Choosing a Scanner for the Coastal Georgia Area

One of the questions I get on a regular basis is about what kind of scanner to buy. Until this year, I didn’t have any experience with Whistler’s scanners, so it was a question that I was uncomfortable asking. All I could truthfully do was pass along my experiences with Uniden’s equipment and why I like their radios. Now that I have some experience with Whistler’s TRX-1 and TRX-2, I feel more qualified to answer the question. Most people who ask me that question are interested in Public Safety communications so my suggestions here will be based on that and the assumption that you’re going to be using it in the counties and communities along the Georgia coast.

Before making a decision about which radio to buy, you have to determine what type of radio systems you’ll be listening to. Are the radio systems you’ll be listening to be conventional or trunked? Will they be analog or digital? If they’re digital, are they P25, DMR, or NXDN? The best place to find answers to these questions is at RadioReference.com; go to the Georgia database and look at each county you’re interested in scanning to see what they’re using. In our case, the counties along and just off of the Georgia coast use a combination of digital trunking and analog conventional radio systems. Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty, and Glynn counties use the SEGARRN trunking system, which is a regional multi-site P25 Motorola trunking system. Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Long, McIntosh, and Wayne counties use analog conventional radio systems. None of the public safety agencies in those counties are currently using DMR or NXDN.

It’s worth taking a break here to mention that law enforcement dispatch channels for most agencies in Chatham County and Glynn County are encrypted. That means you won’t be able to hear most law enforcement agencies in Chatham County when they’re talking to dispatch and with the exception of Glynn County PD’s primary dispatch channel, you won’t be able to hear most of Glynn County PD’s channels and none of Brunswick PD’s channels. There is a steady trend toward encryption in law enforcement communications and it’s illegal to decrypt encrypted communications. Please don’t use the comments section below to debate encryption, it is what it is.

Now you need to determine whether you want a handheld scanner that you can carry around with you, a desktop scanner to leave on an end table or desk, or a mobile scanner for your car. Most people will go with either a handheld scanner or a desktop scanner. My suggestion is usually to go with a handheld scanner, it gives you more versatility because you can carry it with you wherever you go and you can always put it on your end table or desk and plug into the wall to keep from using up its batteries.

The next thing you have to do is acquaint yourself with the radios available, what they do well, and what they don’t do well. Below are the scanners currently available that I have experience with along with a description and what each does well and doesn’t do well. Depending upon where you buy the radio from, you’re looking at a retail price of $400 to $500. I’ve included a link to each on Amazon, but there are plenty of other places you can order them from including ScannerMaster and amateur radio stores.

 

Uniden Home Patrol 2

  • The Home Patrol 2 is designed for desktop use, but it can also be used as a mobile scanner. It has a large display that gives you a lot of information in a very readable form.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • It has a very easy to use touch screen interface; if you can use a touchscreen GPS in your car or a smartphone, you can use the Home Patrol 2.
  • It does not receive DMR or NXDN systems.
  • It comes with software that will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. Uniden has also made their protocols available to third-party developers and there are a number of options that make programming those custom files easier and offer computer control/logging of the radio.

 

Uniden BCD436HP

  • The BCD436HP is a handheld scanner.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. Once you get used to its menus and the how to navigate through them using the tuning knob and keypad, it’s fairly intuitive to use.
  • It will receive DMR or NXDN systems, but the capability comes at an added price. You have to do a $60 upgrade to add each, so if you add the capability to do both, you’re adding another $120 to the price of the radio. They don’t have to be done as soon as you buy the radio and you don’t have to them at the same time, so you can spread the additional cost over time. On the other hand, you don’t have to do either if you don’t have the need for them (and to listen to public safety in this area, you don’t)
  • It does a great job on P25 trunking systems but not as good a job as the Whistler scanners on DMR systems. Recent firmware updates have given it the capability receive NXDN systems but I haven’t had the opportunity to put it to the test yet.
  • It comes with software that will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. Uniden has also made their protocols available to third-party developers and there are a number of options that make programming those custom files easier and offer computer control/logging of the radio.

