Thank you for joining us on our very first session of Scanner School. Welcome and we are happy to have you here.
In this episode, I'll introduce myself and talk about the goals of Scanner School and what you can expect in future episodes.
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001 – Welcome to Scanner School
Welcome to Scanner School Session 1.
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Welcome to the Scanner School, a podcast dedicated to the scanner radio hobby. Class is about to begin! Here is your host, Phil Lichtenberger.
My name is Phil Lichtenberger, and I want to welcome you to the very first episode of Scanner School. Before I jump into my background and who I am, I would like to say welcome, and thank you for being on the other end of this podcast.
The goal of Scanner School is to answer all of your questions about the scanner radio hobby. You see, each week I’ll be here to cover a different topic related to scanning and radios.
And, we’ll talk about the differences. For example, simplex and repeaters. We’ll go through what PL tones are, frequencies, antenna systems, coax, and even different trunk radio systems. We’ll go into details of Motorola trunking, and how they’re different from, say, EDACS and LTR. We’ll discuss rebanding and what effects it had on scanning. We’ll even talk about the new digital modes such as P25 and DMR, also known as MotoTRBO. So again, this is just a very short list of things I would like to cover on future episodes of Scanner School.
So, let me just say, if you’re new to the hobby, welcome! And, if you’ve been away from the hobby, and you’re finding yourself coming back, I want to say, welcome back! And, if you’re very active into the hobby, I want to say thank you for spending some time with me, and I hope that you will reach out and maybe one day be a guest on this podcast.
So, today is January 2nd, 2018, and it’s a very exciting day for me. I hope it’s also a very exciting day for you because for those of you listening in the future, today marks the launch of the Scanner School podcast, and, of course, Scanner School website.
As I stated in my intro statement, my name is Phil Lichtenberger. I have been around radios almost my entire life. If you can’t tell from my accent, I was born and raised and I spent most most of my life in Long Island, NY.
So, if we go back to about the time I was born, my father worked in a 2-way radio shop, and before he met my mother he was into radio. He grew up at my grandparents’ house, and he was doing CB back then. You know, you needed a license at the time for CB, and he had his amateur radio license. Those weren’t the days when you could just walk into your local amateur radio club. He had to go into the city and go to, I think it was an FCC Bureau Building if I remember the story correctly, and that’s where he had to go to take his amateur radio license.
I guess, in a way, you could say radio is in my blood. To me, growing up, my earliest memories include being at my grandparents house and watching the red lights dance from left to right, flying by on their old Bearcat 101. If I close my eyes, I can still see, standing in their U-shaped kitchen, above the microwave, and to the left of one of those phones that would hang on the wall with the long receiver lines that can go halfway across the house to try to gain some privacy on the phone, that’s where that Bearcat 101 lived. I was a kid, and I just wanted to reach up and just hit the switches on it, right, that’s what kids do.
But, I just remember being at my grandparents’ house and my brother and I would play with the toy trucks, or whatever it was we would do on the living room floor, or, later at night my aunt and I would watch NY Islander games. That’s where I was introduced not only to a lot of other things but to hockey as well, and it was a great time to be into the NY Islanders because that’s when they became a dynasty. Four Cups in a row is about the time when I was introduced to them.
If we weren’t watching ice hockey, then my grandparents would have the TV on and they would be watching Leave It To Beaver or My Favorite Martian or whatever else Nick at Nite had on rotation in the early 80s. Every time I look at my own Bearcat 101, sitting on my shelf, I’m taken back to the days of being at my grandparents house.
Before those days though, my father worked at a marine shop in Freeport, NY. In addition to selling Shakespeare Ugly Sticks and other kinds of marine radios, they sold crystals. Back in the days before synthesized radios, you would pop a crystal in your receiver or your transmitter and that’s what set you on frequency. That was it.
Somebody who wanted to listen to something on their scanner or change a frequency on their radio would walk in and they’d see the guy behind the counter, which in this case would be my dad, and they’d say, “I want to listen to VHF Marine Channel 16.” He’d go into the back on the shelf and he’d pull out a crystal that was cut for VHF Channel 16. Or, somebody would walk in and say, “Hey, I wanna listen to the police department, I wanna listen to the fire department,” and, again, back in those days there really wasn’t a lot of frequencies as there are today, and it was pretty easy to find the crystals you wanted because the guys knew what sold in the area, and they would keep it in stock.
