Police Scanners

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Scanner Basics/Information and FAQ's

What is Digital and APCO-25 all about?
Just like your cell phone, a digital two-way radio system converts voice into ones and zeros and transmits this data to another radio which decodes the information so the voice communication (sometime sounding a bit robotic) is heard on the other end. Older public safety radio systems are often being replaced with the new digital systems. There is no way to upgrade an older or non-digital scanner. You must buy a digital scanner (such as the Bearcat 296 or 796) or a digital-ready scanner (the Bearcat 250 or 785 which accept a digital card) in order to monitor digital communications.

Digital scanners decode APCO-25 non-encrypted transmissions automatically (encrypted communications cannot be decrypted). A few agencies operate in encryption full time. There are also a few non-standard digital radio systems that are not monitorable at this time such as EDACS ProVoice, M/A-COM OpenSky and European Tetra. Many agencies also used MDT's (mobile data terminals), the computers in the patrol cars as well as cellular and NEXTEL phones for private communications. These cannot be monitored in any way.

What are PL and DPL (private line & digital private line) or CTCSS and DCS sub-audible tone codes?
Many scanners have the ability to program both a frequency and a sub-audible tone code (PL/DPL). It's not required that you use it but it is recommended if you have the PL/DPL information. As many agencies and businesses share radio frequencies they use these codes to insure that they only hear others within their department or company. You can do the same. PL helps limit interference by pre-selecting only those transmissions your most interested in and filtering out unwanted conversations. PL data is not always available but most scanners today provide a method of automatically determining the PL or DPL in use.

Can I listen to cellular phone calls? Can scanners be modified to listen to it?
By federal law monitoring private phone conversations is prohibited. No scanners made in the last 10 years have been capable of monitoring cell phones or are capable of being modified to do so. Most cellular phones are now TDMA or CDMA digital which is completely different from APCO-25 digital and couldn't be monitored even if the cellular frequency range was still included in the radio. Government agencies can purchase scanners which still contain the cellular band but special ID is required.

What is this new Close Call feature of some of the Uniden scanners?
Close Call allows the scanner to instantly tune to most any standard (non-cellular/Nextel) radio transmission within your line-of-sight, or in some cases even further. So, if you're at a mall, a sporting event, or happen by an accident scene for example and you don't know the local security, event or police/fire/EMS channels, Close Call will automatically tune your scanner to the frequencies being used. If you've been waiting for the right time to buy a new scanner, buying a scanner with Close Call is a great reason to finally make the move.

How can software help me with scanning?
Other than some of the low-end scanners, most scanners today are computer programmable. Using a serial cable and software you connect your scanner to your PC and then you can create multiple files for different areas or events to which you might take your radio. For trunking scanners and/or scanners with alpha-tag capability, programming on a computer (usually in spreadsheet like form) is considerably easier than programming on the scanner itself. More advanced software allows you to also control your scanner from the PC and log activity, record audio, and do much more than you could ever do on your scanner alone. Uniden includes demo software with their scanners but Scanner Master recommends the BuTel ARC (Advanced Radio Control) software which is widely considered the world's best. It's extremely easy to use, loads and works seamlessly with your PC, and it's very powerful and feature rich.

What accessories do you recommend?
Antennas- There is no better way to improve reception, whether for base or mobile scanning, then by adding an outside antenna. For home or office scanners we recommend a base station antenna, such as the Discone for all-band monitoring. If you want to really improve performance on a single radio band, check out our professional base station antennas, either omnidirectional or directional for most receiver gain. Aiming a yagi (beam) antenna at a station or region that uses a common band (such as 800 MHz trunking or 460 MHz UHF) will pull in signals you never dreamed of. For mobile scanners we urge you to mount a mobile antenna somewhere on your vehicle. Getting the antenna out from under the steel roof of your car or truck will provide a huge improvement. Not everyone wants another antenna on their car so we offer various types and mounting options. For portable scanners you can buy antennas tuned to specific bands (such as 800 MHz) for improved trunking performance for example, but other bands will suffer.

Software- For all scanners with a PC connection we highly recommend scanner software which will make programming easier and operation more enjoyable. If you're not convinced go online and check out the demo software that we offer for many models.

Frequency Guides- We offer specialty frequency guides for the Northeast, Southwest and Police Call on CD only, the 7-volume set that covers the nation.

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