What do you listen to on your amateur radio or scanner?
March 27, 2015 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Having just earned my amateur radio license, I've purchased a handheld transceiver with decent wide-band coverage and I'm trying to figure out what I should program into it. I've added the nearest repeaters on my licensed bands, but what's worthwhile to add next? What else do people program on their mobiles, HTs, and scanners? I'd like to find active and interesting channels to monitor when I'm not conversing with someone myself.

(I'm in the United States, but it may not make that much difference.)
posted by Songdog to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: It's a Yaesu FT-60R — dual band 2m/70cm with reception on 108–520 and 700–999.990 MHz, excluding cellular frequencies.
posted by Songdog at 10:59 AM on March 27, 2015

Depends on where you live. In some parts of the US you can monitor emergency services using a basic FM HT. It depends on whether the local system is analog vs. digital and whether it's "trunked" or standard. If you're in a more rural area you may be at least able to get the fire department or PD dispatch, which can be interesting.

Radio Reference has lots of things to check out, sorted by area.

I would put in all the local 2m and 70cm repeaters (making sure you get their remotes, if they have any; most networked systems in urban areas do), and the 2m and 70cm simplex frequencies, and you might as well also program in repeaters for any area that you might visit (easier to do your programming all at once).

In terms of other stuff, in addition to emergency services ... if you live near a railroad, the standard AAR channels are well-known. Can be kind of interesting. Chances are your local public works department also has some freqs assigned, as do most public-transit systems. Continuously monitoring them is likely to be a cure for insomnia, but if you're programming a radio, given that modern radios have huge memory banks, you might as well put them in and then lock them out of scan just so that they're there if you want them someday.

Personally I have separate radios for scanning / listening to random stuff and for amateur radio. Generally if I'm using the amateur radio it's because I want to talk with someone (not specifically someone, but people in general), vs. listening to a scanner is a more passive activity when I want to figure out what's going on. You can do it both from the same radio but scanners are inexpensive and switching various frequencies on and off is sort of a PITA (also: I am lazy and like owning radios). Something to keep in mind for the future. Analog scanners tend to be dirt cheap because people in urban areas are dumping them as the local public safety systems switch to digital.

Also, getting the programming cable and software for the FT-60R is totally worth the time and relatively small amount of money. I think you can get homebrewed ones off of eBay (sometimes with or without a USB-to-serial adapter). If you don't program on the computer, the temptation to not put in names for various frequencies will be very strong, and that is not fun later.

Other thoughts: the rubber-duck antenna that comes on the FT-60R isn't very good; you may find yourself unable to hit many repeaters, especially if you are indoors. A 5/8-wave magmount, sitting on an old steel cookie sheet (hey, it works, although a J-pole is better) in your attic or on a high shelf, with a PL259-to-SMA adapter to connect it, will get you a tremendous upgrade in range. It's incredibly frustrating to be able to hear people talking on a repeater that you know is only a few miles away but to be completely unintelligible whenever you go to transmit.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Many fire departments and ambulance services are still on the VHF high band (~150 MHz) and within the capabilities of the FT-60R ( I have one myself, it's my primary HT). Some rural areas might be on VHF low band (~46 MHz) but at least around me they're converting to the high band or to digital.

A lot of police traffic now is digital and often encrypted (P25) so they're no longer simple to receive although you can do so with the right equipment. That seems to be the long term direction for most public service use so listen while you can.

If you're looking for local repeaters RepeaterBook.com is good for finding them in your area. Just keep in mind you you will likely be able to hear repeaters that you can't reach even with a good antenna. Even so, it's good to listen and get a feel for etiquette and what kind of folks frequent particular repeaters.

Some repeaters may have additional capabilities, like IRLP or EchoLink which allow them to use the Internet to connect to other repeaters. Connections can be local or not and may be temporary or long-term. One of my local repeaters is always connected to the East Coast IRLP reflector so I can converse with someone in Florida or England if I want. No special equipment is required on your end so that's well within your HT's capabilities. Some hams prefer IRLP over Echolink since it's requires a radio to be at both ends of the link so it's likely to be more prevalent in your area. Both do require that everyone involved be properly licensed in their area so these are ham-only.

Lots of hams have a profile on QRZ.com (pronounced Q-R-Zed), it's kind of a central clearing house for hams (find me under KC2TCK). It's free to have one so sign up and put your info there. Hams look each other up all the time and it's nice not having to put your email or phone number out over the air.

Consider joining a club in your area if there are any. It'll put you in contact with folks local to you who can help you get set up and introduce you around. I am a member of two clubs but despite that there's dozens of folks I've talked to over the radio I've never met in person. Even if you aren't into attending meetings most clubs have a website for information and activitity details.

Most of all have fun and learn as you go. It's one of those hobbies with lots of areas of interest and there's something for everyone. Not all of them require more equipment or a license upgrade so if you're on a tight budget it doesn't mean you're limited.
posted by tommasz at 1:19 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

FYI, the rather wonderful (and free) CHIRP HT programming package supports your radio. It allows you to pull down programming data from various repeater websites, customized for your location.

I'd also program in your local emergency weather radio channel.
posted by scruss at 3:36 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Welcome, OM!

Lots of excellent info above. I'll just add you may want to store the frequencies of your local NOAA weather broadcast stations. If you're out on a public service project and the weather seems to be shifting, you can easily switch over to the weather forecast. ('Course we all have weather on our smartphones, but you may not have enough hands free for the phone, or maybe it's raining.)

Also, Kadin is right about the standard rubber-duck antennas that come with HTs. For hand-held use, replace it with a rubber antenna that's at least a foot long.

Have fun!!!
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:41 PM on March 27, 2015

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