WARSUG Radio Scanning FAQ

Frequently asked questions.

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vk6hgr
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WARSUG Radio Scanning FAQ

Post by vk6hgr » Fri Feb 25, 2005 9:20 pm

THIS PAGE ATTEMPTS TO ANSWER SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT RADIO SCANNING IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA. ANY INFORMATION GIVEN ABOUT WHAT IS OR IS NOT PERMITTED IS TRUE, TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE, IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA ONLY. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO VERIFY THIS INFORMATION WITH YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITIES.

Index

1. Are scanners legal?

2. My husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/mate/cat reckons I can get arrested for owning or using a scanner. Is this right?

3. Can you use a scanner to talk to other people?

4. What kind of people use scanners?

5. Can you buy scanners in Australia?

6. Can you tell me where I can buy a scanner from?

7. What is the cheapest / best scanner to buy?

8. What can I listen to?

9. Where can I get frequency lists from?

10. What's the difference between a "scanner" and a "police scanner"?

11. How can I meet other people interested in radio scanning?

12. My "significant other" is complaining I spend too much time using the scanner and says the scanner goes or (s)he does. What do I do?

13. How do I record what I'm hearing on the scanner?

14. I've tried recording audio but it takes up too much hard disk space. What can I do about it?

15. I've visited the IRC channel #radioscanner and the people there seem to have their own "language". Can you help me understand what they are talking about?

16. What's the best way to use my scanner in public?

17. Can you help me choose an antenna for my scanner?

18. What's the best way of programming my scanner to get the best usage?

19. How do I decode data transmissions received on my scanner?

20. How do I keep my scanner's batteries in good shape?

21. I've just heard a siege / armed holdup / high speed pursuit on the police frequencies. Shall I go and take a look?

22. Can you tell me what are the right frequencies for my area?

23. Can my scanner cause interference with other electrical equipment?

24. Can I modify my scanner to add features, etc? Can it be modified to transmit as well as receive?

25. How can I find out who's using a particular frequency?

26. What's the best way of using my scanner in the car?

27. I heard something on a police frequency about a crime and I know / have seen the alleged offender. What should I do?

28. What are those funny beeps I hear when people are talking on the radio?

29. What do the acronyms CTCSS and DVP stand for? What do they mean?

30. How can I receive frequencies used in the country when I'm in the city? (Or vice-versa)

31. How should I set the "Squelch" knob on the scanner for best performance?

32. Why are there two frequencies on some of the lists (RX and TX) and what's the difference?

33. How do I connect to the IRC channel?
Last edited by vk6hgr on Fri Feb 25, 2005 9:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

vk6hgr
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Posts: 2568
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Post by vk6hgr » Fri Feb 25, 2005 9:26 pm

1. ARE SCANNERS LEGAL?

In Australia, it is legal to own and operate a radio scanner and no licence is required.

Generally speaking and to the best of our knowledge, It is also legal to listen to most frequencies. The most notable exception are any frequencies that are used for telecommunications, such as mobile phones, cordless phones, ship-to-shore seaphones, etc. It is illegal to listen to any frequency used for telecommunications in Australia. (Federal Telecommunications act)

Mostly due to copyright it is also illegal to rebroadcast transmissions received on a scanner without the appropriate authority.

Finally, obviously, it is also illegal to use your scanner in any attempt to commit a crime.

IMPORTANT NOTE: No-one in the WA Radio Scanner Users Group is a lawyer and as such, this information should not be taken as legal advice. The information is given in good faith, as best we understand it. If you intend on using this information, please take the time to verify it with your local law enforcement agency first.

2. CAN I GET ARRESTED FOR OWNING OR USING A SCANNER

This is almost the same as the previous question.

It is perfectly legal to own a scanner. You cannot get arrested for owning or using a scanner, providing you aren't breaking the law. (see the previous question for what you can't do with a scanner...)

Perhaps it's time to give a copy of this FAQ to whoever told you that you can get arrested :-)

Note: This information applies to WESTERN AUSTRALIA. In some countries, there are restrictions on scanner ownership. Please check your local laws.


3. CAN YOU USE A SCANNER TO TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE?

No.

Scanners are radio receivers and have no transmit capabilities.

As an example, it is possible to listen to the UHF CB bands with a scanner, but to participate in any conversations, you will need a UHF CB radio.

4. WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE USE SCANNERS?

People from many walks of life use scanners, and for different reasons. Some listen as a hobby, while others listen as a part of their job.

* Tow truck operators use scanners and monitor the police bands for information on traffic accidents.

* Volunteer fire brigade officers use scanners to monitor their local brigade frequency. This way, they can be forewarned of any serious fires in their disstrict and start getting prepared for a call-out. (It's also a lot cheaper to buy an inexpensive scanner than to buy one of the handheld transceivers used by the brigades.)

* People working in the media industry (journalists, etc.) use scanners to learn of "newsworthy" events and report on them.

* Everyday people listen to scanners for entertainment and education. If you want to learn a little about how the Police Service operates, you can do worse than listen to them on the police radio frequencies. This gives a valuable insight into the situations and dangers our police officers face in their day-to-day duties.

5. CAN YOU BUY SCANNERS IN AUSTRALIA?

Yes, radio scanners are available as both new and second-hand items.

6. CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE I CAN BUY A SCANNER FROM?

You can buy scanners from a number of sources. If you are looking for a new unit, try some of the electronics or radio related retailers. You can buy second hand units by looking in second-hand dealerships, pawn shops, newspaper classifieds, radio industry magazines, etc.

7. WHAT IS THE CHEAPEST / BEST SCANNER TO BUY?

There are a wide range of scanners on the market. The unit that's right for you depends on a number of factors, most importantly: "How much do I want to spend?" and "What do I want to listen to?". If you're unsure, ask on our forums!

8. WHAT CAN I LISTEN TO?

First, take a look at the question above, which gives information on what it's illegal to listen to.

Apart from what's mentioned there, pretty much anything else is fair game. If you are listening as part of your job, you will already have a fair idea of your "target area". If you're listening purely for information, entertainment or education, try meeting others with similar tastes and asking them.

As a last resort, you could always try scanning the various frequency bands and listening in to whatever takes your fancy :-)
Last edited by vk6hgr on Sun Feb 27, 2005 9:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.

vk6hgr
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Post by vk6hgr » Fri Feb 25, 2005 9:39 pm

9. WHERE CAN I GET FREQUENCY LISTS FROM?

Frequency lists are available in book form from electronics and/or radio retailers. There are "general" frequency lists as well as lists devoted to a single topic or industry.

Online, there are many frequency lists available. Take a look through the forum for the lists WARSUG publishes and links to other lists.

10. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A "SCANNER" AND A "POLICE SCANNER"?

Basically, nothing.

Most scanners are able to receive a wide variety of frequencies, with those used by the police being just a small section. The term "Police Scanner" seems to have originated somewhere within the media, to describe the monitoring of police frequecies, usually by the criminal element in society.

11. HOW CAN I MEET OTHER PEOPLE INTERESTED IN RADIO SCANNING?

Other than the WARSUG forums we also operate an IRC channel.

Check us out in the Austnet network in #radioscanner

We'd be happy to hear from you!

12. MY "SIGNIFICANT OTHER" IS COMPLAINING I SPEND TOO MUCH TIME USING THE SCANNER AND SAYS THE SCANNER GOES OR (S)HE DOES. WHAT DO I DO?

If you think we're going to answer that question, you're out of your mind! :-)

13. HOW DO I RECORD WHAT I'M HEARING ON THE SCANNER?

This question it a bit tricky. :-)

Firstly, it is illegal to record transmissions received on the scanner without the appropriate authority. (To the best of our knowledge, written permission from the person who has licenced that particular frequency from the Australian Communications and Media Authority would probably be "appropriate".)

Assuming that you do have the authority to make recordings of a particular frequency, many scanners have a speaker or earphone socket built in. You can connect a recording device of some sort to the scanner via one of these sockets.

Many frequencies have long periods of inactivity, so a "voice activated" recorder would be a good choice.

Alternatively, you can use your computer as a voice activated recorder. Software exists that can record audio (via the sound card's "line in" or "microphone" sockets) to a wave file on the disk.

Check out the software sticky topic for programs that should be up to the task.

Don't forget, you need permission before you can go recording from your scanner! Please don't assume that because software exists to do it, then it must be OK!

14. I'VE TRIED RECORDING AUDIO BUT IT TAKES UP TOO MUCH HARD DISK SPACE. WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

Yes, wave audio files an get pretty big. Have you considered compressing the audio?

