Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Radio Shack PRO-2038 Scanner Review

I wanted a way to have a permanent receiver in the shack for monitoring local VHF/UHF amateur activity. Something I could just leave on all the time and never be tempted to remove from the shack and put in a car. I could have just bought a ham transceiver, but I decided a scanner might be a better fit for a couple of reasons:
  1. Cost: I got my scanner for $20 shipped. It being so cheap I will be less tempted to ever take it out of the shack, because I have real radios for that. If I really feel the need to have a scanner in the car or in the field, I can cheaply buy another one.
  2. Speed: Scanners are blazingly fast, even old ones. Most ham radios scan very slowly, especially the older cheaper ones. With lots of channels programmed, you're lucky if it ever stops on any activity, and if it does half the time you just catch the squelch tail.
  3. Frequency coverage: Even cheap scanners cover 28mhz through 450mhz; some go up to 900MHz.
I found a Radio Shack PRO-2038 scanner on eBay, and won it for $20, shipped. I know it's a rebadged Uniden, but I'm not sure the equivalent Uniden model.

Being somewhat new to scanners in general, I was a bit surprised to discover how it "really" worked. It's billed as a "50 channel" scanner. The reality is more complex and, unfortunately for amateur use, limited.

It has six "banks", the first five of which are pre-programmed with relevant frequencies; Fire, police, air, weather, marine VHF. Then there's the "Private" bank, which is where you put your ham channels. Unfortunately the "Private" bank only has 20 channels. So what about the other 30 programmable channels? Turns out they are in the fire and police banks, so you can add new frequencies to those banks. You COULD use them for ham stuff but then you'd also be scanning 500 police frequencies at the same time. Also you can only scan one particular bank at a time, so if you want to monitor fire AND police, or fire AND amateur, SOL; buy two scanners (or one with a more flexible memory system). I guess those are the limits of circa 1993 scanner technology.

The bottom line is that, for amateur use, this is a 20 channel scanner. That's adequate for me. I don't think there are more than 20 active VHF ham channels that I can pick up from my QTH. I programmed all 20 channels and most of them are silent 24/7. Some are distant repeaters and I may just be out of range. Others are local repeaters and simplex freqs with zero activity; sad.

The built-in speaker fires down, which renders speech unintelligible when the unit sits on a flat surface. With an external speaker, the audio sounds fine.

I get crud on 146.550 sometimes. Sometimes it sounds like a pager, sometimes it sounds like music. It's a bit odd because there are no strong transmitters in my immediate vicinity. I keep that channel locked out much of the time, which is unfortunate, because my area does have some activity there.

Overall I'm satisfied with my purchase. I can monitor pretty much all of the active VHF/UHF channels in my area and it scans a lot faster than most ham rigs. If you live in an area with more activity, you might want a scanner with more channels.


N1YWB said...

Update on the "crud" I was hearing. Every now and then it would pop in and I could hear music playing. So I got an FM radio and by listening to the different strong stations I could get I eventually found the one causing my QRM. it turned out to be interference from WRFK Frank-FM on 107.1 MHz. The transmitter is only a few miles from my house and has a clear LOS. I was able to remove the QRM 100% using a coaxial stub filter which I made from a length of scrap RG-58 coax and a BNC T connector.

Anonymous said...

I bought one for $10 at a tag sale. I use it for 2 meter repeaters and a couple of VHF local police frequencies. The sensitivity is good and it scans quickly enough. Jim