Group & Channel Memory Architecture
The BCD396XT allows you to program up to 25,000 channels. (Remember the
days when 20 channels were plenty?) While few would ever need this many
available channels, it leaves a nice cushion to allow you to program in
all your local and travel scanner frequencies and still have plenty of
room left over to explore new channels. The actual total channel
capacity is based on total memory usage, so the amount of alpha tags
and other items you have programmed will affect the total number of
channels you have available.
Average users will likely never fill up the radio but you can have many
systems kept in the radio for future use without worry that you will
run out of memory space. You can see what percentage of available
memory you have by using the menu system. Go to the Settings menu and
select "%Memory Used" to see how much memory the radio has in a
percentage basis. If you are running low you can delete unused Systems.
With the DMA style programming you do not waste memory on unused
channels since bank sizes are not fixed. Instead, Systems only use the
amount of memory needed, space is not wasted on unused channels. On
older scanners if you had a bank reserved for railroads in your area
and they only used 10 channels the rest of the 40 or 90 channels would
have been unused and the memory space wasted.
The BCD396XT uses two side buttons, labeled as "Function" and "Menu".
The Menu button starts various programming tasks, and will bring you to
the various menus pretty much no matter what the radio is doing. When
in the Menus the Menu button acts as a Back button.
The Function button acts as a modifier, the Function icon appears for
about 3 seconds after you press it and during that time it allows you
to perform various tasks, such as turn on and off options like
CloseCall or toggle between modes, such as Scan or Search.
You can use Quick Keys, Startup Keys or Search Keys. These allow you to
turn on and off systems or options quickly.
Quick Keys turn on and off Systems or Channel Groups assigned to them
while scanning. System Quick Keys work the same way but at a radio-wide
level. Startup Keys turn on all Systems and Searches assigned to it and
turns off any of these assigned to other Startup Keys. Search Keys
allow you to set up a few Searches for quick use.
To program a new system from scratch you follow several steps:
Press the Menu button on the left side of the radio and select "Program
Select "New System"
Select the "System Type" (Conventional or one of the trunking flavors)
If you select P25 you will be asked if you want a Standard or One Freq
If you select EDACS you will be asked if you want SCAT or Wide/Narrow
After you select the system type and sub type you will be asked to
confirm. This is because once you create a system you cannot change the
system type from the radio.
You then can edit or create the System Name and various options.
Trunked systems require you to then create Sites, these have their own
frequencies but share the Talkgroup Lists. Conventional Systems let you
go right into Groups, these contain the actual frequencies you want to
Under the System Options menu you can set Quick Keys or Channel Tags.
These allow faster access to the various Systems, Groups and Sites.
A representative set of systems are pre-programmed into the scanner,
including several of the large statewide trunked systems. You can use
these as is, edit them from the radio or with software or just delete
While older radios would allow one to program up to 200 talkgroups
(trunked "channels") per system the BCD396XT allows up to 500, in as
many as 20 Groups. This is great news for those wishing to monitor the
large trunked systems used by many states, counties and cities.
In conventional (non-trunked) systems you can have up to 1000 channels,
again in up to 20 groups.
The BCD396XT will scan about 100 channels per second, depending on how
the channels are arranged. While most people would never notice the
difference some people with lots of time on their hands report that
Uniden DMA scanners scan faster when the channels are sorted in
The BCD396XT can monitor communications in AM or 4 variations of FM.
When you program the channels you can set the Modulation Type to either
"Auto" or specify one of the below modes:
is used mostly for Aircraft operations in the 108-137 MHz and 225 thru
400 MHz. ranges, as well as CB radio.
is used for many Public Safety channels and will be the standard for
almost all Public Safety and Business operations by the start of 2014.
is the standard 2-way communications mode for most older Public Safety
and business systems as well as ham radio operations.
is used on low band (30 thru 50 MHz.) and some specialized operations.
is used on FM Broadcast and TV audio channels.
The Auto mode selects the mode that is most often used on that range of
frequencies, due to new rules, many operations will be converting to
narrower bandwidths over the next few years so you may need to change
The radio automatically detects P25 audio when the channel is
programmed to FM or NFM mode. You can set the radio to monitor analog,
digital or both as the situation requires.
Federal Law prohibits the monitoring of encrypted communications, and
even if it were legal, it is nearly impossible to do so without
equipment much more expensive for anyone who doesn't work for a three
Some P25 trunked systems use encryption for certain applications, when
the BCD396XT detects this it blocks the traffic and displays "ENC" on
the display. This prevents you from having to hear the annoying buzz
that is encryption.
The BCD396XT receives the APCO P25 (Project 25) digital mode, either in
conventional or trunked modes. Some Motorola systems use a mixture of
digital and analog talkgroups, the BCD396XT automatically can monitor
either. P25 trunked systems use only digital modulation.
The BCD396XT also allows you to set up a special "P25 LP Filter" that
can help clear up issues with some digital trunked systems. The
BCD396XT will not however decode other various digital modes, such as
V-SLEP, ProVoice or OpenSky.
NAC NAC, Who's
NAC Decoding on digital channels is available on the BCD396XT. Network
Address Codes (NAC) are similar to CTCSS or DCS codes on analog
channels. They act as a privacy code or repeater controller and can be
used to separate multiple users or as kind of a "fingerprint" to
identify users of a channel.
The BCD396XT also allows you to find active NAC codes just by listening
to an active Apco25 digital channel. You can then program these into
the scanner. This only works on conventional (non-trunked) digital
The BCD396XT has new features for Priority, including the ability to
set the interval from 1 thru 99 seconds. This tells the radio how long
between checks of the priority channel there should be. You can set any
Channel or Talkgroup as a Priority Channel and as many as you need. The
more Priority Channels you set the less chance that you will catch
important traffic however, so be careful not to set too many channels
In regular Priority mode the radio checks the Priority Channels at the
intervals you specify, say every 5 seconds. The radio then reverts back
to whatever it was doing before if there is no traffic on the Priority
Channels, or after traffic has completed if there was traffic.