You really didn’t need to know, “Hey, I need to listen to something 156.8 or 33.9” or whatever it is the frequency that you wanted, the shop clerk normally knew what you were talking about. Funny thing about that is my dad still has in his garage the dirty, dusty, tinted baby food jars to the brim of crystals. It’s funny to see them there. It’s a reminder, right, that technology changes, and back in those days you had a radio that held four channels, eight channels, 16 channels, that was plenty.
Fast forward, we’ll jump over the time at my grandparents’ house and what we’re talking about now with my dad, but as years go by, scanners change and eventually my dad swapped out the crystal receivers for synthesized receivers. Basically, what that means, is it allows you to somehow put the frequencies in without the need for crystals, whether it be with, like the Bearcat 101, by setting the dip switches on the front and you hit the program button and lock in the channel. Then, eventually, things become what they are today, where you have a digital interface with a keypad and then you can pop the frequency in using the keypad. Again, times change too, and you can also use computers these days.
My dad had all these receivers, and I can go through boxes at his house, or some boxes even at my house, because things seem to migrate from his place to my place, and I can open up a box, and I can find a couple of crystal receivers in there, l can find a couple of the early synthesized receivers, and I can find maybe a Bearcat 210 in there or something like that, or a Patrolman. It’s amazing once you open a box you can look at the history of the way things evolved in there, and that’s just the way that I grew up.
So, fast forward, we’ll get into like the early 90s. I’m in my early teens at that point. My uncle, somehow he came into possession of a Bearcat 200XLT, and here’s my dad and he’s still using the old technology. My uncle and I, we went out and we bought him his own 200XLT for his birthday one year. When I say that my uncle and I went out and bought it, what I mean is, I went with my uncle for the car ride when he went out and bought the radio [laughing] for my dad. This is great, my dad goes from a 16 channel radio or 20 channel radio, whatever it is he was operating with, to this 200 channel handheld radio that had a battery pack in it, and, at that time, 200 channels was more than enough. Well, close to more than enough.
I swear, looking at what I know my dad had on that radio, because I would borrow it from time to time, I think he really only had 10 channels on it that he programmed. But, I think my dad knew that I was using it, using his radio, and it was about the time that he got the gift from my uncle and I that he passed on to me my very own first scanner, which was dated. It was a Fanon Courier Slim Scan 6 HLU, which is a handheld, I believe eight channel, crystal receiver. I would just spend hours digging through the baby jars of crystals and popping them in and moving them from the high spot to the low spot to find out if something else would come in, just seeing what I would get out of that.
What I want to do, is I want to get more involved, or more in depth into the evolution of radios, and scanning, and receiving. But, I’m going to move on right now and we’ll go back to this topic on a future episode of Scanner School.
Mid-90’s, I guess, my dad had convinced my mom to study for her ham radio license. These were the days before everybody had a cell phone. Now you think, everybody had a cell phone, but there was a time, BC, right, “before cell phones.” What you would do is you would use an autopatch to call home. Basically, what that means was you would have your radio and you would punch in a sequence on the repeater system or simplex, however it was set up, and it would open up this auto patch. Basically, what that meant was it would take a phone receiver or landline off the hook and then you could punch in the phone number and you’d be connected, you’d be bridged in. Somebody would be home and they’d be on the phone, and you’d be in the car or wherever else you were on the amateur radio, and you’d be able to just touch base. “Hey, I’m stuck in traffic,” or “Do you want me to pick up something on the way home,” and I think that might have been the catalyst for my mom getting her ham radio license. I remember her just studying for it to the point where she knew it, question after question after question. So, she goes, and she also went with a family friend of ours, and my mom and our family friend both got their amateur radio license.
So, my brother and I were like, “well, if mom could do it, we could do it.” We both go, and Owen, my brother, passes his test, and I failed. The next month, I go, and we go with another family friend who’s actually the son of the person my mom had gone with, and the two of us pass our test. Then, the following month, my uncle goes with another family friend, and they pass their test.