 

Uniden BCD536HP

  • The BCD536HP is the desktop/mobile version of the BCD436HP with a few added features.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. Once you get used to its menus and the how to navigate through them using the tuning knob and keypad, it’s fairly intuitive to use.
  • It will receive DMR or NXDN systems, but the capability comes at an added price. You have to do a $60 upgrade to add each, so if you add the capability to do both, you’re adding another $120 to the price of the radio. They don’t have to be done as soon as you buy the radio and you don’t have to them at the same time, so you can spread the additional cost over time. On the other hand, you don’t have to do either if you don’t have the need for them (and to listen to public safety in this area, you don’t)
  • It does a great job on P25 trunking systems but not as good a job as the Whistler scanners on DMR systems. Recent firmware updates have given it the capability receive NXDN systems but I haven’t had the opportunity to put it to the test yet.
  • It comes with software that will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. Uniden has also made their protocols available to third-party developers and there are a number of options that make programming those custom files easier and offer computer control/logging of the radio.

 

Whistler TRX-1

  • The TRX-1 is a handheld scanner.
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. You will have to get used to navigating through its menus with the keypad. In my opinion, it isn’t quite as intuitive as Uniden’s interface and some actions require more keypress and menu navigation than the Unidens do.
  • It will receive DMR and NXDN systems out of the box, with no additional cost.
  • It does a great job on DMR and NXDN systems but not such a great job on P25 trunking systems (particularly 700/800 MHz systems). In side-by-side tests, I’ve noticed that it will miss some transmissions that the Uniden radios don’t.
  • Whistler’s software for the TRX-1 will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. It is, however, a bit clunky and slow and Whistler has chosen not to make its protocols available to third-party developers.

 

Whistler TRX-2

  • The TRX-2 is the desktop/mobile version of the TRX-1
  • It comes pre-programmed with a national database; all you have to do is enter your location and tell it what types of communications/agencies that you want to listen to.
  • Its user interface will take some getting used to. You will have to get used to navigating through its menus with the keypad. In my opinion, it isn’t quite as intuitive as Uniden’s interface and some actions require more keypress and menu navigation than the Unidens do. This makes it less desirable as a mobile scanner.
  • It will receive DMR and NXDN systems out of the box, with no additional cost.
  • It does a great job on DMR and NXDN systems but not such a great job on P25 trunking systems (particularly 700/800 MHz systems). In side-by-side tests, I’ve noticed that it will miss some transmissions that the Uniden radios don’t.
  • Whistler’s software for the TRX-2 will update the scanner’s national database and firmware to keep it current and up to date and you can also use it to create custom programming files for the radio if you so wish. It is, however, a bit clunky and slow and Whistler has chosen not to make its protocols available to third-party developers.

 

Now that we know something about the radios, we can make a decision on which one to purchase. Going back to the beginning, we established that Public Safety agencies in our area use either P25 trunking systems or conventional analog systems. As far as the conventional analog systems go, the Uniden and Whistler radios handle them equally well. As far as I’m concerned, the decision is made when you look at P25 capability. The Unidens simply outperform the Whistlers on those systems, especially when they’re 700/800 MHz systems, which is what the SEGARRN system is. If you plan on traveling with your scanner to areas that use DMR or NXDN systems, the Unidens will do good enough to get you by on a temporary basis.