There are a number of programs around that can compress audio into different formats. You can find encoders at Real, MP3.COM and Microsoft. These will all take wave audio files and convert them to another, compressed audio format such as Real Audio, MP3 or Active Streaming Format.

Out of all of these, the MP3 format seems to be the most popular among scannists.

15. I'VE VISITED THE IRC CHANNEL #RADIOSCANNER AND THE PEOPLE THERE SEEM TO SPEAK A LANGUAGE OF THEIR OWN. CAN YOU HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT?

Yes, they're certainly a strange bunch :-)

Some scanner users have made #radioscanner their "second home" while other scannists visit only occasionally. Those who spend a fair bit of time in there have gotten to know each other well and sometimes use a kind of "shorthand" which has evolved over the last year or so.

No-one will be offended if you ask for clarification - it's just that sometimes people forget that not everyone understands this "shorthand" :-)

In particular, they will talk a fair bit about people who they hear on the scanner frequently among emergency services and commercial operators. Some of them have taken on almost "legendary" status amongst the inhabitants of #radioscanner and their latest exploits are followed with great delight.

(I told you that we're a strange bunch :-)


16. WHAT'S THE BEST WAY OF USING MY SCANNER IN PUBLIC?

Having your scanner on in a public place with the volume turned up high is considered as impolite as walking around with an ordinary radio blasting out. Also, depending on how literally someone takes things, you could face explanations with regards to "rebroadcasting" transmissions received on a scanner (see earlier question for more info...)

One solution is to use headphones and listen to your scanner in private. Some scanners are sold with an earphone but often people can confuse these with hearing aids.

However, many people carry personal stereos around and it's common enough to see people with ordinary headphones on. If you want to look fairly inconspicuous, plug some cheap headphones into the earphone socket on your scanner and listen that way. No one will give you a second glance.

Note: Scanners generally only provide mono audio and you might have to use a stereo to mono adapter between your unit and the headphones.

17. CAN YOU HELP ME CHOOSE AN ANTENNA FOR MY SCANNER

Choosing an antenna for your scanner depends on what you like to listen to the most, for example if you primarily listen to police on UHF, then you can use a UHF CB antenna, or a yagi. For best performance, regardless of your listening choice, it is always best to have an antenna designed for that frequency range. If you like to listen to lots of different frequencies a discone is the best bet.

Check out the forums for more discussion on scanner antennas.

18. WHAT'S THE BEST WAY OF PROGRAMMING MY SCANNER TO GET THE BEST USAGE?

Well, there's no quick and easy answer to this one as everyone probably uses their scanner for different reasons and every model of scanner is designed a little differently to others.

Scanners usually organise their channels into "banks". Use each bank to store frequencies that are similar - for example police frequencies in one bank, aircraft / airport frequencies in another, courier companies in a third, etc.

Try saving the first bank for the frequencies that you listen to most - perhaps the police channel for your local area, the police emergency channel, etc. You can duplicate frequencies between the first bank and the others if you wish (and if free channels permit)

Take advantage of the "lock out" facility in your scanner to lock out frequencies that you cannot reach or that you don't wish to monitor. You can usually enable or disable individual frequencies or whole banks.

Also, try programming your banks with frequencies in an ascending sequence. This will allow the scanner to operate a tiny bit faster when scanning the banks.

19. HOW DO I DECODE DATA TRANSMISSIONS RECEIVED ON MY SCANNER?

Generally speaking, you will need decoding software (for use via PC) or an external decoding unit, these can range from cheap basic versions that may decode a few of the more common modes to the more esoteric units that decode a host of different data formats, the later costing several thousand dollars.
Last edited by vk6hgr on Fri Feb 25, 2005 10:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

vk6hgr
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Posts: 2568
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Location: Perth, Western Australia
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Post by vk6hgr » Fri Feb 25, 2005 9:58 pm

20. HOW DO I KEEP MY SCANNER'S BATTERIES IN GOOD SHAPE?

If your scanner uses rechargable battery packs, always charge and discharge them according to the manufacturer's instructions. If possible, use a battery eliminator (to the desired votage) instead of a battery pack when near power to save battery life.

In general:

Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries are the least expensive and are commonly used for mobile phones, video cameras, radios and other portable appliances. The problem with Ni-Cd batteries is that they are very prone to voltage depression, otherwise known as "memory effect". This occurs when recharging a battery before it is fully discharged causes the battery to "remember" its previous partial charge level and not charge to full capacity. Sometimes conditioning (repetitive fully charging and discharging) can help erase built-up memory, but not always.

Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) batteries are a superior replacement for Ni-Cd batteries because they are available in higher capacities and are less susceptible to the memory effect. That means you can charge the battery when it is convenient for you, not when the battery is "ready". Ni-MH can be damaged by excessive heat from overcharging, but this can be avoided by using only your original charger.

Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) batteries are the best rechargable batteries available. They offer long life and high capacity in slim, lightweight batteries that are also memory-free. The only disadvantage is the high cost of these batteries.

If your scanner uses normal dry cells, always keep a spare set on hand! There's nothing worse than having your battery run flat right in the middle of something interesting!

21. I'VE JUST HEARD A SIEGE / ARMED HOLDUP / HIGH SPEED PURSUIT ON THE POLICE FREQUENCIES. SHALL I GO AND TAKE A LOOK?

In a word ... NO.

It's usually better to stay far, far away from such operations as people have a habit of getting in the way.

WARSUG don't support people going to "rubber-neck" at critical incidents as they can often put themselves and other people in danger.

If you find yourself stuck in the middle of something, please follow these common-sense guidelines:

If you're in a car, make sure you park well away from the scene and walk in. A car blocking the road could cause emergency crews to be delayed and cost someone their life.

If there is danger tape set, on no account cross it. It's there for a reason, possibly for safety, possibly to preserve a crime scene and it doesn't need you trampling all over the place.

If you're using a scanner, use it with headphones. The whole world doesn't want to hear the output from your scanner.

Realise that anything you hear on the scanner is private information. Don't go discussing what you hear with other people at the scene. There may be good reasons why some things are not made public and you could reveal something that aggravates the situation.

If you are asked to move on by someone in authority, do so without comment or complaint.

As you can see, on the whole it's better to remain away from the action, rather than becoming a part of the action. Our emergenciy services have enough to contend with, without having bystanders in their hair as well.

22. CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT ARE THE RIGHT FREQUENCIES FOR MY AREA?

Have a look through our forums for mostly WA scanning information. As we are made aware of them we'll add links to other states' scanning information onto the FAQ topic on the forum.

23. CAN MY SCANNER CAUSE INTERFERENCE WITH OTHER ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT?

In short - yes, that's possible.

Anything that runs on electricity generates radio freqency (RF) interference. If one applicance is generating RF on a particular frequency that another finds itself susceptible to, then it will be noticable.

Most electronic devices however have some kind of shielding to prevent or minimise such interference.

Always make sure you are using your scanner with the right electrical source, antenna, etc. to help prevent interference - either generated or received.

24. CAN I MODIFY MY SCANNER TO ADD FEATURES, ETC?

Yes, if you know what you're doing and if the scanner supports such modifications.

But any mods that you make to a scanner will probably make any warranties void. There's also a question of whether the device would then confirm to the C-Tick specifications as it has been modified from it's "approved" state.

A lot of modifications that are published for scanners involve the addition of US cellular phone frequencies. Under US federal law, scanners are not allowed to be sold that are capable of receiving their cellular phone frequencies and a market has arisen in "unblocking" these scanners.

Scanners purchased in Australia generally don't have such a restriction imposed on them. (But it's still illegal to monitor phone frequencies...)

Check out http://www.mods.dk for modifications for a large number of radio recievers and transcievers.

25. CAN I MODIFY MY SCANNER TO TRANSMIT?

No.

See a previous question on scanners and transmitting.

26. HOW CAN I FIND OUT WHO'S USING A PARTICULAR FREQUENCY?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority maintain an online database of frequencies and licences that you can search. It's called the Register of Radiocommunication Licences.

You can also check the various Frequency Lists on the forums and see if any information about that frequency has been published there.

HOW CAN I USE MY SCANNER IN THE CAR?

If you've got a hand-held scanner, it shouldn't be too hard. If you're using a larger "base station" version then you might have a bit more trouble...

Don't forget to provide power to the scanner through the cigarette lighter so you don't drain the batteries excessively.

For temporary installations, it would be a good idea to get a magnetic-base antenna mount. It should be placed as close to the centre of the vehicle roof as possible.

Although in WA it is illegal to use a portable mobile telephone while driving, there is no restriction on handheld radios and microphones. However, we still recommend you exercise common sense and only adjust your scanner while the vehicle is parked. (If you're the driver, of course!)

