Build Your Own Police Scanner for $20

During my college days I worked in Radio Shack part time to help pay the bills. Its unfortunate Radio Shack has gone extinct, however when you are unable to adapt to the changes in the market only the strong will survive.  During my career at The Shack one of the products that fascinated me was the police scanner. I spent hours behind the counter dialing up different frequencies and listing to calls all over New York City.

It was the dawn of the digital tuner age where a listener could punch up a frequency for police or fire and be right in the action.  476.3875 – BOOM.. you’re listening to NYPD! 482.04375 – Fire dispatch on the air! A few more clicks of the keypad and 482.2437 EMS is coming in loud and clear

Can you still buy a scanner?

You sure can! Uniden, and Whistler are brands that have survived and are still available for purchase at Amazon.

This Whistler desktop scanner is available at Amazon for $250.00 It can pretty much scan and store a ton of frequencies.



If a hand held unit is more your speed, Uniden has a great scanner for $360.00 also at Amazon. This unit boasts over 25,000 dynamically allocated channels. Seems like a lot if you ask me.


Save your money and DIY a scanner for $20

Digital tuners are everywhere, in our car radios, cable boxes, mobile devices and more. The digital tuner I used in my project is a USB Software Defined Radio I picked up for $20 (Click here to get one)

These little USB sticks are designed to receive TV broadcasts in Europe (they do not receive  US TV signals)  However with the correct software they are easily configurable to receive broadcasts from as low as 25mhz all the way to 1.3Ghz. The receive is very broad and will allow the tuning of multiple stations simultaneously.

It’s very easy to get started, simply plug the device into a USB port and download some companion software to begin tuning to your favorite police band.    has all the software you need to start your DIY scanner and begin listening to police, fire, ems, etc.


A few notes and discoveries:

  • The device scans and decodes analog stations only, if you tune to a data/digital station you will hear digital noise, unless you have specific software to decode/decrypt the data.
  • It tunes the FM band and can be used as an FM radio, tune to your favorite station.
  • SDR-Radio software can also be used as a server! Tune your favorite police band at home and then let others around the world listen remotely.
  • The better the antenna, the better the reception
  • You can tune PAGER data and decode POCSAG and FLEX signals
    (Who still uses this?) You would be surprised, hospitals, doctors and car services still use pagers/beepers. You would also be amazed at what they transmit over an unencrypted signal. Just google for POCSAG/FLEX decoder
  • Need to find the local frequencies of your Police, Fire and EMS – Check here

Happy Scanning! Remember having a scanner is 100% legal in most states unless it is used to commit a crime.

RELATED READING: Bye Bye Radio Shack – You Will Be Missed!


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