A Look at the Radio Shack Pro-96

I have been fortunate enough to be able to acquire a Radio Shack Pro-96 digital capable scanner (catalog #20-526) from a Radio Shack in El Monte, CA (01-3569).  Of course, I had to pay the full retail price of $499.99 plus 8.25% sales tax.  The following will be be a brief look and review at this fairly expensive police scanner, from November 2003.

Here are various views of the scanner itself, with antenna detached:


As can be seen, the above pictures are of the front, back, left side and right side of the scanner (date code 08A03).

First impressions:
Right out of the box, I started programming the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) digital conventional frequencies.  Programming was quite simple, I selected which bank and channel number I wanted first.  Then, I press "PGM" and entered the frequency, followed by "ENTER".  Immediately press "MAN", instead of the digital hashing noise, I heard voices.  The digital audio is as clear as digital can be, I found it to be quite similar to what I hear with my AT&T Wireless TDMA service.  When reception began to degrade, quite naturally, the scanner began to break up.  Programming Motorola trunked systems turned out to be quite easier than on my previous trunk tracking scanner, my Uniden BC245XLT.  Though this feature is not new to this scanner, it began with the Radio Shack Pro-92, which I owned for a few weeks before I realized the "A" version was defective.  All one has to do is program in the data channels for a particular system.  So instead of programming in all 23 voice channels, all that would be programmed would be the 2 or 3 data channels that were used on the system.  Programming UHF trunked systems proved to be a bit more of a challenge at first since my manual (date code 07A03) never mentioned that the 3600 trunking mode needed to be on "Table" but I eventually found that out through other sources.  I was trying to program the Glendale ICIS UHF trunking system.  There are also a few digital talk groups on that system and they sounded similar to the digital transmissions from Alhambra, El Monte, LAPD, Monterey Park and Santa Monica.  I am still getting the hang of how the trunking system on this radio works.

Features unique to this scanner:
* The capability of decoding non-encrypted digital APCO-25 compliant transmissions, though the Uniden BC250D/BC785D (separate card needed) or BC296D/BC796D (card included) can do the same but with additional minor audio adjustments.
* The use of V-Scanners, or a type of virtual memory that allows the user to store configurations to be put into the working memory at different times.  The scanner itself has a working memory of 500 channels (the standard memory channels on any scanner).  The data from these working channels can be stored in a V-Scanner folder and another configuration could be loaded instead.  This is quite useful to me since I use my scanner between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles area.  With 11 V-Scanner folders, this in essence has memory for 5,500 frequencies.
* Text tags for each channel, bank and talk group.  This is a very useful feature and again, not a feature that is new to this scanner.
* Simplified programming of Motorola trunked radio systems, only the data channels need to be stored.  This feature was new to the Pro-92A/B.
* The firmware for the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) can be upgraded through software.  Of course, the data cable is extra (cat. #20-289, $19.99 or from GRE $16.99, they quoted me a shipping price exceeding $6).
* The ability to decode CTCSS and DCS codes.  Not new to this scanner, but a helpful feature not available on the previous scanners I've owned.
* The ability to adjust the contrast of the display, similar to what is available on graphing calculators.
* SAME weather monitoring capabilities.  It actually gave a warning tone about severe weather during the thunderstorms that passed by and caused a few brownouts in my area.  In other areas, the storm created lots of hail.

Things I like about this scanner:
* Audio on this scanner is quite loud when compared to the previous units I have owned, but the audio will clip and make it not understandable at high volumes.
* The use of standard AA size batteries, no battery packs to worry about.
* The preprogrammed frequency scanning ranges are useful, they include marine, CB, FRS/GMRS/MURS, general fire/police, aircraft, HAM and one that is user specified.
* The ability to use software to program and manipulate the data for the scanner using Don Starr's Win 96 software on the computer (free trial, $30 to register).
* Basically, everything that I had listed on the above section.

Things I didn't care for on this scanner (updated):
* The fixed scanning step sizes bother me sometimes.  In the VHF aeronautical band, it searches in 6.25 kHz when everything is 25 kHz.  In various parts of VHF, it also searches in 6.25 kHz steps, which should be 5 kHz.
* The SAME weather tones were loud and could not be adjusted with the volume.  I found that to be too disruptive at times.
* The programming cable should have been included for the premium price that is being charged for this scanner.

General specifications: (more specs can be found on page 114-117 of the instruction manual, available on the RS website)
* 500 channel working memory with 11 V-Scanner storage folders
* Frequency coverage of 25-54, 108-136.9875, 137-174, 216.0025-221.9975, 222-225, 406-512, 806-823.9875, 849-868.9875, 894-960 and 1240-1300 MHz (can be extended using Win96 software)
* Scan steps of 5 kHz or 6.25 kHz (fixed, not user selectable in the various bands)

One note: I noticed that I did not get a standard earphone that usually accompanies RS and Uniden scanners.

