Police scanner accessories

Ah yes, those scanning extras that are made to enhance your scanning experience. When it comes to scanner accessories, there is an extensive assortment of products to choose from. 

This page is divided scanner accessories into the following categories:

  • Indoor, Outdoor, & Mobile Antennas
  • External Speakers
  • Earphones & Headsets
  • Alkaline & Rechargeable Batteries
  • Battery Chargers
  • AC/DC Adapters & Mobile Power Cords
  • Protective Carrying Cases
  • Surge Protectors

When you purchase a handheld scanner, it comes with a standard « rubber ducky » antenna. Rubber ducky antennas usually work fine, but if you want to increase distance and improve reception then you will need an additional antenna other the standard antenna that comes with your scanner. 

When you purchase a base/mobile scanner, it comes with a telescoping antenna (mobile scanners come with a mobile antenna). The following are a few types to choose from:

Rubber Ducky  
This type of antenna is the basic antenna that comes with every scanner buy on the market.
This type of antenna is made for portable use and comes in three stages allowing you to adjust the high for specific bands. 
Omnidirectional This type of antenna is made to maximize your scanner’s range and reception. They can be either mounted on a roof or on a pole. The higher the antenna is placed, the farther the reception.Discone  
This type of antenna is made to maximize your scanner’s range and reception. They can be either mounted on a roof or on a pole. The higher the antenna is placed, the farther the reception.
Magnet Mount 
This type of antenna is made for mobile use, allowing you to mount the antenna on any metal surface such as the roof or trunk of a vehicle. They come in three stages allowing you to adjust the high for specific bands.
Window Mount  
This type of antenna is also made for mobile use, allowing you to mount the antenna onto the window edge.

I recommend the following: For Handheld Scanners, the telescoping antenna (#20-006A) from Radio Shack at $10.00, it’s an excellent buy. For Base Scanners, a discone (roof-mounted) antenna is recommended.

External speakers

An external speaker comes in handy in noisy places or for in-vehicle use. External speakers can be set on top of a desk or mounted in a vehicle. 

Earphones and headsets

  • Earphones are also great for unobtrusive monitoring. Put the radio in a jacket pocket and feed the cord up your back. From there it’s a short jump to your ear making it very hard to detect what you’re doing.
  • While great for private listening, they allow the other ear to hear what’s going on around you that is important in some cases where headphones might be a hindrance or danger.
  • Some are better designed and contoured to fit the ear, which helps with comfort during extended listening sessions.
  • You should also consider cord length, color and whether or not an ear clip is necessary.

Alkaline and rechargable batteries

  • Batteries come in all shapes and sizes. With regard to handhelds, they usually take AA size cells of the alkaline, NiCd, NiMH, Lithium or Lithium-Ion variety.
  • Alkalines deliver a lot of power and are best known by the most common name brands; Duracell, Energizer, and Panasonic. All have very long shelf lives.
  • One semi-recent innovation is the rechargeable alkaline cells, which need a special charger, and have much shorter recharge cycles compared to other rechargeable technologies (NiCd and NiMH).
  • NiCd (Nickel-Cadmium) are older technology rechargeable types. Most are rated around 700mAh but can go as high as 1100mAh these days. The have short shelf lives but most chargers are designed to handle this type. Properly cared for, they can be recharged 300 times or more. Improper care can reduce this to 100 or less. NiCds are affected by voltage depression phenomenon that happens when they are not fully discharged and recharged on a regular basis. NiCds are also toxic to the environment.
  • NiMH (Nickel-Metal-Hydride) are newer technology rechargeable types. Most are rated around 1000mAh and go as high as 1500mAh these days. They have longer shelf lives and no voltage depression effect but are more costly, require a special charger and can only be recharged 200 or so times. No problems with environmental toxicity here.
  • Lithium cells are one of the newest and most costly technologies. They have extremely long shelf lives, are very expensive but deliver more power than alkalines. They are also extraordinarily light.

Battery chargers

  • Designed to charge rechargeable batteries, they come in a billion different sizes and configurations. Most are designed to recharge NiCd cells. The basic difference is the number and type of cells that can be accommodated as well as the charging current used.
  • Keep in mind that the charging current is of greatest concern. Cells are usually designed to be recharged at only one or two rates (typically a slow charge/low current or a fast charge/high current). If the current is too high, it will generate excessive heat that will damage the cell contents thereby shortening its lifetime.
  • Most of the cheaper chargers have either a constant charging period, which is only good for the cell when it nearly exhausted. Some chargers have no timer at all; they continually charge and it’s up to you to determine when the cell(s) should be removed.
  • When thinking of NiMH cells, it’s VERY important to use the proper charger. A NiCd charger CAN’T be used, as it will overcharge the cells. A good NiMH charger will have a voltage detector to monitor the progress and the better units have temperature sensors to make sure the cell’s thermal limits are not exceeded. These features work on NiCd cells just as well.
  • Other handy features to look for are « conditioning » and trickle charging. Conditioning is used to discharge the cell(s) before they are recharged thus helping to prevent the dreaded memory effect (voltage depression). Trickle charging simply supplies a very small current to the cell after it is done charging to help insure its charge does not degrade; you can leave the cells in for long periods of time without worrying about overcharging and the cells are fully charged when you need them.
  • Expect to pay more for such chargers but when you compare it to the investment made in the batteries themselves, it easily pays for itself quickly; especially if you have several sets of such cells.
  • Special alkalines available these days can be recharged but only by using the supplied/recommend charger, which use very small currents and/or special charging techniques. Do not try to use a NiCd or NiMH charge on these, to do so is just asking for a disaster!
  • As usual, Radio Shack carries a large line of chargers.