27. I HEARD SOMETHING ON THE POLICE FREQUENCIES ABOUT A CRIME AND I KNOW OR HAVE SEEN THE ALLEGED OFFENDER. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

First of all, read the previous question on "getting involved".

Having read that, if you have any information about a crime, you should report it. It's your choice as to whether you mention your scanner usage or not.

Crimestoppers: 1800 333 000

WA Police: 131 444

ALL EMERGENCIES: 000 or 112 from a GSM mobile phone

28. WHAT ARE THOSE FUNNY BEEPS I HEAR WHEN PEOPLE ARE TALKING ON THE RADIO?

The beeps can be from a variety of sources, from the simple "roger beep" often heard on CB, to digital signals such as selcall etc.

29. WHAT DO ACRONYMS LIKE CTCSS AND DVP STAND FOR? WHAT DO THEY MEAN?

CTCSS Continuous Tone Coded Sub-Audible Sqeulch
DVP Digital Voice Protection (Motorola)
Selcall Selective Calling
MDT Mobile Data Terminal
DCS Digital Coded Sqeulch
PL Private Line (CTCSS in Motorola equipment)
DPL Digital Private Line (DVP in Motorola equipment)

30. HOW DO I RECEIVE FREQUENCIES USED IN THE COUNTRY WHEN I'M IN THE CITY (OR VICE VERSA)

31. HOW DO I SET THE SQUELCH KNOB IN THE SCANNER FOR BEST PERFORMANCE?



Please suggest any additions or corrections to the FAQ list in the forums and we'll include them in the next update.

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Post by Zebedee » Sat Oct 22, 2005 10:07 pm

32. WHY ARE THERE TWO FREQUENCIES ON SOME OF THE LISTS (RX and TX) AND WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

Radio frequencies in the UHF and VHF range are basically "line of sight" or strictly point to point. If something gets in the way, such as a hill or a building, the radios can't "see" each other and therefore can't communicate.

By putting a repeater up on the top of the hill, two radios on either side that couldn't see each other before can now both see the repeater. The repeater acts as a relay, listening on one frequency and re-transmitting whatever it hears on a different frequency.

A good example is CB radio. When you use the "Duplex" feature of your CB, you're listening to Channel 1, but when you talk you're transmitting on Channel 31. The repeater is listening on Channel 31, and retransmitting what you say back onto Channel 1. This way, two radios that don't have direct line of sight to each other can still communicate.

On the WARSUG frequency lists, you should program in the frequencies in the "RX" column. That's the repeater output frequency and the one that you should hear the clearest.


33. HOW DO I JOIN THE IRC CHANNEL?

IRC is Internet Relay Chat, one of the first real-time chat services available on the Internet. It was there years before MSN Messenger, ICQ, or any of the other chat services.

To connect to IRC you need three things:

* a client program
* the address of an IRC server, and
* a "channel" to join.

IRC CLIENT PROGRAM

There's lots of IRC clients out there, you can see a selection of them on Tucows or other download sites. This guide is going to focus on mIRC for no better reason than it's the one I've got on my PC at home and it's the easiest for me to describe...

Start by downloading and installing the software (Tucows above has mirror sites in WA, so the download should be nice and quick!) and run it for the first time...

CONNECTING TO A SERVER

Once the software is downloaded and installed, find a server to connect to. A Network is a group of servers all linked together. Networks may only span a local area, or can have servers located all around the world. The network that we use is Austnet. mIRC has servers for Austnet already listed, just pick one that's closest to you. (You get to choose "Random AU Server", "Random NZ Server" or "Random SG Server" for Australia, New Zealand and Singapore respectively.)

JOINING A CHANNEL

Once you're connected to a server, you need to pick a channel to join. (Channel is the IRC term for a chat room.)

The easiest way to join our channel is to type into the Status window /join #radioscanner

Once you've joined the channel, introduce yourself and say hi! :-)

SHORTCUTS

1. If you have a program that recognises this link, such as mIRC, then clicking on this link may connect you in one easy step... irc://au.austnet.org/radioscanner

2. If you're in WA (and since this is a WA forum it's a fair bet!) then you can probably connect directly to a server hosted at iiNet instead of one over east or overseas. In the Status window of mIRC type /server irc.iinet.net.au

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