Pennsville Police Implement a New Radio System

Those who regularly listen to police radio traffic on a scanner in Salem County will likely have noticed that Pennsville Police seem to have disappeared.  A simple programming modification will have you hearing them again in no time.

Overview

Pennsville Police have moved to their own radio system.  Scanner listeners will need to have their scanners reprogrammed in order to add this new system if they wish to continue monitoring them.  The good news is that at least for now any scanner already being used to monitor other Salem County agencies should be capable of receiving Pennsville’s new system.  More on that below.

Background

Up until recently, Pennsville Police were using Salem County’s radio system (FCC license WIM276).  “PD West” was their primary channel on a frequency of 501.1625 MHz.  They also used “Channel 2” as a secondary channel on 501.7375 MHz.

The New Radio System

On 5/23/2018 the FCC granted Pennsville’s license (callsign WRBQ753) for the new radio system.  I first became aware of the plan to move to this new system in early August.  At that point I started monitoring for traffic in order to map the licensed frequencies to what they were to be used for.  The license covers three repeater pairs (repeated channels) and one low-power channel which I believe to be simplex or talkaround for the police.

By early September of 2018 the police were using the system full-time.  I had also observed one channel being used by the Pennsville Memorial High School.  At the time all users of the system were utilizing digital audio in the form of DMR.

A Rocky Start

The police had ongoing problems with the new system.  I’ve heard several different explanations as to what the problem(s) may have been.  In order to avoid speculation I won’t go into those here.  What I will say is that based on the current configuration, at least for the police, the problems appear to be related to the digital audio (DMR) aspect of the system.

As a result of the problems they were encountering, the police flip-flopped back and forth between the county system and their new DMR system multiple times.  At the end of March 2019 a customer contacted me saying they hadn’t been hearing Pennsville Police.  I had previously programmed a brand new Uniden BCD536HP digital scanner* (a fantastic scanner) for this customer.  That programming included both the county system and Pennsville’s DMR system.  The fact that the customer was no longer hearing Pennsville’s units made it clear that something had changed.

The Current System Configuration (as of 5/8/2019)

I hadn’t been monitoring closely enough to notice the absence of traffic from Pennsville, but with that customer’s complaint I did a little more intense monitoring.  It took no time at all to realize what had changed.  Pennsville’s units were again operating on their new frequency, but they had switched back to analog audio.  My suspicion is that they’ve given up trying to get digital audio to work for their use case and have reprogrammed everything to operate on the same (new) frequency with analog FM audio.

This is good news for anyone who wants to monitor Pennsville Police.  While anyone with an existing scanner will need to have it reprogrammed, there is no need for an expensive digital capable scanner, which would have been required had Pennsville stuck with DMR.

What to do to Continue Monitoring Pennsville Police

First off, I want to caution that this change to analog FM audio may or may not be permanent.  They have bounced back and forth between this new system and the county system so many times that it is hard to tell if they’re actually settled in and sticking with analog audio.  That being said, I will note that they’ve been running analog audio full-time for more than a month.  I would also note that moving from DMR to analog audio likely required reprogramming of all radios in the field along with some reconfiguration of the repeater.  The effort required to make such a transition leads me to believe that analog audio is their long term solution.

With all of that out of the way, here’s what you need to do to monitor them again.  If you program your own scanner, simply add their new frequency to your existing programming.  That frequency is 460.2875 MHz.  If your scanner supports entering a PL tone (or CTCSS tone), the tone in use is 136.5 Hz.  Don’t worry if your scanner doesn’t support the tone, or if you can’t figure out how to program it in.  It isn’t required in order to receive their traffic.

I offer programming services in the event that you don’t do your own programming.  I’m located in Pennsville and have been programming scanners locally for over 15 years.  Programming for Salem County typically runs $15 per scanner.  Other areas and agencies can be programmed by request for an additional fee.  Just give me a call at (856) 212-1070 and we can set up an appointment. 

Some Final Notes on the New System

As I mentioned earlier, the license lists three repeater pairs and one low-power frequency.  At this point I can only confirm with certainty that the police are using analog FM audio on 460.2875 MHz as their primary channel.  I believe the low-power frequency (458.9125 MHz) is a simplex or talkaround channel for the police.  The second repeater pair was being used by the high school in September of 2018.  At that time they were also using digital audio.  That frequency is 453.6625 MHz.  The school was operating on talkgroup 1, timeslot 1, with a color code of 6.  I’m unsure if they switched to analog when the police did or if they stuck with digital.  Finally, I haven’t seen any traffic to date on the third repeater pair (460.5125 MHz), so I have no idea what it’s use is.  It’s possible that it is reserved for local OEM or as additional capacity for the police.  I’ll work to confirm the details for the low-power and school frequencies and will update this post when I do.  If I ever catch any traffic on that unknown repeater pair I’ll add information about that here as well.

 

*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  While I do earn commission from sales made through this link the price you pay remains the same.  I appreciate your support.

Changes Ahead for Cumberland County, NJ Scanner Listeners

Cumberland County, NJ appears to be joining the ever-growing list of public safety agencies planning to move to a 700 MHz radio system.