AC/DC adapters and power cords

AC Adapters

  • The purpose of the AC adapter is to convert your household AC voltage/current to DC voltage/current usable by your receiver. Some receivers come with an AC adapter since they are designed to run off of 12 volts DC (which allows them to be used in the home or a vehicle).
  • A must have if you use your handheld at home. It can also be used to power a base or mobile unit with a DC power jack.
  • The best one to buy is the « universal » type because they are so flexible. They typically allow multiple voltage settings, multiple plug sizes and positive/negative tip voltage (be sure to set this properly or you could have a bad day).
  • Most radios with a DC jack have a small wiring diagram printed nearby. It usually consists of a dot surrounded by a semi-circle. The dot represents the tip of the adapter. Follow the line from the dot to the + or – symbol and you’ll know what to set the tip polarity to!
  • Be advised that some radios are not designed to use this form of external power if batteries are installed. READ THE OPERATING MANUAL BEFORE PROCEEDING! If your radio is capable of recharging the internal cells and you use alkalines, connecting up external power could lead to the batteries exploding!
  • In some manufacturer literature, you’ll see references to a « mains charger » which should be taken to mean the AC adapter.

DC Adapters

  • DC adapters are used to supply power to your radio while used in a vehicle of some sort, usually your car/truck/boat. Of course the radio in question must have been built with a DC jack or you have to have the skills necessary to add one.
  • Most base/mobile units are designed to accept the vehicle voltage, which is usually in the 12 – 14 volt range. Handhelds usually range from 3 -9 volts so some form of voltage division is needed to reduce the vehicle supply accordingly.
  • Base/mobile units usually need about 500 milliamps or more of power, while handhelds need 200 – 400 milliamps. Be sure the adapter you pick can source the current drain your radio will need.
  • Many radio dealers sell universal adapters that are VERY handy. Not only do they have a switch that allows the output voltage to be selected, but also they come with an assortment of plugs to fit most radio DC jacks. These plugs can usually be inserted in two ways allowing the tip polarity to be selected as negative or positive (be sure to use the proper polarity or your radio could become a hi-tech paperweight).
  • Most units have a fuse built into the adapter plug to prevent excessive current flow that could damage your car and/or radio. Some may even come with a spare fuse to replace on the fly. Be sure you investigate any problem before simply plugging in a new one. And it’s always good to carry spares. Just be sure to use ones with the same rating as recommended by the manufacturer.

Protective carry cases

  • Designed to protect a handheld from abuse encountered during its travels.
  • Older manufacturer cases were made of hard, thick leather designed for maximum protection but an eyesore.
  • Newer designs are made of softer, thinner leather and usually fit like a glove over the various contours.
  • Most new OEM cases are made of cordura.
  • If you travel with your handheld a lot, a case can protect your investment and assure a longer life if not a higher resale value.
  • Be aware that some cases force the belt clip to be removed in order to be used. Some allow the stock clip to be uses as is. Others have a belt loop that is not as flexible but is more secure.
  • Take into consideration whether or not you can use the radio while it’s in the case. Can you see the display? Can you use the keypad? How good does the audio sound? Can you get to the power jack without removing?

Surge protectors

  • Anyone familiar with computer and office equipment will tell you how important surge protectors are. Random spikes of energy in the power lines (caused by your power company working on the lines or repairing damage) can mean nasty results to your AC power supply that feeds your radio equipment as well!
  • Good protectors are designed to filter the input to help maintain a semi-constant voltage and current supply while filtering out nasty power spikes that can be many thousands of volts!
  • Not all surge protectors are created equally either! Don’t expect the $10 variety to match the protection of the $30 models. Be sure to read all the packages carefully as well as the fine print, and note the differences between them.
  • Some models come with notification lights or alarm buzzers to alert you to a warning condition. Be sure to pick a model that will suit your needs and operating environment.
  • And follow the guidelines given with the device purchased! Certain conditions can render the device’s protection nearly worthless so heed all warnings and cautions!
  • If you find your equipment can’t power up one day, check to see if the protector has been « tripped » due to a spike. Try resetting the device’s circuit breaker and you should be back in business.