Notes from a newb: Learn from my mistakes

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paulmohr

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Jul 12, 2017
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Adrian MI
I thought I would jot down and share some of the things I have learned and discovered in the first week or so of picking out and owning a new trunking scanner. Maybe someone else can learn from my mistakes or misconceptions. And those with more experience can maybe get a laugh from it. Believe it or not I do have a pretty good sense of humor and don't mind being poked fun at. I know it wouldn't seem that way after my argument in another thread, but that is pretty out of character for me. Not sure what hit a nerve with on that one.

If you or a family member had a scanner back in the 80's and 90's, or if you have never had any experience with them there is a learning curve. The technology has changed quite a bit and things don't work quite like you think they would.

First of all, do your homework and research. I don't really think any of the newer scanners in the $300 and up range are junk. However they do have various features and capabilities that you might need or would be useful to you. Like say for instance you live in Michigan and wanted to listen to railroad systems. You pretty much have two options, the TRX-1 and TRX-2, because they are the only scanners that can handle the system some railroads are on. I think it's called NDXD, I may have the letters in the wrong order. Then some systems are DMR, which not all scanners do. Then there is APCO Phase I and II. So the moral of the story is know what you want to listen to, research what systems are in your area and make sure the scanner you get can receive them. Don't be afraid to ask either. Either in this forum or the forum for your state, start a thread and give your location and what you are interested in hearing. You may find out you don't need anything real fancy, or you may find you need the most feature rich one. Heck you may even find out most of your area is encrypted and you wouldn't hear anything no matter what you bought.

I also discovered that programming them really is not that hard. At least not on my Uniden 325p2. I downloaded some free software, watched a few videos, asked a few questions and played around with it. Within in a day I had a pretty good handle on it. Oh, a RadioReference subscription helps too, so you can access the database. You can do it manually, but it is pretty time consuming. I think I could re set my scanner and program it in about 15 mintues now, maybe half an hour if I wanted to get fancy with the layout. I can't say how easy or hard other models are since I don't own any of them. I doubt they could be a whole lot harder though. You might have to buy the software though. And some of them come with the RR database pre installed on an SD card. You can put in your zip code and it should at least get you headed in the right direction. It is possible you might get a bunch of channels you really don't want that way.

I am NOT saying don't bother with having it pre programmed or that it is a waste of time and money. Depending on your situation it may be well worth it to you. If you are not very good with a computer, like you can figure out how your email works, how facebook works or Youtube you might find this frustrating. Or if you are really impatient, don't like technical stuff and just want to turn it on ;and listen to it. In that case the 40 or 50 dollar charge might be worth it to you. Finding the best deal on a bare bones package from some fly by night company is not always the best choice for every person. I paid about 100 dollars more for my scanner then I could have if I shopped around on the internet. I do not regret it though. I got mine from a local shop that installs and repairs systems for the police and fire department. It was in stock, the guy programmed it with exactly what I wanted to listen to and updated the firmware. I got to see it work before I paid for it, and he showed me the basic functions before I left the store. I came home, turned it on and it worked. I was picking up my local police and fire department. Which is what I wanted. I have read some threads on here were people have not been happy. Maybe what they ordered isn't what they thought it was after seeing it in person. In some cases they couldn't figure out how to get it up and running and programmed. It either took them a few days to sort it out, or had to have someone else do it for them. And in some cases people have gotten stuff that was either broke or just didn't work out of the box. That is the down side to mail order, always has been, even before the internet.

Also as I said before, a lot has changed since the 80's and 90's. Don't expect to hear everything you thought you would. Police don't rely on their radios as much as they used to. They have computers in their cars and cell phones they can talk directly to other agencies or people with. Gone are the days of Smokey and the Bandit where police used hopped of versions of a CB and heavily relied on their radios. Sometimes now all you might hear from a traffic stop is the officer telling dispatch he has stopped, and the type of car and maybe the plate number. Then a little while longer that he or she is "clear". They used their in car computer to do everything else. I still hear quite a few names and vehicles being ran by dispatch though, so it still happens. Especially if there ends up being a warrant or some kind of issue. Also in my area they don't seem to use a lot of 10-codes and stuff anymore. They just pretty much talk normal.

Something else I have gotten a crash course in is antenna's and reception. In some cases people are trying to listen to frequencies from 30-900mhz. One cheap little antenna is not going to cover all those bands very well. Even if it is an after market one. Most people if they just want to listen to police, fire and rescue are going to be trying to get 150.00, 450.00 and 850mhz. Unless everything in your area has switched to Apco systems, then I think it is probably mostly 850mhz. If you are living in a small city figure on maybe 10 miles of range from the stock antenna. Maybe more, maybe less, it varies by location and possibly the model of scanner you get.

And as I found out yesterday, even with a good antenna you still might not pick up a trunked system you want to hear if it is out of range. I guess they specifically design them to have limited coverage so they don't bleed over to other areas and counties. Makes sense from their end I guess. So look at the database to see what is in your area and what the coverage for each site is. If you look at the trunked system section of the database for your area it will list all the sites and towers. Click on the name of the city or county, or the ID and it will show you a map of the coverage area for that particular tower or area.

