Most people are familiar with commercial AM and FM radio broadcasts. AM broadcasts are in the range 530 KHZ to about 1600 KHZ (1.6 MHZ), while commercial FM broadcasts are in the range 88 MHZ to 108 MHZ. But, there is an entire world of radio out there which can be intriguing to listen to. For example, aircraft use the band 108 MHZ to 137 MHZ, the coast guard, some emergency services, government services etc. all use part of the radio spectrum which extends from about 100 KHZ right up to 5 GHZ. Most interesting communication is limited to below 1.3 GHZ. Listening to cellular or cordless telephones is strictly prohibited as is listening to pagers. Everything else is quite legal in most places.

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In the old days, analogue scanners allowed one to listen to any transmission simply by entering its frequency, or choosing a preprogrammed service bank which included that frequency in its range. Most analogue scanners allowed you to listen to emergency services, government departments, air traffic, marine vessel interaction, public transport, and other business two way radio communication. As the frequency spectrum became more crowded, new ways were sought to more efficiently use that spectrum. Trunked systems were introduced to allow many users to reuse a handful of frequencies, rather than having to assign unique frequencies for every user. This posed a problem for analogue scanners because a single frequency might be being used by the fire brigade one second, a data transmission from another government department the next, and another government service after that. This made following a conversation almost impossible as each transmission of a conversation could potentially be on a different frequency. Several such trunked services were devised, each with its own digital protocol. Except for the marine, air and citizen bands, the analogue scanner became much less useful.

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A digital radio scanner is a sophisticated wonder of modern technology. Not only does it allow one to follow the conversation on a digital trunked system, many support multiple digital protocols as well as still allowing the listener to hear conventional analogue transmissions.

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Uniden’s latest scanner released in Australia is the Bearcat BCD325 P2 TrunkTracker V Digital Scanner.

Key features include:

  • Trunk Tracker V
  • APCO 25 Phase 1 and Phase 2 Support
  • 25000 Dynamically Allocated Channels
  • Multi-Site Trunking
  • Control Channel Only Scanning
  • System/Channel Number Tagging
  • Band Scope Mode
  • Priority/Priority Plus Scan
  • Priority ID Scan
  • Adjustable Scan/Search Delay/Resume
  • Close Call™ RF Capture Technology
  • Location – Based Scanning
  • Temporary Lockout
  • GPS alerts
  • 100 Quick Key System Access
  • CTCSS/DCS codes
  • LCD Display
  • Box includes:
    1 x BCD325P2-AU Scanner
    1 x USB Connection/Charge Cable
    3 x AA Rechargeable Batteries
    1 x Strap
    1 x Belt Clip
    1 x Rubber Antenna

This scanner allows you to listen to frequencies in the following bands:

  • VHF Low 1 – Band 1 – 25-54MHz (CB radio 26-27 MHZ)
  • VHF Low 2 – Band 2 – 54-108 MHz (FM broadcast 88-108 MHZ)
  • Air Band-Band 3 – 108-137 MHz
  • VHF High1 – Band 4 – 137-225 MHz (Amateur radio 144-148 MHZ)
  • VHF High2 – Band 5 – 225-320 MHz
  • UHF-Band 6 – 320-512 MHz  (Amateur 430-450 MHZ, UHF CB 476-477 MHZ)
  • 800MHz+-Band 7 – 758-960MHZ

It supports the following trunking systems: analogue Motorola, Motorola Astro 25 (APCO 25) (Phase I and Phase II), P25 One-Frequency Trunk, EDACS, EDACS SCAT, and LTR.

Rather than having preprogrammed service banks like an analogue scanner, this scanner allows the user to create “systems”.

A system may be a conventional analogue system, in which case it contains named groups of frequencies, i.e. groups of related channels, or, it could be a trunked system. A trunked system contains sites, which in turn contain named groups of IDS. Rather than users of the system being assigned a frequency as in a conventional system, users are assigned talk group IDS, which uniquely identify them. As mentioned earlier, because of the trunking, the radio manages the frequencies behind the scenes. All you the user care about are the IDS of the talk groups you wish to listen to.

Because a trunked system may be a multi-site system, that is, contain multiple transmiters spread over a geographical area, even though each site may use a different set of frequencies, because they are part of the same trunking system, they use the same talk group IDS for users of the system.

As an example, we tested our unit in Adelaide, South Australia. In South Australia, the government uses the Government Radio Network (GRN) which is currently based on a Motorola Type 2 SmartZone Omnilink system (although this will be fully upgraded to an APCO P25 Digital System by 2017). This system has many sites spread around South Australia. We are in range of about 5-6 different sites. Though each site uses a unique set of frequencies, because each site transmits exactly the same information, we can use the same Talk Group IDS for the same groups in each site. Thus, we have programmed our system with the sites we are interested in.

