – none useful – for import into their software. You’ll need a stiff drink before tackling this one, though.

So, you want to know the real scoop on why your plane is delayed? Use your scanner – discretely, of course – to listen in on air traffic control. My snooping once revealed that the company had misplaced the plane. Misplaced! They had a crew, but no plane! This gives a whole new meaning to “lost luggage.”

Nevertheless, which ever scanner you use, if you have a taste for vicarious violence, unfortunate occurrences, or virtually anything else that involves radio communications, don’t forget to pack your scanner before leaving home.

- 73
- Steve KB3IHX

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