New York City Scanning Frequencies

New York City is one of the busiest most densely populated cities in the U.S. and carries an extraordinary amount of radio traffic in close proximity.  The result is that scanner enthusiasts have a vast choice of listening material of all kinds almost no matter where they are.  The advent of trunking has not become a much of an obstacle here, either.  So fire up your radio and get those headphones!

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New York City Listening Tips

Almost everyone is using a radio for something these days.  Everyone from fast food clerks to spies use radios for basic communication and data/video transmission.   And while I'm certain you won't find hours worth of "would you like fries with that?" interesting, there are some things aside of the usual police, fire, and cordless activity that may hold a bit more fascination.  Some low-tech examples include:

  • Store security.  Handhelds or "walkie-talkies" are in heavy use but are giving way to the popularity (read: coolness!) of headsets for security and even for sales, to talk to the people in the store room or warehouse.   Check out their pathetic surveillance techniques for shoplifting!  Use a counter to find out what frequency they're using.

  • Taxi dispatch.  You might at first think this is boring, but watch out for suspiciously high trafffic to/from any one particular location.   You might just possibly have stumbled upon the local house of ill repute!   Some car services are willing to do package drop-offs.  If you find frequent pick-ups from a particular address, you could be discovering a drug den.  Messenger dispatches can also be used likewise.

  • News trucks.  These people's living is to be where the news is.  Of course, if you're in one of the outer boros you might as well be in Iowa news-wise, but if there's something big happening these are the guys whose livelihood depends on being there first.  Radio gets small news, print and web gets bigger news, and TV gets the biggest.  Take your pick.

  • County coroner / morgue.  Do you have any idea how many people die in one day?!  Natural deaths are never a headline and anything short of an axe murder is lucky to get mention on page ten.  Find out about the reality of death in your neighborhood.

With some extra gadgets, you can work with some of the higher-tech examples of scanning material such as alpha-numeric pagers, digital transmissions, wireless networking, video surveillance, industrial controls, and much, much more.

A must-have for any New York City scanner enthusiast is the Scanner Master.   This book is under $40 and a new one comes out every couple of years or so.   When you buy it you can get on a mailing list for a year of free updates as well.   This book has listings for almost any frequency of interest, organized by locale, and contains great details about police/fire department organization, 10-codes, and much more.

General Frequencies of Interest

Cellular Phones...

Of course it's not legal to eavesdrop on phone conversations, but if you were so inclined to use these test frequencies and your receiver was capable, you'd want to tune into the following frequencies where you may accidentally overhear women talking about their lovers, men talking about women and drugs, drug dealers talking about ho's, etc:  Scan between 870.030MHz and 889.980MHz with 30KHz spacing to get both sides of the conversation from the cell transmitters.  The false sense of security here lulls people into talking about anything they'd say over a "land-line" and more.

Cordless Phones...

Apparently as illegal as cellular phone eavesdropping but not usually blocked by the scanner radios sold in the U.S., the "repeater" side of cordless phones can be heard between 46MHz and 49MHz.  With some cordless phones as cheap as $25, they are become nearly as commonplace as wired sets.  Users of these inexpensive radio wonders rarely give a moment's thought to the possibility that they can be listened to, in spite of the terrific ease of doing so.

In the same frequency range as cordless phones you can also hear baby intercoms.   These are transmitters with incredibly sensitive microphones made to pick up the tiniest gurgling sounds from a baby.  Needless to say, they can also easily pick up casual conversations or moans and groans or whatever one hundred feet away and broadcast them a few of city blocks around.

The newer "900MHz" cordless phones can be tuned in between 900MHz and 928MHz, with wildly varying bands and channel spacing depending on brand.  The bad news is you have to search a much wider frequency range to find a conversation - as wide as the cellular phone band.  The good news is that the broadcast range is better with these phones, giving you a more diverse collection of people to listen to.

If you're an apartment dweller, cordless phone listening can be an endless source of amusement and perhaps even horror.  Sometimes you're better off not knowing that much about your neighbors.

Family Radio...

With the ever-growing popularity of Motorola Talkabouts, the relatively new FRS (family radio system) can be fun to listen in on.  It's a clearer and more reliable successor to the smoldering remains of CB radio.  Search between 462.5625MHz and 467.7125MHz with 12.5KHz spacing.

