Configuring and Using ScannerCast™

What you need to know to get up and running fast, using ScannerCast.

Basic Configuration

To use ScannerCast, you'll need to connect your scanner to your computer.  Two connections are required:

  • Connect your scanner's control connection to your computer.  Connect your scanner exactly the same way you do when you're using scanner programming software (such as FreeSCAN, Win-500, Arc396, etc).

    If you're using a GRE scanner, even though your scanner is connected to your computer via USB, you'll need to know which virtual COM port your computer is using to talk to your scanner.  You can do this by going to Windows Device Manager (Control Panel... Device Manager) and looking at the entry labeled "Ports (COM & LPT)".  Find the port named "USB Serial Port (COMx)" (where "x" is a number).  That "COMx" is the COM port you want to select in the Control box, below.
  • Connect the audio output of your scanner (where you'd plug in a pair of headphones) to your computer's sound card input.  If you've never connected your computer to your scanner's audio before, and you have a choice, use the "Line In" (or just LINE) input to your sound card.  The connection to your sound card might be on the front or the back of yoru computer.  You may want to use a utility such as Windows Sound Recorder to verify that the audio from your scanner is getting to your computer.  Don't set the volume on your scanner too high!  Typically, you'll want to set your scanner's volume about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way to max.

Basic configuration is done on ScannerCast's main, Config, tab show below:

ScannerCast V0.13 Configuration 

The steps required to configure ScannerCast for basic use are:

Step 1: Before doing anything else, select the type of scanner with which you're using ScannerCast.  ScannerCast only officially supports, and will automatically generate channel tags for, the Uniden 396/996 (and BCT-15), GRE PSR-500/PSR-600, and Radio Shack Pro-197/Pro-106 scanners.  ScannerCast also supports other scanners in "Audio Only" mode.  In other words, for scanner models other than those specifically listed, ScannerCast will only forward audio and will not retrieve, generate, or send tags.

Step 2: Select the audio input to which you connected your scanner, using the "Sound Input" box on this tab.  This must match the input (sound card, LINE, or MIC) that you connected your scanner's audio to.   Also, select the bit rate that you'll be using to transmit your scanner audio in the "MP3 Bit Rate" box.  If you're sending to Radio Reference, you almost always will want to set this to "16K bits/second" -- If you're only sending your scanner's audio across a LAN in your home/office, you can try higher rates.  Higher rates require more computer processing power and more network bandwidth.  If you don't understand all this stuff, just choose "16K bits/second" and you'll be happy..

Step 3: If you're not using Audio Only (no tags) mode, select the serial port that you've connected to your scanner's control connection, in the "Control" box on this tab.  If you're using a Uniden scanner, you'll also need to select the speed that matches the speed set in your scanner.  Note that higher speeds are almost always better than lower speeds (I use 115200 for my 396t).  If you're using a GRE scanner, the speed is automatically set at 115200 and can't be changed.

Next Steps:

Set the parameters in the "Server" box on this tab.  Fill in a short name for your feed into the "Stream Name" text box.  This is shown when somebody connects to your feed, and (depending on the player being used) when there's no other tag being displayed.  Put a longer description of your feed in the "Description" text box.  This is shown in some players as the full description your feed.

To change the format of tags, you'll want to make selections in the "Tags" box on this tab.  The selections displayed in this box depend on whether you're using a Uniden or GRE scanner (the example above shows the selections for Uniden).  I recommend that you start with the middle radio button for "Format" -- This is labeled "Group + Channel" (Uniden) or "TSYS or SLIST name + TGRP/CONF" (GRE).  Check the "Add Frequency to Tag" check box to have the frequency (in parentheses) added to the tag display.

Sending Feeds to Radio Reference Using Auto-Config

Sending a scanner feed to Radio Reference (formerly ScanAmerica) is easy with ScannerCast's Auto-Config feature.  Here's how you do it:

ScannerCast V0.8 IceCast Config

The steps to use Auto-Config to use ScannerCast for sending your scanner feed to Radio Reference are as follows:

Step 1: Check the "Send Stream to Icecast" check box on the Icecast tab.

