Scanning the Airwaves

Before buying a scanner you'll want to do a bit of homework. You'll want to find out what types of frequencies you're most likely to hear in your area. You can go on the Internet to, which will give you frequencies for your own hometown. You can also talk to anyone who's used a scanner near where you live. Depending on your location, you might be able to hear anything from civilian aircraft communications, fire and police frequencies, even taxi and forestry exchanges.

You won't be able to hear everything on your scanner - some government signals are blocked, as well as cellphones. Take a scanner with you to the drive-through window of a fast-food restaurant and you might hear what they're saying about your burger. Take one to the racetrack, and listen in on what the drivers experience. Some of the bands you should find out about include the following: 50-MHz, 144-MHz, 440-(430)MHz, and 1.2-GHz. The most popular is the 144-MHz (2-meter) band. That's where you'll find a lot of ham radio operators as well as local public safety calls. If you want to hear the civilian aircraft frequencies, you'll want to look for a radio that has the 118 to 136 MHz air band.

Once you know which frequencies you can scan locally, you should keep in mind that not all scanners with that frequency ability will suite your particular needs. A very sensitive scanner in an area with lots of traffic might just mean a lot of crossed signals, and you missing out on some interesting weaker signals. On the other hand, if you live in a rural area, you might need a very sensitive scanner with a good scanner antenna – especially if you opt for a handheld model – since a handheld's standard antenna might not be strong enough to pull in the more distant signals you want.

Base station models offer the most bells and whistles and are usually about the same sensitivity as an average handheld. If you want to get a mobile scanner for you car be sure to check your local scanner laws first. In some states its against the law to use a scanner in the car.

Once you get a scanner, or even beforehand if you're figuring out what you can hear in your area, you may want to visit some of the following Web sites:

Happy scanning!