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Anybody with enough money can buy a brand new scanner, but you can save lots of money if you get a good deal on a used scanner. Hamfests are probably the best place to find used radios, but you must be familiar with the equipment. Hamfests are repleat with older radios you won't see in today's catalogs.
At last count, there were over 110 scanners and monitor receivers of various brands in my collection. I purchase most of my receivers at hamfests or horsetrade with other radio hobbyists. This article describes a few of the FM receivers in my collection, and is not meant to be complete.
Getting a bargain is not without some risk. I have had sellers look me square in the eye and tell me their radio worked fine -- when it really didn't.
Buying a used portable scanner is riskier than buying a mobile or base model. Portable scanners are subject to more physical abuse and many have been dropped. If a radio has been dropped, the laws of probability dictate that the first point of impact was probably a corner, so be sure to examine each corner for evidence of trauma. You should have some recourse if the radio you buy turns out to be defective. If you can't fix the radio yourself, you can pay to have the manufacturer or a service clinic repair it for you.
It helps to understand some scanner history before shopping for a used scanner. You will likely see radios from many vintages at a hamfest, and should avoid buying early units unless you are a scanner collector.
One of the earliest ancestors to the scanner was the converter. Truthfully, converters and tuneable FM receivers are interesting but don't work well by today's standards.
The earliest scanners, like the 1968 vintage Bearcat BCH, BCL, and BCU models, did not provide individual channel lockout capability. Electra didn't use the term "scanner" and instead called these innovative radios "business receivers." Other models, like the SBE Sentinel, employed a "Channel 1 Bypass" switch so a user could lockout channel 1.
The first scanners came in single band models, followed by multiband models. As two-way radio users started to populate the 450 - 470 MHz band, consumers were forced to pay a premium for UHF scanner coverage. Some multiband scanners, like the Electra's Bearcat III, required an optional circuit board for each band.
There were scanner mutations, designs which never evolved -- odd combinations of AM broadcast receivers with VHF-FM receive capability, like the flamboyant turquoise Sonar Sentry FR-103 portables, Electra's Jolly Roger, and GE's Surveyor series. Lafayette Radio Electronics offered a few CB transceivers with VHF receiver capability. These poor performers didn't interest consumers of that era and you should avoid these models unless you are a scanner collector.
The first programmable (crystal-less) scanners were difficult to program. Users had to look up frequencies in a code book and tediously program the information into the scanner in binary form. Some models, like the Bearcat BC- 101, Radio Shack COMP 100, and Tennelec MCP-1, resembled Altair or PDP-8 computers, with a row of 16 or so toggle switches. Instead of toggle switches, the Regency WHAMO-10 was programmed by breaking teeth from metal combs. The SBE Optiscan (and its Sears clone) required poking a series of holes in plastic cards which were then inserted into a slot on the front panel.
Both Bearcat and Regency, as well as Radio Shack offer some good models. I would avoid the Bearcat 100, and older scanners made by AOR, JIL, Fox, Tennelec, and Robyn.
Scanner features often differ not only by model but by manufacturer. For instance, most Radio Shack and Bearcat programmables allow enable/disable of the delay function on a per-channel basis. Older Regency units permit the delay to be enabled/disabled only globally, that is, for all the channels at one time.
Radio Shack scanners contain a reasonable number of features. All the older Radio Shack scanners were made by General Research Electronics (GRE). Uniden began making scanner models for Radio Shack in the late 1980s, and now supplies about half the Radio Shack scanners. The older GRE-made models scan a bit slowly and have a higher level of synthesizer noise. Most have too much hysteresis in the operation of the squelch control, but this can be fixed completely by replacing one resistor. Good, detailed shop manuals are available for Radio Shack units for $5 - $12.
In the name of cost cutting, some models have done away with the concept of a "channel bank", i.e. the ability to select/deselect a group of channels at a time. The bank concept was a good one. It may be inconvenient to operate a 30 channel scanner without banks (e.g. Regency MX3000, HX1000) if you operate the way many scanner hobbyists do.
If you want to buy an American-made scanner, you will have to buy an old model. A few years ago, the Regency and Bearcat scanner lines were purchased by Uniden, a Japanese company, and production was moved to Asia.
My favorite VHF/UHF receivers are the 400 channel Radio Shack PRO-2005 and PRO-2006, the Uniden/Bearcat BC9000XLT, and the ICOM R7000 and R7100. The ICOM models are more "communications receiver" than a conventional scanner.
For portable use, I prefer the Radio Shack PRO-43 and Uniden/Bearcat BC3000XLT.
