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Computer Scanning - Probe V3

by Bill Mauldin

Popular Communications - Volume 15, Number 10

The first scanner I saw many years ago was made by Bearcat. The old Bearcat crystal controlled scanner contained eight crystals and eight channels. The frequencies, according to Bearcat instruction booklets, could be easily changed by simply changing the frequency controlling crystals. The row of eight flashing lights on the receiver indicated the channels as they were scanned. A new day for hobby radio listeners was born. I was hooked. I had to have one. That same scanner, my first, is still on my hobby shelf today along with my PoliceAlert monitor and other listening tools of the fifties. As with all electronics, how things have changed.

One of the most exciting scanning tools that I have encountered recently has been the ultra fast programmable scanner. Although a very useful and enjoyable listening tool, the scanner that offers 400 plus channels, all scanned in the blink of an eye, can also have limitations. Many times, the scanner will search out a frequency that will catch your interest, but then as quickly as the transmission was captured, it is gone. What was that? Who was that? What frequency was that on? Where is my note pad? Believe me, this happens to all scanner buffs from the novice to the experienced. There is a solution to the problem. The answer is computerized scanning!

As you quickly glance through the pages of ads and articles in the radio hobby magazines of today, you see many ads for ultra fast scanners, scanning assist devices, and computer programs. The days of the old crystal controlled Bearcat and the eight channels of excitement are truly far behind us. Companies such as Optoelectronics, Percon, Grove, Radio Shack, EEB, Universal, AES, and DataFile are all offering products that would have cost thousands upon thousands of dollars a few years ago. Wait. What was that name? DataFile? Who is DataFile and what do they make?

DataFile is the company that makes, from my experience, the best computer program on the market today for computer assisted scanning. The program has been on the market for several years, and each version gets better, offers more features, and is easier to use. The program is named Probe. Probe, version 3.0 is now out. If you have a Radio Shack scanner and a computer, you are already half way to becoming a computer assisted scanning enthusiast. Let me tell just a little about Probe and what computer assisted scanning is all about.

Initially, sometime back, when Probe 2.0 crossed my scanning desk, I objectively loaded the program in my computer. I have previewed many scanning programs over the years, but even with this early edition of Probe, I could tell immediately that I was dealing with a very different program. It really worked. That is the main thing about computer scanning programs that drives me crazy. Many don't work well, and others require an experienced computer person on the keys. Probe, even the early Probe 2.0, worked, and it worked well. The current version of Probe is 3.0. And, it will blow you away if you are a serious scanner user. This especially applies to those of you who work in newsrooms or other serious scanning places.

Using Probe

To use Probe, you need three things. You need a computer that you can devote to scanner control, either briefly or during the periods when you don't need it for other purposes. Just a simple, much older 286 model will do. Used, older, slower laptops and desk computers are available just about everywhere for almost nothing these days. Next, you need a Radio Shack scanner such as the older Pro-2005, Pro-2006, or the more current Pro-2035. Chances are if you are into scanning to any degree, you have a Radio Shack scanner. DataFile can advise you if your model will work. My computer scanner is the older 2006 model. To date, Probe has only been written to work with the Radio Shack scanners. You can bet if there is enough interest, Probe will be produced for other scanners such as the advanced Bearcat and Icom models. Finally, to complete your computer system, you need to get the special computer assist board from Optoelectronics. Opto ads are in most scanning hobby related computer magazines, and they have an easy to obtain 800 order number. The Optoboard goes inside your scanner. Although it small and easy for most technically oriented radio buffs to install, Opto does offer installation for a charge.You'll be without your scanner for a few days, but it will work well upon return. Consider this option if your ability to follow electronic instructions is limited.

With the Opto board installed in your scanner, will it continue to work as a normal scanner when not used with your computer? Yes, it will. You will notice no difference in the normal operation.

There is one additional item that will make your computer scanning system even more useful and much more enjoyable. Probe 3.0 has the ability to interface in a most useful manner with the Person FCC database CD ROM. So, now you are asking, what will all of this software and software do for me that my scanner won't do now?

It is impossible to tell you about all of the features of the Probe 3.0 in this single article, but here are just a few of the highlights. Probe will take control of your scanner once the program starts. One of the menu selections is something called SmartScan . When selected, "SmartScan" will allow you to select and load a group of frequencies and then place them in what I call a quiet bank. The frequencies are all there, loaded and ready. As you build the list, you select a key frequency or frequencies in the quiet bank. Now, as you use your scanner to listen to your normal favorites, the quiet, "SmartScan" bank is there on standby. Then, suddenly, there is activity on one of your key frequencies. Immediately, "SmartScan" is aware that something is going on in the quiet frequency bank. With different methods of alerting you, the Probe takes control. The whole group of pre-loaded "SmartScan" frequencies is quickly opened and now you are not only scanning your normal interest listening channels, but you are now scanning the whole group of pre-loaded "SmartScan" frequencies too. The bank is scanned until the activity dies down. Then, "SmartScan" detects the lack of activity returns the full bank to the quiet, standby status.

