A “police scanner” – even a modest one – can be used to listen to ham radio. No ham radio license is needed for this. There are a couple of things that one should do before you buy a police scanner to listen to ham radio. Here are some of the things I would consider:
- Determine your budget. I would LOVE to have a fancy scanner that can scan ANY frequency and can communicate with my PC, etc.. I happen to have a budget to live by as most people do. Yours may be different than mine but the concept is still the same. FIRST determine how much you are willing to spend on a police scanner to listen to ham radio without a license. (Hint – you can get a new police scanner to listen to ham radio without a license for somewhere around $100 for a good unit – new. For a GREAT scanner you can probably spend $1,000 or more. That’s quite a price range. While you do typically get what you pay for in electronics, you only need the basics to get started in ham radio scanning. Also remember that you can find many units on the used market. If you buy used you will probably never be fully sure of what quality you are getting since you probably won’t know FOR SURE how much it has been used, if it has been dropped, etc.. Again – you get what you pay for in electronics. If you buy – be sure to ask about return policy. Expect a return policy, but not always, if you buy a new police scanner. Return policies are less certain for used equipment. If there is a return policy then get it in writing and save your receipts.
- Determine the frequency RANGES and MODES you want to listen to. Tip – most modern day police scanners will be able to listen to basic ham radio FM transmissions. Remember that most sales people selling police scanners probably don’t really know much about ham radio transmission types. I know some do but probably not all do. For ham radio frequency ranges, go to www.ARRL.org and check for the latest authorized frequency lists. Read the ads for the police scanner for frequency ranges that it covers. Hint – use Google to search for the User Manual or Repair Manual for the police scanner. Make a chart on paper or on a spreadsheet if you need to.
- Determine how far you are from the type of ham radio frequencies you want to listen to. A good general resource for all sorts of scanner frequencies is http://www.radioreference.com/ . Another tip is to do a Google search for “ham radio repeaters” without the quotes. You will find pages and pages of good repeater resources. If you live in the middle of Mongolia then maybe there are no ham radio repeaters near you and it wouldn’t be worth buying a police scanner. If you live in New York City, Chicago, L.A., etc. then you are surely in luck. You probably are somewhere between these two extremes… And Mongolia – no insult intended.
- Determine if you need an outside antenna. Tip – if you live within about 30 miles of a good repeater, then try the police scanner without an outside antenna. Only buy the antenna if you seriously need it. My police scanner has been surprisingly sensitive and in most instances an outside antenna would not have enhanced my receive capabilities enough to compensate me for the time and cost to install the antenna.
- Order the police scanner and inspect it once it arrives. TIP – Take the time to completely read the user manual before getting frustrated trying to program the scanner. While there are some scanners that do come with all frequencies you need based on your location most require some input and / or programming. Do a little bit at a time. Be patient. Entering a lot of frequencies can take some time. Tip – think in advance how you want to organize your frequencies. Also make sure to RECORD outside of your police scanner what frequencies and modes are entered for each channel. Also include what is supposed to be on that frequency (police, ham radio, etc.).
- Take time to let the scanner work during a few days. Give the scanner enough time to find the frequencies you have programmed in. Some frequencies (like Chicago Police) may be very busy while it may be many days before you hear anything from some other frequencies that are properly programmed. Use Google to help you determine when ham radio nets are scheduled in your local city or surrounding areas. If you still don’t get any activity after following these steps, check your programming and as a last resort consider asking the dealer for help or a refund.
While I am a licensed ham radio operator I, as many ham radio operators do, use my ham radio to listen to ham radio frequencies as well as police frequencies. I keep my scanner near my TV and have my base station ham radio in another room. The police scanner allows me to monitor ham radio frequencies cheaply without having to buy another expensive ham radio. The police scanner also has it’s own internal power supply while my base station radio does not – another cost savings.
LAST TIPS – Make sure your entered frequencies will be saved if you unplug your scanner. Then, DO unplug your scanner during lightning storms unless you choose to listen to trained storm spotters and the like during lightning storms.
Stay Radio Active!
Jon Kreski – AB9NN – Appleton, Wisconsin / Green Bay, Wisconsin area
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