Background:

Cumberland County’s public safety agencies, including police, fire, and EMS, currently operate on a conventional VHF radio system with a couple of exceptions.  The first exception is Vineland City, which operates its own 800 MHz Motorola trunked radio system for police, fire, EMS, and other city agencies.  The second exception is Bridgeton Police.  Bridgeton Police have traditionally also operated on conventional VHF channels, at least until fairly recently.  Their radio system took a lightning strike back in July of 2016, and they began using a talkgroup on the 700 MHz statewide radio system (NJ Interoperability Communications System – NJICS) until their system was repaired.  My understanding is that they have continued to make some use of the 700 MHz system following the repair of their VHF system.

What’s in the Works?

On September 15, 2016, the FCC granted Cumberland County a license for a trunked 700 MHz radio system.  This license lays the foundation for Cumberland County to move operations to a new radio system.  The license application included a Slow Growth, or Extended Implementation request.  This allows the county additional time before their new system must be on-air.

The plan laid out in this Slow Growth request is as follows (Subject to change):

Phase:Description:Date:
1FCC License AcquisitionMay 2016 – March 2017
2Site AcquisitionDecember 2016 – September 2018
3Planning and BudgetingJune 2017 – August 2018
4Infrastructure Build-outAugust 2018 – February 2020
5County Subscriber MigrationFebruary 2020 – December 2020
6Municipal Subscriber MigrationJanuary 2021 – March 2021
7Final System AcceptanceMarch 2021

The Slow Growth request emphasizes that the county still needs to find funding for this project, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that has some impact on the dates laid out above.

The FCC license (Callsign WQYF895 ) currently lists six fixed transmitter sites and thirteen frequencies used at each of those sites.  At this early stage, it is entirely possible that the fixed transmitter sites may change as the project moves forward, though the frequencies are probably more or less set.

Summary:

So what does this all mean for anyone who is or may want to monitor public safety communications in Cumberland County, NJ?  Well, if you’re one of those who is using an inexpensive scanner, enjoy it while it lasts.  This new system will be a digital system, making use of Project 25 (P25) Phase II digital audio.  More than likely, it will also make use of TDMA modulation.  TDMA modulation is being utilized on many of the newer 700 MHz digital trunked radio systems.  TDMA allows for two signals (digital voice streams) to share the same frequency at the same time by breaking the signals into what are known as time slots.  This provides for more efficient use of the radio spectrum that is available.  Less expensive scanners aren’t capable of decoding the digital P25 audio, and don’t understand what to do with a TDMA signal.

While users of the existing system won’t begin to move for some time still, it may not be too soon to begin thinking about a digital scanner.  There are multiple brands and models available, and I’ll be posting a chart detailing which scanners will work for which areas in the near future.

Upcoming Gloucester County, NJ Radio System Changes

Repost (originally posted 11/28/15)

Gloucester County, NJ is currently in the process of upgrading their public safety radio system. These changes will affect your ability to monitor the police, fire, and EMS services in the county.

Background

The current system, operating in the UHF T band, between 450-512MHz has been plagued with interference issues primarily from TV broadcast stations in New England that use adjacent frequencies.  When band conditions are right, and signal propagation is enhanced, these TV signals affect the ability of units in Gloucester County to use the current radio system.  The effects can vary in severity, but it is my understanding that it has made communications impossible on more than one occasion.  It goes without saying, this is unacceptable for public safety communications.

So What is the Solution?

Gloucester County has been working towards a new radio system, using a different frequency range, which will not be susceptible to this interference.  The new system will utilize the 700MHz public safety spectrum.  This new system will be a digital trunked radio system, which will utilize X2-TDMA modulation.  Their current system is using conventional channels running analog FM signals.  The new system, when completed, will allow them to make better use of their licensed frequencies, as trunking systems have a controller that dynamically maps a talkgroup (ex. Fire Dispatch) to a frequency (507.7375MHz) only when a radio makes a request for air time.  Talkgroups can be thought of in the same way you currently think of channels.  Each channel currently occupies its own dedicated frequency.  Trunking allows many more talkgroups to make use of a smaller number of frequencies.  While I don’t know of any specific plans for Gloucester County, a system of this type may also allow encryption on some or all channels, either full time, or as needed, if the system owner chooses.

There are currently licenses in place for the new system to be made up of 9 tower sites.  These sites are located in: Gloucester Township, Williamstown, Newfield, Clayton, Bridgeport, Mount Royal, Mantua, Westville, and Swedesboro.  At least some of the sites have been turned on, and are transmitting the data control channel for the trunking controller, but the system is not currently in use, and the old system is still carrying all traffic.  The plan was to be moved to the new system by the end of 2015, but I’m not sure where they stand on that deadline at this point.

What Will This Mean for Scanner Listeners?

At the very least, you will need to program the new system in your scanner when it goes on air.  There will most likely be a period of learning and mapping out new talkgroups, and many radio and scanner listeners online enjoy the thrill of figuring out a new system, myself included.  So, as things come together, I’ll be posting updates here about the new system, who is on what talkgroups, what frequencies the system uses, etc.

Unless you have recently spent quite a bit of money on a scanner, you will probably also need to buy a new digital scanner, capable of decoding the X2-TDMA that this new radio system will use.  Examples of these would be the Uniden BCD436HP handheld, Uniden BCD536HP desktop/mobile, as well as models available from Whistler and some GRE models.  These scanners typically run $400-500.  I’ll be making a more detailed post about your options for a new scanner in the near future.

As always, when things start changing, you can bring your scanner to Dave’s Electronics (Radio Shack) in Pennsville, NJ to have it custom programmed to your preferences by yours truly.  They also carry a nice selection of scanners should you be looking for a new one.  So for now, keep an eye on this page for more information as I get it.

-Ryan