Turn Your Phone Into a Radio Scanner

Are frequency app scanners legal?

Radio scanners serve a handful of niche audiences. You may have had people tell you about some of the crazy or interesting things they’ve heard on their scanner, and it sounds like it might be fun to have one in your car. However, you could upgrade your head unit or install a couple of premium speakers for the same price.

If the cost of buying a police scanner is a big stumbling block, you'll be happy to hear you have a much more affordable door into the world of radio scanners right in your pocket. It’s your smartphone. In between sending texts and checking Facebook, you can use your phone to listen in on a huge variety of radio scanner streams.

But Phones Aren’t Radios

Phones aren’t radios. Not even smartphones are radios. Some smartphones include secret built-in FM radios, but if you're interested in listening in on police and emergency services broadcasts, that won't do.

Other components in your phone can be referred to as radios, at least technically, like a cellular radio or a Bluetooth radio, but that still isn't what you're looking for. These components can only send and receive information in the specific bandwidths allocated to cellular communications or utilized by Bluetooth devices.

You can no more receive a police dispatch transmission with your phone than you can tune in to an FM radio broadcast, even if you happen to have a phone with a built-in FM receiver.

How to Turn a Phone Into a Radio Scanner

To turn your smartphone into a radio scanner, you need an app and either a mobile data plan or access to a Wi-Fi signal.

Since your phone can’t receive over-the-air (OTA) transmissions from sources like police radios, you'll rely on radio buffs to receive and then stream transmissions.

Apps are available for each major mobile operating system (OS), and they all work in the same basic manner. Instead of tuning a scanner to a local broadcast that interests you, you choose from streams available in apps that you download to your phone.

Among the many free and subscription-based scanner apps for iOS phones are Police Scanner +, 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, and Police Stream. If your phone is an Android device, check out the Police Scanner X, Scanner 911, and Broadcastify Police Scanner apps at Google Play.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to tap into local streams or choose to listen in on streams from far distant places.

How Scanner Apps Work

Radio scanner apps, which are also referred to as police scanner apps and phone frequency scanners, rely on networks of radio enthusiasts to provide thousands upon thousands of audio streams.

These enthusiasts have actual, physical radio scanners that they use to pick up a local, non-encrypted radio transmissions. They also have the necessary equipment to stream audio sources over the internet and create online radio scanner streams. They do all the heavy lifting so that you can tap the touch screen on your phone a few times and pull up just about any kind of local radio transmission you want.

Police scanner app

Although these programs are often referred to as police scanner apps, they usually aren’t that limited in operation.

One of the main uses of these apps is to listen in on local, non-encrypted police and other emergency services communications. These apps provide access to emergency services communications, police dispatches, railway transmissions, other transit communications, and a whole world of other short-range radio transmissions.

Are Radio Scanner Apps Legal?

Legality is a sticky point because police scanners are legal in some places and illegal in others. It’s important to check out the laws in your jurisdiction before installing one of these apps. You may be charged with a crime if you’re ever arrested and the police find a radio scanner app on your phone. A Google search can turn up your state's laws regarding scanner apps.

If you’re brazen enough to use one of these apps in the commission of a crime, then the consequences may be even more dire. For example, in Florida, intercepting police communications to assist in a crime or escape automatically escalates the severity of the crime.

As with many other things, the use of radio scanner apps is one of personal responsibility. If they’re illegal where you live, you can choose to use one anyway. There’s no way to track your usage, so you’ll be fine as long as you don’t get caught. However, if you are caught, and they are illegal, you’ll find out quickly that ignorance of the law isn’t an acceptable defense.

On the other hand, if scanner apps are legal where you live, you might just have found yourself a new hobby.

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