For more information about old scanners, see:
1. "Confessions of a Scanner Collector," by Bob Parnass, Monitoring Times, August 1988.
2. "Scanner Collector Primer," by Bob Parnass, Monitoring Times, May 1995.
I have published full length reviews of these recent scanner models in Monitoring Times magazine:
Jan 1995 - Radio Shack PRO-2035 vs. Radio Shack PRO-2006 Feb 1995 - Radio Shack PRO-62 Portable Mar 1995 - Uniden/Bearcat BC9000XLT Apr 1995 - Uniden/Bearcat BC3000XLT Portable May 1995 - Uniden/Bearcat BC860XLT Jun 1995 - Uniden/Bearcat BC890XLT & Radio Shack PRO-2036 Jul 1995 - Radio Shack PRO-2037 Aug 1995 - Radio Shack PRO-26 vs. Uniden/Bearcat BC3000XLT Sep 1995 - Radio Shack PRO-60 Portable Oct 1995 - AOR AR-2700 Portable Nov 1995 - selected AOR AR-8000 measurements | Dec 1995 - Radio Shack PRO-2040
Note: Reprints of Monitoring Times articles are available for $2.00 each from Grove Enterprises, PO Box 98, Brasstown, NC 28902, tel. (800)438-8155.
AR2700: 1995 vintage. 500 channel portable covering 500 kHz to 1300 MHz. Lots of good features, e.g., 10 linkable search banks, lighted keypad, per-channel attenuator, S- meter, battery meter, optional voice recorder and speech inversion descrambler. Global rescan and pause delays, but no auto store, data skip, nor battery saver. Internally generated noise results in broad birdies on AR2700 tested. Insensitive carrier operated (vs. noise operated) squelch stays closed on signals unless they are moderately strong, causing scanner to skip transmissions of interest.
R-7000: 1986 vintage. At about $1000, this was once the top VHF/UHF receiver. 99 channel, multi mode coverage from 25-2000 MHz with a small gap at 1000-1025 MHz. Memory can be expanded to 198 channels by adding simple switch to pin 19 of memory IC8. Tuning knob lets you tune through parts of the spectrum much easier than using the SEARCH mode on conventional scanners. Selectable USB/LSB allows reception of new amplitude compandored sideband (ACSB) stations. S- meter doubles as discriminator meter to aid tuning. Useful search and store feature, reminiscent of the the Bearcat 250, searches between 2 limits and automatically stores new frequencies into channels 80-99. Audio and control interface for tape recorder. Noisy relay, activated when the receiver is tuned to frequencies above 520 MHz. Searches and scans slowly but can be sped up to about 12 cps by adding a resistor. Too big for permanent mobile use, but too nice to leave alone in the car. If you don't want to spend $1000, get a Radio Shack PRO-2004/5/6 instead.
R-7100: 1992 vintage. At about $1300, this is the Cadillac of VHF/UHF receivers. 900 channel, multi mode continuous coverage from 25-2000 MHz. The radio RF/IF/AF portions of the R7100 are similar to the older R7000, but the R7100 is constructed using surface mount parts. Both the R7000 and R7100 are much more immune to intermod than the Uniden/Bearcat 760XLT and the portable PRO-43. The firmware in the R7100 is much more sophisticated. 9 banks of 100 channels. Further, you can associate each channel with 1 of 10 groups. Many possible ways to scan. 10 pairs of search limits. Search and store ("memory write") scan mode lets you store 100 frequencies instead of the 20 in R7000. Another R7100 improvement is that you can program up to 100 channels for the R7100 to skip while searching. R7100 has 2 VFOs ("windows"). Both the R7000 and R7100 scan slowly compared with PRO-2004 and PRO-2006, and that's a drawback. Both the R7100 and R7000 employ a noisy relay, activated when the receiver is tuned to frequencies above 520 MHz. Scanning a mixture of VHF and UHF frequencies serenades the Icom user with a very annoying clickety- clack, clickety-clack!
BC101 (Electra): 1975 vintage. First Bearcat synthesized unit. 16 channels, no priority. Frequency programmed in binary by setting toggle switches on front panel after looking up code in code book. No frequency readout. Uses custom IC for CPU, now discontinued, so factory authorized service is no longer available. I have four of these units. DC operation requires optional mobile power supply.
BC100 (Electra): First programmable portable scanner. Be prepared for at least one repair in the first year. Early units, with threaded antenna connector, have high frequency of repair, particularly LCD readout, keyboard, and battery holder. No battery backup. Poor case design in early units caused battery to disconnect from radio, resetting microprocessor and clearing memories. No priority channel or aircraft band. Some people swear by the BC100, others swear at them.
