Police Scanners and Radios for Home and Personal Use: Part One
Getting the Radios and Equipment You Need to Hear What’s Going On Around YouAs a kid living in Alaska, I remember my dad’s police scanner. Anytime we saw flashing lights, we would turn it on and find out what was happening. That was back before cell phones existed, outside of giant cases with unreliable service. Technology has changed quite a bit since then.
Dad's old radio next to a Baofeng UV5R5
Unfortunately, because of easy access to police scanners, there is a ton of misinformation out there regarding crime, and most modern police scanners are prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, you can still monitor most police radio transmissions without investing much money. Broadcastify is the most common and popular way to listen in. You can listen online using a phone or computer and there are apps available to make it easier.
Here is the Broadcastify link to Jackson County, Oklahoma, the location of T-Firearms: https://www.broadcastify.com/listen/ctid/2160
As you can see in the feed’s notes, this link gives us access to most Altus EMS and police transmissions. Most online feeds will have a slight delay compared to actual radios, but they work and tune in well. However, you can monitor a number of other feeds that don’t show up in Boradcastify’s online feed. You can also run into issues with electrical and internet outages if you live rurally like I do.
Now, back to traditional scanners. You can use Radio Reference’s online site to figure out which frequencies local EMS and LEO agencies are using. This link shows all the frequencies local to Jackson County: https://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?ctid=2160.
In this case, the frequencies all fall within ranges that civilian HAM radios can monitor with Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) radios. Many standard UHF/VHF radios will receive on the136-174/400-520MHz frequencies. If you check your local area on Radio Reference, and local agencies are running communications on those frequencies, you can monitor them for reasonable prices.
Get a Baofeng UV5R5: https://amzn.to/2BRgRCb.
Download CHiRP here: https://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home
Get a programming cable. Don’t go cheap here: the low-quality cables either don’t work or break very easily, as I learned the hard way. Twice, because I’m hard-headed like that. I’ve linked a suitable cable here that works and doesn’t break the bank: https://amzn.to/2Dm35YH
Adding local frequencies to a Baofeng UV5R5 Stock Baofeng antennas are generally very bad. The best one I’ve found for general use is this one right here: https://amzn.to/2W94fwX.
With that basic set-up, you should be able to listen in on local radio chatter easily. It’s imperative to note that you can transmit on some Baofeng radios while listening to some channels. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite illegal to transmit on official government channels, period. They will find you and fine you heavily—at best. It’s something they take seriously.
Without getting deep into the legalities, it’s generally not permitted for the average person to transmit on civilian channels unless they have a Technical Ham License. Altus has a stellar ARRL Ham Radio Club full of knowledgeable Hams that are great at pointing you in the right direction if you want to get licensed. They’ve helped me tremendously in learning about the technical side of radios.
The contact info for the Altus Ham Radio Club is here: http://www.arrl.org/Groups/view/altus-area-ara/type:club
Naturally, if you want more information, feel free to message me on the T-Firearms Facebook page or swing by the shop. I’m an informed, amateur Ham at best, but I can at least point you in the right direction of people who know their stuff. If you give me some heads up, I’m happy to meet you at the shop to program your radios to monitor all the correct local channels.
Keep a lookout for the second part of this article, which will discuss vehicle set-ups and local Skywarn information.