Strong Signals,

Rich Well's Review of Scancat-Gold for Windows 7.24

by Rich Wells, N2MCA

Shopping for a new radio is not an easy task given all the manufacturers and models on today's market. Equally daunting is the process of selecting a piece of software should you buy a radio capable of interfacing to a PC. But when considering your choices, one vendor stands out among the rest as being one of the best values when compared to the rest of the field.

Computer Aided Technologies (CAT) is well known for their Scancat program which has been supporting computer controlled scanning since 1989. Today, Scancat supports nearly 50 radios! If you own a receiver made by AOR, Drake, Lowe, Icom, Japan Radio, Kenwood, Optoelectronics, Radio Shack, Watkins-Johnson or Yaesu, there's a very good chance that Scancat can do the job. And more radios are added every year!

What started out nine years ago as a DOS program, has graduated to the world of Windows and now comes in several flavors. While two DOS versions are still available, where Scancat really shines is when it is used on Windows 3.1/95/98. For this review, Scancat-Gold for Windows will be discussed.

The program installs easily, adding a few program items to the Windows task bar thus making it easy to get at the program and its help file. Once started, it displays a "splash" screen showing the program logo floating amongst a blue sky filled with clouds. It is from this screen that the radio to be interfaced with must be selected as well as the PC communication port to be used. While this screen might scare you a bit with all its details, simply selecting the radio to be used among the large, displayed list is enough to set all the parameters needed to establish communications with it.

With the radio selected, the 'Scanning Module' button is pressed which displays the window that is the very heart of Scancat itself (see Figure 1). Like the radio selection dialog mentioned above, this screen is packed with all kinds of goodies; I counted over 70 controls! This is a serious program and offers just about any feature any user is ever likely to need. When just starting to learn this interface, the provided manual comes in handy. Not only that, the program comes with built-in help tips to ease the learning curve. Simply place the mouse over a control and help information will pop up indicating what the control is used for as well as any differences using left and right mouse buttons on it.

Dominating the center of this screen is a large circular control which represents the VFO knob found on many high-end receivers. Just above it is a large frequency display showing the frequency to which the radio is presently tuned. Simply typing in digits followed by the Enter key will tune the radio to this newly entered frequency. Regardless of the frequency entered, Scancat will automatically select the proper receive mode and step size to be used. Should the need arise to depart from this automatic band plan, there are nearby controls allowing the receive mode and/or step size to be adjusted manually. There are also controls which can individually turn off the auto receive mode and step size.

Getting back to the VFO control, it can be easily used to slew through the frequency spectrum using the mouse. Left and right clicks of the mouse while over this control will tune upward and downward by one frequency step for each click. To move more rapidly, a mouse button can be held down and the mouse dragged to set things in motion. How fast the frequency changes is based on a separate control allowing this speed to be adjusted by the user. Nearby, there are two controls which allow tuning upward and downward by 1 MHz intervals.

Turning our attention towards the bottom of this screen reveals a tuning bar marked with a portion of the frequency spectrum. Placing the mouse anywhere over this tuner updates a display showing the representative frequency it is over. Clicking a mouse button will instantly tune to that frequency. If the button is held down, the radio is tuned in real time as the mouse is moved about this spectrum tuner. As you can no doubt see, Scancat provides a large number of features designed to make tuning as easy as possible.

Since each radio has a slightly different set of features and unique controls, Scancat configures the user interface accordingly for each radio it supports. While the basic layout of most controls stays the same, there are various buttons and display readouts designed to support these unique features. So even if you use Scancat to run multiple radios, you'll be pleased to see that it supports all of them fully and not just with a common set of features to work on any radio.

With tuning handily taken care of, it's time to think about how to store our favorite frequencies so that they can be scanned. Scancat has its own file formats for storing frequency data but it also supports popular formats like dBase, Access and Foxpro. With its built in browser/viewer, Scancat allows each memory record to hold a frequency, receive mode, step size, description, and comment, as well as logging information that includes time stamp, signal strength, hit count and air time. With radios that have even more features (like attenuator, AGC, etc.), the browser/viewer will contain fields to allow them to be adjusted just as easily.