BC220 (Electra): 1979 vintage. 20 channels. Reasonable number of features but 20 channels doesn't seem enough. Service Search for Marine and Aircraft. LED readout. Good scanner, but tinny audio.
BC20/20 (Electra): 1981 vintage. Similar to BC220 but with 40 channels and different CPU circuitry. A maximum of 20 channels can be scanned at one time. Reasonable number of features. Service Search for Marine and Aircraft. LED readout. Good scanner, but tinny audio.
BC250 (Electra): 1976 vintage. 50 channel model, rich in features, but lacks aircraft band and 144-146 MHz. Search and Store feature extremely useful for finding federal frequencies. Clock. High frequency of repair. Power transistors not heat sinked adequately, causing heat damage to surrounding components and circuit board. Failure of Q204 on the feature board known to cause odd display readings. Digital circuitry very sensitive to glitches caused by static and AC line spikes. Avoid 1978 or earlier vintage units. All BC250s use custom ICs (e.g., IC6, a divider chip, mfd. by Exar), which are now discontinued, so factory service is no longer available from Uniden.
BC260 (Electra): 1983 vintage. Super heavy duty metal cabinetry and lit controls, aimed at mobile use for firemen, police, etc. Few frills, only 16 channels, no aircraft, but generous coverage of federal bands omitted in the older Bearcat scanners. Good sensitivity. Lots of audio. Good internal construction. Backlit keyboard allows operation in the dark, but the keyboards on some units require high pressure to operate. Brightness control for display and keyboard, but multiplexor circuitry for vacuum fluorescent display produces audible whine which may be annoying in a quiet room. Backlighting may fail in some units due to poor contact on connector used to fasten light panel to front circuit board. 9 volt regulator transistor Q28 (TIP29) may fail, causing blank display while leaving audio intact. Method of connecting an external speaker is awkward.
BC300 (Electra): 1979 vintage. 50 channel top of the line scanner. Service Search feature contains 11 ROM banks of preprogrammed channels. Switching power supply failure noted in early units due to insufficient capacitance - component value was changed in newer units. Schematics show at least 100 components changed between earliest and later units. Preset squelch pot, mounted internally on circuit board, misadjusted in new units - adjustment usually required after burn-in period. Good sensitivity. Built in clock. I leave it on 24 hours a day. This is a favorite.
BC350 (Electra): 1981 vintage. 50 channels in 5 banks. Includes aircraft. Used to be Bearcat's top of the line, overpriced scanner but never very popular. Dual use keyboard and display allowed 8 text characters to be associated with each channel, a feature clumsily implemented, and awkward to use. Units plagued with various hardware problems including bad memory ICs and short life power transformers. Firmware bugs without cures. The BC300 is a much better scanner than the BC350, and at a lower price.
BC760XLT (Uniden): Also sold as BC950XLT through Scanner World. Small, mobile scanner supplied with mounting bracket and wall wart AC power supply. Some of the keys are backlit. 100 channels in 5 banks. Service search. Earlier version has Motorola type antenna jack and AA battery backup. Later version has BNC antenna jack and internal lithium battery. Can be fitted with optional CTCSS decoder. Hyper sensitive and easily overloaded by strong signals, especially when used with outdoor antenna in base applications. Conventional 10.8 MHz IF prone to images. Television audio heard in some places.
BC800XLT (Uniden): 1985 vintage. 40 channels in two banks. Covers 806-912 MHz, as well as of vhf, uhf, and aircraft bands. Receives 10 meter fm and all of 6 meters, as well as federal portions of vhf and uhf bands. Fewer birdies on vhf-lo band than other scanners. Scans and searches very fast. Clean, robust audio output. Extremely sensitive, but very prone to overload by strong signals when connected to outdoor antenna. Too much play (hysteresis) in squelch adjustment - can be improved by changing one resistor. Positive terminal in memory backup battery holder installed backwards in early units, allowing memory loss when scanner unplugged from AC outlet. Tunes in increments of 12.5 KHz on 800 MHz band, whereas cellular telephones are on 30 KHz channels. See "The Bearcat 800XLT ... an Owner's Report," by Bob Parnass, in Monitoring Times, March 1986.
BC860XLT (Uniden): 1995 vintage. 100 channel table top unit. Can lock out 10 channels during search. Good performer except for images. See "The Uniden Bearcat BC860XLT," by Bob Parnass, AJ9S, in Monitoring Times, May 1995.
