The Newbie’s Guide to Buying Radio Scanners

If you’re gong to buy a radio scanner, familiarity with its basic features is necessary. You also have to be aware of its legal status, when it can be used and its limitations.

What Can a Radio Scanner Do?

It depends on the type of radio you get. But most scanners let you tune in to authorities as they interrogate suspects and try to control hostile crowds. You can also tune in to paramedics and firefighters as they go about their tasks.

You can listen in to commercial aircraft and choppers as they fly. You can also hear military aircraft and race car drivers. Other services you can hear when you buy a radio include the National Weather Service, amateur radio operators and CB radio.

Are Radio Scanners Legal?

All the chatter you hear on scanners is legal. However, the law forbids using a radio scanner to listen in to cell phone conversations or encrypted communications. Most scanners cannot unscramble encoded communication messages.

Even if the scanner can pick them up, it is illegal to listen in. Some states also impose some limitations on using scanners while in the car. There are no legal restrictions when listening to radio scanners at home.

Before you buy a radio scanner, it’s a good idea to know something of the various accessories these scanners come with.

Flexible Antennas

Flexible antennas (also known as rubber ducks) are fitted on most radio. These are made of wire covered in rubber plastic. While commonplace, the reception can be weak at times. You need to look at different brands to find one that works for you.

Telescoping Whip Antenna

These are metal antennas constructed of short tubes. They are superior to rubber ducks in terms of performance.

Car Antennas

Also called mobile antennas, these are available in two types: magnetic mount and glass mount. When you buy a radio magnetic mount antenna, it will use the car’s plane to facilitate reception. The glass mounted antennas require an adhesive and must be attached to the window. The magnetic antennas provide a better signal.

Outdoor Antennas

These antennas are mounted on the roof like outdoor TV antennas. The higher the antenna is, the better the reception.

Coaxial Cables

These will be used to connect the antenna to the radio scanner. Avoid cables with high signal loss as this will result in poor performance.

Cables with tolerable loss are the following: G-59, RG-6, 9913, RG-213, Belden 8214 and RG-8. Do not use RG-174 and RG-58. Hardline cables provide excellent quality but are very expensive. They can also be quite difficult to set up. Get cables with connectors to reduce the use of adaptors.

Note: bands at the 450-470 and 800/900 MHz frequencies need cables with as low signal loss as possible.

It’s easy enough to buy a radio scanner these days. But unless you know the accessories available you won’t be able to maximize its use, so a little research will go a long way.

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