In Priority Plus mode the radio checks only the Priority Channels.
You can also set the maximum amount of Priority Channels the radio
checks in the MaxChs/Pri-Scan menu. This limits the checking of
Priority Channels to limit the disruption time while checking them.
Most scanners these days, the BCD396XT included, allow you to set them
up to alert on NOAA Weather Radio channels with SAME or single tone
codes. SAME codes allow the radio to monitor weather alerts for a
specific area, on a county basis. Enter the SAME FIPS Codes (available
from NOAA's website) for your county and, if you want, other nearby
counties to have the radio alert you when there is a severe weather
alert in your area. Up to 8 county codes can be entered. You can also
set up to 5 sets of FIPS codes as "Regions", helpful if you use the
radio at different locations.
While most scanners allow you to monitor Weather Alert only to the
exclusion of doing anything else the BCD396XT allows you to check for
weather alerts while scanning, searching or in CloseCall.
The BCD396XT supports the 4 most popular trunking types in North
Within the overall title of Motorola Trunking are several variations.
Older Type I systems are occasionally still seen, these will be phased
out as Motorola no longer supports them. Motorola replaced that with
Type II trunking.
What does all this mean? Well, basically it was a way for talkgroups
and radio ID's to be assigned. Early Type I systems used a more rigid
method, until they figured out how to relax these restrictions in Type
II systems, during the conversion there were systems that had
characteristics of both Type I and II, these were called Type Iii or
Another variation on Motorola trunking is digital. This combines the
use of P25 digital voice on a standard Motorola Type II trunked system.
These systems can thus use both digital and analog radios.
Trunking is used by public safety agencies throughout North America,
often in wide area systems such as the statewide systems in Illinois,
Michigan and Colorado among others. These can be used as single site
systems or in a networked configuration with hundreds of individual
sites. P25 systems use digital voice for all traffic and can also be
used to send data. The standards for these systems are set by APCO, a
trade organization for public safety communications, and systems may be
manufactured by any of several companies. Motorola is the largest
provider of these systems.
EDACS® Trunking, formerly sold by G.E., is now sold by Harris
Communications and may be used by business or government users. There
are a few variations that the BCD396XT supports, including "Wide" (most
800 MHz. systems) "Narrow" (most UHF and 900 MHz. systems), SCAT
(Single channel sites) and ESK (EDACS Security Key). EDACS systems can
be set up as a single site or networked.
The ESK feature allows managers of trunking systems to control what
radios operate on the system and changed the data format that scanners
use to track the system. Older EDACS scanners would not track ESK
systems, the BCD396XT is the first Uniden to do so.
Logic Trunked Radio is used mostly by businesses, often on UHF. It is
different from Motorola, APCO25 and EDACS in that it does not used
dedicated control channels, but sends system information on the voice
channels. You can tell when an LTR system is in use by the occasional
silent transmissions sent on an otherwise unused channel.
The 396XT and some other Uniden scanners have a Search feature that
allows you to look for Motorola or P25 trunked system control channels
and then track the systems it finds. Since Motorola and P25 systems
control channels transmit the information needed to track the system in
most instances the radio will automatically track the trunked system
and display active talkgroups. When editing a Custom Search set the
"C-CH Only" option in the Search Options menu to make this feature
The radio will also work in a similar method with LTR systems. It will
not work on EDACS systems.
One feature that Motorola trunked systems has is an identification
number for each trunked system. These are called System ID's, or SysID
for short. Each Motorola trunked system has a unique 4 digit ID code
that is in a Hex format. This ID code is used to allow only radios with
the correct programming from accessing the system. For scanner users it
can act as a type of Trunked System fingerprint. Several scanners and
software applications can decode this 4-digit ID code, you then look it
up in your files or by searching the Internet to see who it is.
The 396XT and some other Uniden scanners (including the BC346XT, BC15,
BC330, BCD396T and BCD996T) takes this a step further. Set up a "Custom
Search" and select the "C-CH Only" option and set the radio to search a
band segment. The radio will search for Motorola trunked control
channels and when it finds one will look into its internal database for
that systems SysID. If it is listed (and it probably is!) it will
display the System's name while the system is tracked.
This feature only works on Motorola 3600 Baud trunked systems, it does
not work on EDACS, P25 or LTR systems.
Networked trunking systems use the same talkgroups at a number of
trunking sites that use different frequencies. Multi-Site allows you to
set up these systems with an additional layer within a System called
"Sites". This allows you to share a single set of talkgroups among many
Sites instead of having to have each Site programmed as a System like
older radios. Since the Talkgroups are the same across the entire
Networked System this saves you from having to duplicate the Talkgroup
list. Previously this was only available on BC15 and BCD996T mobile
scanners, the BCD396XT is the first handheld with this feature.
Combine this with the GPS feature and you can use the scanner all over
the area and never have to touch it, just let the radio turn Sites on
and off as you approach them or leave the area.
Motorola's version of Networked trunking is called SmartZone and there
is even a version of SmartZone called OmniLink. SmartZone takes several
or many trunking sites and connects them so that users can roam around
an area larger than what could be covered by a single site. OmniLink
takes this one step further and extends the reach to a even larger
area. The BCD396XT handles Networked Trunking in the Motorola, P25 or
EDACS modes. When programming these systems you program the talkgroup
list once for the System and then the frequencies for each individual
Motorola, EDACS and APCO25 trunking systems can have Simulcast Sites,
set up either as a Single Site Simulcast or as a Networked system with
simulcast sites. Some networked systems use a combination of simulcast
and single sites. For example, the Illinois StarCom21 system has
simulcast sites in the larger metro areas and in more rural areas are
mostly single sites.
