Scanning Suggestions from Ben Saladino KC5IRJ

Scanning Trunked Systems

Time It Right

If you are trying to learn more about how a public safety department is equipped or staffed, keep in mind common shifts.

Most local fire departments work a 24 hour shift followed by 48 hours off. Their shifts are usually named A, B, and C. Firefighters check their equipment daily including their radios, so you'll get a good idea of what apparatus the department has, as well as what radios are on each piece. Most station receiver and radio checks are done in the morning after the shift begins, usually 0700 to 0830. Many departments also do station receiver checks in the evening between 1800 to 1900. Also you might hear "home receiver" tests, which are intended for volunteers who have pagers tuned to the departments frequency.

Police departments typically work 8 hour shifts with the first shift starting at 0700, the second at 1500, and the third at 2300. They'll often make the shift part of a unit number. For example, the third (evening) shift senior officer will be "320", and other officers will be 321, 322, 323, and so on.

Finally, the civil defense sirens are normally tested at 1300 on the first Wednesday of every month. Most are activated by radio with the help of DTMF or other control tones.

Knowing when all of these routine transmissions happen can be a big help when you are searching for a new frequency. Since there is not as much activity, especially on some rural departments' frequencies, it may help nail down an otherwise elusive frequency.

Deductive Listening

When searching and you find a frequency but don't know who it is. Listen to the street and building names, have your MapsCo street finder out. Cross reference the streets you hear with information in published frequency books like Police Call from Radio Shack or Spectrum CD-ROMs.

Listen to the Media

If something big is going down, chances are the TV news is already there or on the way. With all the trunking going on in the big cities, it's tough to listen to so many users on so many systems. I imagine most news crews are privileged to have trunked radios to monitor the airport and other big trunked systems around. Plus most have tip lines now, so if they didn't hear it on the scanner, they'll go if it's news worthy.

Use Lots of Scanners

For this area, you need lots of scanners to know what's going on. I dedicate a few to monitoring certain frequencies. One is strictly for new media and CareFlite, so if there's activity on it, something exciting is probably happening.

Ham It Up in Bad Weather

Even if you aren't a ham (amateur) radio operator, you can still benefit from those who are. Some hams participate in the local SkyWarn nets to report and warn of severe weather. The SkyWarn frequencies will be hopping soon as the annual Spring storms attack. Of course the National Weather Service is always a good frequency to have. For Fort Worth it's 162.55.

SkyWarn Frequencies
County Frequency
Tarrant 146.94 and 146.76, and 442.975
Dallas 146.88, 146.96 (backup), 442.075 (Dallas REACT)
Denton 146.92
Collin 147.18
Ellis 145.41
Parker 147.04
Wise 146.98

I'm not positive on the counties other than Dallas and Tarrant, so check them out before it's too late.

See also

Current Weather Conditions, RADAR, Forecasts, KB5SCM HomePage and HamCom 96 HomePage

Take a Field Trip

Visit your local police and fire department's dispatch center.

If you're into aviation, visit the Fort Worth Center south of D/FW airport at 360 and Amon G. Carter BLVD. Call ahead to setup a visit. There's an aviation shop in Meacham Airport's terminal that has all sorts of aviation maps and equipment. It's a great source for frequencies.

D/FW International Airport has a public view area with tower radio on a public address system. It's located on the southeast part of the airport. From the south of the airport, exit right (east) on Airfield DR before you get to the toll booths. Follow Airfield DR past the administration building. Turn left on 30(Carbon) follow until you see Founders Plaza. It's open 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily. Call 214-574-6701 for more details. There's FREE parking, telescopes, radio on the p.a., and a great view to operations at D/FW Airport. Don't forget your ear plugs!

D/FW International Airport Founders Plaza

Other Favorite Scanning Resources

Antenna Answers

Fort Worth and Dallas MapsCo street finders.

Police Call frequency list and good introduction to scanning basics - available at Radio Shack

PerCon Spectrum CD-ROM with FCC frequency list

Aviation maps


The good old local library

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