If the radio supports the reading of its memory channels, the current contents of its memory can be uploaded by Scancat and placed in a file. Using the viewer the contents can be edited at will and then later downloaded into the radio's memory. In this way, separate files can be created to give a radio several different "personalities". One file can be used for normal, everyday scanning. Another file can be created for just public safety, aeronautical or disasters. The flexibility is here to do with as you please. With a few clicks of the mouse, your radio can be configured to scan exactly what you wish which, as you know, can change quickly and without warning.

And what interface would be complete without support for searching? Scancat allows for the definition of many search ranges, each one coming with a lower and upper frequency limit as well as receive mode and step size. There's also a field for a user-defined description. With the click of a button, any of these defined ranges can be searched. Better yet, they can be linked through the user interface so that any combination of them can be searched together!

As if that isn't good enough, there's a spectrum analyzer mode that allows the search activity to display its results on the screen while running. Each time an active frequency is detected, the spectrum analyzer window displays the strength of the signal with a vertical bar above that frequency's position on the window. If left to run long enough, this window will gradually plot all of the activity in the range being searched. Placing the mouse over one of the plotted bars will display its frequency and clicking the button will instantly tune the receiver to it!

One of the most recently announced Scancat supported radios is Uniden's base model TrunkTracker, the BC895XLT. Once connected to your PC, Scancat allows the memory contents to be uploaded and downloaded at the press of a button. It can also be commanded to scan these memory contents or search a frequency range, just like using its front panel controls. But what's even better, Scancat has provided a special window just for support of the TrunkTracking feature (see Figure 2).

In this mode, Scancat is able to capture trunking information as the BC895XLT is allowed to track an 800Mhz system. This information consists of trunking ids, hit count, time and date stamps, physical frequency and more. In search mode, this becomes an invaluable tool for ferreting out all the ids used on a system. I typically let my PC run all day with Scancat interrogating the BC895XLT for trunking information. When I get home, I have a day's worth of listening all logged on the screen. Those ids I already know about, I can tag with user-defined alphanumeric text for easy identification. Those which are unfamiliar to me, I can keep an eye on to identify who's using it. All of this information can then be saved to a file for future reference and used to do more investigative work another day.

Scancat also comes with support for Icom's IC-PCR1000 computer-controlled "black box". For anyone not familiar with this radio, it is a small metal box that holds only a receiver and serial port interface. To use it, it must be connected to a PC where software provides the user interface to control it. It covers 500kHz to 1300MHz in AM, FM, WFM, CW, USB and LSB receive modes as well as offering a noise blanker, AGC, AFC, IF shift, CTCSS tone squelch, attenuator and band scope.

The band scope feature is used to provide a graphical analysis of activity over a user-adjustable band. It works very much like Scancat's spectrum analyzer but since it uses hardware functionality, it provides much quicker updates. Using the band scope, it's possible to keep an eye on activity to either side of the currently tuned frequency (see Figure 3). While this is of some assistance when on the VHF and UHF bands, it is quite helpful when tuning HF signals which can be spaced very closely and typically jam-packed into a small region.

As this article was being written, Scancat issued a press release announcing support for AOR's new hot handheld, the AR8200, as well as TenTec's new RX320 HF receiver. Coming soon is support for the Sony ICF-SC1PC and two new Japan Radio NRD models.

For those of you advanced scanner hobbyists, Scancat-Gold for Windows also comes in a special "SE" edition. The "SE" stands for Surveillance Enhanced and adds a number of features including CTCSS/DCS tone search (for applicable radios), detailed demographic logging, graphical spectrum analysis of logged data, audio recording via a PC sound card, control multiple Icom radios and command options for unattended monitoring sessions as well as audible alarms!

And not only will CAT sell you a great program, they also offer the hardware necessary to connect most of the supported radios to your PC.

I hope this quick look has given a better understanding to the benefits of computer controlled monitoring. It has only scratched the surface and Scancat offers much more functionality than could ever be discussed in just a few words. To find out more, those of you with Internet access should stop by the Scancat web site and download the program demo which doesn't require a radio to see what it has to offer.

For more information on Scancat you can contact: Computer Aided Technologies, P.O. Box 18285, Shreveport, LA 71138. They can also be reach by e-mail as, or stop by their web site at where you can find the latest news about Scancat and much, much more.

If I can help answer any questions about Scancat or computer controlled receivers, feel free to drop me an e-mail at or stop by my web site, . There you will find an online community devoted to the scanning hobby with nearly 200 pages to browse through.