A Simulcast Site has from 2 to 16 towers, each tower has exactly the
same frequencies assigned to it and every bit of data and voice message
is sent on the same frequency from each tower.
When programming Simulcast sites treat it the same as you would a
single Site. Since all the frequencies are the same, you only need to
fill them in once.
Due to issues with interference from Nextel services, whose frequencies
are scattered among the same ranges as some 800 MHz. systems the 800
MHz. band is being "Rebanded". In other words, frequencies are being
rearranged so that Nextel services are being assigned the 866-869 MHz.
range and trunked radio users are being assigned the rest of the 800
band, 851-866. This is resulting in trunked and conventional users of
much of the 800 band being relocated to other frequencies. The project
is far behind schedule but is starting to take place in many areas.
Current users of the 866-869 MHz. band are being changed to frequencies
in the 851-854 band, each channel will be exactly 15 MHz. lower than
the original. Prior users of the 851-854 range are being relocated to
the 854-861 band, wherever channels can be found in that area.
This will affect scanner users in various ways. Scanners of EDACS, LTR
and conventional 800 MHz. systems will only need to change the
frequencies assigned to the System and scanners of P25 systems only
need to change the Control Channels listed for the system. The very
item that made Motorola systems easy to monitor in the past makes it
more difficult to deal with now.
Motorola handles frequency assignments differently than other systems.
EDACS and LTR systems assign users to Channels in the system, these
channels are predefined as frequencies in the radios. P25 systems
assigns users to specific frequencies directly.
Motorola trunked systems assigns users to specific Frequencies,
although by use of conversion "Tables". For this reason, Control
Channel Trunking works well most of the time on Motorola systems, the
scanner understands the instructions from the trunked system's control
channel to look up the assignment code in the Table programmed into the
scanner and then send the scanner to the proper frequency to look for
that conversation. Tables contain the formulas used to determine the
frequency from the computer code on the control channel. Standard 800
MHz. systems have used the same table for years and scanners were built
around these Tables. Rebanding changes the Table so scanners will need
to be updated for these changes. Since some older scanners do not have
the ability to be updated those older scanners will no longer work on
rebanded Motorola systems.
During the conversion process however there are multiple Tables in use,
the original Motorola Tables used on non-rebanded systems and the new
Tables used by rebanded systems. Further complicating the matter is
that the final version of the Table may not be etched in stone until
the Rebanding project is completed some years down the road.
For these reasons scanners of Rebanded Motorola trunked systems in the
800 Band will need to use the Custom Tables feature of the BCD396XT to
monitor rebanded systems.
When setting up the scanner for a Rebanded System in the 800 MHz. band
you set the radio up for Motorola trunking then select "Custom" in the
Band Plan section of the Menu. You then set the Base Frequencies and
other parameters as shown below:
Band Base Freq Base Freq Offset Polarity Spacing Plan Lower Upper 1
851.0250 854.0000 440 + 25 kHz 2 851.0125 868.9875 0 + 25 kHz
Then go back and
frequencies used on the system.
Scan Trunking Systems
When monitoring Trunked systems you can Scan them or Search them.
SEARCHing a Trunked system allows you to hear all talkgroups used on
the system, regardless of whether you have them programmed in Scan
Groups. If you have a talkgroup in a Group the Tag you programmed will
appear when the talkgroup is active, otherwise just the TGID will show.
Use Search when you are unsure of all interesting TGID's.
When you set the radio to SCAN a trunked system it only checks the
talkgroups you have programmed in Groups. Use Scan when you know the
specific Talkgroups you want to monitor.
I-Call (stands for Individual Calling) allows users to communicate with
only specific users, the traffic would not be shared with other users
on the system. Only the two radios involved in the call would hear it.
The BCD396XT allows you to monitor I-Calls by entering a I-Call number
in a Group, or monitor all I-Calls by entering an I-Call number of 0.
This is different than older Unidens that had you turn I-Calls on and
off in a menu option.
I-Calls work on Motorola, P25 and EDACS trunked systems but not on LTR.
Not all trunked systems use I-Call, it is up to the system's manager.
Hex or Dec or
AFS: What's in a number (or letter)?
The BCD396XT allows you to view Motorola and P25 Talkgroup ID's as
either Decimal (using numerals 0 thru 9) or Hexadecimal (0-9 plus A, B,
C, D, E and F as numerals). Hex is the format in which many trunked
systems are programmed in. This dates from the days when memory was
expensive, Hex allowed programmers to save memory by using less
characters to represent larger numbers. For example, it takes 4
characters to represent the number 1234 in Decimal yet only 3 in Hex
(4D2). While scanners in the past converted the Hex to a more easily
understood Decimal number purists and programmers would prefer the Hex
For EDACS systems scanners give you the option of using AFS, short for
Agency-Fleet-Subfleet or Decimal. Decimal mode uses regular numbers, up
The AFS system is based upon a binary version if the talkgroup number
and is broken up into 2 sections divided by a dash, such as 12-157. In
this example "12" is the "Agency" number, "15" is the "Fleet" and "7"
is the Subfleet. There are up to 16 Agency numbers (00 thru 15), 16
Fleet codes (00 thru 15) and 8 Subfleets (0 thru 7). The BCD396XT
allows you to program a system with Wildcards so that you can hear all
talkgroups within an Agency or a Fleet using the AFS mode.