Which Uniden radio should you go with? That depends on how you plan to use it. If you just want a scanner to sit on your end table or desk, I would go with either the Home Patrol 2 or BCD536HP. If you want to go with a handheld scanner, I would go with the BCD436HP. If you want to put a scanner in your car, once again I would go with either the Home Patrol 2 or the BCD536HP. In choosing between the Home Patrol 2 and the BCD536HP, I think the main consideration would be your experience level followed by how much room you have to mount the radio in. If you’re a novice user, I would suggest the Home Patrol 2 because its user interface is much simpler to understand and use. If you’re more experienced, you may want to go with BCD536HP. The Home Patrol 2 will also fit in a smaller space than the BCD536HP.  If you plan on traveling with your radio, the BCD436HP and BCD536HP do offer you the capability to add DMR and NXDN reception if you need it.

There are 2 other Uniden options that I have not discussed because they are radios that I have no experience with – those are the BCD325P2 handheld scanner and the BCD996P2 desktop/mobile scanner. They are essentially the next generation of Uniden’s older BCD396XT BCD996XT scanners. They offer P25 Phase II reception just like all of the radios above do and are also upgradable for DMR reception. They’re slightly less expensive than the radios above but they also don’t come with pre-programmed databases. If you buy one of these, you’ll have to program it with the radios systems you want to listen to. I have used the BCD396XT and if these two radios perform anything like it does, they will be excellent performers. If you’re a more experienced user who wouldn’t have much problem programming them, you may want to consider them, but if you’re a novice user, you may want to keep your eyes on the BCD436HP, BCD536HP, or Home Patrol 2.

I hope you don’t come away from this post with the idea that the Whistlers are bad radios because they aren’t. Whistler simply approaches the task at hand with a different method than Uniden does. The two brands do different things well and it just so happens that the things that Uniden does well fit our area better. If we were surrounded by DMR and NXDN systems rather than P25 trunking systems, my suggestion would have been the Whistler radios instead.

By no means did I get into the specifics of each radio and all the bells and whistles each one comes with, but hopefully I went over enough to help you make a decision on which radio to buy if you’re in the market for one.

Correction:  I initially posted that the BC325P2 and BCD996P2 were NXDN upgradable, but they are not. I’ve corrected the text above and I apologize if I’ve caused any confusion.

Observations on the Whistler TRX-1 Digital Trunking Scanner

A few weeks ago, I purchased a Whistler TRX-1 scanner after reading a review of it in Frequency Monitor magazine. I haven’t used a non-Uniden scanner in quite a long time and I wanted something that would receive NXDN since I find myself in the Pierce County and Bleckley County areas (both of which have transitioned to NXDN in recent years) so I decided to try out the TRX-1. First of all, it’s a rather hefty radio; even without the batteries in it, it feels heavier than either my BCD396XT or BCD436HP.  It uses four AA batteries instead three AA batteries like the 396 and 436 do and it’s worth mentioning now that it does not come with batteries in the box, you’ll have to have some on hand when you open the box if you plan on using it right away (they really should include a set of batteries in it, even if it’s just some regular old AAs). It’s about a third again the size of a Uniden BCD396XT, but a rubber case surrounds the actual radio adding some size to it. That rubber surround reminds me of a more wrap-around version of the rubber surround you could get for the old Yaesu FT-50 HTs and if you decide to carry it on your belt, it could really save some wear and tear on the radio.

 

The Whistler TRX-1 (center) flanked by the Uniden BCD396XT (left) and Uniden BCD436HP (right) for size and display comparison (disregard the talkgroup showing on the 396, the other two radios are set up to skip that talkgroup)

 

As far as accessories go, you’ll want to be careful when buying antennas, but you’re likely to already have at least one programming/charging cable for the TRX-1 lying around. The stock antenna on the TRX-1 is a bit stubby, but it does a decent job on VHF/UHF. As you’ll notice in the photo above, the TRX-1 bucks the trend in recent handheld scanners and amateur radio equipment by using a BNC connector rather than an SMA connector, so if you’re buying aftermarket antennas for the TRX-1, make sure you buy them with BNC connectors. If you plan on using antennas you already have that have SMA connectors, you’ll have to have some BNC to SMA adapters. If you already have other equipment that uses mini USB cables, you’re in luck. The TRX-1 uses a USB cable to both connect it to a computer for programming and to charge rechargeable batteries if you’re using them. A mini USB cable comes with the radio, but it never hurts to have spares.

