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.

Field Day in Brunswick

Brunswick – I haven’t been to an amateur radio field day in years. While searching for something else on the web last week, I found out that the Glynn County amateur radio club, the Glynn Amateur Radio Association (GARA), had been reformed (GARA doesn’t have a website at this time, but there is a Facebook page for Glynn County ARES where information is shared) and that they were going to hold a field day operation in combination with the Camden County Amateur Radio Society (CCARS) at Blythe Island Regional Park.

After I got off from work on Sunday morning, I went over to the park and met some of the hams who were up and about early. They were operating 7A as K4J; when I got there, a 20 Meter phone station and 40 Meter digital station were active. They were using a nice variety of antennas – verticals and dipoles and power sources – generators, battery, and solar. After watching for a bit, 20 Meters started to open up, so I helped Darrell, KJ4PEO log a good run of QSOs to the northeast and midwest, with Texas and Oklahoma also starting to come in.

 

Darrell, KJ4PEO working the 20 Meter phone station at K4J, the Glynn Amateur Radio Association’s Field Day operation early Sunday morning

 

Over the course of the week and Sunday morning, I also picked up some information on the GARA net and meetings. They hold a club net on Thursdays at 1900 local on the 145.330- (PL 131.8) repeater with an ARES net that follows. They meet on the second Monday of the month at 1800 local at the Ole Times Buffet in Brunswick. Since I’m in Brunswick more often than Savannah, I look forward to taking the opportunity to check into the nets and try to make some meetings.

It was definitely a lot of fun to get back to a Field Day operation even if it was just for a couple of hours. I’d like to thank the guys from GARA and CCARS for making me feel comfortable and welcome. Even if all I did was logging stations instead of operating (I’d been on the radio for eight hours at work and really didn’t feel like getting on again!) it was still fun to hang out and talk radio, which is one of the aspects of Field Day I’ve always enjoyed the most.

2017 Wings Over the Golden Isles Airshow (Brunswick, GA) Frequencies

Update 26 March 2017:  118.650 is indeed “Tower” for the airshow.

Brunswick, GA – Due to my work schedule, I’m not able to attend or do any attended listening of this weekend’s Wings Over the Golden Isles Airshow at the Brunswick-Golden Isles Airport (KBQK), but I did set up a radio to do some computer logging/recording yesterday. It logged what seems to be the Air Boss frequency along with frequencies for the Blue Angels, the F-22 Demo Team, and the Sky Soldiers Demo Team. Additionally, it recorded several references to 118.650 as “the tower frequency.” KBQK doesn’t have a control tower, so it’s possible that a portable tower has been set up for the air show and it’s using 118.650. I’ll put it in the scan list today and try to confirm it.

123.150 – Air Boss

237.800 – Blue Angels Solos
284.250 – Blue Angels Show Box
275.350 – Blue Angels Squadron Common; Diamond

376.025 – F-22 Demo Team

234.500 – Sky Soldiers
123.025 – Sky Soldiers

I also checked Mode-S logs and found several aircraft that should be static displays or performers for the airshow.  It looks like C-17A, 92-3293 from the 437th/315th Airlift Wing at Charleston AFB, C-130H3, 94-6705 of the 165th Airlift Wing in Savannah, and P-3C, 161121 from VP-62 and NAS Jacksonville are static displays. It’s possible that a Georgia Army National Guard UH-72A, 12-72231 is a static display as well, but given the last altitude my receiver saw it, I’m not fully sure it landed at KBQK. One of the AeroShell Aerobatic Team AT-6Gs showed up on Mode-S as well.

AE07D7 – C-17A, 92-3293, 437th/315th AW (TURTLE8)
AE1FF6 – UH-72A, 12-72231, GA ARNG?
AE14D1 – P-3C, 161121, VP-62
AABCD7 – AT-6G, N791MH, AeroShell Aerobtic Team
ADFDEA – C-130H3, 94-6705, 165th AW (DAWG75)

I’ll be recording today as well and will update this list for the Sunday show if any new frequencies show up in today’s logs. If you have the chance to attend, don’t hesitate to go and have a good time; we don’t get the Blue Angels this close to Savannah or Brunswick very often, we usually have to go to one of military bases like Jacksonville, Moody, Robins, or Beaufort.

Glynn County Fire Department on the SEGARRN TRS

Those listening to public safety communications on the SEGARRN system in Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty County may have recently begun hearing the Glynn County Fire Department on the system due to Glynn County’s recent move of their public safety communications from the Glynn County TRS to the SEGARRN system. For those not familiar with Glynn County or the Glynn County FD, here is an overview of their talkgroups and department.

Glynn County FD is dispatched by Glynn County 911 but decisions on responding units are sometimes changed or supplemented by Fire Control out of Station 1. When monitoring Glynn County FD, it’s important to remember that they use “Squad” for an ambulance – so their Squads are EMS units. Since the change, I’ve been using a combination of ID Tracker III and Unitrunker to try to find out what talkgroups the Glynn County FD and Brunswick FD are using.

Screen capture of Unitrunker reading the control channel of the Glynn County SEGARRN site.
Screen capture of Unitrunker reading the control channel of the Glynn County SEGARRN site.