Some users are more comfortable with one method or the other, and the
BCD396XT allows users to choose which method you want to use to
represent systems. Most scanner information resources use both methods
to identify talkgroups, if your reference only uses one then you can
change your scanner to match. If you program a System using one method
you can change the method and switch over to the other, the radio
automatically translates to the other version.
Priority ID Scan
Now you can include trunked systems and ID's in your Priority settings.
You are no longer limited to conventional channels for Priority.
Priority on Motorola analog systems
When scanning Motorola trunked systems you can set a channel
(talkgroup) to Priority to force the scanner to go immediately to that
channel even when the radio is already engaged on another voice
The BCD396XT now supports software packages that decode trunked radio
system control data directly, no more modifications are needed to the
radio. You do not need to open the radio or void the warranty to use
this feature. (No discriminator modification is needed.) The software
is not included but it can be freely downloaded from the Internet.
Probably the best known is Pro96Com
(http://www.psredit.com/pro96com/download.html), which previously only
would work on some GRE and RadioShack scanners (hence it's name) but
now supports the BCD396XT since this scanner presents the proper data
on the serial port.
This software is valuable to find and log active talkgroups and trunked
frequencies. Leave it run for a few days and you will find all the
system frequencies and whatever talkgroups were used.
The scanner world is a dynamic place, things change all the time. The
BCD396XT allows you to update the radio to accommodate some of these
changes by upgrading the firmware of the radio. This feature allows you
to apply fixes and updates provided by Uniden. Some of these changes
might include bug fixes, rebanding fixes, updates due to new FCC rules
or allocations, or new features. So far all Uniden Firmware updates
have been free, although Uniden has indicated that there might be some
future optional updates that you can purchase if you want them.
You can view the current Firmware Version in the Settings Menu under
"See Scanner Info"
The 396 has a lot of options that you can set, many of which you will
never see. Some however obscure, may come up from time to time, and
some of these are in the Setting Menu.
You can do things like:
-Adjust the Keyboard Beep volume so that it follows the volume control
or is set to a specific volume level regardless of the regular volume
-Set the radio to go into Battery Saver mode or not and set how long
the radio will charge batteries for.
-Make adjustments to the AGC (Automatic Gain Control) settings for both
digital and analog signals.
-Adjust the LCD contrast of the display to suit your tastes.
-Adjust how the radio communicates with the GPS unit and how it will
-Set the speed of the serial port to match your GPS and computer as
-Adjust the default step size and modes of the various scanner bands.
When these modes change the radio can change with it.
Like its predecessors the BCD396XT has the CloseCall feature that
allows you to find nearby transmitters. This is basically a very fast
search thru large chunks of spectrum looking for strong signals. When a
signal is detected the search narrows quickly and then stops on the
active channel. All this takes place in milliseconds.
You can set the radio to search for digital signals only, analog only
or both. You can also set the radio to find CTCSS, DCS or NAC codes
during CloseCall. CloseCall may be set up to run at the same time as
other scanning or search occurs, with "Do Not Disturb" (DND) so that it
only check for Close Call when there is no other traffic being heard,
or with CloseCall Only.
When you set the radio to "Close Call Only" mode the display shows the
numbers 1 thru 7, and relative signal strength bars. When a signal is
found the number that corresponds with the number flashes, so you can
tell what band the hit was from. When you press a key the frequency is
displayed, along with the CTCSS, DCS or NAC code if that mode is on.
The bands are numbered:
to 54 MHz
to 108 MHz
to 137 MHz
to 225 MHz
to 320 MHz
to 512 MH
to 1300 MHz
Call Temporary Store
A new Close Call Feature is the Temporary Store. This saves the last 10
Close Call hits in an easy to find memory space. This is great for
finding new frequencies at the mall or around town, even if you don't
have a pad to write them down.
The BCD396XT has the Uniden "Repeater Find" feature. When the radio
detects activity on frequencies it recognizes as repeater inputs in the
UHF and 800/900 MHz. bands it will check for activity on the
corresponding repeater output channel. If traffic is heard there then
the radio will monitor the output channel instead, assuming that the
traffic is being heard thru a repeater.
* This is a general search through the popular public safety bands
which does include what is now UHF TV in some areas and public safety
in others between 470-512 MHz, this can cause the search to lock up in
areas where TV signals are used in this band.)
Note that in the marine and railroad service searches the scanner will
show both the frequency and the rail or marine radio channel number, a
very handy feature.
Called Custom Searches in the Menu, these allow you to set up specified
frequency ranges to search. Set a lower and upper limit, a couple other
parameters and off you go. If you know your monitoring target uses
radios in the 460-465 range for example, set up a search between these
limits and listen for your target. You can also set these up to search
for trunked control channels to search out trunked systems.
During your searches you can have the radio store finds and then you
can refer to them later. This can be done on a trunked system, in which
case the radio will store active Talkgroups, or on conventional
(non-trunked) frequency ranges, where it saves the actual frequencies
it finds. You can also use this on Service Searches.
Scan & More
You can even set it to search one or more ranges, or one or more
service searches, then scan some groups and then return back to
searching. This is a unbelievable feature that not everyone takes
advantage of but we highly recommend it. (For example if your doing
rail-fanning/rail-scanning by searching the RR service search range you
can also scan the local police and fire departments at the same time.)
Temporary and regular lockouts also work for most searches. Some of the
Close Call search functions are also applicable to regular search.
Quick-Access Search Keys
This allows you to have 3 different Searches preset in your radio. You
then can turn on any of these quickly and perform the search you want.
Close Call Options
CTCSS, DCS, NAC
You can set the radio to search for CTCSS and DCS codes during
searches, the code will appear on the display if there is such a code
transmitted. If you are searching out digital systems you can turn on
NAC Search and do the same for these.
You can use this feature to determine the proper codes used for your
monitoring targets and program these into your Systems and Groups.
