The 8 Best Radio Scanners

Updated June 10, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

8 Best Radio Scanners
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 41 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top picks for this wiki. Ideal for monitoring police and other emergency personnel frequencies, along with air traffic control, weather alerts, and even NASCAR driver communications, these radio scanners will keep you in the know and up to date. Also, if the zombie apocalypse ever comes, they might just lead you to a safe haven. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best radio scanner on Amazon.

8. Uniden BearTracker Mobile BCT15X

The Uniden BearTracker Mobile BCT15X gets over 9,000 channels with individual volume offset, and has 100 quick keys to get you tuned to certain stations instantly. Location-based scanning selects programs based on proximity.
  • state-by-state filtering
  • can connect to gps receivers
  • doesn't support cloning
Brand Uniden
Model BCT15X
Weight 5.5 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

7. Whistler WS1040 Digital Handheld

The Whistler WS1040 Digital Handheld has simple, menu-driven programming aided by context-sensitive receivers, making it a good choice for newcomers to the world of scanning. Each menu item has a few lines of informative text.
  • free-form memory organization
  • digital agc audio boost
  • stores 21 various configurations
Brand Whistler
Model WS1040
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

6. TTO TSC100RA Air Band

With its compact size, the TTO TSC100RA Air Band is a great choice for hiking or boating trips, where space and weight are at a premium. It has exceptionally high receiver sensitivity, great for use whenever you're far afield.
  • clear and crisp audio
  • includes an sma to bnc adaptor
  • runs on 3 aa batteries
Brand TTO TSC100RA Air Band
Model TSC100RA
Weight 12 ounces
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

5. Uniden BC75XLT

The Uniden BC75XLT offers a 300-channel memory divided evenly among 10 dedicated banks. It scans both VHF and UHF wavelengths with close call RF capture that automatically tunes to the strongest nearby frequency, as well as a reliable 'do not disturb' mode.
  • side grips for stability in the hand
  • narrow band compatible
  • not ideal for stationary use
Brand Uniden
Model BC75XLT
Weight 13.6 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. Whistler WS1095 Digital

The Whistler WS1095 Digital is suitable for desktop or mobile use. It has an easy-to-understand interface with large, responsive buttons, making it easier for anyone new to using scanners. Its hardside metallic construction makes it fairly durable, too.
  • full usb interface
  • powerful ws1095 pc software
  • complicated startup and shutdown
Brand Whistler
Model WS-1095
Weight 4.8 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

3. Uniden BCD996P2 APCO

The Uniden BCD996P2 APCO includes the brackets and power cords you need for mobile or stationary use, and is a great choice for storm chasers. It has incredible programming flexibility, so you won't find yourself restricted by presets.
  • multicolor backlit lcd
  • close call rf capture mode
  • digital apco 25 phase i and ii
Brand Uniden
Model BCD996P2
Weight 5.9 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

2. BaoFeng BF-F8HP

Depending on how you wish to balance your power consumption and your available broadcasting range, the BaoFeng BF-F8HP gives you three specific options: 1, 5, and 8 watts. Its manual has been greatly improved compared to what came with previous models.
  • seven-inch antenna
  • up to 24 hours of battery life
  • earpiece included
Brand BaoFeng
Model BF-F8HP
Weight 1.4 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

1. Uniden BCD536HP Digital

The Uniden BCD536HP Digital has enhanced dynamic memory with narrowband reception and location-based scanning, plus it is one of the easiest-to-program professional mobile units available. It can work with a number of apps.
  • brightly backlit keypad
  • covers five frequency ranges
  • sentinel pc software updates
Brand Uniden
Model BCD536HP
Weight 6.2 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

A Brief Explanation Of Radio Frequencies

You can’t see them, but thousands of radio waves are swirling around you at this moment. Any type of gadget that needs to transmit a signal – from televisions to garage door openers to baby monitors – uses radio waves to send it. Your typical, single-purpose radio won’t pick up on the cooing of an infant over a monitor because it doesn’t detect radio waves within that device’s frequency. That's because the Federal Communications Commission (The FCC) determines who can use which frequencies, and for what purposes.

When you listen to your FM or AM radio, you will often hear the announcer say, “You’re listening to 93.1 WKRZ or 97.9 WFMX.” Those number aren’t arbitrary; they represent megahertz, which means millions of cycles per second. The transmitter at that particular radio station is oscillating at a frequency of 93,100,000 or 97,900,000 cycles per second respectively. All FM radio stations transmit in the band of frequencies between 88 megahertz and 108 megahertz. AM stations transmit between 535 kilohertz and 1,700 kilohertz, which means thousands of cycles per second. If you try to tune your FM or AM radio to frequencies outside of these bands, you will not be able to do it. That’s because the FCC leases frequencies to certain stations and devices, and it doesn’t allow your device to access frequencies that are not withing the specified bandwidth.

FM and AM radio by no means make up the entire spectrum of frequencies. Garage doors, for example, operate at around 40 megahertz. Radio controlled cars operate at 75 megahertz, animal tracking collars transmit a signal between 215 and 220 megahertz, and your GPS transmits within the band of 1,227 and 1,575 megahertz. Radio scanners are unique because they can detect signals that are meant to remain private.

The Unique And Controversial Uses For Radio Scanners

Radio scanners are quite popular among NASCAR fans who like to listen in on the race. The device allows the listener tune in to the car-to-car communications between the drivers, hearing every in-depth detail about what is going on inside of the vehicle.

Police and criminals alike listen to one another’s frequency bands through radio scanners. Criminals who are hoping to track the location of law enforcement, in order to escape them and efficiently carry out a plan, might scan for the private police radio. Police can listen into the handheld transceivers, often called a walkie-talkie that the criminals use. Police can sit in a neighborhood where they presume criminal activity is taking place, and use their radio scanner to pick up on any walkie-talkie frequencies in the vicinity. If they hear one that they think is the criminal’s, they’ll stay on it.

Most apocalypse believers have a radio scanner in their emergency kit. Regardless of your belief in such an event, a radio scanner could save your life in the midst of a national disaster, when cell phone towers are not working. Since the tool can pick up on a wide range of radio frequencies, it can help you determine if there is help nearby. If you're hurt, you can tune your scanner until you land on the transmission from an emergency medical service team, listen in to determine their location, and go there for aid.

If you are ever caught in a city-wide disaster you can tune into private stations and find out what's happening. You might discover there is a bomb threat in your neighborhood that the police are trying to conceal. Civilians have been monitoring local activity through police radio for years.

The History Of The Radio Scanner

Current radio scanners can pick up on the most covert of stations, including military and air traffic control, but the first model wasn’t so advanced. Scanners first became popular during the heyday of Citizens Band Radio in the 1970s. The first model required crystal radio receivers – one of the most popular types of radio receivers in the earliest days of radio. A separate crystal was needed for each frequency the listener wanted to pick up, and cost around $5.

Early users of the device mostly wanted a scanner to listen in on their local police stations, which is why radio scanners are also known as police scanners. By the 1980s, some scanners were capable of detecting up to 20 channels, but in 1986 Radio Shack shocked the consumer market when they released the PRO-2004 – a scanner capable of picking up 300 channels.

Shortly after the PRO-2004 hit the market, Uniden released a scanner called the Bearcat BC200XLT that could receive the 800 MHz scanner band.

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Last updated on June 10, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.

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