 

Positives

It will receive NXDN transmissions. Commercially known as NEXEDGE, NXDN is a digital voice protocol developed by Kenwood and Icom. It’s said that railroad users will be transitioning to NXDN from analog FM and some public safety users are choosing it over P25, which sees more widespread use among public safety. That’s the primary reason I bought the TRX-1, to have an NXDN capable radio.

You don’t have to pay for an upgrade to do DMR like you have to with the Uniden BCD436HP, it does it out of the box. Based on listening I did in Laurens County with their DMR frequencies, the TRX-1 does a great job decoding the DMR, I experienced no problems with the audio even if I was inside of a building or in the car. I briefly tracked a DMR trunking system in Savannah with it and it tracked the system with no noticeable problems from inside the house with the stock antenna whereas it seemed to be too far away for the BCD436HP to track it (keep this in mind for later).

You have the option of skipping or receiving encrypted transmissions with the TRX-1. Being able to set the radio to not ignore encrypted transmissions is a great feature and one that Unidens don’t have. You can’t understand the encrypted transmissions, but there are times that knowing they’re being made is informative. One of the settings for encrypted transmissions is a telephone-like busy tone that the radio makes while an encrypted transmission is active. (I would definitely urge Uniden to adopt this feature on their next generation of scanners).

The TRX-1 allows you to review recorded transmissions instead of just listening to them. You can scroll through the recordings and listen to only ones you want to. It’s a much more useful and less time-consuming method than either the Uniden Home Patrol or BCD436HP use.

The aforementioned rubber case that comes with it is definitely positive point; as I mentioned above it really could prevent wear and tear on the radio if you wear it on your belt. It doesn’t protect the front from scratches, but it would definitely help prevent shock damage from drops. There are olive drab and gray swappable inserts for the back of the rubber case and a removable swivel belt clip that doesn’t come off easily; I like it a lot better than the belt clips that come with more recent Uniden handhelds.

 

The back of the TRX-1 showing the stout belt clip and one of the two decorative inserts that come with the rubber case that surrounds the radio (the other is olive drab).

 

Negatives

The battery life is short. I’ve found I only get about to four, maybe five hours at best from four rechargeable AAs from a full charge. This isn’t too good if you’re using it as a day-long event scanner. You’re going to be changing batteries more often and that involved taking it out of the rubber surround I mentioned above; it isn’t as easy as sliding a battery door off, taking out the old batteries and putting in some new ones. The TRX-1 charges through the same mini-USB port that it connects to your computer through (like the Uniden BCD436HP and Home Patrol 2 do), so I got around this issue while on vacation by carrying a USB battery in my pack and connecting it to the TRX-1 with the programming cable when it began getting low.

It has low audio, even with the audio boost feature turned on, it’s hard to get enough volume to hear in some situations. I can get higher volume out of both my BCD396XT and BCD436HP. If you’re going to be listening to the TRX-1 in a moderate noise environment or higher, headphones or earbuds will be a must.

The TRX-1’s display, even though it’s sizeable, doesn’t display as much information as the display on a Uniden BCD436HP does. It’s just a bit larger than the display on a BCD396XT and like the 396, alphanumeric tags for talkgroups and frequencies are more character limited. Also similar to the 396, the TRX-1’s display appears cramped and run-together. Personally, I prefer the 436’s display with longer alphanumeric tags and more space between fields and lines. For a radio as expensive as it is, I would expect a better, more readable display from the TRX-1.

