From Across The Counter
Having Fun with your Home Scanner
By: Jim Sutton, N2OPS
Re-printed from National Communications magazine
In my years at the scanner counter most of the scanner listeners were of
the "I turn it on when I hear the siren" variety. Those who took their
scanner seriously usually had a special listening interest such as
railroads, fire departments, aircraft, law enforcement or special events.
Often the serious scanner listener would have a special strategy to
maximize his or her fun as a serious sports fan or collector would do for
their hobby. Over the years I learned of some really unique and fun
activities for scanner fun.
Don't be afraid to share the fun with your children, spouse or friends. This
might be just the activity that gets that disinterested individual excited
I've Been Working on the Railroad.
Rail fans have great opportunities to do role playing as a train dispatcher,
engineer, yard master or work crew. Equipped with a railroad map, the
railfan can follow the trains and keep a log of them just as a dispatcher
The talking detectors that replaced the caboose can get the listener started
in tracking trains. In a short time the patterns of rail traffic will be
apparent. Those who like to watch trains can schedule their safe viewing
much better when armed with the times and locations of the trains.
Train passing a milepost on the Norfolk Southern (former Conrail) line between
Buffalo and Corning, NY. With your scanner you can be behind the dispatcher's microphone
1. A good local railroad map. This can be obtained at a local train hobby
store or railroad show. A good local map will show mileposts, talking
detector locations, sidings, and other vital information.
2. A list of channels and frequencies with their exact use such as road,
yard, etcetra. The Betty Bearcat Frequency Directory and the Compendenum
of American Railroad Radio Frequencies are two sources. Often locally
produced scanner directories will have excellent lists of frequencies and
3. A good logging system consisting of either a good log book or software.
4. (optional) Engineer's hat.
Cleared for Takeoff.
Aviation fans have an entire radio band for their listening with an
asssortment of frequencies that demands careful understanding to get the
most from this type of listening.
Most airports will have publications available that list vital information
for pilots such as runways, radio frequencies, and sources of weather
information. Many pilots will be willing to give you an expired chart or
directory. Nearly all of the information will still be correct.
Unlike other scanner listening, aviation listening is much simpler to
follow because the air traffic controller always gives the next frequency
for the pilot to switch to. In a short period of time you will have charts
showing the exact sequence of frequencies used.
One way to have fun is to follow an aircraft from the ground control frequency
to departure and on to enroute. An alternative way is to maintain one
frequency and see how much traffic the controller has to handle. Don't
forget to try the airport crews, airline ground channels and miscellaneous
1. Aviation chart and/or detailed map of your local airport. If you are out
of range of a major airport check out the enroute traffic.
2. The above publication will have the frequencies as well. Be sure to
check out local scanner directories too.
3. A good logging system consisting of both listings and diagrams to be
able to follow the flow.
4. (optional) A model airplane.
Car 54 Where Are You?
Communications have changed dramatically since the old TV shows where the
radio cars used telephone type headsets. Now we have dispatch channels,
car-to-car channels, data channels, tactical channels, and so on.
Here the scanner listener can be the dispatcher or the unit. This will
give you a great opportunity to learn the codes, lingo, and procedures
used by an agency.
The best way to begin your adventure is when the new shift checks in. Keep
a log of the activities of one or more units, perhaps in a sector or patrol
area. Using a map you can follow the units through their activities. Often
your local scanner dealer will have local information sheets or directories.
Go to www.bearcat1.com for an excellent listing of codes from various
agencies. Monitor America has in-depth information for areas across the
U.S. Many law enforcement agencies use the standard APCO ten codes
Using the standard APCO ten codes the following is a typical list you might
make as you listen to your favorite law enforcement agency.
23 March 99 Ace Police Department Channel 1
2100 Station ID
2101 Car 154 is 10-8
2103 Car 113 Main Street and Cherry Street 10-50
2103 Car 113 is 10-23
2104 Car 125, 10-25 1983 Alexander Avenue, theft report
2107 Car 165 requests 10-28 adam yankee king 459
2107 Adam Yankee King 459, John W. Smith, 9812 Evergreen Lane, Walnut Grove,
1995 Ajax suburban red, expires 8-99, negative 10-29
1. Well detailed area map. If possible use a map that will be specifically
for your scanner so you can start establishing patrol areas.
2. A good frequency list that shows the variouis channels and their usage
so you can follow the activity as it switches between channels or talk
3. A computer or logging sheet to get a real taste of the dispatcher's world.
4. (optional) A coffee maker and doughnuts.
Local instititions such as colleges and correctional facilities as well as
parks and toll roads make for similar opportunities.
EMS Control to Medic 34 respond to....
With that call you can follow the emergency crew from the comfort of your
home via your scanner. You can get a real taste of the fast responses of
your local ambulance and fire crews.
Begin your listening with the dispatch channel. From there follow the action
through the various channels. Here is a typical sequence of channels from
the initial dispatch until the ambulance is back in quarters.
MED 9 Dispatch
MED 10 Enroute
MED 3 Hospital
MED 9 Dispatch
On your wall map you can show the hospital locations as well as the fire
and ambulance company locations.
1. Station locations marked on a wall map.
2. Hospital, fire department and ambulance locations.
3. A good logging system, either for the individual companies or for the
4. (optional) Dalmation.
Don't try this anywhere but home!
Going beyond simple listening will add a much deeper appreciation for the
various servants we hear on our scanners. Our listening should be
professional as well. Scanner listeners should never pursue emergency crews
or go to any scene. What is heard should go no further than our ears.
Varying the listening with assorted situations and seasons can make for an
even wider variety of listening experiences. Now break out the clipboard
and tablet, sit back and relax as you take your scanning fun to serious
Readers wishing to contact me can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to Articles