Step 2: Check the "Auto-Configure my RR Feed" check box.  This enables ScannerCast's Auto-Config feature.

Step 3: Put your Radio Reference username in the "RR User Name" box, put your Radio Reference password in the "RR Password" box, and then click the "Login to RR and Get Config" button.  Clicking the button causes ScannerCast to retrieve your scanner configuration parameters (server name, port, mount point, and feed password) directly from Radio Reference.  It usually takes just a few seconds, but it might take as much as a minute or two to retrieve your feed configuration information.  ScannerCast will report any errors in the process.  A green check mark will appear next to the login button (as seen in the example above) after ScannerCast has successfully logged-in to Radio Reference and retrieved your feed information.

Step 4: If you only send one feed to Radio Reference, you'll see your feed information filled into the "Target Server Information" box on the left side of the Icecast tab (as seen in the example above).

If you send more than one feed to Radio Reference, select the feed you want this copy of ScannerCast to send to Radio Reference from the "Feed to Send" combo box.  Selecting a feed from among those listed in this box causes ScannerCast to set the corresponding feed parameters in the "Target Server Information" box on the left side of the Icecast tab.

Another Great Feature of Auto-Config

Not on does ScannerCast's Auto-Config feature make it easy to correctly set-up your feeds for Radio Reference, the feature helps ensure your configuration stays up to date.  Each time you start ScannerCast, it automatically uses your Radio Reference login information to retrieve the most recent feed parameters from Radio Reference.  So, if Gordon or Lindsay change the password, or server name, or port, your feed reconfigures automatically.

Checking Status and Troubleshooting

I've tried to make ScannerCast as easy to use as possible.  I've also tried to make it as easy as possible to tell if it's doing what you expect.

ScannerCast V0.8 Status

It's pretty easy to check to ensure that ScannerCast is working correctly.  Just look on ScannerCast's "Status" tab, as shown above.

Scanner Connection -- Shows if ScannerCast is successfully communicating with your scanner.  If this says "OK", it means that ScannerCast is successfully retrieving tag information from your scanner.  If this says "NOT COMMUNICATING" there's something wrong (or your not using a supported scanner).  Stop ScannerCast, go back to the "Config" tab, and check what you've specified for "Control Port" and "Speed".  Check your wiring and connections.  If you're using a Uniden scanner, check to be sure that the speed set in your scanner matches the speed you set in ScannerCast.  If you're using a GRE scanner, be sure you've selected the right COM port number (check Windows Device Manager for a port named "USB Serial Port" -- that's the COM port number you'll want to use.

ScannerCast Status -- This line (which is always visible at the bottom of the ScannerCast dialog box, regardless of the tab you select) shows ScannerCast's general operating status.

Icecast Forwarding -- If you've configured ScannerCast to send a feed to Radio Reference, this line indicates if ScannerCast has successfully connected to Radio Reference and is sending your feed.  If it says "SENDING OK" all is well.  If it says "ERROR -- NOT CONNECTED", something's wrong.  Note that if you start forwarding your feed successfully, and ScannerCast loses the connection to Radio Reference for any reason, it will regularly attempt to re-establish the connection, automatically.

ScannerCast In The System Tray

If you're sending a feed to Radio Reference, a handy if slightly more advanced feature of ScannerCast allows it to run in the System Tray (also known as the "Notification Area").  To select this option, check "Minimize to System Tray" (and optionally "Start Minimized") on ScannerCast's "Advanced" tab.

When you do this, ScannerCast won't take up any space on your task bar.  Instead, it will put an icon in your System Tray.  What's particularly helpful about this feature is that ScannerCast will change its icon color to bright red and display a message whenever your feed does down:

ScannerCast Warning

When your feed gets disconnected, ScannerCast regularly attempts to re-connect your feed.  When your feed is connected again, it changes its icon color back to normal and displays another helpful message telling you that the connection to Radio Reference has been re-established.

