If you want to listen to emergency radio frequencies, you have a couple of different options available to you. On this page, we’re going to run you through these options, as well as the pros and cons of each of them. Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll be better-versed in which option is the right one for you.

App-Based Radio Scanners

This is not our favorite option when we want to listen to emergency radio frequencies, but since this is how most people are discovering the hobby, we’re going to start with it.

With app-based radio scanners, you’re listening to an audio stream of the radio. This audio stream is being uploaded by somebody who actually owns a radio scanner. They have then hooked it up to their computer, and they’re broadcasting it to the world.

The main benefit of app-based radio scanners is the fact that they’re really affordable. A lot of radio streams online are free to listen to. This means that you don’t need to spend a single cent to discover this hobby.


The downside is that there’ll be a rather limited number of channels you can listen to. Since these streams are broadcast by people with actual equipment, you can only listen in when the person decides to switch their equipment on. Most of the time, this is only going to happen if they feel as if something interesting is going on. This also means that you won’t be able to listen to a good number of radio channels e.g. local government channels, and even some emergency services. There is practically zero chance you’ll hear broadcasts if you want to listen in on a smaller town.

That being said, app-based radio scanners do have one major benefit on the channel front. This is the fact that you’re not going to be limited to channels in your local area. As long as something is being streamed online, it doesn’t matter where you live, you’ll be able to hear it!

Do bear in mind that the audio quality with app-based radio scanners is a bit sporadic. It’s all dependent on the quality of the internet of the steamer, as well as the equipment they’re using. You’ll also only be able to use these scanners if you have an internet connection. Not ideal if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Is It Legal to Do This?

Yep! As long as the emergency services are broadcasting on public radiowaves, then you’re free to listen in as much as you want. The only time you’ll be doing anything wrong is if you listen in on ‘closed-off’ frequencies, and it is highly unlikely for that to happen.

It’s important to remember that your state may have a few restrictions on what you can and can’t do with your radio scanner. In New York, for instance, you can’t use your radio scanner in a vehicle. These laws are going to apply whether you’re using an app as your radio scanner, or a physical radio scanner. You’ll need to learn the laws for your local area.

ER Radio Check

Radio Scanning Equipment

This is our preferred option, and we use our physical police radio scanners on a daily basis for a variety of different reasons.

First off; we want to point out that the cost of an actual radio scanner will be higher than that of an app. After all, it’s unlikely that anyone will hand you an actual radio scanner for free. However, they’re going to be just as portable. Many scanners can be used at home, or in your vehicle (where allowed). Some can even be carried about on your person.

You should also remember that the cost is going to be a bit higher than the physical unit. You may also need to purchase additional accessories to get the most out of your radio scanner e.g. a better antenna to really boost that quality! However, in our opinion, it’s worth it. A physical scanner will provide you with far better audio quality than any app-based system. In fact, if you’ve ever listened to an online scanner stream, you’ll know that often due to the quality of the stream, you can’t understand what’s being said. That isn’t going to be an issue with an actual scanner.

Access to More Frequencies

Of course, you also have access to a lot more radio channels, as long as you buy the right radio scanner. You may only be able to find one or two channels streaming through an online platform. However, if you flicked on a scanner, you may have access to several dozen. Honestly, you’ll be surprised at what is discussed over the radio waves. You may even have access to certain aircraft and military communications, which are always going to be fun to listen in on.

Don’t worry about not receiving a signal either. As long as you’re in the range of a broadcast (and chances are high that you will be), your radio scanner can pick up on it. You won’t lose that signal unless you move out of range or it stops broadcasting. The chances of this happening are going to be slim. You can pretty much guarantee that when you switch on your radio, there will be something to listen to in your local area. You can’t say the same if you’re using an app-based solution, can you?

If you’re looking for some emergency service scanners, then check out our reviews. We have selected some of our favorites. If you go through them, you’ll get a feel for which radio scanner features are right for you. Remember; if you want access to the maximum number of channels, you should always buy a digital radio scanner. Yeah. They’re a bit more expensive, but analog is being phased out. It doesn’t matter how cheap they are now, in a year or two they will be effectively useless.