For instance, I wanted to listen to the state highway patrol just outside of detriot. It is about 40 miles from me and is on a statewide trunked system. I figured since I could pick up a system tower near me I could hear the whole state. NOPE, doesn't work that way. I can pick up analog signals from detroit, but not a chance on a 800mhz tower from the michigan trunked system. And it is because they designed it that way so it would not interfere with other areas that they don't need to communicate with. Great idea for them, kind of sucks for us huh. I also learned that some of the people on this site apart from knowing a bit about scanners, now a LOT about antenna's and receivers. This site is worth joining just for that knowledge base on its own.

I also found you can overscan, at least that is what I call it lol. Meaning that you scan too many channels and or too large of an area. When I got my scanner I wanted it to hear the local police, fire and ems. Maybe the local state highway patrol. Then I fell into the trap of seeing how far I could reach, and how many channels I could get. What happened is I was scanning so many channels and getting so many hits from out of my area I was actually missing the local calls I WANTED to hear. I got so excited once I learned how to program the scanner I filled it with stuff from all around me. And I didn't lay it out in a manor that made it easy to shut stuff down.

I really wanted a base/mobile unit too. I just planned on plugging it in in my basement and listening to it at night. However I kind of actually like the hand held unit. If I want to toss it in the car, or I can take it outside if I want. Heck I even mowed the lawn with it today. Need to get some cheap headphones or earbuds though. My B&W headphones got yanked off my head by a low tree limb lol.
 
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Basement Dweller, Huntley IL
I've found that you need to experiment constantly with various antennas, the scanner's settings, write down what works well with what on what scanner, etc, continuous adjustments. Especially with digital APCO P-25 trunking systems and trying to sort out why you can't get a particular Talkgroup or a certain tower. Daily tweaking, daily learning. Often I go back to using the 800MHz RS Antennas on the scanners while inside the house and it works better than any of the 4 misc others in the attic each on their own 25ft of RG6 and one on a booster.

The best deals on cable can be found at your local Goodwill store. I have found 100' ft of Comcast or Dish TV cable (from toss outs) can usually be found for around $10.00 a bundle (or less if you haggle) and that is RG6 or better good for 1GHZ! I took 5 of these myself one day at a local store. Cut to whatever you want and get screw on ends.

I use my old scanners (many) for VHF channels and the new digital ones just for the digital channels. As you have found, a portable scanner is a much more useful device! I usually have at least 3-4 "On" at a time, two for VHF channels, two on digital only. You miss so much with only one scanner, this is true. And people ask me why I have so many, like I'm crazy. Batteries, I buy high quality rechargeables in bulk, Amazon or Ebay, and a decent adjustable delta peak charger or two. Skip the local store, the markup is terrible.

I am going thru the same thing as you, my Mom is 87, she is now an invalid, she doesn't leave home. I have to do "Everything" now, cook, clean, shop. I was fired 10 years ago and completely unprepared emotionally for this "forced into retirement" thing. I am a tech person. Took a long time, but it worked itself out. You can't hold a 12 hour job 60 miles away and be a 24 hr. Caregiver at the same time. Which is more important? I have plenty of time now to listen to scanners all day. Your job now is Caregiver, be grateful. You don't know what you can do until you try. You can do it. Faith in yourself! Best wishes to you.
 
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paulmohr

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Location
Adrian MI
I feel for you, luckily my mom is not that bad. Physically she is in great shape and still does everything herself, except drive if I can help it lol. She still gardens, cook, cleans and helps mow the lawn. It is hard to slow her down some days, and she is 75! Her mind is just a little goofy is all. She has trouble remembering anything, asks the same questions over and over, and constantly looks for one her ex husbands. My only real complaints are she won't leave me alone, always talking or asking questions lol. And I can't really leave her alone so I don't have much of a social life. Which is ok with me because I am disabled because of social anxiety and depression. It it wasn't for her I would probably never leave the house anyway. She did fall down the basement steps last month though. I she must have thought it was the bathroom door or something at 5 in the morning. Fell down a full flight of steps and smacked her head on the floor at the bottom. Didn't break a single bone! Bruised every thing on her poor little body though. She got back up and walked up the steps to go to the bathroom before the ambulance arrived. She is tough little thing.

And yes, I have had my scanner for only a few days and I am already thinking of getting another one, go figure. I have all these airsoft rifles on my wall and I keep wondering what I could get for them. The next scanner will probably be a TRX-2 though. I will just save up my money and wait for a good deal. I am really surprised there is not some kind of scanner card you can get for your computer. That would be freaking awesome.
 

Ubbe

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Stockholm, Sweden
I am really surprised there is not some kind of scanner card you can get for your computer. That would be freaking awesome.
Its been available for ages. But I guess there is so much interfering datasignals in a computer it will make it diffcult to use and I guess that is the reason why it haven't cought on.

/Ubbe

https://www.winradio.com/home/g305i.htm

Convert your desktop PC into a most sophisticated radio monitoring station! The WiNRADiO WR-G305i is a software-defined PC-based wideband scanning receiver covering a frequency range from 9 kHz to 1800 MHz (expandable to 3500 MHz with an optional downconverter).