The TRX-1’s user interface isn’t as user-friendly for me as the ones for my Unidens area. My biggest issue with the user interface is with manually tuning the radio for a channel (or object as the Whistler terms it). I have a habit of hearing something but by the time I grab the radio it’s scanned past what I want to hear. With the BCD396XT and BCD436HP that isn’t a problem, you can hold it on a frequency or talkgroup with the press of a button then scroll up or down through the menu to find the frequency or talkgroup you want to go back to. On the TRX-1, if it has already returned to scan you have to get out of scan mode, find what you want by selecting the object you want out of a menu and then selecting it to hold it on that object and listen. That’s terribly inconvenient and time-consuming. This probably isn’t an issue for many listeners, but I’m a bit of a different individual and it causes issues for me.

V-Scanner Folders in the TRX-1’s memory are similar but not quite the same as Favorites Lists in the Uniden BCD436HP’s and Home Patrol’s memories. One of the things I like about the 436 and the Home Patrol is the ability to monitor multiple Favorites Lists at one time; you can only scan one V-Scanner Folder at a time with the TRX-1. You can get a similar result by using Scan Sets with the TRX-1, but once again, it leads to a slightly more complicated way of getting the job done than the 436 (but not the Home Patrol does). With both the TRX-1 and Home Patrol, you just have to through too many menu screens to do it, whereas with the 436 it’s just a few button pushes.

As good as it does on DMR, the TRX-1 just doesn’t receive P25 trunking systems, particularly multi-site ones, as good as my Uniden gear does. When I first programmed it up and started trying to use it, I was stunned that it was missing a lot of transmissions compared to my BCD396XT, BCD436HP, and Home Patrol 2. At home in Savannah, I’m not very far from one of the SEGARRN tower sites and was missing at least 50% of what the BCD436HP was in a side-by-side comparison. It took much fiddling about with the data decoding threshold settings and setting the squelch very low for the radio stop missing transmissions. Even then it still misses some transmissions that the Unidens don’t. In my observation, the TRX-1 has to have a much stronger signal on the control channel than a Uniden does to adequately track a trunking system. I’ve also noticed that I have to have a better signal on the TRX-1 than I do on one of my Unidens to get good quality P25 audio from the TRX-1, particularly on 700/800 MHz. Even with a 700/800 MHz specific antenna on the TRX-1 and a stock antenna on the 396 or 436, the Unidens give better sounding P25 audio on 700/800 MHz trunking systems in lower signal environments.

 

Software/Computer Control

I have a couple more negative aspects to go over but they’re not so much as negatives about the radio as they are about the software and decisions Whistler has made regarding software. I’m a fan of Butel’s programming and computer control/logging software (I also use ProScan and ID Tracker). For every scanner I’ve bought in recent years, I’ve bought Butel’s software for it. I’ve found it easier to program the radios with Butel’s software instead of the manufacturer’s software (I’m not as big of a user of pre-loaded databases as I am my own information) and I love the capability that computer logging gives you when you’re searching for new things or trying to scan an event. Imagine my surprise when I went to Butel’s website (after I had already taken delivery of the radio) and finding this:

“Every day we get multiple requests for better programming software for the new Whistler scanners. Unfortunately Whistler has officially stated to us that they will not release programming protocols for third party software development. If you did not make a purchase yet we advise to look at Uniden’s offerings instead since they do support us and other 3rd party software development for their scanners. And don’t hesitate to send your complaints to info@whistergroup.com and tell them you bought a Uniden instead!”

I found this extremely disappointing, all the more so because of how user unfriendly Whistler’s EZ Scan software for programming and managing the TRX-1 is. The software simply isn’t intuitive for anyone who’s used to Windows-based software (which I would imagine are most users). It’s difficult to navigate around the data fields through using the tab key or arrow keys like you can in most Windows-based software, you have to use the mouse to select or move to each field instead. You can’t copy and paste settings or data fields. When you import from the RadioReference database with Butel’s software you can pick and choose agency/frequencies/talkgroups, but with EZ Scan, you don’t have quite as much versatility in what you import. Finally, there is the speed of the computer/radio interface. It’s slow. Startlingly slow in fact, the transfer speed between the computer is more like that of the previous generation Uniden BCD396XT rather than the current generation Uniden BCD436HP and Home Patrols. If Whistler isn’t going to put some more effort into the radio’s software, then give third-party companies like Butel or ProScan the ability to do so. Frankly, if I knew this before I bought the TRX-, I may very well have decided not to buy it.

