Scanning in 1990 – RF Scanner 101

Scanning in 1990 was so simple it involved 3 steps:

  1. Set scanner to manual
  2. Input desired frequency on the numeric keypad (such as 460.025)
  3.  Press the enter button to save the change
Old school Uniden BearCat 175XL
Old school Uniden BearCat 175XL

It really was that simple

… and still is that simple –  at least the fundamentals are that simple in 2016.

Every modern radio system is made up of frequencies and they’re just like the ones from 1990.  Notice the 460.025 frequency (aka: freq) in the adjacent image.  Assuming you’re located in a densely populated area, you could input that same freq in your scanner today and hear someone or something making noise because the same old freqs are still in use.  It was common in 1990 for 1 “agency” (think police precinct) to be assigned to 1 freq.  So here is what your scanning list looked like in 1990:

Channel 1 – 460.025
Channel 2 – 460.050
Channel 3 – 460.075
Channel 4 – 460.100

Most old school scanner functionality stopped here and left the translation up to you.  So you, the listener, had to know that Channel 1 was “Town Police Department”, Channel 2 was “Town Fire Department”, Channel 3 “Sheriff’s Department”, and on, and on.  This is where the simplicity of 2016 radio scanning changes.

Simple?  Then why is it so complicated to program modern scanners?

To de-complicate today’s scanning, I’ll build on the 3 simple steps from 1990 (presented above).  To make things more efficient, today’s radio systems (the term used for modern repeaters) share freqs with multiple agencies. So 1 freq (such as 460.025 MHz) may be used by 10 to 15 different agencies.  But these agencies don’t just share the 1 frequency – they share anywhere from 10 to 15 different frequencies.

Police Call 1990 (Old School) Edition. Police Call Radio Guide was the pre-internet commonly sold at Radio Shack stores.

It’s time to stop talking and start playing so get that shiny new scanner out.  Use the database to find your local police department freqs.  Just click here, choose your state from the map, then narrow down to your local county and city.  This will give you the freqs needed for your locale.

Next, use your scanner vendor website (such as to find instructions so you can manually input 1 freq as a “conventional” type – as opposed to trunked systems.  Once entered, turn the volume up and listen for a few minutes to hear audible chatter.

That brings us up to the next RF Scanning 101 post – Where 1990 scanning is exactly the same in 2016.

Note: If you happen to hear sound similar to a machine gun while listening in conventional mode, that means you found the control channel.  The control channel is the software running the shared freqs on the repeater, but that detail will be explained in the next post.