Scanning in 2020

This was my column for October 10, 2020

Journalists are a nosy bunch, and one of my earliest nosy journalist experiences was listening to the police scanner in the newsroom. I wrote a bit about it previously, but today there are a couple of wrinkles in it.

Some of the agencies in our area have moved to digital communications, while others haven’t. Some tried it and didn’t like it, so they have returned to analog/FM communications.

I am in possession of a digital scanner, one that a previous employee had and used without much success, the Uniden BCD436HP. This radio is an interesting exercise in successful failure: it scans the bazillion services it promises, but that very feature causes the radio to miss almost all the radio communications it was meant to receive.

Public safety communications are brief and to the point, so when a local firefighter picks up a microphone and says, “I’m en route to that address,” this Uniden radio is listening to Hughes County, the State Medical Examiner, the Wildlife Service, the railroads… you get the idea.

Area public safety communications are a mix of conventional FM two-way radio, digital signaling, and mobile data sharing via mobile applications.
Area public safety communications are a mix of conventional FM two-way radio, digital signaling, and mobile data sharing via mobile applications.

The next step to improve use of this radio is to build a “favorites list,” which will just listen to only the services I tell it to.

The BCD436HP is meant to be the radio scanner for the digital age, but is set up in such a haphazard way, it’s hard to configure it in any useful way. Worse, the “best” way to program this box is with a Windows-based personal computer, which I don’t own, though this week I was able to borrow one.

Former Ada News intern and current Stillwater News-Press crime reporter Ashlynd Elizabeth Huffman told me recently that the purchase of a police scanner was one of the best piece of kit she bought since she’s been in Stillwater. Most Payne County communications are analog, and easily monitored with any scanner.

Finally, I am a bit of an old/vintage scanner collector, and sometimes prowl eBay to see what’s out there. An oddity in the last few months is that prices for scanners of all types have skyrocketed, and the only explanation that makes any sense is panic associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

1 Comment

  1. “…the only explanation that makes any sense is panic associated with the coronavirus pandemic.”

    I would think it’s because of (1) ongoing anti-police brutality protests (organizers are using them to avoid kettling), or (2) worry about unrest over the election. (Or both.) These two are being talked about extensively on social media.

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