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Can't receive P25 trunking on Pro-651

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Joined
Mar 25, 2010
Messages
33
Location
Spotsylvania, VA
#1
Short question:
I am trying to scan the Virginia State Police and DOT groups on the Virginia "STARS" radio system from my apartment in Fredericksburg City. I can't seem to get it to work properly and only rarely do I hear a fragment of one side of a call which usually "breaks up" and "comes in" and "breaks up" again.

Long details:
I just picked up a Pro-651 ($200 at the store-closing 50% off, figured it was worth it). I've successfully programmed everything that was in my Pro-97 including a nearby analog EDACS trunking system and it works wonderfully. I connected the scanner to a 2-meter VHF antenna (home-brew, roll-up J-Pole normally used for my HAM transceiver, 1.2:1SWR or better from 144-148) using RG-8/U coax. With this I can reliably listen to analog stations in Arlington and Fire/EMS in King George VA as well as the railroad about 5 mileposts North/South of Fredericksburg. As a result, I'm fairly convinced that I have an acceptable VHF antenna system and a moderate understanding of how to program this.

I know I live very close (maybe 0.25 mile) from Mary Washington Hospital which has a number of transmitters both local emergency service and NOAA which cause intermod on a handful of frequencies. This doesn't help my situation, nor being in an apartment unable to put up outdoor antennas.

I've attempted to troubleshoot the digital STARS system by manually tuning to what I think are the control frequencies and watch the display, it seems to "fade" in and out with signal at what seems like random times. It'll be static FM then switch to digital and the number listed will fluctuate from 50% to 90% (signal? decode percent?) and then go back to FM static for a while. Some "sites" listed on the RadioReference page are better than others with the signal bars showing when they come in but none of them lock on consistently or reliably like the analog trunking systems I'm used to. I've also read the "T" icon should be showing when it's locked on? Most of the time it isn't, it only shows briefly when I'm getting audio fragments thru.

I think I have the talk groups set up properly because for the fractional amounts of time it will lock onto anything it looks like the displayed group matches what it's playing, like seeing Fairfax police channel flash up and hearing a fragment of audio with sirens mentioning an exit number and east/west. I have programmed all the talkgroups listed on that page into scan objects and enabled those scan lists, it acts like it's trying.

This is the system I am trying to scan:
Virginia Statewide Agencies Radio System (STARS) Trunking System, Statewide, Virginia - Scanner Frequencies

I programmed the following sites into the "System Frequencies" -- I've tried putting them in one at a time and all of them at once. Currently I have the frequencies listed for all of these entered at the same time, in no particular order:
-Independent Hill
-Dumfries
-Edgehill
-Thornburg

Since it's a portable scanner, I have it set to "Multi Site: Roam" even though as of yet I haven't used it anywhere but at home.



What am I doing wrong that I can't seem to lock onto control channels and scan the Virginia STARS P25 system?
 

troymail

Silent Key
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#2
I've experienced problems receiving various STARS sites - particularly while traveling I-81 down to Staunton. While in Stauton, I had little to no reception.

I've found that the best (but far from perfect) reception comes from programming only the active control channel frequency for a single given site (generally the closest) as a "system" and only that into a scan list. This part speeds up the process of locking onto the control channel but not wasting time scanning other frequencies which are not CCs.

Part two generally requires finding a good spot to place the radio for best reception. This requires some trial and error moving the radio around to find a good spot. For these systems, sometimes a few inches can make the difference. On the other hand, as I found in Stauton, there wasn't much I could do to improve reception.
 
Joined
Mar 25, 2010
Messages
33
Location
Spotsylvania, VA
#3
I've experienced problems receiving various STARS sites - particularly while traveling I-81 down to Staunton. While in Stauton, I had little to no reception.

I've found that the best (but far from perfect) reception comes from programming only the active control channel frequency for a single given site (generally the closest) as a "system" and only that into a scan list. This part speeds up the process of locking onto the control channel but not wasting time scanning other frequencies which are not CCs.

Part two generally requires finding a good spot to place the radio for best reception. This requires some trial and error moving the radio around to find a good spot. For these systems, sometimes a few inches can make the difference. On the other hand, as I found in Stauton, there wasn't much I could do to improve reception.
Darn...I'm not shocked but a bit disappointed that's the case. I have the same issue with Digital TV on an antenna, the coverage just isn't there to use it.