 

Conclusion

The TRX-1 really is a radio that I wanted to love, but between the 700/800 MHz P25 trunk tracking issues and the third party software issue, I’m left lukewarm. I’ve not had the chance to try it on NXDN yet (when I went through Bleckley County recently, things were apparently quiet) and it does quite well on DMR, so if you’re in an area that primarily uses DMR or NXDN, this very well could be the radio for you (the only one right now for NXDN). On the other hand, if your area primarily uses P25 I would definitely consider a different radio, the TRX-1 simply doesn’t track multi-site 700/800 MHz trunking systems as well as other choices do. If you’ve got some cash to toss around, however, the TRX-1 would make a pretty good secondary radio, especially for searching. That said, there are certainly some lessons that Uniden could learn from Whistler, particularly the ability to select whether or not you want to skip encrypted transmissions and the way you review the TRX-1’s recordings.

In short, if you need DMR capability over P25 capability, go with a TRX-1. If you need P25 capability over DMR, go with a Uniden. For NXDN, at this time the TRX-1 is your only choice. The software issue is one that could be easily remedied by Whistler having a change of heart and sharing what’s needed for third parties to produce programming/control software for it.

New Uniden BCD436HP

I ordered a Uniden BCD436HP and it arrived last week.  After playing with it for a week, I thought I’d pass on a few initial thoughts/observations about the radio. Since I also have a BCD396T, BCD396XT, and HP-1 Home Patrol, I’m including comparisons where applicable.  So far I’ve been able to scan the Glynn County TRS (Analog Type II), SEGARRN (P25), and Department of the Army/Fort Stewart-Hunter AAF TRS (P25) as well as various digital and analog conventional frequencies.  I’ve monitored a little bit of aviation and MilAir with it but I still want to do some more on it before making any judgments in those areas.

Positives

  • The radio is larger than the BCD396T/BCD396XT but not by much; the size differential is primarily down to the larger display.  The size is really not enough to make a difference when carrying it on your hip.  It’s just as thin at the 396 is, just a bit longer and wider.  For those of us who remember the earliest hand held scanners – it’s not that big.

    BCD396XT and BCD436HP side by side for size comparison.
    BCD396XT and BCD436HP side by side for size comparison.
  • The larger display presents a lot more information in a more readable format than the screen on the BCD396T/BCD396XT does.  You can see what system you’re monitoring, what department or group you’re monitoring, and the channel you’re monitoring plus talkgroup number and UID information without the display cycling through multiple screens.  My only complaint here is that it doesn’t show the frequency when a talkgroup is displayed even though there seems to be room to do so (although this is something that would only bother a minority of hobbyists).

    BCD436HP, note the large display which can present a lot more information than the 396's smaller display.
    BCD436HP, note the large display which can present a lot more information than the 396’s smaller display.
  • If you have used or are familiar with the BCD396T/BCD396XT or Home Patrol scanners, you will be able to easily navigate the BCD436HP.  It operates via menus in much the same way the Home Patrol does but since it doesn’t have the Home Patrol’s touch screen, you can activate and deactivate systems and departments via the 396’s system of quick keys.  The 436 also has an extra row of keys along the bottom for System, Department and Channel which take the place of the touch screen for selecting holding on systems, departments, and channels. While there are some differences, you’ll quickly adapt to them and be on your way. I find that I can easily switch back and forth between the three without confusion.
  • So far, reception seems to be on a par with the BCD396T/BCD396XT and Home Patrol scanners but before I pass any judgement I want to spend more time comparing how they do side-by-side.
  • I like that the BCD436HP charges through the same USB port that it used for programming and control.  My only question is this:  why does it use a USB mini plug instead of a USB micro plug?  Using a micro would keep you from having to keep track of different types of cables, most phones and other devices are now using the micro plug.  It seems that amateur radio and scanner gear stays a step behind in terms of cabling and connectors.  