 
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Basement Dweller, Huntley IL
There is a company making these called WinRadio. When I was working well, I almost bought one. (WR G305i) It is a PCI card that goes into your PC slot or a it also comes as a USB portable brick. They are super high quality, mil spec and they start at $800 plus. Add extended coverage, add APCO P-25 and you exceed $900 easy. The govmt uses these. I lusted bad after one. (UBBE beat me to it) But you still need a laptop or PC to run it, and you still need a really good external antenna. I could have 3 portable digital scanners for the price of one of those. That is what I did. But there is this thing called SDR radio, which is similar to this setup but of inferior (really cheap) quality. But it does the same thing! The difference is in the specs, the SDR/USB dongle is just a toy for messing around with.

I have two cheap SDR rxer "dongles", each about $25.00 from Amazon. These plug into USB jacks and come with a little antenna. Each dongle was used to receive UK TV broadcasts, but because of the extreme wide range of these things, they are used for cheap scanners now. You use these as a software defined radio rx'er with your PC, not a NTSC/ATSC TV (USA) tuner. Mine had a tiny TV remote too, useless for a scanner. You need a program like SDR Sharp, or I use GQRX with Linux/Ubuntu. There is a windows version and it works the same. I have used it too and I like both versions. It is free and very useful. GQRX works, but a steep learning curve. But you can't really use it as a scanner, (there is a plug in to do this, I didn't try) The USB dongle lets you monitor one frequency at a time, VHF/UHF analog, it does not do trunking, nor APCO P-25. For that you need two units and it gets over the deep end real fast. You can see the spectrum easy and you see the RF signals appear once you get the software setup and it will give you basic analog audio too thru your laptop/PC speaker once setup. But it is a struggle with the driver, as the "original" driver does not work if you use this "dongle" as a scanner. The scanner driver is not recognized by Windows, so it won't let you load it at all, and you go round and round for days of confusion. You download a screwy driver and this works. But the software leaves you guessing as to how to use it all as an SDR radio. Read all the tutorials, read the online manuals, trial and error. After a few days, you figure out the settings.

I have two NooElec NESDR Mini 2+ 0.5PPM TCXO RTL-SDR ADS-B USB Stick w RTL2832.

You get to see the RF spectrum, see the actual RF signal modulation (the waterfall is pretty but just useless) and you can also see the subcarriers and FM pilot signal and RDS data on the FM broadcast stations. Just Wow! for me. Look up SDR radio in the Wiki here. I have used these dongles for just mostly looking at the radio spectrum, or to examine a signal (especially FM broadcasting) but they are not really a scanner. They are a RF signal examination tool. For the price of one, ($25) you get a cheap spectrum analyzer and any scanner buff always has one.

My Mom used to be like that until she hit her 80's. 8 yrs now in a walker. A nurse comes to visit every us every other day. The meds (all eight) are affecting her thinking too. But she's still here. And the new hospital is just a few blocks away. Take care of her at home now, your job. Please keep her out of the nursing home.
 
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paulmohr

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Jul 12, 2017
Messages
171
Location
Adrian MI
I am going to guess this is a bit over kill:

17 systems
29 sites
73 groups
918 channels
Spanning 8 counties and two states

All of them were turned on at the same time lol.

I ended up giving each county it's own system and quick key so I can toggle them on and off depending on where I am at.

I have a Garmin Nuvi 2797 in the car, but I don't think it will work with the scanner. I haven't found any documentation saying what gps will work with scanner, but my scanner has a mini usb port, as does my GPS. So I would need a mini usb to mini usb cable just to connect them to find out. And if I did connect them that way then I wouldn't be able to power the Scanner with the usb port in my car. It would have to run on batteries the whole time.
 

jonwienke

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I am going to guess this is a bit over kill:

17 systems
29 sites
73 groups
918 channels
Spanning 8 counties and two states

All of them were turned on at the same time lol.

I ended up giving each county it's own system and quick key so I can toggle them on and off depending on where I am at.

I have a Garmin Nuvi 2797 in the car, but I don't think it will work with the scanner. I haven't found any documentation saying what gps will work with scanner, but my scanner has a mini usb port, as does my GPS. So I would need a mini usb to mini usb cable just to connect them to find out. And if I did connect them that way then I wouldn't be able to power the Scanner with the usb port in my car. It would have to run on batteries the whole time.
That is not an excessive scanlist if you have everything tagged with GPS coordinates and Location Control enabled. My 436 probably has 10x that much stuff in my favorite lists, but Location Control keeps what is scanned at any given time down to a manageable level.

Your Nuvi will not work as a GPS for the scanner. The GPS input for the scanner is NOT the mini USB port used to power the scanner, it is a second port which requires a NMEA serial input to be recognized by the scanner. Uniden sells a GPS kit for about $70, but it requires a second 12V outlet and a bunch of extra wiring. Alternatively, you can mod your scanner with an internal GPS for about $25 in parts, or have one installed for about the same price as the Uniden kit. Look at the GPS threads in the Uniden Tech Support forum for more info.
 
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