Rekindling an old romance

I haven’t mentioned it too often on here, but I am an owner of some interesting electronic equipment. No, not stuff like a 1950s-era Bakelite radio (though I know of one right around here!), or some kind of funky Japanese robot dog purchased from the Internets. The equipment I’m talking about is a police scanner.

Actually, this is something that I’ve been interested for a long time – even way back when we had a ten-channel scanner that had the channels for my county (though only two of them would work now I believe), along with the weather channel. If you wanted to program it, you would have had to purchase a crystal to receive a specific frequency. Wanted to listen to something else? Sorry, out of luck.

Normally, we’d only drag it out when we heard sirens or when there were storms in the area – one infamous tale that I’ve been told is from a snowstorm in the ’70s when one of the cops was driving around and had gotten off of the road, and then wound up at a church, and stopped to pray for a bit.

After a while though, the scanner has gone missing and I don’t know where it is, other than to say it’s probably somewhere in the house somewhere. To be honest, I didn’t bother with wanting to listen to the police or anything exciting until one day the railroad put up a box near the house and, if I was listening to the three-channel weather radio we had at the time, it would interfere with it whenever a train went through.

To make a long story short, I go off to college, come back home, the weather radio’s broken, and I have nothing better to do with my time (since I wasn’t working) than watch the trains. That leads me to Radio Shack and buying my first programmable scanner – the first night, I listened to ham radio, got some frequencies on the web, and then put them into the radio. I also listened to some interesting stuff like goings on at a local Burger King (not the window cos those are pretty weak signals) and the city buses.

I didn’t know it then, but I needed to have a different type of scanner to be able to track these conversations about unruly passengers, or to listen to other Sheriffs’ departments. So, after I started working, I invested some cash into getting a scanner capable of receiving these other areas. And that changed my ways of listening to the radio – now I was listening to the freeway patrols, getting to know a lot more than I needed and even being able to hear lane closures for motorcades when they happen.

It was also around this time that I was given an antenna – which I didn’t know anything about mounting, placement, or anything. For quite a while it sat, quite literally, in my bedroom with a cable extending from it to my scanner. I also had a couple of other antennas which allowed me to hear signals from a wide swath of the area, and even from the east coast. However, due to the confusion of what exactly I was listening to (I couldn’t get the tone information to figure out exactly what it was), I started to get interested in buying a new scanner.

scanners So, I did – I purchased what has to be one of the best scanners out there – the Uniden BC780XLT – the only thing that it doesn’t do is digital, which isn’t that big of a concern yet here anyway. I also purchased a basic scanner that is useful to find new frequencies when it was on sale for $70 or so after Thanksgiving one year. This trifecta of scanners has been the set I’ve used most often, and here they are as a happy family on the day I bought the third one. 😉

By that time, I had figured some things out about the antenna I received, the sordid details I’ll go into in another post, but I was picking up signals reliably from most of the southern third of the state, and even in to Illinois and Michigan. However, after that winter, I started to get involved in other things and the scanners took a back seat.

Sure, I’d bring one along if I was going on a long trip, but I had lost interest in doing the long listening sessions I’d have with it, just listening to hear what I could get in over the airwaves. The best one to me is still when I picked up Environment Canada’s weather radio from the area near Lake Erie or so. I even used a spreadsheet to log the frequencies and tones I’d get. The scanner got put away, and I kept myself busy in other ways.

However the storms over the last week, and the general start of the summer storm season has rekindled my interest in scanning. I think part of it is that when I had my little scanner at work the other week, people were very interested in it – more for the fact that it got the weather than anything else, but it set off a spark in me. 😉

It’s done so much to rekindle that I’ve invested another $33 in a new antenna (and adapter) to replace the old one and now have it mounted outside on the same setup I’d used for the other one. Now, I can hear the trains well before they get here, thanks to similar boxes some 10+ rail miles away, hear almost all of the same agencies that I’d heard in the past, and in general, keep abreast of what is going on with the local radio scene once more.

As one fella I know on an Illinois scanning list says, Happy Scanning! 🙂