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Scanning Tips for 800MHz
James Prine (

First off, you need to use a scanner with full 800 MHz coverage. Not only the full 800 MHz region itself, but the scanner must be capable of receiving the scanning steps peculiar to the 800 MHz region, such as 30 khz steps (scanning increments) or the 12.5 khz steps as well. Lesser quality receivers will not allow this. More importantly, the scanner must receive frequencies such as 856.2375 without rounding off to a higher or lower frequency such as 856.240 or 845.235...if your scanner 'rounds off' that way you will hear only a minute amount of actual 800 MHz traffic.

As with any monitoring setup you should use the highest quality materials and equipment you can afford. Always adhere to safe operating practices, particularly when setting up antennas and power cords and other electrical equipment.

Radio Shack, AOR, Uniden and other manufacturers offer excellent quality scanners and these are often offered at a discount, particularly discontinued and desk models. For quality 800 MHz operations make certain you buy a receiver with a large quantity of memory channels available. Some inexpensive receivers can be modified to receive 200 or more channels and newer receivers, particularly when modified or mated with a personal computer and appropriate software, can store several THOUSAND channels. These channels can be grouped into various operating modes and when used correctly and mated with proper recording equipment an individual can become, in effect, a low-budget 'National Security Agency".

So, when you have selected and set up your equipment, put up a good external antenna and appropriate coax cable, you are ready to listen to the 800 MHz traffic (as well as all the other frequencies in the radio spectrum if you have a high-tech new receiver!). How do you know where to find the 800 MHz frequencies? True, it is not as easy as it was in the 'old days' takes some real detective work, monitoring, recording, and putting your knowlege to work to find the active frequencies in your area. More and more police, fire, and other Public Service entities are moving up to 800 MHz for various reasons. If you're fortunate you can locate a local scanning club and get a list of frequencies in use in your area. Try electronics stores, Amateur Radio organizations, police communications personnel, and others to find the frequencies to monitor. Or you can acquire a frequency counter and explore around and find frequencies that way, too. Often information can be found on computer bulletin boards.

If you still cannot get the information you need, do what I do...sit down and use your radio and some common sense. Let your scanner 'search' the 800 MHz frequency this at night when most of the commercial traffic is off the air if you want police, fire, and other Public Service frequencies. You will find a number of active 'data channels' in use if there are 800 MHz trunks active in your area. These 'data channels' give off a distinctive noise. Write down the EXACT frequency of each channel. Go through the entire 800 MHz band if you need to. At the end of your search you might have one or two in a small area or dozens (or more) in a large metro area. This little list of frequencies and some homework will give you the frequencies you need! Each trunk system has a number of channels allocated to it. At any given time at least one of those channels is used as the 'data channel'. Guess what...that frequency changes from day to day, often once every 24 hours or so. So a channel used as the data channel today might well be a different channel tomorrow. Now the good part...on any given trunk there are just so many frequencies (channels) allocated to it. These are usually just One (1) MHz apart from each other. So if you have identified a 'data channel' on, say, 815.2225 you can try assigning a memory channel to that frequency, then another at 816.2225, 817.2225, and so on, as well as 814.2225 and 813.2225. Some trunks have as few as four channels (remember one is always being used as the computer 'data channel') and some have as many as 20 channels. So now you know why you need to have such a large capacity for memory storage in your scanner (as well as a swift scan rate!). Make sure you don't invoke the 'delay' feature on your scanner. If you do you'll often miss routine traffic, since a conversation on one frequency often jumps through the frequencies as it follows its course.

In this way you can soon find the active channels in your area. Here in New Orleans, for example, certain portions of the New Orleans Police Department, as well as sections of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, have utilized 800 Mhz communications, as have the Orleans Levee District Police Department, the Harbor Police Department, the Slidell Police Department, Louisiana State Police, the New Orleans and Jefferson Parish Fire Departments, Federal law enforcement entities, and others, including civilian operations including Taxi companies, Tow-trucks, sales personnel, mechanics, air conditioner service personnel, ship chandlers, Amateur Radio operators, boating and shipping industry personnel, members of the news media, local colleges and Universities, and many others. For that reason alone (sheer numbers!) if you want Public Service frequencies it is far easier to monitor them at night when almost all of the other traffic is done for the day. A sound-activated cassette recorder is essential for recording while you're sleeping or otherwise engaged...I use a standard VCR as a recorder (remember, it can record for many hours and offers not only high-fidelity recording of audio but ease of setting recording times) and have never been unhappy with its operation.

So remember...get the best quality radio scanner you can afford and be sure it offers:

  • Full 800 MHz coverage.
  • Appropriate selection of 800 MHz frequency 'steps'
  • LOTS of Memory Channels
  • FASTEST scan rate you can find
  • Deactivate the DELAY feature!

Good luck!

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