When one thinks of international travel and electronic sleuthing, it is unlikely that Richmond Hill and Bryan County come to mind. However, this past week, that is exactly what happened.
Norm Schrein, also known as Mr. Scanner, has spent the past few days in the area checking out local radio frequencies. These are the channels on which emergency responders and other public agencies communicate. The results of this research will be incorporated into a database that will be used to program radio scanners nationwide.
Schrein, who also publishes National Communications Magazine, a magazine for radio enthusiasts, explained the purpose of his stay in the area. “I have been called a radio spy, pirate, voyeur and many other things,” Schrein said. “The reason for monitoring local radio frequencies is to verify what is actually happening against what the license data from the FCC says,” he continued. Owning and listening to a scanner is completely legal in Georgia and enjoyed by many as a hobby.
The Federal Communications Commission is charged with issuing licensees to those who use radio frequencies. Schrein, who maintains a database of active scanner frequencies, checks to verify that a licensed frequency is actually in use. In some cases, one governmental agency holds the radio license and leases time on the their system to other governmental entities. “If we depend solely on what the license data says, we will lose a lot of the activity occurring on the airways,” he said.
In Bryan County, for example, there is a large system that is used by many governmental agencies, including the Bryan County Sheriff, Fire & EMS, city of Richmond Hill as well as the Savannah/Chatham Police & Fire, Effingham County agencies, Georgia Ports Authority, Georgia State Patrol, Southside Fire Departments and Tybee Island among others.
The system is known to local radio enthusiasts as the Southeast Georgia Regional Radio Network. Another large system in the area is the one used by Fort Stewart.
“Knowing what frequencies are being used is just one part of the puzzle”, Schrein said. “It is also necessary to know if the system is a conventional radio system, where everyone operates on the same frequency, or a trunked system, where many frequencies are being used by dozens of agencies."
Then you have to know if the system is digital or analog. Clearly this is a lot of information to know before one can even begin to program a scanner. “The average person just doesn’t have this information readily available to them,” Schrein explained.
He developed a radio frequency database for RadioShack so they could program scanners for customers at the time of purchase. Now, that program is being re-worked and the databases are being updated. In the meantime, Schrein has been programming scanners for radio enthusiasts from across the country and he is spending time in Bryan County to make sure the data he compiles for this area is as accurate as possible.
Now manufacturers are creating scanners with on-board databases. While Schrein agrees that these radios are a great advancement in the technology, he says that no one should own a scanner that they cannot program themselves.
Teaming up with a partner, Jim Springer of Computer Aided Technologies of Shreveport, La., Schrein combined his database with Springer’s software program. The new product the Scancat/Mr. Scanner combo will program just about any scanner radio currently available on the market.
According to Schrein, it is no longer a simple matter to go out and buy a scanner and start listening to local police and fire departments. “There are so many models out there right now”, he said “and you have to be sure you have the correct scanner for the area in which you live.”
You can find out what scanner you may need by visiting www.bearcat1.com where there is a great amount of information on radios and radio systems from across the USA and beyond.