Negatives

  • Battery life seems to be less than the BCD396T/BCD396XT but that is to be expected with the larger and more complex display; after a full charge, the battery will last 6-7 hours of intermittent use over the course of several days.  If you are going to use this radio for all day carry or for an event, I would strongly recommend carrying spare AA batteries (it uses 3 at a time) or perhaps consider a USB power supply such as a Go Puck.
  • The BCD436HP’s audio through the external speaker doesn’t seem to be as strong as the audio through the external speaker on either my BCD396T or BCD396XT.  I don’t have any complaints on the audio through the headphone jack.
  • While monitoring the Glynn County TRS (Type II analog) side by side with the BCD396XT I noticed that the 436 wasn’t always displaying UIDs when the 396 did.  Both radios were using the stock duck antenna and seemed to be receiving the system at the same signal strength.  Otherwise, it monitored the system just fine.  I haven’t noticed it happen while monitoring P25 systems.

I’ve been using ARC536PRO from Butel to program favorite lists into the BCD436HP and so far I’ve been very happy with it.  When I first downloaded the software (right after it was released) I noticed there was a problem with it accepting frequencies between 54-107 MHz.  While that probably wouldn’t cause an issue for most scanner enthusiasts, it definitely can if you are a MilCom scanning enthusiast.  I sent Butel and email and quickly received a response that there was a new version coming out that day that fixed that issue.  After downloading the new version, everything has worked fine.  After using Butel software with everything from a BC780 up to the current 436, I definitely recommend Butel’s software for programming, control, and logging.

After getting to use the radio some more and gaining more experience I plan on updating this post with more observations and information.  One of the things I’m interested in is how well it handles P25 audio when when in areas where simulcast sites coverage areas overlap; so far I’ve not had the chance to test that. That will be something that those in the Savannah area (SEGARRN simulcast sites in Chatham County) would need to take into consideration.  Stay tuned…

Uniden BCD396XT Firmware Update to Help With Digital Simulcast Systems

Update, 25 January 2013, 0645 hrs:  The Uniden USB-1 cable arrived earlier in the week and I began using it with an Acer netbook running Windows 7.  Everything is functioning properly, so the issue was a conflict between the firmware update and the USB-to-Serial adapter.  The firmware update is a great improvement to the radio’s performance so I strongly suggest running it as well as ordering the USB-1 cable.  The cable is only $29.95 not $39.99 as support quoted on the phone so it isn’t as expensive as initially thought.

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Update, 12 January 2013, 1100 hrs:  In the ongoing saga of the Uniden BCD396XT post firmware update, I discovered this morning that an old USB-to-Serial adapter on an old Windows XP netbook computer will recognize the radio. I just reprogrammed it with that setup and all is working. I’m confident that what I had was an anomaly and that that the radio isn’t half-bricked. Purchasing a USB cable for it should resolve issues on all of the computers.  I think others can feel comfortable doing the update with no problems and it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a USB cable for the radio rather than using an adapter anyway.

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Update, 11 January 2013, 1300 hrs:  I received an email reply from Uniden this morning that suggested I call their customer support, which I did.  Customer support stated that in their experience, USB-to-Serial adapters are unstable and that the firmware update could have caused this setup to stop working (even though it has worked on multiple computers with multiple scanners for several years with no problems whatsoever).  My options were to find get their USB cable for $39.99 or send in the scanner to be checked for $59.99.  Come Monday, I’ll order the USB cable; once it arrives I’ll try things again and post an update on whether things work again.

