The ICOM R-6 & R-20 Scanners

Posted: 02/10/2014 in Communications

This is in reply to a recent comment by a fellow Paratrooper bud of mine.

Rakkasan, Good job on the ICOM R-6 scanner purchase. Here’s the deal. The scanner will have to be programmed using the supplied book. And what you want to listen to is up to you. We use our R-20 to listen to “Bubba” in our A.O. That means the gmrs/frs/cb/marine/murs radios that “Bubba” can easily get his hands on and use around our retreat. So I would concentrate on programming those frequencies first. They can be found on the internet. The scanner is tiny enough that you can pack it in your gear and monitor while at home, on the move or while laid up in the patrol base (hint, hint). Sort of like having your own SOT-A. Believe me, those scanners will bust right through the so called “privacy settings” on those radios. But they can’t pick up the Motorola DTR.

You can also program it to listen to some local public service (police, rescue, fire, etc). First you have to get their frequencies and the easiest way is to subscribe to Radio Reference online. If your local public service are using the new digital or trunked systems, the R-6 will not receive them. My group uses the Uniden HomePatrol for that because it’s a lot easier to program for that specific use, it constantly updates and will monitor trunked and other new systems. With the HomePatrol you plug in the Zip Code and BAM!, your listening.

If you find hand programming your ICOM scanner a pain in your fourth point-of-contact, then do like I do and buy the BUTEL ARC 6 software for the R-6 or R-20. You will also need a cable to connect your computer to the radio. Either the ICOM OPC-478 cable for a RS-232 port on your computer or the ICOM OPC-478UC cable for the USB port on your computer. Most computers have the USB port. For my money, the software is the way to go.

The whip supplied with the scanner is OK on some bands and not so good on others. So, a lot of radio folks like to attach home made or purchased antennas in order to extend the range of reception or intercept. The cable you were asking about is to connect the radio to a wire antenna to do just that. One end of the cable will attach to the plug when the short whip (or as we called them the “donkey dick”) on the radio is unscrewed. The plug on the radio under the whip is an “SMA” type. One side of the cable screws onto it. The other side of the cable is the PL-259 type connector. You can screw it to any antenna that has a SO-259 connector. (PL stands for plug, SO stands for socket). SMA is listed as male or female. SO/PL-259 connectors are usually attached to larger diameter coaxial cables mostly used for short wave or Ham radios.

If you want to use a lighter, thinner type of cable, then instead of the SMA / PL-259 cable, pick up the SMA / BNC adapter for a few bucks at You will see them listed on the ICOM R-6 page. Go to Radio Shack, purchase a few feet of RG-58 coax with BNC ends attached, cut off one end and solder a 10′ piece of thin black plastic coated 18 to 22 gauge wire to the center conductor (make sure you don’t let the outer braid touch the center wire, strip the braid back an inch or so then tape the joint up or put heat shrink over it). Attach the other end (with the uncut connector) to the radio and scan away. If the radio reception is overloaded, start cutting the wire (not the coax) shorter until the reception is reasonable. If you cut it too short, start over. Here’s what I would do; I would run the short whip when on the move, scanner attached to my plate carrier or vest in a MOLLE pouch with the ear bud in one ear, then when we stop for a long break or in the patrol base, pull the whip, attach the wire antenna and throw the wire up in a tree or bush or carry a tack with the antenna and pin the free running end of the antenna to a tree trunk as high as I can reach. That makes it easy to pull down and stow if you have to bug out. Somebody in the patrol should be monitoring at all times. We want to know what “Bubba” is doing around us.

Now that your totally confused, here’s yet another option; for about $20.00 you can purchase a ready-made dual band flexible antenna. It is the OPEK HR-603VU-SMA VHF UHF DUAL BAND FLEXIBLE HANDHELD PORTABLE HAM ANTENNA w/SMA. Screw it to the scanner and go to town. The whip is flexible enough to bend over and tuck under a MOLLE loop on your ruck when on the move. When you stop moving, extend the whip up for better reception. The down side is if you are in an area with a lot of traffic it might be too sensitive.

Better yet, enroll in one of Sparks31’s communications courses while you still can and learn first hand from a master.



  1. D Close says:

    So for those who are programming your banks by hand, you can research govt and commercial freqs here:

    When you find your city you can discover a host of valuable info such as transmitter location, purpose and various contacts. If you find a freq with data or video you might discover that various gov’t/LE video feed and controls (e.g. EOD robots) use it. I was surprised to learn that many municipal water and sewer systems are controlled via radio! I found it to be tricky to program the R6 banks properly, as some freqs you will want to ignore during scanning. I use the “skip” function for that. With practice it gets easier. Don’t give up.

    Here is an article on trunked systems:


    And this gem:

  2. MSG Morgan. Great info as always, thanks. I’ve been reading Sparks31’s site all night now. I’ve gotten the “radio bug” all of the sudden and am now interested in the Uniden Home Patrol unit. Wish I could attend a class, but I’m commitment heavy up this way-someone has to be the adult around here. I’lll be following your advice, and thank-you for your time. “Let Valor Not Fail”.

    • I just contacted my “kinda” local Amateur Radio Society, I’m definately getting educated on this skill-set. It’s meetiing place is an hour away from my AO-just like everything else where I am. On another note, I spoke with my best friend down in the Detroit area, who is a tax accountant, and he says things are not looking good at all at his office. Another one who is now a “believer”. He says it’s “coming fast”.

      • danmorgan76 says:

        Pana, A lot of the info regarding connectors, antennas and cables are taught in the Technician Level Amateur Radio Course. The ARRL exam book for that level is cheap and easy to read. The exam to get licensed is $10.00. They also publish a new antenna book every year and have a ton of books on their website. It’s good to have buddies that are coming on board. Folks have been telling me for years that it’s about to happen. Then I always ask them “What are you going to do about it?” My standard reply is “Keep getting ready.” (good time to look at the motto at the top of the blog).



      • OK MSG. I have recieved my R6, and have ordered the 603 VU flexable antenna, ICOM OPC-478UC cable-(damn pricey), and the BUTEL ARC 6 software for the R-6. The HAM club has contacted me and gave me a schedule of meetings, and the local here is searching for a starter HAM set for me. I’m moving right along. HOO AH!

  3. danmorgan76 says:

    The journey begins Rakkasan.

  4. And a long hard journey it is proving to be MSG. The so-called “experts” up in this hell hole aren’t very much help. All old timers and not up to snuff on the new tech stuff. I’ve tried so damn hard here for these folks, but they just don’t see the situation as I do, or the urgency of it all. I actually shipped my R6 off to Idaho to have a fellow veteran program it for me(in case I happen to be here when things go Hot) being I don’t know shit about computers. At this point, my family has decided to leave the States-(we’re part of the 1% -ouch). I wish things were different. Fighting the 10 million communists that live here doesn’t make for good odds of surviving. There are no words to describe the feeling. Hopefully, I can somehow still do some good for the movement.

  5. Carl says:


    As a newbie to all the coms available and have read “Grid Down” I have but one question.
    Trying to keep abreast of local ( Upstate NY ) public intel. Would you choose the ICOM R 20
    or The Uniden Home Patrol, or both?


    A Future Intelligence Gatherer

    • danmorgan76 says:

      Carl, We use both. The R20 (or R6) is a compact, lightwieght, communications reciever that we use as a “close call” receiver when conducting security patrols around our retreat. One of the patrol members carries it in his ruck where he constantly monitors it with the aid of an earbud. The Home Patrol is used back at the retreat TOC to monitor local public service information.

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