February 2004 update:
Radio Shack has released an upgrade to the DSP APP of the scanner.  The new version is now 1.2 and can be downloaded from the RS site here (look for catalog number 200-0526).  You will need the programming cable to transfer this to the scanner.  The DSP APP upgrade will enable the monitoring of CQPSK on Motorola 9600 baud systems.  It also fixes the noticeably louder volume of digital transmissions as compared with analog transmissions.

September 2004 update:
On July 21, one of the rubber grips on the right side had fallen off.  At that time, I was also reading about a CPU upgrade that was being done in Fort Worth.  I thought I would do both at the same time since both were covered under warranty, so I thought I was going to "kill two birds with one stone", so to say.  To get this process started, I needed to drop off my scanner at my local RS store in Chino Hills, CA (01-3082) and have it sent to Fort Worth (40-0804).  The salesperson that assisted me didn't know how to handle such a request and sent my scanner to the Bay Area instead.  After a two week delay, it finally reached Fort Worth.  By that time, they had run out of the new CPU chips and were waiting for more to arrive from Asia.  Earlier this month, I was told my scanner was repaired and upgraded and was ready to be sent back to my local store.  Well, when I went to my local store on September 2 to pick it up, they gave me someone else's scanner instead.  I noticed the condition of the scanner was completely different than the one I sent in.  This one had numerous scratches on the sides and the battery cover had a fairly deep cut in it.  This was also where I noticed the serial number was different from the one I sent in.  At first, when the store manager called Fort Worth about this, they gave me the excuse that the back panel had been replaced and that this was in fact my scanner.  Dissatisfied with that response, I talked to the technician myself.  I was then told to send that one in and they would try to straighten things out.  About a week later, I called Fort Worth for an update about my situation.  They apparently sent my scanner to Groton, CT (01-1239), which isn't remotely close to me at all.  My supposed scanner that I sent in has arrived in Fort Worth back from the trip to Connecticut and will be sent back to my local store as soon as things are straightened out.  I can hopefully get my scanner back later this week.
It is obvious that I am neither impressed nor satisfied with how my warranty service was handled.  I thought it was rather irresponsible for RS to send me someone else's scanner and claim it to be mine.  I have yet to take this up with corporate (the toll-free number the salespeople are learned to tout whenever a customer is dissatisfied) or with my district manager.  Initially, nobody at the repair center in Fort Worth could tell me what steps would be done to correct the situation or what would be done if my scanner had been given to someone else.  Needless to say, such an experience will definitely make me think twice about buying any other high-end scanner products from RS, since their warranty service has no regard for people's property.

September 2004 update II:
On September 16, my scanner had finally arrived back at my store.  It looked like they had shipped the original scanner back to me and the serial numbers matched.  Nearly 24 hours later on the 17th, the scanner stopped working.  When I tried to turn it on, absolutely nothing would display on the screen.  Of course, I used several sets of batteries, NiMH and Alkaline to no avail.  I also tried to reset my scanner using the pinhole on the side and by the steps outlined in the manual and it still would not respond.  Once again, I dropped it off at my local store that evening and the only two workers there didn't know how to process warranty service requests.  I will call again tomorrow when the manager will be in and hope that my scanner will be sent out Monday.  At this point, I am thoroughly sick and tired of dealing with this scanner.  I will talk to my local store, district manager, customer support on their toll-free line and perhaps someone in Fort Worth to see what can be done about my situation.

September 2004 update III:
On September 18, after unsuccessful attempts at contacting the store manager at my local store, I called the district manager.  After explaining the entire situation to him, he said I would get a brand new replacement from a store in the area on Monday.  He would have the store manager pick one up from another store in the district and give that to me instead of going through the repair process again.  On Monday, September 20, my scanner wasn't ready but I was assured it would be ready the next day.  As was promised, a new scanner with the newest CPU revision (1.3) was given to me that was taken from a store in West Covina the next day.  The date code on the box was 06A04.

For reference, here are the previous scanners that I currently use:
Radio Shack Pro-60, a 200 channel scanner that covered the UHF military air band (quite useful when the Blue Angels were in town) ($199.99 at the time, 3/1997)
Uniden BC245XLT, a 300 channel scanner that followed Motorola type I/IIi and Ericcson EDACS analog trunked systems ($219.99 at the time, 8/1999)
Yaesu VR-120D, a compact scanner I bought from Europe. Very handy for areas still using conventional frequencies (approximately US $180 at the time, 10/2002)

November 23, 2003 by Bernard L., webmaster of www.radiobern.com
Updated September 28, 2004

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