So far, two SEGARRN talkgroups have been discovered for the Glynn County Fire Department:

  • 13320 – Glynn County FD 1
  • 13324 – Glynn County FD 2

It’s quite possible that there are more talkgroups for the Department but so far these are the only ones that have been discovered. Keep a watch on this blog and the RadioReference website for updates.

Glynn County Fire Department Station Locations/Apparatus

  • Station 1 – Station 1 is located at 4310 Community Road, covers the central part of Glynn County, and also serves as the Glynn County FD’s headquarters. Engine 1, Squad 1, Rescue 1, Ladder-Tower 1, Tanker 1, Engine 11, and the Deputy Chiefs (51, 52, and 53) ride out of Station 1
  • Station 2 – Station 2 is located at 1929 Demere Rd on St. Simons Island and covers the south part of St. Simons Island and Malcolm McKinnon Airport. Engine 2, Squad 2, and Rescue 2 ride out of Station 2.
  • Station 3 – Station 3 is located at 127 Grants Ferry Rd and covers the northwest part of Glynn County. Engine 3 and Squad 3 ride out of Station 3.
  • Station 4 – Station 4 is located at 3581 Frederica Rd and covers the central part of St. Simons Island. Engine 4, Squad 4, and Ladder 4 ride out of Station 4.
  • Station 5 – Station 5 is located at the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport and covers the northeastern part of Glynn County. Engine 5 rides out of Station 5 as do CFR (Crash-Fire-Rescue) 5 and 11 to provide crash/fire coverage for the airport.
  • Station 6 – Station 6 is located at 3320 Highway 17 South and covers the southern part of Glynn County. Engine 6 and Squad 6 ride out of Station 6.
  • Station 7 – Station 7 is located at 2911 Lawrence Road on St. Simons Island and covers the northern part of St. Simons Island. Engine 7 and Tanker 7 ride out of Station 7.
  • Station 8 – Station 8 is located at 141 Public Safety Blvd and covers the northern part of Glynn County. Engine 8 and Squad 8 ride out of Station 8.

In addition to the stations above, Squad 11 rides out of Brunswick FD Station at 1201 Gloucester St to provide EMS coverage to the city of Brunswick.

The Brunswick Fire Department is also dispatched by Glynn County 911, but they have their talkgroups on which they’re dispatched and operate.  Their Stations are located on 1201 Gloucester St. on the south side of the city and 3129 4th St. on the north side of the city. The talkgroups found so far for the Brunswick FD are:

  • 13334 – Brunswick FD 1
  • 13335 – Brunswick FD 2

As with the Glynn County FD, watch this blog and the RadioReference website for updates.

 

Glynn County on the SEGARRN System – Update 2

Brunswick – As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Glynn County has switched from their analog trunked system to the SEGARRN regional trunked system. Other counties using this system are Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty. Glynn County’s portion of the system consists of four simulcast sites utilizing 700 MHz and 800 MHz frequencies from two licenses. The 700 MHz frequencies are from WQQI739 and the 800 MHz frequencies are from WQXA315 (frequencies are listed below). The four sites cover different portions of the county with one in Brunswick, one on St. Simon’s Island, one off of US 341 in the northern portion of the county, and one off of US 82 in the western portion of the county.

771.68125
771.93125
772.30625
772.55625
772.55625
854.0625
854.3875
854.6125
855.2375
855.7375
856.0125
856.4375
857.4375

So far, I’ve been able to identify eight talkgroups. For some time, Glynn County Public Works has been on the SEGARRN system with four talkgroups. I’m not sure of the actual talkgroup names, so I’ve listed them below as 1 through 4. Glynn County FD has been using two talkgroups on SEGARRN that correspond to their old F1 and F2 talkgroups on the Glynn County TRS. Brunswick FD has been heard on one talkgroup that corresponds with their old F1 talkgroup on the Glynn County TRS. I heard all three talkgroups being used before the switch for testing, but I wasn’t able to put firm ID’s on them until they put them in regular use. Glynn County Animal Control has also been heard on the system. Thus far, all local and county law enforcement seem to be on encrypted talkgroups. Identified talkgroups are listed below (so far, all of Glynn County’s talkgroups have been in the 13### range).

13312 – Glynn County Public Works 1
13313 – Glynn County Public Works 2
13314 – Glynn County Public Works 3
13315 – Glynn County Public Works 4
13320 – Glynn County FD 1
13324 – Glynn County FD 2
13334 – Brunswick FD 1
13383 – Glynn County Animal Control

Naturally, the law enforcement agencies going encrypted is going to upset some radio hobbyists, but it is what it is. You can look for more agencies, particularly law enforcement agencies, to go encrypted in the future. I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of encryption (and I won’t be entertaining one in the comments section either). Losing the ability to hear the police isn’t the end of the hobby… There’s plenty left not encrypted and there to be listened to. If you’re interested in what’s not encrypted in Glynn County and the surrounding area, you’ll now need a digital scanner. Most of these run in the high $400 to low $500 range new. For the novice or casual listener, I’d suggest the Uniden Home Patrol. For those wanting to get a bit deeper into the hobby, the Uniden BCD436HP handheld and BCD536HP base/mobile would be a good choice. Whistler is now selling some GRE-based digital scanners which would also be excellent choices.

In a few weeks, I’ll bring the BCD396XT and a computer with ID Tracker III on it down to do some computer searching. That should hopefully ID some more talkgroups and put a start on IDing some Glynn County UIDs.