These are also handy to use as sort of a fingerprint. For example, you
hear traffic on a new channel in your area that could be any of several
local fire departments. You know that on their regular channels that
Mayberry uses a CTCSS of 127.3, Mt. Pilot uses a DCS code of 311 and
Riverdale uses a CTCSS of 192.8. If your Search hit uses a CTCSS of
127.3 you can make an educated guess that the traffic might be
When setting up Search or CloseCall you can turn on other options,
including delay times, P25 thresholds, auto-store limits and whether
the attenuator is on. These are set thru the Menu system.
The BCD396XT also has a bandscope that allows you to view active band
segments during searches. Bars on the screen display the active
frequencies relative to the current channel. This allows you to see if
there is an active frequency above or below the current one.
While not a true spectrum display it is a great way to see where other
active freqs are quickly and get a visual indication of activity on the
band. Band Scope is set via the Search menu items and can be set to one
of the Search Keys.
When you are using Band Scope the MFK allows you to move the marker so
you can see the relative frequency of displayed hits.
Users of Uniden's BC15 and BCD996T mobile scanners have loved the GPS
feature, another Uniden exclusive. Now, for the first time, this is
available on a handheld scanner. Using the included serial port cable
and a null modem adaptor (purchased separately) you can connect a GPS
unit to the BCD396XT and use it to automatically turn on and off
systems and tower sites as you move around. When purchasing a GPS unit,
make sure it has a serial port (RS-232), the BCD396XT is not compatible
with USB GPS receivers.
GPS Control of
Sites and Channel Groups
The GPS feature on the BCD396XT has the ability to control Sites and
Groups. Individual Sites or Groups can be turned on or off manually or
automatically as you travel. If you travel in an area with a large
networked trunked system, such as the statewide APCO25 systems, you can
set the radio to turn on and off specific Sites within the System as
you travel. You can use it for conventional Groups as well, When you
are in one area you can listen to channels assigned there, when you
leave those channels can be turned off and another group turned on.
These areas can be set in circles (Distance from a central point) or
boxes (set the corners).
Like most scanners these days you can program the BCD396XT from a
Windows computer (or a Mac running Windows). If you have an RS232
Serial Port (using a DB-9 connector) you can use the included cable,
otherwise you need a Uniden USB-1 cable (available separately from
ScannerMaster) or a USB to Serial adaptor (available from electronics
or computer stores).
No software is packaged with the radio although Uniden's UASD software
should be available for free download soon. You can also use ARC's
ARC-XT (available soon from ScannerMaster). ARC-XT and others allow you
to not only program the radio but to control it directly from the
computer. This allows logging of activity, viewing the scanner
information from the computer and allows remote access.
Another neat feature is the ability to program your radio directly from
the RadioReference.com scanner website. RadioReference.com is a
nationwide scanner information site that has information on trunked and
conventional systems all over the world. It has detailed information on
almost every locale in the USA and Canada, provided by members.
While the information can be viewed for free, in order to program
directly to your radio you need to be a paid Premium Subscriber. For
$30 a year you can use your software to query the extensive
RadioRefrence.com database and program various Systems directly into
your radio, complete with System types and text tags. Going on vacation
soon? Download the systems used in Grandma's town before you leave and
save hours of tedious programming.
In order to use the RadioReference.com programming interface you need
to have the paid Premium Subscription plus a software package that
supports it, such as ARC-XT.
Fire Tone Out
Like other Uniden radios introduced in the last few years the BCD396XT
has the popular Fire Tone Out feature. This allows you to set up the
radio to act as a pager like those carried by firefighters. The radio
will remain silent until there is a fire call preceded by tow-tone
codes. While in this mode the radio cannot be used for other purposes.
Fire Tone Out
The biggest problem with the Fire Tone Out feature is figuring out the
tones used. It became a kind of cottage industry among scannists to
discover the proper codes, and numerous magazine articles, web posts
and forum discussions described several methods of decoding them.
Unless you were able to find the codes on the Web you were usually
stuck with spending days monitoring an agency and using trial and error
to decode the tones. You could also buy or download audio analytic
software to dig out the proper codes.
The new BCD396XT ends all that, and makes it a snap to find the codes
used. Just program the radio with the proper radio frequency and leave
the tone codes set to 0.0 and 0.0 Hz. Wait for a tone out to come over
the air and watch the scanner display, the tones used will be displayed
automatically, just jot them down for later programming.
One thing I have noticed is that the tones are often off a couple Hz.
or so one way or another. This isn't a huge deal, the radio will open
up as long as the tones are that close. You can download lists of
common tones used and figure out the probable true tones.
The new multi-color display will please everyone. Don't like the color?
Change it! With Seven different colors to choose from you are certain
to find one or several to please you. Colors include Cyan, Green,
Magenta, Yellow, White, Violet, Blue and Red. Cyan seems to be the most
readable and non-annoying color in the group.
The keypad on the BCD396XT is backlit, with white light. The keypad
light color does not change like the display.
channel as Analog, Digital or both
Want to program a channel as Analog only or digital only? Not a
problem. This allows you to listen to one mode and block other shared
users in the other mode. You can also program it for both modes if you
Temporary Lockout allows you to lockout a channel during searches or
when scanning on a temporary basis instead of permanently. This is
great for channels that annoy you now but you want to listen to later.
There is also the ability to use Temporary Lockout in Close Call
searches as well. When you turn off the radio the temporary lockouts
Configurations/Startup Quick Keys
Startup configurations allow you to set up the scanner in several ways
and choose the one you want when you turn on the radio. Select which
groups or systems you want to set in a startup configuration and set a
Startup Quick Key. Then when you turn on the radio select the Quick Key
and those groups and systems will be scanning and searching. Set one
for work, one for play and another for travel.
