Turn Your Phone Into a Radio Scanner
Radio scanners serve a handful of niche audiences. You may have had people tell you about some of the crazy or interesting things they've heard on their scanner, and it sounds like it might be fun to have one in your car. However, you could upgrade your head unit or install a couple of premium speakers for the same price.
If the cost of buying a police scanner is a big stumbling block, you'll be happy to hear you have a more affordable door into the world of radio scanners right in your pocket. It's your smartphone. In between sending texts and checking Facebook, you can use your phone to listen in on a variety of radio scanner streams.
But Phones Aren't Radios
Phones aren't radios. Not even smartphones are radios. Some smartphones include secret built-in FM radios, but if you're interested in listening in on police and emergency services broadcasts, that won't do.
Other components in your phone can be referred to as radios, at least technically, like a cellular radio or a Bluetooth radio, but that still isn't what you're looking for. These components can only send and receive information in the specific bandwidths allocated to cellular communications or used by Bluetooth devices.
You can no more receive a police dispatch transmission with your phone than you can tune in to an FM radio broadcast, even if you happen to have a phone with a built-in FM receiver.
How to Turn a Phone Into a Radio Scanner
To turn your smartphone into a radio scanner, you need an app and either a mobile data plan or access to a Wi-Fi signal.
Since your phone can't receive over-the-air (OTA) transmissions from sources like police radios, you'll rely on radio buffs to receive and then stream transmissions.
Apps are available for each major mobile operating system (OS), and they all work in the same basic manner. Instead of tuning a scanner to a local broadcast that interests you, you choose from streams available in apps that you download to your phone.
Among the many free and subscription-based scanner apps for iOS phones are Police Scanner +, 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, and Police Stream. If your phone is an Android device, check out the Police Scanner X, Scanner 911, and Broadcastify Police Scanner apps at Google Play.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to tap into local streams or choose to listen in on streams from far distant places.
How Scanner Apps Work
Radio scanner apps, which are also referred to as police scanner apps and phone frequency scanners, rely on networks of radio enthusiasts to provide thousands upon thousands of audio streams.
These enthusiasts have actual, physical radio scanners that they use to pick up local, non-encrypted radio transmissions. They also have the necessary equipment to stream audio sources over the internet and create online radio scanner streams. They do all the heavy lifting so that you can tap the touchscreen on your phone a few times and pull up about any kind of local radio transmission you want.
Although these programs are often referred to as police scanner apps, they usually aren't that limited in operation.
One of the main uses of these apps is to listen in on local, non-encrypted police and other emergency services communications. These apps provide access to emergency services communications, police dispatches, railway transmissions, other transit communications, and a whole world of other short-range radio transmissions.
Are Radio Scanner Apps Legal?
Legality is a sticky point because police scanners are legal in some places and illegal in others. It's important to check the laws in your jurisdiction before installing one of these apps. You may be charged with a crime if you're arrested and the police find a radio scanner app on your phone. A Google search can turn up your state's laws regarding scanner apps.
If you're brazen enough to use one of these apps in the commission of a crime, the consequences may be even more severe. For example, in Florida, intercepting police communications to assist in a crime or escape automatically escalates the severity of the crime.
As with many other things, the use of radio scanner apps is one of personal responsibility. If they're illegal where you live, you can choose to use one anyway. There's no way to track your usage, so you'll be fine as long as you don't get caught. However, if you are caught, and they are illegal, you'll find out quickly that ignorance of the law isn't an acceptable defense.
On the other hand, if scanner apps are legal where you live, you might have found yourself a new hobby.
Thanks for letting us know!
United States Digital Radio Frequency Search Tools
Check out iCopyRadio, the new technology for you to stream, record, and control your radio scanner anywhere. A reimagined scanning experience.
The following search tools were created to help you find, scan, and identify digital radio frequencies in your area. All searches are by county and state. Data is from the FCC. More information is available on the individual search pages. I sincerely hope these tools are beneficial to you.
|The Digital Mobile Radio, DMR, search tool contains over 300,000 frequencies authorized for DMR voice use, including trunked system frequencies. DMR utilizes two-slot Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA). Newer consumer radio scanners and software radio solutions can receive DMR.|
|The P25 search tool identifies Phase 1 and Phase 2 P25 Digital frequencies. Many of these frequencies will be part of trunked systems.|
|Search for frequencies authorized for NXDN voice use with this search tool. NXDN utilizes either a 12.5 kHz digital signal or a narrowband digital signal (6.25 kHz). The Whistler TRX scanners receive NXDN; there are also software radio programs that support NXDN decoding.|
|The Quick Import tool prepares DMR, P25, or NXDN frequency data for quick and easy importing into scanner programming software. The Quick Import DMR Search produces data that is accepted by Whistler's EZ Scan, BuTel's ARC536, Uniden's BCDx36HP Sentinel, or FMP-DSD+.|
Click here for a list of United States counties and other jurisdictions searchable in the database.
Click here for a list of FCC Radio Service Codes and Station Class Codes utilized in the search results.
|If you found this tool useful, please consider a suggested donation of $10 or more to support my work of simplifying scanning and creating better access to frequency and radio user information.|
I would enjoy corresponding with you about your experience with these search tools; please contact me with any questions, ideas, bug reports, or anything else you want to chat about. You can reach me by email at [email protected]
Receivers and frequency scanners
To use eavesdropping devices effectively, you need to equip yourself additionally with radio frequency scanners and signal receivers. Whether you are a professional or only need a device for your own needs, you will find everything you need to know at Detective Store. We particularly recommend the UBC 125 XLT wideband radio scanner from Uniden. It is a device that allows you to listen to CB radio, AIR, UHF and VHF frequencies.
