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Blog - Frequencies To Scan

You have probably taken time to store at least a few repeaters into the memory of your radios so that you can quickly access a repeater with the correct listen frequency, transmit frequency and tone. This topic has been discussed several times on this net and I think everybody probably understands the reasons why it is a good idea to have a memory programmed into your radios for each of the repeaters that you commonly use.

Let me ask a couple of questions for y'all to consider. Have you taken time to store and test all or most of the repeaters within range of wherever you regularly expect to use your radios? Have you stored all of the national simplex calling frequencies that your radios can hear? If you answered no to either of these questions then I would challenge you to try to use most of the available memory channels your radios and I will offer some advice about how and why that might be a good idea.

Most of you are probably asking yourselves, "Is he crazy?" Did he really just say, "use most of the available memory channels in my radios?" Your radios probably have 200, 400, 800 or even more memory channels and you want to know why would you ever want to store frequencies and settings into most of those memory slots? Well, let me start convincing you that this is a good idea by listing a few statistics about the frequencies that are coordinated by the ARRL:

  • The 2 meter ham band supports 87 repeaters and simplex channels.
  • The 1.25 meter band supports 79 repeaters and simplex channels.
  • The 70 centimeter band supports 145 repeaters and simplex channels.

So even if your radios only support the 2 meter and 70 centimeter bands then I just gave you reason to consider programming up to 232 channels for ham radio operation. Of course there are not repeaters in the DFW area on every available channel but don't you take your HT and/or mobile radios with you on road trips or vacations? Wouldn't it be a good idea to be prepared to quickly find active radio operators everywhere you go?

"But wait there's more... Your radio can probably hear channels that are coordinated for weather, police, fire, EMS, public safety, local, state and federal government agencies, GMRS, FRS, MURS, maritime / marine and more." Have you ever scanned outside of the the frequencies that are allocated to the amateur radio service and heard interesting radio traffic?

  • The Family Radio Service (FRS) supports 14 UHF channels.
  • The Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) supports 5 VHF channels.

FRS and MURS are licensed by rule which means that an individual license is usually not required. Be advised however that it is not legal to transmit on these channels unless you use a radio that is certified by the FCC for FRS or MURS. There are many FCC certified walkie-talkies available for FRS or MURS and these are often referred to as "bubble pack radios". I would suggest that you buy a few of these. They are great toys for kids and can help get them interested in radio without a requirement to study for and pass a ham radio exam.

  • The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) supports 15 UHF channels.
  • The Marine Coast Radio Service supports 60 VHF channels.

Special FCC licenses are generally required to transmit on the GMRS and Marine services and these licenses are relatively cheap to acquire and the FCC application process is simple. A GMRS system can include a repeater and the immediate relatives of the GMRS system licensee are entitled to communicate among themselves for personal or business purposes. The most commonly available bubble pack radios support both GMRS and FRS. The Marine Coast Radio Service is obviously intended for use on boats and shore stations that communicate with boats. If you have any vessel traveling in U.S. waters which uses a VHF marine radio then you may be licensed by rule and a ship station radio license may not be required to transmit during your recreational boating activities. From what I have read there are many rules that apply to both the GMRS and Marine VHF radio services and I would do quite a bit more research and get a license if I ever planned to use either of these services for non-emergency situations.

  • The NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) supports 7 VHF channels.
  • I found at least 227 VHF and 110 UHF channels that the FCC has coordinated for use by police, fire, first responders and government agencies.

*** Take extra care to make sure that your radio never transmits on Weather Radio or public safety channels except in rare emergency situations! This also applies to GMRS marine and other non-ham frequencies. Misuse of radios can cause harmful interference and could even put lives at risk. There can also be hefty fines and the FCC has occasionally fined operators for abuse of the rules.

And one final note about the rules: FCC 97.403 states that "no provision of the Rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communications in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available." So we as amateur operators are granted permission in rare circumstances to use our radios outside of the amateur radio service bands to help save lives and property. This privilege comes with great responsibility and I urge you to take this seriously.

Be advised that most ham radios prohibit transmitting outside of the ham bands. Many of the cheaper Chinese manufactured radios like Baofeng, BTECH and Anytone will allow transmit on any frequency within their range regardless of ham bands. Some radios support programming a receive frequency only and not programming a transmit frequency for a particular memory channel. Some radios support a feature called transmit inhibit but that usually applies to all memories and cannot be used to bock transmit outside of the ham bands while still being able to transmit in the ham bands.

Many radios support MARS/CAP modification to enable transmit outside of the ham bands. This modification usually involves removal or damage to components on the circuit board. I have performed the MARS/CAP modification on a couple of my radios and I only had to take a pair of needle nose pliers and break a few resisters. It's probably not as scary as it sounds but performing this procedure involves some risk. I also ordered one of my radios from GigaParts because they offer MARS/CAP modification for $35 that complies with the manufacturer's requirements and retains a 1 year manufacturer warranty backed by GigaParts.