CB Radio...

If listening to truckers warning each other of "smokeys" is your idea of fun, try the forty legal channels of CB radio in 10MHz increments at 26.965MHz through 27.405MHz.  The infamous channel 19 is 27.195MHz.  You can often find out-of-band conversations taking place as far as 1MHz above or below this range too.  Most of it is illegal spanish car services and the city equivalents of trailer trash with linear amps and echo mikes trying to see how many TV's they can screw up and how many CB'ers they can irritate.  You may even find a few renegade ham wannabees.

Ham Radio...

The "Amateur" radio operators are what happens when elitism and sophistry meets CB radio.  Here you can listen in on serious technical conversation, distance contests, discussion about improving your "fist", or you can even practice your morse code reading ability.  You can also hear the same banal crap you hear on CB except you have to pass a test or two to prattle on like that on the Amateur radio frequencies.  Make no mistake though, most of these folks are very bright and are the people who have made radio and television and even computer communications what it is today.  Oh well, everyone makes a few mistakes.  What frequencies you ask?  Just about anywhere where there's no commercial or public traffic.

Good Gadgets to Have

Frequency Counter...

Optoelectronics makes fine, inexpensive frequency counters that are sensitive enough to give you a reading on the cellular phone being used by the motorist next to you in city traffic.

Better Antenna...

Most scanners come with ineffective rubber pigtails.  For $20 you can get a good size buggy whip with twice the gain.

If you have room, a "discone" antenna is compact and offers excellent performance over a very broad frequency range.  Some are even suitable for transmitting as well.  The antennas are unique looking with several short radials at the top extended horizontally and several longer (5' perhaps) radials drooping diagonally downward.  Even if you can't put one of these on a mast outside, it can do wonders in your attic or even in the corner of your apartment.

Better Batteries...

The portable radio industry is missing the ball here.  NiCad batteries SUCK.   They have no shelf life, suffer "memory effect" and can be permanently damaged by deep discharging.  They have poor storage capacity compared to alkaline and even to ordinary carbon batteries.  Lithium batteries are much lighter and have incredible storage density and a ten year shelf life (but can be $1.50/ea discounted), and NiMH (nickel metal hydride) rechargeables have excellent storage capacity and great performance, and almost no memory effect at all.  Laptop computer and electronic camera users are enjoying the advantages of these new batteries but us radio folk still seem destined to suffer.  NiMH battery kits with rechargers can be had for between $35 and $100 depending on where you shop and how brand conscious you are.


The mechanics of how to best use this stuff is more detail than I want to go into here, but you can buy the stuff at Radio Shack and read the directions.  There's also good information on other web sites.  But basically, if you're reading this then you are obviously a computer enthusiast, and you probably have lots of other gadgets too.   All these things emit RF radiation that can interfere (no pun intended) with your enjoyment of scanning by causing "birdies" and making your scanner stop on interference rather than actual activity.  The AC cords and other wires coming from all your gadgets act as antennas, broadcasting the interference.  You alleviate the problem by using ferrites on those cords and wires wherever you can.

Great Places to Shop

There are great places in New York City to find scanner equipment, but for some reason it seems that most of the good ones require dealing with a few "personalities".   This includes Stuart Electronics at 79-12 Parsons Boulevard, Queens [718-591-9700], and Barry Electronics on Broadway in downtown Manhattan.  Thankfully, Barry seems to have dropped the obnoxious elitism that earned it favor among hams and scorn among everyone else.  Talk to Peter at Stuart, where the hours suck wind but the service is decent.  Just watch out that Peter does not try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and promise you a float in the Macy's Parade with every purchase.  Remarkably, neither outfit has a web site.

Shopping for scanner equipment doesn't have to be limited to storefronts.  One of my favorites is Scanner World, at  And God bless the Canadians, whose scanners aren't blocked from receiving cell phone frequencies.  You can find them at

Add Your Own

Under here you can add your own frequencies, suggestions and tidbits of knowledge and view that of others, too.  Any information is good information.

eh, I'm working on this new feature.  gimme a bit more time...


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Page updated February 12, 2009.  See Terms and Conditions of use!