BC890XLT (Uniden): Same as Radio Shack PRO-2036. Tuning knob. 200 channels, global delay. Count, AUX, and Auto Store features. Scans and searches fast. Accepts optional CTCSS board. Dual conversion with 10.8 MHz first IF -- lots of images and birdies. Prone to severe intermod, especially when used with an outdoor antenna. See "The Uniden BC-890XLT and Radio Shack PRO-2036," by Bob Parnass, in June 1995 Monitoring Times.
BC9000XLT (Uniden): 1995 vintage. High quality base using up-conversion. 500 channels in twenty banks. Up to 250 channels can be programmed with alpha labels. Tuning knob. Selectable AM, NFM, WFM modes. Very fast scan and search. Can lock out 50 channels during search. Delay and attenuator independently programmable for each channel. Effective Auto Store feature stores unique frequencies. Good RF section, but not as robust as PRO-2004/5/6. One urban user, located within a couple of blocks of several high power transmitters, reports severe desense problems. See "The Uniden Bearcat BC9000XLT," by Bob Parnass, AJ9S, in Monitoring Times, March 1995.
BC100XLT (Uniden): 1987 vintage. Very good 100 channel portable with 10 priority channels. Unique feature tells whether a given frequency has already been memorized. Generous coverage of conventional bands, including commercial aircraft, but no 800 MHz. Decent leather-like case. Slide-on 550 mAH NiCd battery pack.
BC200XLT (Uniden): 1987 vintage. Also sold as BC205XLT through Scanner World. Very good 200 channel version of BC100XLT portable scanner but includes 800 MHz band. 10 priority channels. Unique feature tells whether a given frequency has already been memorized. Decent leather-like case. Slide-on NiCd battery pack.
BC2500XLT (Uniden): 400 channel portable with tuning knob. Plagued by intermod and images. Early units drained batteries quickly even while turned off.
BC3000XLT (Uniden): 1995 vintage. Excellent 400 channel portable with 20 banks. Up conversion. Very fast scan, search, and intelligent Auto Store. Mode, attenuator, and delay settings programmable for each channel. 50 frequencies can be locked out during search. Larger speaker than PRO-26 produces better, crisper audio. See "The Uniden Bearcat BC3000XLT," by Bob Parnass, AJ9S, in Monitoring Times, April 1995.
MX3000: 30 channel replacement for M400, but basic features only. Nice lit keyboard, but may cause RFI into nearby SW receivers. Easily programmable out of band, but no aircraft. All 30 channels are in a single bank, and lack of direct channel access make this model more difficult to operate. Good first scanner.
M100: 10 channel unit. Same as MX3000 except different color and fewer channels. Nicely lit keyboard, but may cause RFI into nearby SW receivers.
PRO2004: 1986 vintage. Top of the line, wide band scanner for 1987. After a diode is cut, enjoy continuous coverage from 25-520 and 760-1300 MHz, AM, NBFM, and WBFM. Has 300 channels in 10 banks of 30, backed up by conventional 9 volt alkaline battery. Any channel can be designated the priority channel. Scans and searches fast. Lots of well designed features, like 10 pairs of search limits, Lockout Review, default search increment and emission mode. Sound Squelch allows skipping dead carriers during search or scan. Metal cabinet, good internal construction and shielding, but no mobile mounting bracket or DC power cord. Soft touch membrane keyboard. Good sensitivity and selectivity. Very good radio. See "Product Review: The Radio Shack PRO-2004 Programmable Scanner," by Bob Parnass AJ9S, in The Radio Enthusiast, February 1987, and Monitoring Times, March 1987.
PRO2005: 1989 vintage. Essentially a size reduced PRO-2004 with surface mount components and 400 channels. Some people think the small knobs, smaller display, and plastic cabinet are a setback from the 2004. The smaller size, real rubber keyboard, and vertical front panel make it easer to use mobile, although there is no mobile mounting bracket available and the keyboard is not backlit. More sensitive than the PRO-2004 but 800 MHz signals leak through into the commercial aero band. Highly recommended. See "Product Review: The Radio Shack PRO-2005 Programmable Scanner," by Bob Parnass AJ9S, in The Radio Enthusiast, June 1989, and RCMA Journal, August 1989.
PRO2006: 1990 vintage. Essentially the same as PRO-2005 but scans faster. Probably the best scanner made to date. Highly recommended. See "The Realistic PRO-2006," by Bob Parnass, AJ9S, in Monitoring Times, October 1990.
PRO-2035: 1995 vintage wide coverage base made by GRE. 1,000 channels, but cumbersome 100 channel bank size. Tuning knob. Poor dynamic range. 10 linkable search banks. Dumb Auto Store feature stores the same frequencies over and over. Wastes time scanning empty channels. See "The Radio Shack PRO-2035 - How Does It Compare With the PRO-2006?," by Bob Parnass, AJ9S, in Monitoring Times, January 1995.