On older "Banks and Channels" scanners you turned on and off banks by
pressing a number key on the keypad. Simple, right? Well, the BCD396XT
and other DMA scanners from Uniden still allow this but you need to
program a Quick Key first. The neat thing is that you can use Quick
Keys for Systems, Groups or Searches. Wait, it gets better! You can
control multiple Systems from a single Quick Key! Program several to a
System Quick Key (SQK) and each System is turned on or off with a
single key. Mix Systems, Sites and Searches on single quick keys. Set
one for the ride to work, set another to use at the mall, and a third
when you are at the airport…
Groups can be assigned to Quick Keys (GQK) but only work within a
System. You can tie together multiple Groups to a single GQK if you
want. You can assigned Quick Keys from programming software or manually
from the keypad.
This allows you to set a tag to any channel or system and quickly send
your radio to it by pressing a couple buttons. For example, your police
department uses 4 channels, called "Channel 1" and so on. Set these
channels with these Channel Tags and you can then quickly go to these
channels just by pressing Hold, the number and then the Menu button.
There are 1000 (0 thru 999) Channel tags you can program.
channel volume offset
You can set individual volume levels for different channels. If you
have a channel that is particularly loud or soft in your area, set a
volume offset to make up for it.
All scanners have "Images" (reception of channels on frequencies other
than the correct one) and "Birdies" (self generated signals) that can
interfere with legitimate scanner channels. This is a fact of life and
cannot be avoided. The BCD396XT however allows you to alter internal
settings, called Intermediate Frequencies (IF) on individual channels
to move these Birdies and Images to frequencies unused in your area.
Ever spent hours programming your scanner and then lent it to someone
hoping they wouldn't erase all your hard work? Worry no more, Set the
scanner to Key Safe mode and keep it programmed just the way you had
it. Press FUNC when you turn on the radio to lock out programming and
permanent lockouts, do the same to turn off the Key Lock.
This lets you flag a system so that it cannot be read out of the
scanner or modified. This mode is set by the various programming
software packages available for the BCD396XT.
dropout delay (forced resume)
This allows you to resume scanning after a set period even if the
channel is still active. This allows you to catch action on busy
channels without tying up the radio for long periods of time. Some
Communications Receivers (such as the Icom R7000) and ham transceivers
employ this method of scanning which seems to be more popular in Europe
and Japan, but had not really taken hold in North America.
If you are familiar with the BCD396T or BC330 you can jump right in and
play with the BCD396XT with few problems. While there are some new
features and menu items the basics of the scanner are the same as the
older version. If you have used a BCD996T or BC15 you can probably
figure out the BCD396XT as well.
If you have never used any of these before you will have to learn a new
programming language. While this sounds daunting, it really isn't that
difficult. Just forget the old "Banks & Channels" method of
programming and start thinking Systems, Sites and Groups. Systems
pretty much replaces Banks, these are the main division of channels.
Groups are divisions of Systems and may consist of one to many
Let's say you have a System for your home town. Within the System you
might have 3 Groups, one for Police, another for Fire and the third for
Local Governments. On an old scanner you would be limited to 20, 50 or
100 channels in a Bank, now you can have hundreds of channels or just
1, and not waste all that memory on unused channels.
The same method of programming works for Trunking systems. Program the
System with the trunked frequencies and the trunking type, the Groups
are for Talkgroups. Again, you can have many groups, with as few as 1
or as many as hundreds of talkgroups (channels).
Trunked systems have one more item to program, these are "Sites" While
simple trunked systems may have just one Site, networked or wide are
systems might have several or many. Networked trunked systems can share
a single list of talkgroups, and you can program multiple Sites with
different frequencies. (See the GPS section for how you can use this.)
Using the radio
The BCD396XT uses the same SMA antenna mount as the other Uniden
handheld scanners recently and the included rubber coated antenna works
well for casual use. The SMA mount saves space and is actually a better
connector than the BNC that is more traditional for scanners, but is
less robust and convenient. Uniden packs a nifty SMA-BNC adaptor so you
can use your other BNC antennas with the radio. The adaptor works well
and is good looking.
The BCD396XT comes with 3 2250 mAh NiMH rechargeable cells. Regular
alkaline AA cells can be used if your rechargables aren't charged. A
small switch in the battery compartment controls whether the external
power port charges the batteries or not. In the "Alkaline" mode the
power jack does not charge the batteries but will run the radio. In the
Ni-MH mode the batteries are charged when the power adaptor is plugged
The included AC adaptor has changed to a 800 mAh switching wall-wart
style (the older 396 and BC330 had larger non-switching supplies). The
advantage of the switching supply is that it is lighter and smaller and
generates less heat as well as drawing less AC power to generate the
same DC power.
The BCD396XT, like it's predecessors, does not come with an Auto
adaptor. These can be purchased separately. Also available at
ScannerMaster are cases and other accessories.
The BCD396XT comes with the same RS232 serial cable as other Uniden
scanners. Since most computers these days do not have the venerable
Serial Port anymore you must use a USB solution. You have 2 main
alternatives. One is the USB-1 cable made by Uniden (SMLink). This
cable will connect directly to a USB port and may be used to program
and control any of the Uniden models it fits, including the BCD396XT.
The Uniden USB cable is available through Scanner Master.
So far the Uniden UASD software for the BCD396XT has not been released,
it should be available soon. For previous digital scanners (BCD396D and
BCD996T) UASD has been a free download or included on a CD with the
radio, it is expected that Uniden will continue to do so for the
BCD396XT. While the UASD software performs its functions, it has never
been seen as an elegant solution. There are other software packages
available for the BCD396XT (or will be soon). These include ARC-XT from
Butel (SMLink) and others.