It was really a great time for us to get involved with amateur radio. We had people we knew, that we were comfortable with, family and friends, people we spent time with, and we all got involved with amateur radio, and it allowed us to get comfortable and talk and really get involved, I guess you can say. I guess by saying getting involved, my brother and I we were discovering other things on the amateur radio. One of the things that we had discovered was there was a local club, which was, or is, the Long Island Mobile Amateur Radio Club, and they had a junior operator's’ net. Basically, what that meant, was it was amateur radio operators who were in school — grade school, junior high, or high school, and they would get together once a month and have a meeting, and we’d go out for lunch afterwards and that kind of stuff. It was great. It was people who were my brothers age and my age, even a little bit older, that had an interest in radio. It was nice to have people that we were able to associate with and form friendships with that had the same weird radio interest that we had. It’s not a normal thing for a kid to want to get involved with this kind of stuff.
Eventually, with kids being kids and all that, people would see how far they would go or one-up each other, right, so, my brother went and he passed his Morse code test, that allowed him to upgrade his license to a Technician Plus, which allowed him to get onto HF. Me, on the other hand, I still can’t get the the dits and the dots. I’m trying, and I keep going back to it, so, yeah I was one of those no-code techs, and I’m now one of those no code general. But, it’s on my bucket list. I really still want to learn Morse code because I really feel like it would explode my interest in amateur radio, and going to these field day events or something like that and sitting in the CW tents and listening to these people copy code, I wish I could do that. It’s like sitting and listening to another language and saying, “I wish I could be part of the conversation.”
But, again, a nice thing about the junior operator’s is it gave us the opportunity to find mentors, I guess is a good way to say it. My uncle, as I said, would drive us up to these meetings, and my uncle and some of the other parents and some of the other people who were involved in the club, they became our Elmers. Which basically means they became our mentors, somebody who would teach us about amateur radios.
Again, I want to get more into the ham radio stuff in future episodes, so we’ll talk more about that, I’m not going to keep this, I don’t want you guys to think, “oh, it’s Scanner School but it’s all about amateur radio.” That’s not really why I’m here.
Another net that I had found while I was moving up around and trying to find new things to listen to was another local net once a week, and I believe it was called “Monitoring the Sounds of Long Island” and it was a play on words, for the Long Island Sound. For those of you who don’t know the geographical area here, the Long Island Sound is the body of water that’s to the north of Long Island and to the south of Connecticut. Basically, it’s between Long Island and Connecticut. It’s the Long Island Sound. The Sounds of Long Island was basically a scanner radio net, and I would sit there, you know, and listen to it. I had my pen and my notebook, and I would write down everything I’d hear, and it became very obvious that my crystal receiver wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
I also discovered around the same time that there was a swap and shop net, and again, on the swap and shop net people would be listing things for sale or looking for something. Again, days before the Internet and eBay and that kind of stuff where you could just jump online and find what you wanted find, it was a great way for me to find something local. Somebody was selling a BC 200XLT, and I jumped on it. I remember sitting there with the new radio and just going through the notebook again, and I stole my dad’s police code book when he wasn’t home, and I would just turn the pages and write down what I wanted to listen to in the notebook and break them up by frequencies and banks and spend hours programming this BC 200XLT. Then, I wouldn’t like it, and you know, you’d wipe it out and start all over again. It was work. You had to go in there and program in 200 channels. Me, you know, with the police code book, I’d want to listen to everything. So, I had that thing full. But, that brought on a problem because you don’t know what you’re listening to, these were the days before alpha tags. It was really nice to have that notebook set aside. I’d go, “oh, channel 61, that’s the Long Island Railroad, the MTA Police,” or channel 100 was whatever it was. Before you had alpha tags, you’d have to memorize the frequency or you’d have to learn to listen to the dispatcher. Eventually, the more you’d listen to it, the more you pick up on it, but, as you’re starting off, it’s a lot to get used to.
I was getting to the point where that 200XLT wasn’t cutting it anymore. I had seen somewhere the BC 780XLT. I started thinking, “I gotta have that.” I know a lot of people felt the same way, and I think some people feel the same way today, that you’ve gotta have a 780XLT, which may eventually die. But, at the time, I waited, and I waited, and I waited, and I finally ended up buying the BC785D which had 1000 memory channels as opposed to the 500, and it had a slightly different layout on the keypad. It also had the ability to pop in a card, which cost almost as much as the scanner, and that allowed you to listen to some P25 transmissions. Not P25 trunking, just P25 modulated audio, or P25 audio.
