Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

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Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby MQT1223 » Thu Mar 28, 2019 6:58 pm

So I'm on the hunt for a cheap and affordable scanner that I can use while out and about. I want to stop relying on the apps and so that I have more freedom when it comes to finding where the action is when I am away from home.

Can anyone shed some light on of models of portable scanners that I should look for and ones I should steer away from? Obviously when on a budget that can mean either a poor quality product or a real "bang for your buck" and I'd rather hear directly from the people that use them or have used them versus online reviews.

I'm also looking for something that's easy to use, since I've never had anything like this before so I have to learn how it works as I use it.

Of course if anyone has anything they'd be interesting in selling to me directly I'd also appreciate that as well. I have nothing against secondhand equipment. I'm a PM away if someone wants quick cash. :D

Any insight would be appreciated.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby trnwatcher » Thu Mar 28, 2019 7:18 pm

A decent scanner will run around $100 plus new. The issue will be even with a good external antenna ( another $50 to $100) you'll be limited to a 15 to 20 mile diameter of range. The app covers a much wider area but does have the drawback of requiring decent cell data coverage. I carry both as the web app only covers certain channels. I've got my scanner set up where the various banks cover specific regions ( i.e. Chesterton, Detroit, West/Central MI, etc.).
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby Saturnalia » Thu Mar 28, 2019 9:50 pm

Uniden BC125AT. It’s what I’ve carried since 2013. End of story when it comes to best economical scanner
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby MQT1223 » Thu Mar 28, 2019 10:34 pm

Saturnalia wrote:Uniden BC125AT. It’s what I’ve carried since 2013. End of story when it comes to best economical scanner


Did you buy yours online or at a department store? How does it stack up with something from say Radioshack?
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby MQT1223 » Thu Mar 28, 2019 10:38 pm

trnwatcher wrote:A decent scanner will run around $100 plus new. The issue will be even with a good external antenna ( another $50 to $100) you'll be limited to a 15 to 20 mile diameter of range. The app covers a much wider area but does have the drawback of requiring decent cell data coverage. I carry both as the web app only covers certain channels. I've got my scanner set up where the various banks cover specific regions ( i.e. Chesterton, Detroit, West/Central MI, etc.).


I have several apps that cover a broad variety of areas, however when it comes to capturing shortlines or anything that's in the dark area's that the apps don't cover I want to be prepared for that.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby Jim_c » Thu Mar 28, 2019 11:00 pm

Does anything new even have a RadioShack label anymore?. If you are going to Chesterton consider getting a ham license and using a 2-way hand held as a scanner. I don't know how tightly they enforce the Indiana scanner law, but that would help in case they do.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby Saturnalia » Thu Mar 28, 2019 11:26 pm

MQT1223 wrote:
Saturnalia wrote:Uniden BC125AT. It’s what I’ve carried since 2013. End of story when it comes to best economical scanner


Did you buy yours online or at a department store? How does it stack up with something from say Radioshack?

Mine was gifted to me. Just get it on Amazon.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby GreatLakesRailfan » Sun Mar 31, 2019 8:53 am

My first scanner came from eBay and held up for several years. It was also a lot cheaper buying used (I couldn't afford a brand new scanner when I was in college) than new. It's not as simple or quick as walking into the store and buying something off the shelf, or direct from Amazon, but it may be a better fit for your budget. The other upside (or downside, considering I went to college in Indiana) was that the seller of that first scanner had been in emergency services and it was capable of picking up those frequencies.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby hoborich » Mon Apr 01, 2019 6:39 pm

I don't know how tightly they enforce the Indiana scanner law, but that would help in case they do.


While we are on the subject, can anyone shed any light on this?
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby Jetlink » Tue Apr 02, 2019 9:51 am

hoborich wrote:
I don't know how tightly they enforce the Indiana scanner law, but that would help in case they do.


While we are on the subject, can anyone shed any light on this?


I've taken scanners to Indiana for years and never had an issue. There are people I've met though that are absolutely hard core about it and insist you can't have a scanner in Indiana and won't even pack one in their trunk on the way to Illinois.

I think the take away is this: If you don't draw attention to yourself generally and don't encounter law enforcement in your normal activities then it's not an issue. Even if you did and were respectful and not flashing it around and being a dweeb in general then it won't be an issue.

If you normally encounter law enforcement, push the rules of normal behavior, trespass, are annoying others around you, and drawing attention to yourself then you might want to be wary of taking a scanner with you to Indiana. Just the fact that you were respectful enough to ask the question probably puts you in the first category I'm guessing. Be smart and it shouldn't be an issue.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby GreatLakesRailfan » Wed Apr 03, 2019 9:56 pm

hoborich wrote:
I don't know how tightly they enforce the Indiana scanner law, but that would help in case they do.


While we are on the subject, can anyone shed any light on this?


My understanding is that enforcement depends on the circumstances. The law wasn't put in because of railfans, or hobbyists in general for that matter. If your scanner isn't capable of picking up police/emergency services frequencies, you're not in violation of the law anyway. If it is, and you're using it for nefarious purposes, you can expect problems with law enforcement. Otherwise, the only reason you would likely have a problem is if you cross a cop who's looking for a reason to give you a hard time.

The safest course of action is to obtain a ham license, but...so far I've never had a problem without one. Even while chasing 765 across the state.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby Saturnalia » Wed Apr 03, 2019 10:22 pm

Evaluate your standing with the following:

1. You aren't doing anything illegal
2. You don't draw attention to yourself
3. You are respectful if law enforcement contact occurs
4. You have out-of-state plates

You should be fine. I've spent gobs of time on the Chicago Line from Butler to the Calumet River, always nice waves from the police. They know who railfans are, what they do, and if you're following typical etiquette, they won't concern themselves with you. I had one officer ask from his cruiser if I was railfanning, I replied that I was, and he wished me a fun time and departed. Scanner was on clipped to my shorts.

If they do ask if you have a HAM license, obviously be honest. But if you're from out-of-state, you can probably plead ignorance to the license requirement. Obviously not a very good legal defense but this is the real world were pragmatism usually rules. If you got this far and they informed you that you were using it in violation of the law, simply volunteer to cease using it on the spot, thank the officer for the notice, and I bet 99.9% of the time, assuming the above 4 are true, that'll be enough for them to move on.

Most officers would much rather go snag somebody committing traffic infractions like distracted driving, and be available to help with real crimes, then pester somebody who's simply enjoying their hobby. The scanner law was written to criminalize using a scanner to help commit another crime anyway.
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Re: Affordable Scanners, the Good and the Bad

Unread postby GTW6401 » Mon Apr 15, 2019 10:34 pm

Most law enforcement agencies now use 800 megahertz radio systems. The typical railfan doesn't even have a scanner that can receive it.
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