A Few Notes on Advanced Tab Controls

In general, people who just want to get their feeds going in the easiest way possible should stay away from changing any settings on the Advanced tab.  Setting things wrong here can screw things up.  So... beware!

Enable Stereo Input

Check this box to have ScannerCast process the input steam as stereo.  Leaving the box unchecked (which is the default) causes ScannerCast to send mono audio.  You only want to check this box if you send separate audio streams (from two separate scanners) on the Left and Right audio channels.  If you do this, you can only send a maximum of one stream with tags, as ScannerCast only supports one control connection to one scanner.

Custom Format

The Custom Format control allows you to define how you want the tags to be composed, and thus how they’ll appear in a player.  If you put nothing in the Tag Format box (on the advanced page), and check the "Add frequency to tag" box on the Config page, ScannerCast will format the tags as follows:  

Uniden SYSTEM GROUP CHANNEL (freq)
GRE (conventional channel) SLST CONV (freq)
GRE (trunked channel) TSYS TGRP (freq)

 

So, if you're using a GRE scanner and the Trunked System name is "Nashua", the channel is "Police Primary" and the voice frequency is 851.600, by default ScannerCast will display the tag as follows:  

Nashua Police Primary (DG:851.600)

The Tags Format box lets you have some options to format this string. The "replacement commands" that you place in the string are shown in the table below:  

%C Channel, TGRP or CONV channel name
%G Group, TSYS or SLST name
%S System name (Uniden only)
%R Radio ID (GRE only)

 

Any other characters that you put in the Tags Format box are copied directly the tag. So, continuing the example above, let's say you want that Nashua tag to be displayed in Winamp like the following example:

TRS: Nashua -- TalkGroup: Police Primary -- Frequency: (DG:851.600)

(OK, that's a long and pretty ugly tag... but it's an example, right?) You'd specify the following format in the Tag Format box:

TRS: %G -- TalkGroup: %C -- Frequency: 

Whenever ScannerCast sees %G in the Tag Format box it replaces it with the current Group/TSYS/SLST. Whenever it sees %C it replaces it with channel or talkgroup name.   For another example, let's just say you want the tag displayed to be "Police Primary, Nashua (DG:851.600)".  In this case, you'd set the contents of the Tag Format box to: "%C, %G"

Play with it, and you should be able to get a good idea for how it works.  

Scanning Tag

Normally, while the scanner is “scanning” (not landed on a channel)  ScannerCast sends a blank tag with the audio stream.  In Winamp, this is fine because (by default) Winamp displays the stream name along with the displayed tag, and the effect is that while scanning the stream name appears by itself.

Other players (such as iTunes) don’t append the stream name to the tag, so when the scanner is scanning the display is blank.  Some people like this, some find it annoying.

The “Scanning Tag” box lets you provide text to be displayed, instead of a blank tag, whenever the scanner is scanning.  For example, I usually put “…scanning…” in the Scanning Tag box for my Hillsborough County NH feed.

Listening Directly To Your Feed From a Remote System -- Without Radio Reference or ScanAmerica

Several folks have asked how they can directly listen to ScannerCast from a remote system. That is, listen to their scanner audio without going through Radio Reference.  I do this all the time.  The problem is: It's hard to explain how to do this, because it's all about configuring your network to allow safe access to your computer from the Internet... and it's not at all about how you use ScannerCast.