PRO-2040: late 1995 vintage 100 channel base made by Uniden. Fair performance, but minimal image rejection. Local oscillator harmonics account for spurious responses, e.g., reception of cellular telephone calls in the 460 MHz UHF-high band. Scans over 40 channels/sec. Can lock out up to 50 channels from search. "Soft" on/off power switching via keypad. See "The Radio Shack PRO-2040," by Bob Parnass, AJ9S, in Monitoring Times, December 1995.
PRO-2042: 1996 version of the wide coverage PRO-2035 base with improved firmware and amber display. Made by GRE. 1,000 channels, but cumbersome 100 channel bank size. Tuning knob. NFM selectivity is still a problem but improved over PRO-2035. 10 linkable search banks. Smart Auto Store feature stores the unique frequencies. Can lock out up to 200 frequencies from search. Query facility indicates if and in what channel a frequency is programmed. Scan skips over empty channels automatically. Can sort memories by frequency within a given bank. Overall, a top grade scanner and second only to Uniden/Bearcat BC9000XLT. See review in upcoming Monitoring Times.
PRO34: Portable scanner with 200 channels and 800 MHz coverage. Ten "monitor" channels. Operates from AA cells. Slow scanning, low audio output, and chintzy plastic case detract from an otherwise good performance. No decent leather case available from Radio Shack. If you need a portable with 800 MHz, get a Bearcat 200XLT. If you can't get a 200XLT, get a PRO-34.
PRO2021: Base/mobile scanner. 200 channels in 10 banks, LCD display and raised rubber keys. Lots of memory but scans too slowly and lacks 800 MHz. Ten "monitor" channels. Radio Shack seemed to have an overstock of 2021s as they were on sale for such a long time. Close out price dipped to about $200, which made it a nice scanner for beginners.
PRO2022: Base/mobile scanner. Like the PRO2021 but includes the 800 MHz band. Cellular images throughout the 847.6 - 869 MHz range. Includes power saver circuit, odd for a base unit, which can clip the first part of a transmission.
PRO2036: Same as Uniden/Bearcat BC890XLT. Tuning knob. 200 channels, global delay. Scans and searches fast. Count, AUX, and Auto Store features. Accepts optional CTCSS board. Dual conversion with 10.8 MHz first IF -- lots of images and birdies. Prone to severe intermod, especially when used with an outdoor antenna. See "The Uniden BC-890XLT and Radio Shack PRO-2036," by Bob Parnass, in June 1995 Monitoring Times.
PRO-2037: Triple conversion all plastic base scanner made by GRE. Home version of the PRO-62 portable but with more intermod. 200 channels in 10 banks, one search bank, selectable AM and FM. Uses up conversion circuitry but inadequate front end filtering still allows images, though not as bad as in 10.7 or 10.8 MHz IF circuits. Crisp, respectable audio given the top mounted speaker. See "The Radio Shack PRO-2037," by Bob Parnass, in July 1995 Monitoring Times.
PRO2003: Radio Shack's 1986 top of line. 50 channels + 10 FM commercial broadcast band channels. Includes aircraft. Good frequency coverage and functionality, but at a high price. Poor human engineering: difficult to read keyboard makes the PRO2003 hard to operate unless in a well lit room. Keyboard label coloring improved on newer units. Rather slow scan rate and high price. Although there are provisions for 12VDC operation, the cabinet shape and lack of mounting bracket makes mobile operation impractical. Scan rate only 8 channels/sec vs. 15/sec in Regency and Bearcat. Causes RFI: Plastic case permits scanner to radiate signals into nearby receivers.
PRO-43: Very good portable made by GRE. First Radio Shack portable with up conversion, and 222 MHz ham and 225 - 400 MHz military air band coverage. 200 channels, single search range. Small, convenient size. Muffled audio. Speakers in early units known to fail and more powerful speakers were used in later units. 800 MHz band coverage fully restorable in early units by removing diode. Uses same 6 cell battery tray as other high end GRE portables. Subject to interference in 160 - 162 MHz range.
PRO-60: Very good portable made by GRE. 200 channels, single search range. Similar features and same IFs as the PRO-43 it replaced but the PRO-60 has wider frequency coverage and crisper audio. Covers 75 MHz and commercial FM broadcast bands. Improved Direct search can be stepped manually in single steps. Uses same 6 cell battery tray as other high end GRE portables. Railfans take note -- the PRO-60 and PRO-43 are subject to interference in 160 - 162 MHz range. Draws 100 mA while scanning.
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