I learned very quickly that there was stuff on that radio that I had no idea what I was looking at. Like, “What is Motorola trunking?” and “What is LTR?” and “What is EDACS?” I was lost, and there was a learning curve. “What is the logical channel numbering? Why does it make a difference as to how I broke on the radio and why am I not picking this up and what’s the difference between Motorola type 1 and type 2 and is it a splinter site? Do I need to band plan? Do I need this?”
That’s kind of why I’m here now. I really wish I had somebody helping me at that time where I was really getting into it. I still remember being in that position where I desperately wanted to learn more about this radio and how it worked. I’m here, hopefully, to help somebody else who’s in that same position right now.
I’ll fast forward a little bit. Shortly after getting married in 2003 and buying my own house and putting up my own antennas and getting my own little radio corner set up in my own house, I decided that I wanted to be able to listen to the local stuff at work. These were the days before Broadcastify and everybody having an app in their pocket. When you put your radio online, there wasn’t really much help out there. There wasn’t an app, there was a very crude tutorial on how to do it. When word got out locally that I was streaming the local fire department, the local county, on the internet, people were like, “What’s the website name, where is it located, how do I get involved?”
So, in 2005, I launched my first website called W2lie.net, and it quickly grew to over 10,000 members, and I’ve added I can’t tell you how many scanner streams I have on there right now. For those of you are wondering, yes, that is my amateur radio, or ham radio, call sign. It’s a vanity call, and if you can’t tell by the LIE, it’s the Long Island Expressway. It’s a vanity call, I had an N2 call and when I moved and I applied with the FCC to update my address, fortunately they updated my call sign. If I had to pay to go back to my N2 call, I said I might as well get something that is not “unique,” but something that means something to me and my roots, and LIE was available, so I jumped on W2lie. Anybody I talk to right away knows from the area that LIE is the Long Island Expressway. It’s a good call, I’m happy with it. Plus, if I ever learn Morse code, it should be pretty easy to send.
So, more about me and my radio interest is I was known for my website W2lie.net, and I was approached by somebody at Nassau County ARES or Amateur Radio Emergency Services to build a website for them. In building a website for Nassau County ARES, I then became involved as the Public Information Officer. Then, I got pulled in to be the Deputy Chief Officer for Nassau County RACES, which required me to be a member of Nassau County CERT. I was the Net Manager for Nassau County VH Traffic Net, which is a division of the AWRL or ARRL National Traffic System. I’ve been involved with Nassau County Skywarn and the Skywarn system. I’ve helped teach a few classes on getting certified as a spotter, and I’ve also taught a class or two on home weather stations. I also helped the Nassau County Emergency Communications Radio Group set up their D-STAR repeater for VHF and UHF. For a very, very short time, I was certified to be a VE, or Volunteer Examiner, but I never had time to administer any exams.
As time goes, things change. One of the things I love about radio is all of the different things you can do with it, and not only all of the things you can do with radio in general but all of the things you can do with amateur radio. I’ve been interested in packet radio, and I became interested in APRS, and I became interested in working satellites and the International Space Station and SSTV. When I got my general ticket, I got hooked on sideband voice on HF. Again, we’ll talk about a lot of this stuff in future episodes, of Scanner School.
As time ticks by as it always does, I was getting a lot of questions about scanning from people in general who knew what I was doing as far as the online stuff and amateur radio stuff. In 2009, I believe the year was, I could be wrong here, I was asked to give a scanner radio presentation at a local amateur radio club, then called Ham Radio University. It was a packed room. I was shocked. I’ve been asked every year since to come back and give a scanner radio presentation, so I’ve expanded it. I give now two classes, an intro and an advanced class, and for those of you listening to this at launch date, I will be there this Saturday, January 6th, to again present my intro and advanced class.
Eventually, again, people know what I’m doing, and they know what I’m involved with and started coming to me, “Hey, do you program scanners? Do you sell scanners? Can you give me help? Can you pick out an antenna for me?” This started becoming a business, and in 2010, I started up an S-corp. I named it Monitor Long Island, Inc., and that became the business side of the hobby. Now, Monitor Long Island, Inc., is the parent company not only for W2LIE.net but also another website I run called LongIslandFirePhotos.com.