The BCD396XT supports not only computer programming like most scanners
these days but also computer control. Control allows one to log
activity over a period of time, remote access and viewing of scanner
activity on a computer rather than the radio display. It also allows
use of the Uniden RH-96 Remote Scanner Head.
The BCD396XT supports firmware upgrades, done via the programming
cable. This allows updates to features and bug fixes. So far all
updates and fixes have been free, but Uniden has hinted at using this
ability to add new features for a fee while keeping fixes and minor
updates for free. Updates to prior radios have included digital
decoding fixes, changing parameters for the Fire Tone Out mode and
setting up the radio for rebanded trunked systems.
(on CD-ROM only)
What's NOT in the box is a paper owner's manual. There is a CD that
contains a PDF version of the manual. The PDF manual is well bookmarked
with web style links that make it pretty easy to find what you are
looking for. Some people will miss the printed manual, the older
radios' manuals were compact and fit the glove box well. Buyers of the
BC346XT will have to deal with viewing on a computer or printing the
manual themselves. The manual however has not been optimized for
printing, at least not yet.
The obvious competitor to the BCD396XT is the GRE PSR-500 and Radio
Shack PRO-106. The PSR-500 and PRO-106 are both made by GRE. The
PRO-106 is sold by Radio Shack and has the speaker on the bottom of the
case instead of the top, otherwise they are identical.
Size, fit and
The BCD396XT is a compact radio, roughly 4 ¾ inches tall, 2
½ inches wide and an inch thick, weighing in at 9.9 ounces
(by my scale), quite a bit smaller and lighter than the GRE PSR500 or
Radio Shack Pro106 (5 ½ x 2 ½ x 1 ½,
13.3 oz.). The BCD396XT fits in a shirt pocket without ripping, in a
camera bag while still leaving room for your camera, or on a belt
without pulling down your pants. It is about as big around as a pack of
cigarettes. When compared side by side the BCD-396XT looks even more
dramatically smaller than the GRE.
The BCD396XT feels and looks like the more well built device, the
tolerances look to be closer than that of the GRE's. The BCD396XT has a
rubber grip around the outside frame that helps keep it from being
dropped, the GRE does not.
(Buttons and Knobs)
The BCD396XT has a 16 key keypad vs. 34 buttons on the GRE. The
BCD396XT uses the side panel's Function and Menu buttons to modify key
presses, as well as the multi-function knob (MFK) on the top of the
radio. I find that it is easy to get lost in the maze of buttons on the
GRE but many people find that it's preferable to have more buttons and
functions available right on the keypad as opposed to Uniden's method
of burying functions within a menu. So this is a matter of personal
While the GRE has separate Volume and Squelch controls (a concentric
pair of knobs) the Uniden uses the MFK for these purposes as well as
programming. It is far easier to adjust the volume and squelch on the
GRE because of this. The GRE uses Up-Down-Right-Left keys with a Select
key for many programming functions, the Uniden MFK rotates and can be
pressed. There's no personal opinion involved here. The GRE has easier
to use volume/squelch and tuning controls.
The keypad buttons are larger on the BCD396XT than the GRE, but there
are only 16 vs. 34 for the GRE. In addition the labeling on the GRE is
smaller so it is harder to find the button you want sometimes.
The radios both use forms of dynamic memory management but in radically
different formats. The GRE uses "Objects" in which you can assign
channels, talkgroups and searches to while the Uniden uses Systems and
Groups. Both formats can be intimidating to learn but once you do learn
one format or the other it becomes second nature.
The Uniden method seems less complicated to me, it has direct
correlations to older methods of scanner programming so is easier to
convert to. Of course, some people will find GRE's methods easier, you
will have to try them to find out.
With the small size come some sacrifices. For one the speaker is small,
and audio quality suffers a bit compared with the GRE competitors.
While rated at 400 mw audio output compared with the GRE's 250, the GRE
has a larger speaker and enclosure and can produce louder audio with
less distortion. Both radios allow you to use iPod style earphones with
sound going to both the right and left channels.
The Uniden uses 3 AA cells and includes rechargeable Nickel-Metal
Hydride cells. The radio seems to last just as long on 3 cells as the
PSR500 does on 4, I typically get 8 to 10 hours of moderate use on a
charge or set of alkalines.
One of the biggest complaints about Uniden scanners has been the
digital audio quality and decoding. GRE's digital decoding is better
than Uniden's, especially on simulcast systems. The BCD396T and BCD996T
worked well on single site APCO25 digital but have serious issues with
simulcast digital systems. While recent firmware upgrades helped, the
problem is still present. The BCD396XT performs far better on these
systems than previous Uniden scanners, almost as well as GRE scanners.
I monitored a local simulcast P25 trunked system in the Chicago area
side by side with a BCD396XT, a BCD396T and a GRE (RS) Pro106 for
several days. The GRE/RS scanner heard the system almost flawlessly,
the BCD396XT was close behind, while the 396T dropped out occasionally.
Sensitivity and Interference
In the old days Uniden and Bearcat scanners had a reputation of higher
sensitivity the Radio Shack scanners but were usually more prone to
interference from strong signals, including intermod and images. These
days however those roles are reversed. The GRE's (including the Radio
Shack PRO106) are usually more prone to interference from strong
signals such as taxi data, broadcast stations and pagers.
The BCD396XT has shown so far to be less bothered by strong signals
than my PRO106. A recent excursion to an area full of pagers and taxi
data towers made the PRO106 go crazy while the BCD396XT had no real
issues. While I locked out a bunch of CloseCall hits from these with
both radios, the PRO106 received hits on several images of real strong
signals that the BCD396XT only received on the actual frequency. There
were a few instances of hearing a strong signal on adjacent freqs when
the actual freq was locked out on the BCD396XT but you had to be close
enough to touch the tower for this.