I can "very weakly" receive the control channels for all the sites I listed but none of them come in consistently, they all seem to fade in and out without moving the scanner. I've also tried a number of locations but there's only this one particular spot that my better VHF antenna can be (it belongs with my transceiver) and all the scanner antennas I've tried don't pick up *any* of the control channels so that's why I moved to the tuned VHF antenna to get weak/marginal signals.

It doesn't help my apartment is down a hill and in a brick building, probably worst-case for VHF.

Do the state police have this much trouble making their radios work?! I can't believe they would use a system that is so spotty...
 

troymail

Silent Key
Joined
Dec 19, 2002
Messages
9,977
Location
Supply (Lockwood Inlet area), NC
#4
Do the state police have this much trouble making their radios work?!
Not likely. There's a big difference between real subscriber radios and scanners - as can be seen in just the difference in cost.

What you're describing is the same thing I saw while in downtown Staunton.

If you're only receiving a weak signal on the control channel frequencies, not much is going to help short of trying different external antennas.

One other option that some have tried -- try programming the voice frequencies as conventional frequencies. This isn't optimal but it removes the need to receive a clean CC first in order to have the radio switch to the voice frequency (this assumes they are still P25 Phase 1 but I believe they are).
 
Joined
Mar 29, 2006
Messages
347
Location
Dumfries, VA
#5
mmiller7,

Have you tried entering in the new Site 130 (Gordonsville, VA) control channels? This site is said to be strong in the Fredericksburg area. Should be 161.8725.
 
Joined
Mar 25, 2010
Messages
33
Location
Spotsylvania, VA
#6
mmiller7,

Have you tried entering in the new Site 130 (Gordonsville, VA) control channels? This site is said to be strong in the Fredericksburg area. Should be 161.8725.
I have not, I thought that was too far away to be worth it. How do I enter that? TUNE mode jumps from 161.87 to 161.875 I can't select 161.8725?
 
Joined
Mar 25, 2010
Messages
33
Location
Spotsylvania, VA
#7
I can't figure out how to edit my last post but I finally found the FlexStep option in Win500 (why can't I find a way to edit that from the radio?!) and enabled it.

I'm not picking up *ANYTHING* on 161.8725, I can't even hear "garbage" on it in analog mode. Just dead-air static. Same with the other freqs for the Gordonsville site.
 
Joined
Mar 25, 2010
Messages
33
Location
Spotsylvania, VA
#9
Pro-97 was analog-only (and I'd filled up most of it's memory) so I couldn't scan STARS...this is my first attempt playing with Digital radios, everything until now has always been Analog.

I switched from "Multi Site Roam" to "Multi Site Stationary + Scan All Control" and it seems to have improved very slightly - at least I'm hearing fragments of "both sides" of conversations but it's still very spotty.

I also tried moving the scanner outside with a telescoping antenna, it still did the odd fading the % just showed higher when it was receiving signals and it was more binary "working or not" fragments rather than garbled fragments.

I'm starting to wonder if I'm just in a dead-zone for this system and maybe it's not worth trying to continue? The main thing I was interested in with STARS was VDOT anyway for snow removal...and maybe the state police if anything big happened. 99.9% of the time I only care about local fire-rescue and ham bands.
 

reconrider8

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#11
I'm starting to wonder if I'm just in a dead-zone for this system and maybe it's not worth trying to continue? The main thing I was interested in with STARS was VDOT anyway for snow removal...and maybe the state police if anything big happened. 99.9% of the time I only care about local fire-rescue and ham bands.
Never sir and I mean never start talking like this sir :O the fight to give up may be there but there's still that slim chance in your area if your getting some signal. What antenna are you running? You may be able to buy/build a Yagi to get that sweet stop to blaze in just like you want it to :) but use up all your options before you give in
 
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Messages
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Spotsylvania, VA
#12
Never sir and I mean never start talking like this sir :O the fight to give up may be there but there's still that slim chance in your area if your getting some signal. What antenna are you running? You may be able to buy/build a Yagi to get that sweet stop to blaze in just like you want it to :) but use up all your options before you give in
As I said in my first post, I'm using a homebrew roll-up J-Pole antenna which is tuned for 144-148 but still very low SWR at 152. It had been going to my ECHOLINK ham node but I yanked it off for testing this scanner since the VA STARS is so close to 2M and I knew that antenna picks up repeaters sufficiently to talk to King George, Arlington, Spotsylvania, and Culpepper from it's location in Fredericksburg, VA. It's still 3:1SWR at 152.000 (just checked it) so I would expect it to be well-enough-tuned for the STARS system.

