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What is a Multiband Scanner?

Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland

A multiband scanner is a radio that pulls in multiple frequencies used for professional, emergency and entertainment uses. From citizen's band (CB) radio traffic to police chatter to ham radio operators around the world, there are a variety of listening options with these tools. Multiband scanners come in a variety of desktop and handheld styles, with antennas that provide a wealth of different tuning options.

A multiband scanner operates like a traditional dual band AM/FM radio by pulling in the invisible radio signals passing through the air. It differs from the dual band option by offering more than two bands and hundreds of channels, ranging from emergency weather channels, law enforcement radio, amateur programs and more.The only type of radio signal a multiband receiver cannot listen to are mobile phone signals. Another important distinction is that a multiband scanner differs from a ham radio because it only allows operators to listen to signals and not broadcast.

Multiband scanners may be used for law enforcement purposes.
Multiband scanners may be used for law enforcement purposes.

A multiband scanner comes in two basic setups, a desktop model and a handheld model. The desktop model usually plugs into a wall and has an internal speaker, but it also has output options to link it to a speaker system. Modern models offer users digital controls that allow for exact tuning and also a great deal of memory options to save and recall a certain channel. Desktop models also are useful for radio enthusiasts who want to upgrade the antenna to pull in more stations.

A CB radio is a multiband scanner.
A CB radio is a multiband scanner.

A handheld multiband scanner resembles a walkie talkie because it is lightweight, battery powered, made of plastic and small enough to be portable. Modern versions of these scanners also offer digital tuning, but they generally have a more limited number of memory channels. These scanners usually have a smaller range because of the shorter, lightweight antennas attached to the body.

A multiband antenna allows the radio operator to customize the setup to receive as many stations as that person desires. The small, rubber-coated nub antennas atop handheld models allow for only very localized transmitters to be listened to. Desktop models have more freedom, because users can install omnidirectional antennas that mount atop a roof and can pull in signals from around the world in certain conditions. In between, there are a variety of options that help a scanner receive the exact sounds that an operator is seeking.

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    • Multiband scanners may be used for law enforcement purposes.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      Multiband scanners may be used for law enforcement purposes.
    • A CB radio is a multiband scanner.
      By: Phattman
      A CB radio is a multiband scanner.