A question that arises when people are looking for their first receiver is "can I listen to police?" Well, the answer is if it is encrypted no, many if not all UK Police forces have now gone digital and are using Tetra Airwave which no scanner on the market can decode the encryption of. Some force area's still have the existing Police channels in use and the Metropolitan Police are still using analogue which can be followed using a standard trunk tracker scanner. Having said this all is not lost as there is still lots more interesting listening to be made. Most Fire Brigade and Ambulance services are still not yet encrypted so it is possible to listen however I must point out that doing so is illegal and done at your own risk.
Please do not waste your money and fill some unscrupulous sellers pocket by buying a radio from them which claim to be able to listen to Tetra Airwave communications. There are a lot on Ebay and it disappoints many of us in the hobby to see people out to rip people off and falsely sell cheap rubbish.
So, now that has been cleared up you are new to radio and wish to experience your first receiver. The first choice to make is to distinguish which type of radio you require, a base station or handheld and what sort of communications you would like to listen to.
Personally I like to have both, I enjoy having a chunky solid base station at home and a handheld to take out and about, there is also the option of multitasking at home where one can be used to monitor a specific search band or frequency while doing the same on the other. However the hobby is not at all cheap so for a beginner I would recommend a handheld to get the best of both worlds.
If you know what type of communications you would like to listen to check on the internet to find out which band you will find it in and then compare that to the search ranges of scanners to be sure that the model you are buying can receive what you need. When buying new or used I would advise you to avoid the cheaper models say less than £100 and aim to pay £150 - £400 for a good model, and remember you get what you pay for. The reason for saying this is that most of the models under £100 lack a fantastic feature introduced by manufacturer Uniden called Close Call. Close call when activated is basically like a automatic frequency finder, when it picks up a local transmission it will notify you and immediately give you the option to listen and save the frequency of the transmission. Also older cheaper models can be problematic due to being unable to block out certain types of signals that it will bring in and getting overloaded with pager and data noise. This has been fixed in the more recent models.
Having mentioned the Close Call feature though. never expect to just pick up a radio and have communications booming in from all over the place, this is part of the fun of radio in that you get the satisfaction of finding the frequencies yourself. If you are lazy you could just go for a scanner with 'close call' which will tune a frequency for you upon it automatically finding a signal. Although this can make things a lot easier I think it can spoil an element of the enjoyment of the hobby.
Instead I would recommend starting out with a basic radio without all the fancy features to enable you to learn and understand all the various concepts involved
Radio can be a very expensive hobby but with some selective choices you can progress in the hobby without much pain in your pocket. A good way to start is to buy second-hand, prices fluctuate daily and condition varies so don't go rushing into buying the first receiver you find.
For your first scanner I would recommend a radio such as the Alinco DJ-X10. Its very easy to use and provides excellent sound quality or a Yupiteru MVT-7100. There are always a handful for sale on eBay and at pretty fair prices. Expect to pay £80 - £100 for one of these. If you are looking in the direction of a Yupiteru MVT-7100 and are looking to buy second hand beware! These models been around for over 10 years and although only ceased production within the last month or so finding one that hasn't been tampered with and is in good condition can be difficult. They also suffer the problem of dodgy power supplies that can cause the unit to just switch off with no warning causing you to loose all your saved frequencies in a flash and because of the aged design they lack some of the features found on more up to date scanners. Not only this the technology is seriously out of date but fully functional are a good first start to the hobby.
If you want to go all out and get a scanner thats totally upto date go for a Uniden model such as the BCT15, BR330T or if you want to go straight to the top of the range and experience the latest technology the BCD396T or BCD996T. However dont expect to get one cheap and dont expect to be working wonders with it when you first receive it. These scanners are excellent although it does take some time working out how to use them to their full potential. Dont give up, be persistent and you'll be using all the latest features in no time.
The biggest benefits of the above mentioned models are that they have the latest close call technology, have the latest trunk tracking technology and can be computer controlled among much much more.