One would think that reduced interference levels like this would mean
less sensitivity. In my experiments I was unable to discern any real
difference in sensitivity. While a detailed analysis with a service
monitor might provide such details, real world users probably won't
notice much difference. Most forums however tend to lean towards the
GRE being somewhat more sensitive.
Both radios have impressive feature sets. The features the Uniden has
that the GRE doesn't include Fire Tone Out, GPS connection, Multi-Site,
and IF Exchange. The GRE has a couple features the BCD396XT lacks,
including "V-Scanners" (virtual scanners where you can load complete
radio memories for future use), a programmable Alert LED, on-screen
help and display of trunked radio ID's.
The GRE display is a bit larger than the Uniden but the main portion of
the Uniden display (frequency and text tags) use larger characters. The
Uniden display is less cluttered but the GRE provides more instant
information. The backlighting on the GRE is brighter and provides more
contrast than the Uniden.
The BCD396XT display has six lines, they may display different items
depending on the mode. During Scanning operations the display is set up
-The first line displays such things as the signal strength, lockout
and priority status.
-The second line has the System text tag or radio status.
-The third line displays the frequency, talkgroup, Group or Site tag.
-The fourth line displays the modulation type and the priority icon.
-The fifth line displays the System number.
-The sixth line displays the Group number.
The BCD396XT is a fantastic radio that provides almost every
conceivable feature you could want. Even so, it is not perfect. While
the small size is convenient for discrete use, it forced Uniden into
compromises such as the small speaker and the Multi-Function Knob. With
a bit larger case they could have replaced the MFK with a traditional
volume and squelch control and separate programming knob.
Some people prefer the extra buttons instead of needing the Function
and Menu buttons on the side, a larger case could have allows extra
buttons to provide an easier method of programming. As it is it takes 2
hands to program the radio. While the keypad is logically laid out now,
a slightly larger case would allow extra button rows in both the
vertical and horizontal planes to simplify programming.
Radio Sensitivity compares well with the BCD396T and the
PSR-500/PRO-106. The VHF High and UHF bands seemed pretty much
identical to the other radios, while the 800 band seemed to be slightly
better on the BCD396XT. I heard no unusual interference in my suburban
neighborhood. While mobile the radio did not suffer from any more
overload problems than my PRO106.
The Fire Tone Out feature is an ingenuous addition to the Uniden line
of scanners. The new FTO Search makes it even better. I wouldn't
suggest spending $500 for the BCD396XT just for this when you can get a
346XT with FTO for half the price but it allows you to do most anything
with one radio.
The added memory allows one to program almost as much on the BCD396XT
as you can in all the V-Folders on the PSR500. The PSR500 allows 1800
or so channels per V-Scanner, with 20 stored (plus the active one)
while the BCD396XT allows up to 25,000 in the radio, all of which could
be active at any time.
Another feature that sets the Uniden radios apart from the GRE is the
GPS connection. The ability to turn on and off systems automatically
just by traveling in an area is superb. When I first got a BCD996T I
was wary about this, but after spending a little time putting together
a file with GPS coordinates for our statewide trunking system I was
hooked. I can't imagine not having this now, and am thrilled about
having this on a handheld.
The ability to use the innovative RH-96 Remote Head is also a huge plus
for the BCD396XT. While the RH-96 is actually larger than the BCD396XT,
it is more practical for use in a car. Since the RH-96 does not provide
speaker audio you will need to strategically mount the radio itself
however. At this time however Uniden is not believed to be producing
any more RH-96s.
If Uniden relocated the earphone jack to the side of the radio and made
it slightly larger they could revert to a more conventional
volume/squelch control and still maintain the programming knob. Adding
up/down buttons as well as a few others to simplify programming on a
larger radio would make programming easier.
A larger case would also allow a larger speaker as well as room for a
fourth battery. While more audio output would use more power from the
battery a fourth cell would be able to cover that and retain the decent
battery life already provided.
I would also have liked a printed manual to be included or at least as
a low cost option. Since the radio will often be used mobile or in the
field, the ability to have a quick resource will be missed. The last
batch of Uniden HH scanners had manuals that you could tuck in your
back pocket or in your glove box, this would have been ideal for this
radio. Perhaps an enterprising individual will produce a manual like
Which Radio Do I
Want to Buy?
Once you decide you want to buy a new scanner it is time to decide
which one to get. Assuming that you want a high-end handheld digital
scanner you have to decide then which one, the PSR500/PRO106 (just
called the GRE from here on out) or the BCD396XT.
The GRE is better
if these are most important to you:
* Better digital decoding, especially on simulcast systems.
* You prefer a larger radio with better audio.
* If you prefer separate volume and squelch controls.
* If you don't want or need the extra features of the BCD396XT
* If you are not bothered by excessive strong-signal interference.
* If you need higher sensitivity.
* You like to have Virtual Scanners available to you.
You will want the
BCD396XT if these are more important:
* You prefer a smaller, compact radio.
* You prefer a more solidly built radio.
* You prefer a simpler but more detailed display.
* If you want the amazing feature-set of the BCD396XT
* You prefer the Banks/Systems/Groups method of programming.
* You need or want the GPS features.
* You will use the radio in a high interference area.
* You want to have a lot of channels available all the time.
* When fire tone-out capability is important.
* You monitor a large networked system with multiple sites.
Note that many of
the opinions contained herein are of a personal, subjective nature.
Others may have a different viewpoint of the features and performance
of the radios discussed in this report. We welcome your opinions, many
of which we may post on this site in addition to this report. Also, if
you find any factual errors in this document, please let us know so
that we may correct them.