How would a feature such as "SmartScan" be useful? Let me give you an example. Let's say your listening favorites are the normal police, fire, and ambulance channels. You know there is an accident in town. Fire rescue has been dispatched and has arrived at the scene, but you know little else. In one of your "SmartScan" banks, you have the MED channels used in your coverage area. As the ambulance leaves the scene, the ambulance EMT calls the hospital on one of the MED channels with details on the patient and the related injuries. "SmartScan" knows there is activity, and in a blink of an eye, the MED channels are opened and scanned. You are in on the action. As soon as the activity on the MED channels stops, the MED channels are once again stored in standby by "SmartScan". This is a great feature when you are monitoring services such as airport fire alerts, interagency mutual aid channels. I'm sure you are already thinking of applications that would apply to your listening needs.


Probe 3.0 has another feature called "Hyperbanks". This is a very useful tool. Hyperbanks allows you to customize your F-1 through F-10 computer keys so that each F-key is a custom bank. The bank can have just about any specification that you need. These are not just added frequency lists, if used correctly. You can enter a description for each bank. This description will show at the bottom of your control screen. How does this work and how would it help improve your scanning?

In my case, my F-1 bank is devoted to all of the fire and EMS dispatch channels in my town. I use F-2 for local and surrounding law enforcement agency channels. F-3 is used for the low band and VHF state highway patrol channels. F-4 contains the special interest channels. F-5 is devoted to the local airport aviation frequencies and airport fire rescue. F-6 is one that I use to store and monitor special catches that I discover during my frequency searches.

Here is the biggest plus to me about Hyperbank. Since you can program any Hyperbank in just about any way, I use F-7, F-8, F-9, and F-10 for serious searching. Although I enjoy catching the local public safety action, I find searching perhaps the most interesting and enjoyable part of the scanning hobby. I have F-7 programmed to be my first Hyperbank search channel. It will search all frequencies between the upper and lower limits that I have established and do it in 10 kHz steps. F-8 is programmed to search between different upper and lower frequency limits in steps of 12.5 kHz steps. F-9 is programmed to search between my desired limits, and in this bank, it does it in 30 kHz steps. F-10 is used in the same manner, but both the steps and limits are changed often to fit my needs and desires. Using Probe Hyperbanks in this manner will give you the ultimate searching tool. It is extremely useful when searching out some of those new and completely unknown 800 MHZ channels that are popping up in your area these days.

Although the Radio Shack scanner has programmed scanning limits, especially on scanning speed and channel numbers, Probe can program your scanner to suit your personal needs. Getting an increased scanning rate is easy. Rates of 50 to 75 channels a second is a normal operation when using Probe controlling selections. Anyway you look at it, scanning at that speed has definite advantages. Many of you live in lower activity areas where you probably listen to only 30 to 40 channels maximum. Just think of scanning every frequency on your listening list in less than a second.

There is another strong advantage in this Probe fast scanning feature. For those of you who scan in areas where you would like to monitor your priority favorite channel and yet scan many additional channels, here is a real plus. Probe treats the Priority Channel in an extended and improved light. For example, you can scan 99 channels at 60 channels a second. As you do this, you can also load the group of frequencies with several different priority channels . As action takes place on any of your preprogrammed priority channels, the scanner will stop and let you in on the action. Then, when the transmission is over, normal 99 channel scanning resumes.

You can take this "SmartScan / Priority" feature even further. Let's say you are scanning 100 channels. All of a sudden, there is action on one of your priority channels . As the channel activates and the priority channel is opened for monitoring, Probe performs another computer controlled action! Remember, the "SmartScan" feature that opened up a preprogrammed bank when just one of the channels became active? Here we are scanning 100 channels at the rate of 60 channels a second, and now your local fire mutual aid channel has suddenly activated. By using "SmartScan", Probe will open your "fire alert" frequency bank and add this full list to the frequencies you've already been scanning! You are there and catching all of the action calls.

With the Probe "data handling" feature, you can control and completely manage your frequencies. By using Automark , you can scan while you are away from the computer. Probe will control the scanner. It will take care of your logging, noting, and marking of the frequencies that are active. You can throw away that frequency notebook that you have been using for years. Probe will allow you to print custom frequency lists for your records or your friends.

If you add a CD ROM to the computer hardware and the PerCon FCC database, Probe will not only log the activity on a frequency catch, but will also note the frequency user from the local license data, and it will give you the location of the transmitter site. The Person CD is fantastic when used with Probe during travels. You can make quick frequency catches that are all entered in your capture log. The frequency, user, number of times captured, and transmitter location are all there for your logbook and data management later. By using the limits of the PerCon radius search, you can control your listening coverage area. Try using that one with just a 5 mile listening radius for some really interesting data captures!

Probe offers several visual alarms and alerts that come in very handy too. If, for example, you are using a color screen, you can program Probe to display the catch or monitored channel in a special color. Blue for police, red for fire, yellow for EMT, and will alert you to the service of the catch and capture. You pick the colors.

Perry Joseph and the guys at DataFile initially had a great computer assist program in Probe. Probe 2.0 was even better. Probe 3.0 totally blows away any other scanning assist computer programs that I have used or tested. Several years ago, I worked as a member of the FCC Amateur Auxiliary Enforcement team. Part of my duties included working with the FCC Enforcement personnel at the monitoring stations. I had considerable knowledge of the receiving equipment used by government personnel. At that time, with all of the money that Uncle Sam devoted to enforcement monitoring tools, there was nothing in the FCC inventory that had the power of Probe. This outstanding computer program and the related hardware will give you a fantastic, versatile scanning tool that will greatly expand your enjoyment and knowledge of what is really out there! And, it can be yours for a reasonable price. If you have the scanner and a computer you are almost there now.

Reprinted with permission
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