• Suggestions for Desktop Scanner and Antenna?

  • Discussion related to railroad radio frequencies, railroad communication practices, equipment, and more.
Discussion related to railroad radio frequencies, railroad communication practices, equipment, and more.

Moderator: Aa3rt

  by BN7151
I am going to be moving soon, about 20 miles, but insist on still being able to hear the BNSF in Illinois. I currently live near the tracks and hear everything, but I want to be able to get similar reception. I really don't listen to anything else. I have heard of people using tuned antennas and amplifiers for these purposes. What do you suggest for someone on a limited (e.g. $200) budget?

  by MC8000
My suggestion would be an Cushcraft ARX 2B Ringo ranger tuned to 160 MHZ and mounted on your roof. You can set the antenna up yourself following instructions that are supplied with the unit. Use Beldon 9913F for coaxial feedline. It isn't the best, but for the money it affords pretty good preformance. Total cost about $ 150-200 depending on how long of a run on your coax. Try AES (Amateur Electronic Supply) on the www for your antenna, they have about the best prices around and will help you with any questions that you have.

  by jmp883
This might help. Any decent scanner (Bearcat or Radio Shack) connected to a roof-mounted antenna should work just fine. However if you can run the antenna through an amp it will DEFINITELY improve your reception.

In addition to being a railfan, I'm also a VERY serious radio/scanner buff. Guess it comes from being an emergency services dispatcher for the last 12 years. The two amps that are on the link listed below work tremendously well (I speak from experience) and come in WAY under your $200.00 budget. Order one, I promise you won't regret it.


Happy railfanning/listening!

Joe P
Radio Buff/Railfan (Long Live the EL)

  by BN7151
Thanks for your help. I might just do that!

  by Ken W2KB
For best, indeed much better results, it is necessary to place the amplifier right at the antenna, not at the receiver end of the coax. If that's what is done, it will be necessary to weather proof the amp; not particularly difficult.

  by TAMR213
How much would an amp help and improve listening? I currently use a handheld scanner, with a mag mount antenna (Maxrad MHB5800) that has about 6-8 feet of coax. I use this around the house, as well as out railfaning. I would place the amp between the coax and reviever on the scanner, and I was wondering how much this would help. I would just like to know some more info since I am interested in purchaseing an amp.

  by Ken W2KB
How well the amp will help (or hurt) reception depends upon a number of factors, especially how good the "front end" of the scanner is compared with the specificiations of the amp. For instance, the if the amp and the scanner have a similar spec for noise figure there would be no improvement in that area. Another, if the scanner is at all prone to front end overload and intemod in the presence of strong signals (such as pagers, nearby police base stations, etc.) adding gain ahead of the scanner will make it worse, unless the amp is designed with a narrow passband, i.e., to pass the RR freqs. In general, an amp is primarily useful to boost the signal at the start (antenna end) of a long coax cable run to counter the losses in the coax. Depending on the type of coax and thus the losses, "long" could mean anything from 30 feet (e.G. RG58) to maybe 100 feet (e.g., RG213).

Bottom line is that modern receivers are usually designed with a godd front end and gain, and adding an amp may simply boost the ambient noise as much as the desired signal thus not helping reception. Best thing to do would be to try to borrow an amp and see if it helps on weak signals.

  by videobruce
I wouldn't use a preamp UNLESS you live out in the boondocks. Even suburbia has problems with all those damn pagers and all the other crap that will bury most scanners with signal overload even without a preamp.!
You are better off with a higher mast, better coax and a short run than with a preamp!

I always get the 9913 Beldon equilivent as oppose to the standard 8214. The gauge is higher and the cable a little stiffer, but lower loss. About $.40 a foot


  by EdM
I agree with Ken.. the amp will only amplify the noise. The only use for an amplifier is AT THE ANTENNA when you have a long transmission line to the receiver... Unless, of coarse, your radio is really VERY poor (unlikely). Noise is everywhere (@ a power level of -114 DBM/ mHz) and gets amplified along with the signal. Just 'cause the S meter reads higher doesn't mean the signal is any easier to copy. Ed K2LCK

  by EdM
"You are better off with a higher mast, better coax and a short run than with a preamp!"

YEP! high is good , higher is gooder...and for RR listening, get an Amateur 2 meter HT, due to its narrower bandwidth, it will "listen much better". Just be sure that it also covers 160-162mHz. Ed

  by EdM
And since you are going to get a two meter HT, get a license for it also and join us. The test no longer requires morse code (sigh) but I think it requires some snow.. Ed K2LCK

  by MP297W
Hi everybody!

I'm new here, but I've been scanning rail stuff for about as long as they've had radios.

I have used several setups over the years, but one that has worked out great for me is the already mentioned Ringo Ranger as high as possible, and I use an Icom IC2100 mobile radio on a 12V power supply. I use the 9913 type coax on it, and I can clearly hear trains to the Ohio border from Toledo at all times and when the bands are open, wow.

You can get the radio fro $115 at Hamfests all over the place.

  by oldrails
If I were in your shoes I would first drive to your new location and see how your current scanner with a mobile antenna hears. I would also check some topo maps to get a rough idea of what the path looks like.

If your new location isn't reasonably clear of obstacles and the path isn't good back to your former location, it will be difficult to realize enough gain to hear the handheld radios that you are used to hearing now. You will probably still be able to hear the cab radios in the locos and the dispatcher but not the handies.

I'd then decide based on the path, whether I was going with an omni directional antenna or a directional antenna. Judging by the coverage that you want, I'd be tempted to go with a directional and high gain antenna pointed towards the original location 20 miles away.

Once that is installed you can try a preamp.

I have not had good luck with scanners made by GRE. We have a 25kw fm station across the river, with an external antenna the GRE scanners that I have tested on an external antenna become severly overloaded and unusable at 160 mHz. The GRE preamp that goes on top of handhelds had the same problem.

Some radio shack scanners are made by GRE. I tested a pro 94 and 95 I think they were. Both 1000 channel scanners. The newer one, and less expensive one, with more banks, and some more features was made by GRE and was totally overloaded with an external antenna and unusable at 160 mHz. The other one, the older 1000 channel scanner had no problem at all.

My old Uniden BC 200 also had no problem. A couple of other RadioShack scanners not made by GRE were also fine on the external antenna.

So, that is one of the pitfalls of an external antenna, it tends to highlight weaknesses in a receiver.

Your other choice may be to do what some others do, and that is to have a remote receiver that you listen to over the net. There is one in Hebron Maine that works very well. The guy set it up so he could listen to his scanner at work.

If you know someone with an internet feed who is in the area, a scanner and an older pc and net connection would do the trick.

I am considering putting a remote reciever at a friends house who is up high on a hill. Winamp.com has the software to set it up.

This solution has it's drawbacks too but if you have netsavvy friends who are in the area, they probably won't mind you using a bit of bandwidth to listen to your scanner remotely.

Go to winamp.com, do a search on Maine scanner radio and you should be able to listen to his feed. Works pretty well. When it's on.