A Yagi is on my todo list but I haven't had time (currently constructing a train layout at the same time as programming this scanner I picked up from RatShack closing). My one worry using a Yagi is I may pick up STARS at the cost of losing a lot of other analog things I want to scan that I can currently pick up very strong (Fredericksburg Fire-EMS, Stafford Fire-EMS, King George Fire-EMS, Spotsy's EDACS Trunk system, Railroad, HAM repeaters). Given the choice, I'd rather can the VA digital system scanning from here and be able to hear the rest of everything I've listened to for years.

Try adding Rumford 151.48250
Zip on 151.4825...it very occasionally breaks squelch but if I turn the squelch out all the way it's just dead air static, I can't hear any of the digital signal.
 

reconrider8

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#13
Ahh OK what kind of train layout are you building? And maybe you could find a cheap analog scanner to run the other analog systems you speak of
 

tglendye

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Virginia
#14
Are you downloading from RR database to Win500? I would try to create scanlist with only the CC's for each of the closest sites to your location. In other words, CC's for Independent Hill, Dumfries, Edgehill and Thornburg in their own, individual scanlist.

Then you may want to try each scanlist individually and see which the best results are in various locations in your apartment. I've found that STARS is a different animal, especially with a handheld scanner. I think it is due to the combination of a digital signal on VHF-hi, that makes it a little more difficult to receive, but once you lock on to a CC, it's great.
 
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Washington DC, Alexandria/Fairfax County /Loudoun
#15
Are you downloading from RR database to Win500? I would try to create scanlist with only the CC's for each of the closest sites to your location. In other words, CC's for Independent Hill, Dumfries, Edgehill and Thornburg in their own, individual scanlist.

Then you may want to try each scanlist individually and see which the best results are in various locations in your apartment. I've found that STARS is a different animal, especially with a handheld scanner. I think it is due to the combination of a digital signal on VHF-hi, that makes it a little more difficult to receive, but once you lock on to a CC, it's great.
I agree, STARS is very tricky to program manually but don't give up.
 
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#16
Confirmed it's location...if I take the scanner outside and walk to the top of the hill my apartment complex is down I get everything strong and it shows full 5 bars on the signal meter.
 
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Messages
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Location
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#17
Ahh OK what kind of train layout are you building? And maybe you could find a cheap analog scanner to run the other analog systems you speak of
N-scale trains, just a simple thing to play with in my apartment. I have a lot of trains and snap-track but my roomate's dog would do a number on them if I set up on the floor...and trains are another very expensive hobby to go with Amateur Radio and Scanning.

I already have a Pro-97, I picked up the 651 because it was on clearance-going-out-of-business at 2 of the 3 local RadioShack stores for $200 which is only minimally more than the older Analog scanners...I didn't *need* it but my Pro-97 was a gift and means a lot to me so I want to take good care of it, and it's taken a number of hits being dropped "in the field" and falling off tables. I do rather like that this can do remote-monitoring, that alone is a nice bonus I didn't know about!

Are you downloading from RR database to Win500? I would try to create scanlist with only the CC's for each of the closest sites to your location. In other words, CC's for Independent Hill, Dumfries, Edgehill and Thornburg in their own, individual scanlist.

Then you may want to try each scanlist individually and see which the best results are in various locations in your apartment. I've found that STARS is a different animal, especially with a handheld scanner. I think it is due to the combination of a digital signal on VHF-hi, that makes it a little more difficult to receive, but once you lock on to a CC, it's great.
I agree, STARS is very tricky to program manually but don't give up.
I don't have a premium subscription so I can't "import" from RadioReference...have to copy it to Excel then copy that to Win500 and upload to the scanner. I got the talkgroups loaded and have been mucking around with control channels, site frequencies, and multi-site settings.
 
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Messages
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Charlottesville
#19
mmiller7: Keep that Pro97! I have one here on my desk, like you I have rail channels in it. The best part is the extended coverage of the receiver and I have loaded bunches of military air freqs in it just in case.

Good luck with the STARS problem, it really is a great system with pretty good coverage. I use a Uniden '396 here.
 

KD4IIW

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Messages
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Spotsylvania,VA
#20
Stars Fredericksburg

You're in Fredericksburg? I am in Spotsylvania. You should have no trouble entering the control channel for Thornburg site. I also have a PRO-651.

Let me know if you have any further problems.
 
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