Computer control is really a must have, for example it makes an easy task of managing frequencies stored in your scanner. Older scanners mostly have to be controlled from the unit itself, with the new Unidens you can manage and upload frequencies from your pc which saves a lot of time! You can also record sound to your pc and use a lot of decoding programmes that are available on the internet.
Unidens mid and top of the range models are highly regarded in the UK scanning scene with more and more people using them. Although they are expensive they represent the best value for money and have more features than any other on the market.
If you are on a low budget I would reccomend the Alinco DJ-X10, it is a bit more modern than say the Yupiteru MVT7100 and is in the same price bracket. It covers 100 kHz - 2000 MHz, receives AM, FM, NFM, SSB & CW modes, has 1200 memories which is plenty to be getting on with, has a band scope facility that enables you to view frequencies near to the one you are tuned into on the screen of the receiver as a graph allowing you to tune the strongest signal and many other useful features.
The only thing to think about when choosing the lower budget options is that many models do not feature CTCSS (continuos tone coded squelch system)
What are CTCSS tones?
CTCSS tones enable a number of users to operate on a single frequency without them all hearing each others calls. Each group of users have their own assigned ctcss tone so that when they transmit only people in that group receive messages intended for them.
If you buy a receiver which does not have ctcss you will still be able to tune in and hear everything. Adding a ctcss tone to a frequency allows you to isolate communications from certain users rather than hearing everything be it voice, data or interference.
If you will be using your radio in an area where there is a lot of activity ctcss can be beneficial and makes it easier in identfiying users.
To progress to a scanner that has ctcss tones you are probably going to be having to spend an extra £100 or so extra for a receiver.
Although this sounds a lot there will be a bigger list of features that a scanner will have however for a beginner they may not be a lot of use.
If you think you would like to have ctcss tones on your scanner then the next model I would recommend is very similar to the Alinco DJ-X10. Infact its Alinco's top model the DJ-X2000. If you haven't owned an Alinco before you should still find it easy to operate and if you decide to try out a DJ-X10 first then it will be very simple as they are almost identical just the DJ-X2000 has even more features.
By starting out on one of the less featured lower budget scanners you can decide whether the hobby is something which you enjoy and whether you want to take things further. Just make sure you buy one which will hold its value as if its something thats not for you you are more likely to be able to re-sell and suffer minimum loss to your pocket!
A point to remember is that no matter how good your scanner is you wont find good signals unless you have a good antenna. Again prices vary, you can spend anything from £10 upwards.
Here is a breakdown of commonly used antenna's...
For a standard handheld antenna spend £10 - £15 and buy from a reputable dealer. Make it clear to the seller before buying what you intend to listen to with it to be sure you are sold the correct one which has the correct range/frequency coverage. These are good for being discreet while sat in your car etc.
Mobile antenna's are all very similar, pay between £15 - £30 and you will get a wideband antenna probably covering 25 - 2000 MHz. Performance wise better but not the best. They will outperform standard stock antenna's with a noticeable difference however they are mainly suitable for local transmissions only.
Most are approx 21 inches in height and come with a magnetic mount base. Suitable for using at home or on the roof of your vehicle while out and about.
One of the benefits of these antenna's when being used out and about is that because it is mounted on the roof of your vehicle your scanner does not suffer much interference from the car electrics located in the dash board.
Desktop discones are probably the best choice for a beginner although somewhat costly, expect to pay around £50 - £75 for one of these and notice an improvement immediatly. It is almost certain that by getting a desktop discone you will receive signals that you did not even know were there.
Positioning of antenna's is another important point, the higher it is positioned the better results you will get. Always try your best to have your antenna located as far as possible from any electrical equipment like televisions, computers and hi-fi's as they will cause bad interference and make it difficult to hear transmissions.
This guide is no where near as comprehensive as it it could be but if you think the information contained here was helpful to you please vote.
Contact me for any questions you might have or even to let me know how you got on with your first scanner!