Let's start with the basics:  You can listen to ScannerCast on your own LAN via the local IP address of the machine on which you’re running it, and the port you indicated on the ScannerCast Config tab (the default port is 5700).  For example, you can listen to ScannerCast from the system on which it’s running by giving WinAmp the URL http://127.0.0.1:5700 (where 127.0.0.1 means “this computer” and “5700” is the port number you configured on ScannerCast’s Config tab).  If the IP address of your computer (on your local LAN) is 192.168.1.100, you can listen to ScannerCast from another computer on your local LAN by giving Winamp (or our audio player of choice) the URL http://192.168.1.100:5700 -- This is the way I listen to ScannerCast from the computer in my kitchen, while my scanner (and the computer running ScannerCast) is located upstairs in my office.

So, that's the easy part.  Now, to the more complicated stuff.  In general, to be able to access ScannerCast from a random place on the Internet, you will need to:

  • Ensure the computer running ScannerCast allows incoming connections to ScannerCast on the port you’re using  -- In other words, setup your local computer's firewall software properly;
  • Configure your router/firewall to allow incoming access to the port you’ve configure ScannerCast to use, and to forward requests coming in on that port to the system on which ScannerCast is running.
  • Determine your external IP address (provided by your internet service provider).  One way to determine your external IP address is to go to an external site for this purpose such as http://whatismyipaddress.com/.
  • From anywhere on the Internet, using your favorite media player (Winamp, iTunes, Windows Media Player, or whatever) connect to http://”IPADDRESS”:”PORT” where “IPADDRESS” is your external IP address and “PORT” is the port you’ve configured ScannerCast to use

None of this except specifying the port number on the Config tab, is ScannerCast specific.  It’s the exact same procedure that you’d use to enable a multi-player computer game or any other network service.

I know that's probably not clear enough for most folks who didn't already know how to do this.  But due to the wide variety in people's network configurations, modems, routers, firewalls, etc, it's very hard to generalize.  Google around, and if it still sounds like a lot of gibberish to you, maybe you can get a computer-savvy friend to help.  Remember, they don't have to know anything about ScannerCast, they just need to know a bit about home computer networks, including routers and firewalls.

Other "Advanced" Stuff

You only need to read this section if... ah... you need to read it.

Multiple ScannerCast Instances Per System

I know somebody who's successfully running eight (yes, 8!) copies of ScannerCast on a Mac Mini running XP (1.83 GHz processor, 512 Mb RAM) with "not even a hint of performance problems."  So, it's definitely possible to run multiple copies of ScannerCast on a single system.

Starting with V0.11 (build 1017), it's much easier to run multiple instances of ScannerCast on one system.  That's because starting with that build, ScannerCast takes an optional command-line parameter that's interpreted as a configuration file name.

This means that if you start ScannerCast with the following command:

      ScannerCast foo.ini

ScannerCast will:

  1. Read parameters from the configuration file "foo.ini" when it starts.
  2. Save any changes that you make to the configuration in the file named "foo.ini" -- By the way, ScannerCast saves configuration information after it successfully starts broadcasting (after you click the "Start Broadcast" button).

This feature allows you to have a single copy of ScannerCast on your disk (located, for example, in the directory C:\ScannerCast, containing ScannerCast and all of it's DLLs) but to run that one copy multiple times, each time with a different configuration file.  This makes it easy for you to update and maintain ScannerCast (no having to update multiple copies on your system), and also maximizes code sharing (the DLLs are shared among all ScannerCast instances to reduce memory use).

A common issue that people have when first setting-up multiple feeds from ScannerCast on a single system is that on starting the second instance they'll receive an error message that says something like the following:

               "Catch fired: Could not start server. Check Port and IP"

If you see this message, the problem is almost certainly that you've specified the same "Server Port" (on the Config tab) for both instances of ScannerCast.  This value, which is used to enable direct connections to ScannerCast (not via RR) needs to be unique for each ScannerCast instance that you run.  The default value is 5700.  To fix this problem, simply set the value for "Server Port" to a unique value (5701, 5702, 5703, etc) for each instance of ScannerCast that you run.

Known Problems, Issues or Restrictions

This section lists any known problems or issues with ScannerCast.  For outstanding bugs and work items, see the ScannerCast To Do List.

