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What Is A Radio Scanner And How Do They Work?

Before smartphones, the internet, and social media, listening to radio scanners was a fairly popular pastime for many people. If you were born after 2000, you may be wondering what a radio scanner is and how it works. Understanding how these devices work and how they can be used can be a fun hobby and, in some cases, a life-saving device.

What Is A Radio Scanner?

A radio scanner is a device that scans the airwaves and grabs frequencies that can be found within a certain range. Radio scanners can be used for many applications, some of which include: 

  • First responders
  • Listening to local gossip
  • Music lovers
  • Radio hobbyists
  • Weather and news updates

For more detailed information about radio scanners and how they work, continue reading. 

As briefly mentioned above, a radio scanner is essentially a device used to scan the available frequencies flying around on the airwaves all around us. These devices can be rechargeable handheld units or desktop units that plug into a wall outlet. You can find the best police radio scanners here.

What Is A Radio Scanner And How Do They Work
Diff Types of Radio Scanners are shown in the image.

How Does A Radio Scanner Work?

A radio scanner is used to listen to public conversations and keep up to date with weather and news. Radio scanners work in three basic modes. Some more advanced models may have other options, but the majority of the radio scanners operate by the following methods.

Auto Scan Through Preset Frequencies

When a radio scanner is in scan mode it means that it is continuously searching for frequencies that have been preset to see who is transmitting at that moment. 

When the scanner lands on a frequency that is transmitting it will stop to let the listener decide if they want to stay on that frequency. 

This feature is handy if you already have certain frequencies that you like to listen to because you don’t have to keep entering the frequency number. 

Manually Scan Through Frequencies

The manual scan mode is exactly as it sounds. It is where the listener manually turns a dial or enters a certain frequency number until they find what they want to listen to. 

Once the desired frequency is found, the listener can save it to the preset menu, and it will be included in the next auto scan. 

Automatically Search For New Frequencies 

The search mode on a radio scanner is used when a listener is not sure of which frequencies are transmitting or they are looking for something new to listen to. 

Search mode works by scanning two sets of frequencies simultaneously until it lands on a frequency that is being transmitted. 

If at that time the listener wants to listen to that frequency they can save it to their preset menu and it will be included in the auto scan the next time it is performed.

Continue reading to learn the answers to commonly asked questions about radio scanners.

Commonly Asked Questions About Radio Scanners

Now that you understand the basics of how a radio scanner works and why people use them you may have some other questions that are answered below. 

Can A Radio Scanner Be Traced?

No, a radio scanner cannot be traced as it is programmed to receive transmissions rather than send them out. 

How Far Do Radio Scanners Reach? 

There is no set radius for a radio scanner because certain factors can affect the signal such as land features, structures, weather, and other things that can interfere with a signal. 

However, most radio scanners when working under ideal conditions can receive transmissions from between  10 – 20 miles. Some more expensive models may be able to reach an even larger radius.

Are Radio Scanners Legal? 

Yes, radio scanners are legal, however, some laws dictate how they can be used. It is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the laws before getting into trouble. 

Can A Scanner Radio Pick Up Cell Phone Conversations? 

Since smartphones and other cellular devices are digitally encrypted a radio scanner cannot pick up conversations between these devices. 

Is A CB The Same Thing As A Radio Scanner? 

A CB is designed for people to communicate with one another whereas a radio scanner is primarily designed for listening to conversations and information. 

Radio Scanners are Helpful And Fun When Used Correctly

A radio scanner can be super helpful if you travel a lot and need to stay current on weather, traffic, and news information. Additionally, they are a really fun way to pass the time and learn some interesting information about the people around you and what is going on in the world. 


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