In 2017, I spun off, or I hit a pivot point and I started selling, well, years before this pivot point, I was selling pagers, but the paging business started to require a little bit more attention so in 2017, I filed for a DBA, or Doing Business As, in the state of NY, and launched EastCoastPagers.com. EastCoastPagers.com is, we sell Unication paging products and Swissphone paging products, also, unofficially, but we sell Apollo stuff too, but I don’t have anything on the website. So, yeah, I sell those three paging products.
Again, that ties into scanning because it’s another way of receiving what’s going on. And, again, we’ll talk about in future episodes about how pagers work with fire pagers and the tone systems and whatnot, but you take something like a Unication G5 or G4, which is a P25 receiver, and they can blow scanners away with the ability to simulcast systems where some scanners have issues with the simulcasting, and the G5 works phenomenal.
I’m very happy to not only be able to sell scanners and pagers and whatnot, but bringing this podcast into the mix and starting Scanner School, it seems like a real good next pivot for me because I really, as much as it’s nice to have a business, I’m finding that I’m not spending as much time enjoying the hobby as I used to, and not only enjoying the hobby as far as listening to radio, but being there to teach somebody, be somebody’s mentor or an Elmer, so to speak. That’s something I really enjoy doing, and that’s why I’m doing this. I want to be able to reach out and help somebody else who needs help or just wants to learn more about the scanner radio hobby and doesn’t want to go through a written word or website to try to find something.
The nice thing, too, about the podcast is you can take it with you on the go, you can listen to this in the car or while you’re out jogging or working out, or leave it on in the background. I got hooked on podcasts this past year in 2017. That’s why I’m doing this now with a podcast, instead of doing it online in written word. I sit there at work, at my 9 to 5, I just have podcasts on and while I’m working I’m learning something new at the same time. So, to me, a podcast is a great way to teach and explain and to get information from one person to another.
I’m really hoping that this takes off, and I need to know you’re out there! I need to know that I’m connecting with you. So, what I’d really love you to do is come onto ScannerSchool.com and sign up for our email list. One of the very first emails that will go out will be a questionnaire, and it’s going to ask what type of scanner listener you are. Are you new to scanning, or have you been scanning years ago but dropped the hobby and are coming back, or are you a self-proclaimed expert? I would like to know a little bit about you, and I’ll follow that email up with an open-ended question like, tell me more about you, tell me more about who you are and how I can help you, or, do you want to be on the show? I would love to hear your stories, and I’m sure other people would too. What do you do with radios, and how does that fit into your life? Let me know that you’re there, and what you’re looking for, and I’d love to help you out.
The one thing I would love to say to help me out is go to iTunes or Stitcher or Google Play or however it is that you get this podcast onto your device, and leave me a review and subscribe. That would definitely help us out, and, again, it would motivate me to see that there’s people who are subscribing to the podcast. But, if you’re like 2016 me and have no idea what a podcast is or don’t even have an iPod and have no way of listening, you can always go to ScannerSchool.com, and we’ll have an embedded link on the website to listen to the podcast, as well, so you don’t necessarily need a device in your pocket to listen to this. You can listen to it right from the Internet as well on the webpage.
My goal is every Tuesday to deliver a new episode to you. With that, I want to say thank you so much for spending some time with me. I hope that the last 30 minutes or so have been informative and have given you a little bit of a background on who I am and why I’m here and what I hope this podcast becomes. I have a nice long list of topics that I would like to talk about. Again, not every podcast is going to be a 30 minute. I would think that I can deliver the content in bite-sized pieces. I don’t want to bore anybody, I don’t want to go too deep into something that I start turning people or off. There might be a session or two that run only five or 10 minutes, and that’ll be a complete session or a lesson.
Again, you can always find us at ScannerSchool.com, or, again, subscribe to us on iTunes or Stitcher, or Google Play, and I look forward to delivering another session to you next week!
So, with that, I’m going to say 73, which means “best regards,” and we’ll talk to you next time!
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Thanks for listening to the Scanner School podcast. Be sure to visit www.ScannerSchool.com to access the show notes and bonus content.
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