Playback Using RealPlayer Results In Periodic Noise

If you play back a stream created by ScannerCast using any version of RealPlayer, the resulting audio will contain periodic pops, clicks, screeches, and noise.  This happens whether you directly listen to a ScannerCast stream, or you listen to a stream created by ScannerCast that's being relayed through a SHOUTcast/Icecast server.

This problem occurs because RealPlayer incorrectly handles the SHOUTcast metadata interval parameter, causing it to attempt to decode the metadata as MP3 audio data. This bug was first reported to the RealPlayer developers in 2005, and applies to any SHOUTcast or Icecast stream that doesn't use the default metadata interval of 16K. Real Networks (the for-profit company that owns RealPlayer) hasn't fixed the bug in all these years, and my attempts to report this problem to the RealPlayer developers, or at least hear their side of the story, received no reply.

While ScannerCast could be changed to use the default metadata interval, that would seriously degrade tag/audio synchronization.  I have no plans to change the way ScannerCast works to make it work with a third-rate, broken, media player.

More Troubleshooting Tips

"My Connection Keeps Dropping"

This is a problem I hear from folks a lot. The fact is, when your connection drops it almost always is something to do with the internet connection between ScannerCast and RR.  When your connection drops, it's rarely either ScannerCast's fault or the fault of the RR servers.  It's almost always the fault of your internet connection and/or your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Some time ago, I posted the following on RR.COM to explain to folks the issues involved:

I regularly struggle to explain this to folks who aren't network savvy: Forwarding a real-time, constant, stream of data from your home computer over the internet to a server is a very complex, tricky, thing. You need to expect issues. In fact, it's a wonder that it works at all.

Your feed software (such as ScannerCast, Edcast/Oddcast, or whatever) forwards at least 2 packets every second from your system to the RR server. Every packet must arrive, and it must arrive in a timely manner, or your connection will "drop."

If you're connecting your computer to your home network with a wireless connection you're just asking for problems. Wireless is fine for occasional use, but you're just plain lucky if you can maintain a 24x7 connection over wireless. If you're sending your feed over wireless, one of the best things you can do is get a hard-wired connection.

Leaving your home network, if you're on a cable modem: Your internet connection bandwidth is shared with all your neighbors. If just one of your neighbors fires-up a download from NetFlix, your connection speed will be affected. 

If you're on a DSL connection: You connection bandwidth is also shared, but it's shared at your Internet Service Provider's "hub" (the POP). It always makes me giggle when I hear small phone companies offer 20Mbps DSL to their customers... when the whole service provider might only have a total of 50Mbps or 100Mbps connection to the rest of the internet.

Problems aren't restricted to your home and your ISP, either. It gets worse as you go along the internet. There are no fewer than 12 "hops" between my house and the RR servers. That means there are 12 individual systems that need to handle every packet I forward to RR in a timely manner. If just one of those systems gets busy, bogged down, or one of THEIR connections experiences congestion, my connection can be dropped.

Look... your cable or phone company probably makes your internet connection sound terrific. And when surfing the web or downloading an occasional movie, it probably works great, too. But home internet connections aren't really designed to support a constant flow of traffic. They work, but they also have "issues." Business connections, where they need dedicated, continuous, traffic to flow to/from the internet, are very different than home connections.

That's why my dedicated 3Mbps service at work (2 T1 lines) costs about $2,000 per month -- and my 50Mbps (more than 15 times as fast) Comcast (cable modem) connection costs only $125 per month (and that's supposedly for "business" grade service). 

You see... there's a lot to it, really.

 

 

ScannerCast™ is a trademark of Peter Viscarola, K1PGV.  The ScannerCast software, documentation and configuration information are Copyright © 2009-2010 by Peter Viscarola, K1PGV.  All rights reserved.  Use of ScannerCast is subject to the license terms defined on this web site.