In recent years, the number of web-based police scanners has exploded. For many, they are the ideal route into listening to police broadcasts. Are they worth it? Let’s take a look!
What is a Web-Based Police Scanner?
When we talk about web-based scanners, we are talking about both ones that you can access through your web browser, as well as ones that you can download an app for on your phone.
An online scanner allows you to listen in to police and other emergency service broadcasts without actually owning a scanner yourself. There are pros and cons to this, and we are going to talk a little bit more about that soon. However, before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about how they actually work in the first place.
How Does It Work?
An online radio scanner isn’t a scanner as such. Well, not in the way that we would think of traditional scanners. This is because, with most web-based options, you won’t really have the system automatically flicking between streams in the hope of finding somebody that is talking like your normal scanner. Some do, but even then, you still have to select the channels you want to flick between. You just need to select one channel and settle in for the long haul.
With a web-based police scanner, people are essentially rebroadcasting. Somebody else is sitting with a radio scanner, and they are broadcasting it online. Most of the ‘dedicated’ people will be streaming channels 24/7, while some may only stream for a few hours per day. This normally happens in some of the smaller areas where they may just be a single radio operator there.
It is important to note that in the eyes of the law, online radio scanners are subject to the same rules as normal scanners. This means that in certain states you will not be able to run the scanner app while in your vehicle. Granted, police are unlikely to check your phone, and an app is less-easy to spot than an actual scanner, but we still wouldn’t recommend taking the risk. The law is the law, after all.
Perhaps the big ‘pro’ of using a web-based scanner is that you do not actually need to own any radio scanning equipment yourself. This means that you can just hop into a broadcast for a very, very low price. In fact, a lot of online scanners are ad-supported, which means you do not need to pay a single cent to enjoy the streams.
In addition to this, you will also be able to hear streams from across the United States (and the world, in some cases). Obviously, the major limitation of a physical radio scanner is that you are only going to be able to hear streams from your local area. This means that if something is ‘going down’ in New York City and you are based in Orlando, you won’t be able to hear. With a web-based scanner, you won’t be geographically restricted.
In our opinion, if you are looking to get into scanning for the first time, then check out a web-based stream. If you love it (and you likely will), then you can invest in a bit of equipment yourself. You are going to get so much more out of the radio scanning hobby like this.
As brilliant as these pros are, you do need to be aware that there are a lot of cons to listening to online scanners.
As we said before; online scanners are rebroadcasting from people’s actual radio scanners. Not a lot of people are willing to do this. As a result, you will often find that there will be a limited selection of channels online. They tend to stick to the channels that they find more interesting. This means that you won’t be able to listen to everything and, in our opinion, this is one of the joys of owning a radio scanner. For your local area, there may be only one or two channels online, but with your own physical radio scanner, you may have access to dozens and dozens of them.
In addition to this, these streamers may not always be streaming their radio 24/7. This probably isn’t going to be that much of an issue if you are in a major town or city. There will always be somebody to replace the streamer that went offline. However, if you are in a small area? Well, you just have to wait until that person comes back online…if they ever do.
You also have no idea if what is being streamed is ‘accurate’. Somebody could claim that they are streaming a channel, but it isn’t. You don’t even know whether that radio channel is operating on a time delay. Remember; there will always be lag when uploading something to the internet. Some of the major streams may be a couple of minutes behind, which isn’t always going to be useful.
To cap it off, the audio quality tends not to be that good online either. The sound can be muffled on occasion, which means you won’t always be able to catch what is going on with the stream. This is annoying.
So, What Should You Do?
As we mentioned before; some people use web-based scanners to start, work out they love the whole experience, and then pick up some quality equipment. This is the route that we would take.
In our opinion, using a web-based scanner or an app isn’t really a long-term solution. You are missing out on a lot by going down that route. There are just too many restrictions in place. There are so many more interesting channels than what the people online are streaming, and you really will want to check them out. Trust us on that.
Your safest bet would be to go through the police scanner reviews that we have assembled here. We have put together a lot of them. Our editors have been working hard to find the right radio scanner. So, have a flick through them, and we are positive that you will find one or two that catch your attention.