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Update:  11 January, 0700 hrs:  Since I wrote the blog post, I’ve discovered I have problem with my BCD396XT after running the update:

WARNING: After updating the software in my Uniden BCD396XT scanner yesterday, it is no longer recognized by any of my computers or software. I’ve tried checking the PC control settings, uninstalled/reinstalled the USB/Serial adapter drivers, and tried a factory reset. I currently have a scanner with nothing programmed in it that I can’t computer reprogram. I have an email into Uniden support for more information. You may want to hold off on running the update.

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BCD396XTYesterday I found out about a new firmware update for the Uniden BCD396XT handheld scanner through a friend on Twitter and Facebook (who says social media  doesn’t have some good use!?).  The new firmware revision is 1.11.01 and is one that BCD396XT owners in the Savannah and Coastal Georgia area will be interested in.  The firmware installer and update instructions can be found at:

http://info.uniden.com/twiki/pub/publish/BCD396XTFirmwareUpdate.html

One of the main complaints about digital scanners is that they have a hard time with the digital audio from digital simulcast systems such as the SEGARRN TRS which has sites in Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham, Glynn, and Liberty Counties.  Uniden states that the purpose of this firmware update is to improve performance on APCO Project P25 sites operating using Linear Simulcast Modulation (LSM).  This should improve the received audio on the SEGARRN TRS.

I downloaded and updated the firmware in my BCD396XT yesterday afternoon.  While I retweeted KE6ZGP‘s tweet about the update and posted a link in Facebook after I did, I wanted to wait until after I had a chance to do some listening post-upgrade before writing about it on the blog.  Throughout yesterday afternoon and this morning, I have noticed that the digital audio quality has improved.  For lack of a better term it is “cleaner” and I’m not hearing near as much of the garbling and skipping that can be prevalent when in the area where tower site coverage areas overlap.  This is what Uniden is trying to accomplish with this firmware update and so far it seems that it’s working.

If you’re a BCD396XT owner in Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham, Glynn, and Liberty Counties or surrounding counties (or to be honest any BCD396XT owner) this is an update you’ll want to install on your scanner.  It’s free, simple to do, and doesn’t take but a few minutes.

Scanning: Glynn County SEGARRN Update

While I was in Brunswick last week, I left the Uniden BCD396XT running with Butel’s ARC-XT software on my netbook computer to log and record talkgroups on the Glynn County site of the SEGARRN trunked repeater system.  During the week, I was able to use the logs and recordings to identify one of the Glynn County public works talkgroups I’ve been hearing and find the first Glynn County public safety traffic I’ve heard on the system.

Uniden BCD396XT handheld scanner connected to an Acer netbook computer running Butel’s ARC-XT software for computer logging and recording of traffic.

There are a number of talkgroups I’ve heard Glynn County public works traffic on but as of yet I hadn’t been able to make any channel or department IDs except for a guess that most of it was Road Department related.  Last week, TG 13315 was identified by one of the users as “Traffic,” so I’m guessing it must be their Traffic Engineers.  Here’s a list of the Glynn County public works talkgroups I’ve heard so far:

  • 13312 (Busiest by far, probably the primary channel)
  • 13313
  • 13314
  • 13315 – Traffic
  • 13316

It seems that the Glynn County FD might be starting to use the SEGARRN system as well.  Last week I began hearing some of their units on two talkgroups.  On TG 13320, there was some informal traffic that seemed to be fire department related as well as several unanswered calls  from Glynn FD units to their Fire Control and Headquarters.  On TG 13334, there was a call from Glynn County Engine 1 to BFD (Brunswick FD) that was unanswered.  I’m guessing that 13320 might be a Glynn County FD channel and that 13334 could be a Glynn FD, Brunswick FD, or a mutual aid/common channel; with these two talkgroups showing up it definitely seems like it’s time to start paying more attention to the Glynn County SEGARRN site if you aren’t already.