Each site contains the services we are interested in listening to. Each service is a named group in the system. For example, the SA Country Fire Service (SACFS) may use a dozen Talk Group IDS. Thus, under our nearest site, we have a CFS group containing the IDS of all of the relevant talk groups. Each site has the same group with the same IDS.

As you may have guessed, programming the scanner with the various systems, sites, and groups is a very complex task. Fortunately the scanner can be programmed by connecting it to your computer with the included USB cable and setting up the systems, sites, and groups using some software from the Internet called Freescan (http://www.sixspotsoftware.com/products/freescan). You can obtain the latest databases of frequencies from www.radioreference.com for a small fee which is well worth it.

FreeScan scanner programming software available from "Sixspot Software"

FreeScan scanner programming software available from “Sixspot Software”

If you are too ambitious and download too much data to the scanner, it can quickly become overwhelming to manage. For example, in South Australia there are literally dozens of sites, many of which are nowhere near us. In order to avoid scanning these sites, it is necessary to familiarize yourself with some basic scanner operations. I admit that I had to read the manual about three times in order to grasp all of the options. I’ll summarize some of these options below.

Quick Keys

Each system, site and group can be assigned a quick key. Intuitively it sounds like this key would jump you to that system, site or group when pressed. This is not so. Quick keys toggle the inclusion of the system or group to which they are assigned on and off, i.e. include them or exclude them from being scanned when the scanner is in scan mode. Any system, site or group which does not have a quick key assigned is automatically included in the scan. Thus in order to toggle it to be included or excluded, it must be assigned a quick key.

The beauty of this however is that multiple systems, sites or groups can be assigned to the same quick key which means that you can include or exclude several systems, sites or groups with the press of a key.

Lockout

Confusingly, a site, group or group ID/channel (depending if you are in a trunked or conventional system) can also be locked out either temporarily (until you power off and on again) or until you unlock it. The manual is a bit vague about this lockout feature. Functionally it does the same thing as what a quick key does, but without having to assign a quick key to do it. Perhaps this would be a good feature to use for the dozens of sites which I’d never need to scan since I’m out of their range.

This lockout feature really comes into its own when the scanner is connected to a GPS receiver. Then, it will automatically lock out any sites not in range. This is good in theory, but in practise may actually be a problem at least in South Australia.

As we were testing the scanner, transmissions would often seem to be coming from sites which were way out of range. Initially I thought that the sites were misnamed in the database, but we discovered that local sites sometimes use a backup control channel which happens to correspond to the main control channel of those distant sites. This is not a fault of the scanner, but of the Government Radio Network control channel assignments. It does make using the GPS option not so reliable however because if the GPS was connected, those sites would have been locked out and we would have most likely missed the transmissions.

Numeric Tags

You can assign a number to each system, group or site. When the scanner is in hold mode, you can enter this number to jump directly to that system, site or group. This is what I thought the Quick Key did and it took a bit of experimenting and rereading the manual to figure out that the quick key was for toggling inclusion during scanning, while the numeric tag was actually the feature we were looking for to jump directly to a system, site or group when in hold mode.

Start-up Keys

Start-up keys allow you to quickly configure the scanner at power-on. Like quick keys, they toggle the systems, sites and groups you wish to be active when you turn the scanner on. Once assigned, you hold the key while powering on in order to make those systems active, and lock out all systems which have a different start up key. Note that all systems, sites and groups which do not have a start-up key assigned will be included in the scan.

Thus, once you’ve programmed the scanner, assigned quick keys, locked out the sites you’ll never need, and assigned numeric tags to the ones you want to jump to frequently, the scanner becomes quite easy to use.

Scanning Modes

There are several scanning modes. One can simply scan through frequencies in a range, or listen out for transmissions on preprogrammed talk groups in a trunked system, or, you can listen to every talk group in the system. There is also a very nice feature called Close Call Capture, which listens for any nearby transmissions on any of the selected bands, and immediately alerts or plays those transmissions, even without you having to know and pre-program those frequencies in advance. For example, if you go to the airport and want to listen to air traffic control, you could simply turn on the Close Call feature and anytime there was a transmission close by, you’d be notified. I tested this with a handheld CB radio and it worked flawlessly.

Overall, while this scanner’s manual was not as well organized as it could be, requiring several reads right through to understand how features interrelated, this scanner is a must have for anyone who likes to listen in to the world around them firsthand, and not have to rely on news services for local happenings.

The unit itself is very comfortable to hold in my hand – it isn’t too big or too small. The exterior shell isn’t made from metal but the hard moulded plastic is very solid and there are also moulded plastic grips on the side to make holding it easier. The LCD screen is large enough for me to read the data that comes up on the screen. The audio is very clear and can be adjusted to suit your preference. In terms of accessories, the unit does not come with earphones so you have to use your own but it does come with a wrist strap which stops you from losing or dropping the scanner. The belt clip is held on with two screws as opposed to a plastic slide-on attachment at the back which ensures that it’s not going to break easily.

To order yours, visit Uniden Australia’s website for a list of authorised stockists.