OK, I've given you an abundance of information and I know it's a lot to process. Perhaps you are still not convinced that it's worth the time and effort required to fill most of the available memories in your radios. Perhaps I can help convince you by reminding you that the FCC established amateur radio to allow licensed operators to improve their communications and technical skills, while providing the nation with a pool of trained radio operators and technicians who can provide essential communications during emergencies. Also FEMA advises in their In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness that "you should be ready to be self-sufficient for at least three days" during a crisis and that you should "Think about how you will communicate in different situations." In many cases, amateur radio operators have provided support to first responders and the community resulting in saved lives and property in emergency situations.

So I hope that I have convinced you that it is a good idea to fill most of the available memory channels in your radios but you still have the excuse that this is hard to do and it takes a lot of time. If you have saved repeater settings into your radios then you can probably guess that it would take a lot of time to program most of the available memory slots by pressing keys on the front panel of your radios. Well let me just tell you that I have spent countless hours programming frequencies into my radios each time I travel and after some experience I learned a few tricks that may be of interest to you.

I have adopted a new technique for programming my radios. Now, instead of programming the repeaters in my area, I have my favorite portable and mobile radios programed with all of the most commonly used frequencies used across North America. When I travel, now all I have to do is scan my memories and listen for transmissions. All I have to do is update the PL tone when I want to chat with the local hams. When I mobile across the country I scan and hear many of the police, fire, and EMS first responders that use analog communications.

I also want to share a few tips about programming your radios. Some radios allow memory channels to be programmed with tags or memory banks. If your radio supports this feature then you can scan and select only the memory banks or tags that you wish to include in your scan. I find it very useful to tag memory channels with areas where the radio will likely be able to hear and/or transmit through a repeater on this frequency. So, for example I have memory banks for Fort Worth, Mid-cities, Dallas and other areas that I frequently visit. I also use memory banks to group memory channels by types such as simplex, MURS, FRS, GMRS, police, fire, EMS, etc.

Some radios have predefined memory groups by memory channel number. So for example the Kenwood TH-F9A has groups of 50 with memory group 0 including channels 0-49, memory group 1 includes channels 50-99 and so on up to memory group 7 that includes channels 350-399. When scanning, each group 0-7 can be included or excluded from the scanning.

Some radios have a skip or temporary skip feature that allows you to skip a memory channel that you don't want to hear because of interference that can't be squelched or maybe the operators on that repeater are particularly obnoxious. And finally there's one other trick that you can use to skip frequencies. Most radios have tone squelch, and you can update a memory with a tone squelch other than the correct tone to prevent your radio from stopping on that memory channel.

So, there's a few tips about programming your radios with many memory channels and scanning only the ones you want to include at a given time. Every radio is different and after experience you will probably find features that you wish your radios had and idiosyncrasies that you wish your radios didn't have. I highly recommend reading manuals, borrowing radios and playing with them before spending a lot of money on a particular model if possible. I am ashamed to admit how many radios I have but I will admit that it would take the features of three different model radios that I have to make the "perfect radio" for me. I also prefer different radios for different use cases. So give this some thought. You may also decide to sell, buy and trade radios several times before finding your radio nirvana.

Now, once you have programmed all of these memories into your radio you may be amazed what you might hear. You all know what you can hear on the ham bands, but let me give you an idea about some of the things you will hear in the other radio services. In my local area there is a school and several businesses that use FRS and MURS. Sometimes I have heard a lot of traffic about dangerous situations, injuries, illnesses and emergency situations but it is mostly just mundane chatter. When I recently vacationed in Galveston, I heard the Coast Guard communicating with boaters in the area. I heard the Coast Guard ask for assistance from stations who heard transmissions from a vessel in distress that they were unable to locate. I heard requests for assistance locating a man who was feared lost at sea along with what he was wearing and his last known location. So those were two situations with which I had opportunities to help. On GMRS I have heard many that are probably operating without a license but I also hear licensed operators using GMRS repeaters.

So, hopefully you are convinced to use those most of the memories in your radios and I hope I can help. I carefully researched how repeaters are typically coordinated and I built a list of the most commonly used frequencies along with the appropriate transmit frequency offsets, tones for the North Texas area and other information that may be helpful. I have shared a Microsoft Excel file that includes all of this information. With a little effort you can customize this list and use radio programming software such as CHIRP to load these settings into your radio. I would enjoy helping you get your radios programmed and please feel free to use my email address on QRZ to contact me with any questions.

Thanks and Regards,

--calvin W7KYG