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How Radio Scanners Work

Getting Started With Your Scanner

Frequency lists are easy to obtain, often via the Internet. You can find a free frequency list for your area at this Web site.

If you buy a portable scanner, park near an airport sometime and search the VHF AM aviation-band range, from approximately 118 MHz to 135.975 MHz, to hear all the activity that is going on. In some areas, programming 123.45 MHz into your scanner will let you hear some pilot-to-pilot communications.


Many desktop models work on a 12-volt power supply, so a cigarette-lighter adapter will allow you to take one on a trip.

Community Service with a Scanner

Scanners have helped law enforcement track down criminals. For instance:

  • A scanner listener hears the police conversation about a recent robbery description, spots the perpetrator’s car and calls the police to report it.
  • A scanner listener hears criminal activity being discussed on the scanner and reports it to the local police.

Often, family members of those in fire protection, emergency medical services and law enforcement have a scanner so they can hear what is going on.

Scanner users sometimes receive negative publicity when they use information that they have heard for private personal gain. Be sure to obey the scanner laws when scanning.

Join a neighborhood watch team or a crime watch team and use the information you hear for awareness and safety.

Listening in via the Internet

If you wish to get a taste of radio scanning, and have a sound card in your PC, try the various radio scanner live broadcasts for police, fire, rail and aviation.

Reception over the Internet may be erratic when there is network congestion, but this is an inexpensive way to try out radio scanning via your PC and the Internet.

Scanner Tips

Once you buy a scanner, read the manual from cover to cover so you know all of the capabilities. Ask questions in one of the many scanner newsgroups on the Internet -- there are active USENET newsgroups that many scanner hobbyists visit. You can use or, easily accessed through your Web browser. Check out some of the scanning resources on the Internet, then try these tips:

  • Become a frequency collector. Start with index cards or perhaps a small database program on your computer. Learn how to do searches within a given band -- search a 1-MHz segment at a time and record the interesting frequencies you find.
  • Consider finding a way to run your radio from emergency power if you have a desktop model. That way, you can listen to police and fire crews during power failures and severe weather. Typically, a very small 12-volt battery is all that is needed.
  • Consider storing frequencies of a similar type all in the same bank. That way, if you just want to listen to police, fire, or aviation, you can scan just the frequency memory bank you're interested in and "lockout" the others.
  • Take your scanner on a trip and listen from the hotel or motel room.
  • Take your scanner to all sporting events where radios are used.
  • Listen to local amateur radio operators at 144 to 148 MHz. Volunteer ham radio spotters are often heard during a weather watch or a weather warning.

For lots more information on radio scanners and related topics, check out the links below!

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