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Radio Scanner Guide


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Part 9A: What's in a Name? 
Police Scanner, Radio Scanner or Scanner Radio?

Police scanner, radio scanner, or simply scanner?  All three terms refer to the same device, a wideband radio-receiver capable of hearing two-way communications in the VHF and UHF radio bands.  Most hobbyists simply refer to them as "scanners."  However, the term has always confused non-listeners, who ask questions like, "What exactly does it scan?"  With the rise of computers and their related peripheral devices, the term "scanner" is more likely to be associated with a document imaging scanners than radios.  Most people are more likely to know scanners as "police scanners" as law enforcement is consistently the most popular listening target.  Many members of the public are unaware of the vast amount of other radio services that can be heard - such as auto racing and aircraft - on our "police scanners".  Several vendors used to call  "Scanner radios" although now the term "radio scanner" has gained popularity.   

Scanners inherit their name largely from their original function - scanning among multiple frequencies to find active communications.  Police and other two-way radio users typically transmit in an intermittant fasion, with each transmission lasting only the duration of the communication.  Readers interested primarily in picking a scanner to hear police, fire, and other 2-way uses should refer to Part 3A: Land-mobile or view the table below. 

The table below lists the broad types of radio systems used for police communications.  For each system type, the table lists scanner categories that can hear that system.  For example, all scanners in category 5 can hear digital APCO-25 systems.  All scanners in categories 4 and 5 can hear analog trunked radio systems.  Please click on the category numbers to view scanners in that category.

Type of Radio System Scanner Categories
Conventional (Not trunked), Analog (FM), non-800 MHz (such as 154, 453, or 460 MHz) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Conventional (Not trunked), Analog (FM), on 800 MHz 3, 4, 5, 6
Trunked Radio System, Analog (FM) 4, 5
Trunked Radio System, (APCO-25 format only, other digital formats not supported) 5

* Scanners in Category 3 will receive 800 MHz conventional systems and will receive the audio on analog trunked radio systems, but cannot track conversations on trunked systems as they move across frequencies.




Part 9: More Information

Part 9B: History

© COPYRIGHT 2005, 2006, 2010 Matthew Hurst; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, except certain photos.   Terms of Service    Linking Policy

© COPYRIGHT 2005, 2006, 2010 Matthew Hurst; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, except certain photos.   Terms of Service    Linking Policy