With the use of the UBC 125 XLT broadband radio scanner, you can comfortably listen to frequencies in the range of 25-960 MHz, i.e. scanning of waves used by the police, emergency services, among others, but also you can listen to conversations made with the use of CB radio or cordless phones. The UBC 125 XLT radio scanner is the perfect working tool for a detective or journalist. The memory built into the scanner allows you to store the 10 most frequently listened to channels and 50 sub-channels, which can be individually named. It is worth adding that the scanner automatically recognises coded transmissions and reads CTCSS and DSC codes. The signal is clear and free of distortion thanks to a triple filter that eliminates sound distortions. The headphone input of the UBC 125 XLT makes discreet listening easier. By additionally connecting a voice recorder, you can take voice notes at the same time. The radio scanner has a built-in antenna and is powered by batteries or an AC adapter. The belt clip allows you to attach the scanner conveniently and discreetly and to hide it under a jacket, for example.
How the Radio Spectrum Works
Most radios that you see in your everyday life are single-purpose radios. For example, an AM radio can listen to any AM radio station in the frequency band from 535 kilohertz to 1.7 megahertz, but nothing else. An FM radio can listen to any FM radio station in the band from 88 to 108 megahertz and nothing else. A CB radio can listen to the 40 channels devoted to citizens band radio and nothing else. Scanners are different.
Scanners are radio receivers that have extremely wide frequency ranges so you can listen to all kinds of radio signals. Typically, scanners are used to tune in to police, fire and emergency radio in the local area (so scanners are often called "police scanners"), but you can use a scanner to listen to all kinds of conversations. Generally, you will either:
- Set a scanner up to scan (switch between) a whole range of frequencies and then stop scanning when it detects a signal on any of the frequencies it is scanning - If you're interested in learning what the police are doing, you can scan the police radio frequencies in your local area. When a patrol car calls in to report a problem, the scanner will stop on that frequency and let you hear the conversation.
- Set a scanner to a specific frequency and listen to that channel - For example, say you want to listen to the transmissions between the control tower and airplanes at the local airport -- you can do this by listening to the specific frequency used at the airport. Because a scanner can receive a huge range of frequencies, you can set it to receive nearly anything on the air.
In order to use a scanner, you need to have good frequency tables so you know where the action is. For more information, check out the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
Frequency scanner radio
The Radio Reference Database (United States)
Retrieve by Location
Search for a US City/Location
Search Identified Frequencies
Frequency Search by State
Frequency Search by Metro Area
Search Trunked Radio Information
Search Talkgroup Descriptions
Search FCC Data
Search FCC Licenses By State
Search FCC Licenses By Metro Area
Choose Metro Area
Search for FCC Entity
FCC License Proximity Search
Retrieve Systemwide Reports
Conventional Radio Reports
Scanner Radio - Fire and Police Scanner
Listen to live audio from over 7,000 fire and police scanners, weather radios, amateur radio repeaters, air traffic and marine radios from around the world. Turn on notifications to receive alerts anytime a scanner has more than 2000 listeners (find out about major events as they're breaking).
• View scanners located nearest you.
• View the top 50 scanners that have the most listeners.
• View list of scanners added most recently (new scanners are being added all the time).
• Add scanners you listen to the most to your Favorites for quick access.
• Browse the directory by location or genre (public safety, air traffic, railroad, marine, etc).
• Turn on notifications to be notified when major events are happening (details below).
• Add Scanner Radio widgets and shortcuts to your home screen for quick access.
• Supports Android Auto.
Receive a notification anytime:
• ...any scanner in the directory has more than 2000 listeners (configurable).
• ...a scanner within a certain distance of your location has more than a certain number of listeners.
• ...a specific scanner has more than a certain number of listeners.
• ...a Broadcastify alert is posted for one of your favorites.
• ...a scanner within a certain distance from you is added to the directory.
This is the free version of the app, below are the benefits of purchasing the Pro version (for only $2.99, a one-time purchase):
• No ads.
• Access to all 6 theme colors.
• Push notifications sent within 5 minutes (vs within 15 minutes).
• Ability to record the audio.
• The play button at the bottom of the directory screens and on the widgets can be used to start listening without having to go to the player screen.
The audio you're able to hear is provided by volunteers (and, in many cases, police and fire departments themselves) for Broadcastify and a few other sites using real police scanners and is the same audio you would hear using your own police scanner.
If you need assistance, please go to http://support.gordonedwards.net/
Explanation of why a couple of permissions are needed:
• The "Location" permission is required so that the app can determine what scanners are located in your area when you select "Nearby Scanners". When you select "Nearby Scanners" the app first attempts to determine your location via the network, if that fails the app then tries to determine your location via GPS.
• The "Photos/Media/Files" / "modify or delete the contents of your USB storage" permission is required in order to allow you to record the audio you're hearing and be able to save it to a location that you can access from your computer (requires Scanner Radio Pro to be installed or for you to be using Scanner Radio Pro).
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Uniden Bearcat SDS200 Police Scanner
This true I/Q Scanner is the first scanner to incorporate Software Defined Radio technology to provide incredible digital performance in even the most challenging RF environments. The SDS100’s digital performance is better than any other scanner in both simulcast and weak-signal environments. This is the first scanner to signal the end of the notorious digital trunking simulcast distortion problem.