The Radio Shack's PRO-96 is a handheld portable scanner which functions adequately to monitor the new Westmoreland County digital radio system. Its strong points in addition to portability is the ability to program ALL talkgroups into a single scan bank, and the ability to use the radio in conjunction with the PRO96com software to decode and read the digital control channel data on your computer! Its negatives include having to purchase the programming software separately, and the annoying tendency to lose the digital decoding momentarily, with the result of hearing the audio alternate between understandable speech and digital noise.
As sold by Radio Shack, the PRO 96 must be manually programmed from the keypad. RS does NOT presently sell programming software for this radio. However, for the serious scanner fanatics there are several computer programs out there that not only make programming a snap, but also provide the ability to backup and store your radio's channel settings to your computer.
The type of software I use, and that recommended by Radio Shack customer support, is WIN96 available from Starrsoft.com.. This software installs on any Windows based computer, and is the program found on the 2005 Version of the CD provided with the Police Call Radio Directories. The program is NOT freeware, but is provided in demo version on the Police Call CD and for download from the Starrsoft website. This way, you can use it for 30 days to make sure it works to your satisfaction, then pay the registration fee ($30.00 as of December, 2007) if you want to use it thereafter.
In order to connect the PRO 96's PC/IF jack to your computer, you'll need an interface cable which is catalog number 20-047 and is available online from RS or instore. This is a USB cable. (If you are using a newer computer which is not equipped with a serial port and you have the discontinued serial cable you will need a USB-to-serial adapter to allow you to use your notebook's USB port. One can be purchased from Sewell Direct for about $13.00.)
Full details on usage and features of this program are available from the Starrsoft website, so I won't go into them in detail here. Once properly installed, however, this program will give you full access to programming all of the radio's channels, including associating text labels with talk groups. It will also enable you to open up the receiver to receive frequencies outside of the bands specificed by Radio Shack. It will NOT open up the cellular bands.
HERE IS WHAT YOU GET IN THE DOWNLOADED FILE: Banks 2 through 5 are blank, providing room for frequencies of your choice.
BANK 0 is programmed with various analog FM public safety channels which are still in primary use in the County, such as EMS frequencies and state police, Greensburg and Murrysville Police, etc.
BANK 1 is programmed with miscellaneous business and aeronautical frequencies used in the area.
BANKS 6, 7, 8 and 9 ARE PROGRAMMED AS FOLLOWS:
Bank 6 is programmed with only the three talkaround frequencies, appropriately labeled. This is set up, as explained on the software programming page, so that the channels are designated as "FM" modulation type, with the entire bank set as a "conventional" (not trunked) scan bank, since digital modulation and control channels are not involved when talkaround is used. (On the PRO-96 you can specify each channel's modulation type as MOTOROLA and the bank as a CONVENTIONAL bank, and the radio will still switch to FM mode when it detects talkaround activity in the FM mode.)
Bank 7 is programmed with all system frequencies, including including talkaround. As with Bank 6, this bank is set up so that the channels are assigned as "MO" modulation type, with the entire bank set as a "conventional" (not trunked) scan bank.
Bank 8 is set up as a MO/trunked bank with all control channels frequencies needed for monitoring the south/west zone of the system;
Bank 9 is set up as a MO/trunked bank with all control channels frequencies needed for monitoring the north/east zone of the system;
Banks 8 and 9 are programmed with all talkgroup assignments known to date. Banks 6 and 7 are not talkgroup programmed, since they decode digital modulation, but scan the bank in a conventional manner.
AGAIN: BANK 6 IS PROGRAMMED WITH THE TALKAROUND FREQUENCIES APPROPRIATELY LABELED; BANKS 8 AND 9 ARE PRE-PROGRAMMED WITH ALL CONFIRMED TALKGROUPS AND SETUP TO MAKE BANK 8 A "SOUTH-WEST" PRE-PROGRAMMED BANK AND BANK 9 A "NORTH-EAST" PRE-PROGRAMMED BANK.
Once these groups are uploaded to your scanner, you can scan any combination of these banks. Here are some recommendations:
SOUTH/WEST ACTIVITY--- just scan banks 6 (for the talkarounds) and 8 for the trunked activity.
NORTH/EAST ACTIVITY--- just scan banks 6 (for the talkarounds) and 9 for the trunked activity.
BOTH ZONES, FOLLOWING TRUNKING-- scan banks 6, 8 and 9 together. You will notice that transmissions from the zone opposite your physical location will tend to break up (alternating between voice and digital noise), due to their being weaker signals.
BOTH ZONES, VOICE RECEPTION ONLY, NO TRUNKING/ID DISPLAY--- scan bank 7 only. The only time this scan mode seems useful is when signal strength seems low; you can at least receive and decode the voice transmissions. Your radio won't follow the trunked talkgroups from frequency to frequency in this mode, and no ID's will be displayed.
If you are content with listening to the voice radio transmissions, and viewing the Talkgroup ID's as decoded on the PRO96's readout, you can stop reading here. If you want to take your monitoring of this radio system to a new level, READ ON.
The control channels which govern the operation of Westmoreland's APCO 25 digital system transmit a constant data steam which is used to maintain contact with all units at all times, and to control the functioning of the system. This stream communicates with all base, mobile and portable units, noting among other things their location and which talkgroups they are monitoring. A constant log of the units which are in range of one of the system's communications towers is maintained and transmitted in a data stream on the control channels. If you listen to a control channel, you will hear a rushing, white noise type of sound; it is this data stream which can be decoded to reveal interesting information about the system's internal operation.
The type of software which decodes the control channels is known as "Pro96Com" and is available HERE. You will need to select the latest "zip" file containing the most uptodate "build" or version of the software, then unzip it and install it on your PC. This software installs on any Windows based computer, and is updated regularly with new "builds".
To enter the intriguing world of control channel monitoring, you need the PRO96 scanner and the interface cable described above, formerly RS 20-289, which may be available in stores but is no longer available on the RS website. You will then need to download and install the Pro96Com software. To use the program, you will need to key in the following sequence ON THE SCANNERS KEYPAD: "PGM" "FUNC" "PGM" "PGM" . This places the Pro-96 into the "PC/IF Port Remote Access" mode, and allows the radio to communicate the control channel raw data stream via the cable to your computer. Then click on the "Data Read From PRO-96" button on the bottom of the PRO96COM software main page and the computer should begin receiving and decoding the control data.
All operational details of the software are covered in a comprehensive manual available free online in PDF format. You can download it HERE . THIS IS A MUST READ. It contains complete operational and troubleshooting information on this excellent piece of software, including screenshots showing what the various data screens on the software mean.
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