Ben's Beginner Buyer's Guide for Scanners

07/20/2009

I've had lots of requests for my thoughts on particular scanners, and often haven't had any personal experience with them to make a decent reply. This little buyer's guide might help you make a more informed decision when purchasing a scanner.

Generally speaking, for the Dallas/Fort Worth Area my recommendations for what scanner you should buy are the Uniden BCD396XT for a handheld or the Uniden BCD996XT for a base or mobile. They offer the best value scanner that can follow the many trunked radio systems in the area, and they can be computer controlled and programmed. As of 7/20/2009 There are still only a few digital trunked systems in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area, but more and more systems will be upgraded to digital. Digital capable scanners are available(including those suggested above) that can monitor APCO Project 25 (P25) flavors of digital. There are some other digitals systems, like the Ericsson ProVoice trunked system used as D/FW Airport that are not, and probably won't be scannable anytime soon, if ever. If you don't need digital, the Uniden BCT346XT (handheld) and the Uniden BCT15X (mobile/base) are great scanners that will fit the budget a little better.

I currently own the following scanners.

Base/Mobile

Uniden , BCD996XT, BCD996T, BC780XLT, BC796D, BC895XLT, Radio Shack Pro-2066, Pro-2052, OptoElectronics OptoCom to use with Trunker.exe

Hand-held

Uniden Bearcat BCD396T, BCD396XT, 235XLT, BC245XLT TrunkTrackers, Radio Shack Pro-97

Amateur Transceivers

Kenwood TH-D7 handheld

Kenwood TH-78A handheld (It's not a scanner either, but has some scanning features.)

Kenwood TMD-700A(x2) base/Mobile 2M/.70CM

Things You Should Consider

Coverage

Coverage is the range of frequencies that a scanner will tune in. Knowing what you want to listen to is critical to buying a scanner you'll enjoy. For example, if you want to listen to 220MHz amateur radio, military aviation, CB radio, or TV audio, then your choices will be few. Most scanning is probably public safety and commercial aviation, so that won't be a problem for most of you because most scanners cover the frequencies typically used in those areas.

Don't forget to consider the modes that a scanner features.

FMN (Frequency Modulation Narrow) Most two-way public safety and commercial
AM (Amplitude Modulation) Aviation, CB, and broadcast radio
FMW (Frequency Modulation Wide) Television audio and broadcast radio
CW (Continuous Wave) Amateur and other HF frequency users
SSB (Single Side Band) Lower or Upper Sideband CB, Amateur Radio

I'm not an expert on the last two, and have rarely if ever needed them for the scanning I do. FMN and AM are a must, and FMW is nice to have.

If you don't know what you want to scan, check out my frequency list to get a better idea of what's out there.

Selectivity

Selectivity refers to how well a scanner tunes in the specific frequency you want to hear while blocking out nearby frequencies. In heavy radio traffic areas like Dallas/Fort Worth, there are lots of active frequencies, so good selectivity is important.

Sensitivity

Sensitivity refers to how well a scanner receives weak signals. Sensitivity and selectivity are somewhat opposed. Depending on where you listen and where the transmitter is, this may not be an important factor. For myself, living between Dallas and Fort Worth is a great spot to hear a lot of activity without having to worry too much about how far away or weak a signal is.

Memory

Most newer scanners use "dynamic memory" or something similar where the number of memories are not limited llike the old number of channels per bank method. For the D/FW Area there are tons of channels that you can scan, so having plenty of memory makes it easy to switch around to what you want to hear without having to reprogram the scanner. All of the scanners that I recommend in the opening section of this page have more than enough dynamic memory for the area, and then some. Groups of similar channels are organized in such a way that you can easily enable and disable "systems" so that you can focus your scanning on what interests you. If you spend most of your time in Tarrant county, you'll probably want to lockout Dallas county stuff, but have it available if you end up over that way. Some of the scanners can even be connected to GPS, and do this automatically.

Computer Control

This use to be something you had to look for, but most computers today include computer control and the ablity to program all of that memory from a computer.

Programs like, FreeScan (available at http://scannow.org/) make programming thousands of channels a real breeze. It and other programs can even program your scanner based on information found on www.RadioReference.com saving you all sorts of time, especially if you'll be traveling to a place where you haven't scanned before.

Base, Mobil, or Hand-held

Base scanners stay at home, mobiles are for cars, and hand-helds go everywhere you go. What more can I say?

TrunkTracking

Yes, if you live is this area, you want a TrunkTracking scanner. See Trunking for more details. Motorola, EDACS (narrow & wide), and LTR are types of trunked systems used in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.


Return to Scanning the Dallas/Fort Worth Area.