When I started researching scanners I had a primary task in mind as well as a list of a few nice-to-have features. In the interest of full disclosure I am certainly not a radio expert. My radio experience is limited to my time in the military, where I ran platoon and company level tactical operations centers utilizing multiple secure radio networks and phones, shortwave radio listening and a little CB and FRS radio use. My desire for a scanner arose out of a need for aviation monitoring, but I had some interest in monitoring HF/VHF/UHF Amateur bands as well.
I live in the approach path to John Wayne Airport (KSNA) in Orange County, CA, but I began monitoring aviation frequencies as a result of my love of photographing aircraft and I wanted an additional tool to provide enough advanced notice to help identify which flight to photograph next and what lens I may need to switch to. It was also an additional immersion layer to my hobby. The proximity of the flight path to my home makes scanning most days a practical reality. Of course, I can use liveATC.net, but I didn’t like the delay or the inability of isolate some frequencies in my area. I found liveATC.net has better coverage near the airport, but less reliable for aircraft near me.
Several years ago I purchased a Tecsun PL-660 Shortwave receiver to rekindle my interest in shortwave radio listening and that radio included access to HF amateur bands as well as aviation frequencies. As I began to explore each of the radio’s various capabilities, I became more and more enamored with HF HAM and aviation bands. The radio is incredibly sensitive for a portable, but lacks the ability to scan. You’re committed to monitoring one frequency at a time and since the unit lacks a squelch setting, listening requires a fair tolerance to the noise floor of whatever frequency you’ve chosen. Commercial FM transmissions here in Southern California probably don’t help the noise in the aviation band, so it doesn’t take long before you’re screaming for an alternative. Don’t get me wrong. For all the things the PL-660 does, it’s still a phenomenal value and if I lost it, I’d buy another immediately.
In my search for a scanner certain things weren’t important. Much of law enforcement and fire frequencies in Orange County are either encrypted or use digital trunked networks, neither of which I cared about, so an analog system was fine with me. The inclusion of weather bands was a nice feature, but as I have a dedicated weather radio with S.A.M.E. capability, this wasn’t a terribly important factor either. S.A.M.E. alerts are less critical here in sunny southern California. However, having military aviation frequencies (225 to 400 MHz) was a must. So in short, Weather, 10m, 2m, 70cm amateur bands, Civil Air and Military Air were the priorities. Any added frequency coverage such as CB, FRS/GMRS would be a bonus.
The Uniden Bearcat BC125AT fit the bill almost perfectly. The only real shortcoming was a military aviation band that cut off at 380MHz. However, this was an acceptable compromise for its other positive attributes. The BC125AT met most of my criteria and omitted very few, but my ultimate decision was going to be based on performance. Many user reviews across the internet laude the Bearcat for its quick scanning, sensitivity and easy to program software, but criticize its rather anemic rubber-duck antenna. After several weeks of use, I’d have to concur with these characterizations. Sensitivity at my 8.5 mile distance to SNA’s tower was fair to poor. However, aircraft approaching visual range to the runway (approx. 2 miles to my home) were loud and clear.
Following the advice of many, I ordered the scanner with a Diamond RH77CA antenna, which greatly improves range and is nearly as sensitive as my PL-660 on its telescoping antenna. At first, I was a bit disappointed that it’s wasn’t more sensitive than the Tecsun but in many side by side comparisons over the course of a week or more, I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference is negligible and the quick scanning and squelch control truly made this pleasure to use and monitor traffic for hours on end. The speaker on the bearcat isn’t as full as my PL-660, but given its size, it’s certainly adequate.
Although I strongly recommend the Diamond antenna, I’ve encountered circumstances where its sensitivity causes the unit to be overwhelmed by RF very near their source. In one case in particular I park to photograph arriving aircraft at the base of John Wayne Airport’s runway 20R. This location is just over 3000 ft. from the tower and its various antennas. I find that with the Diamond antenna installed the signal was so strong the scanner can’t hardly squelch, which makes scanning impossible unless you lock out that channel, which only results in the next channel stopping the scan. All of this occurred regardless of the squelch setting. Attenuation achieved with the standard rubber duck seems to be just the right amount and seamless scanning can be done with minimal interruption. I would imagine this would be true at airshows as well, so don’t get rid of that rubber ducky. It will be perfect in some circumstances. As a note, I find that when I am at Los Angeles International Airport my spotting location is just over a mile from the tower (although I’m certain where the antennas are). In that case, the Diamond antenna works fine. So I would conclude that perhaps 4500 ft or less one should consider the rubber duck and beyond that the Diamond would excel.
Programming the receiver with the free software, which is available as a download from Uniden, is intuitive and easy to use. In fact, this is the far easier way to program. Entering frequencies manually is a tedious process, especially if you use long alpha-tags. Each character must be input one at a time.
I have not measured battery performance, but I find I can use the radio extensively over a few days before needing to change them out. The included NiMH 2300 mAh AA batteries seem very well suited to the radio. I also use Panasonic Eneloop 1900 mAh NiMH AA, which are also excellent performers. This radio has some quirks with regard battery charging. The in-radio charge time must be selected based on the battery capacity. This is a rather imprecise method of charging and I choose not to charge them in radio. Instead, I use my Powerex Eight Cell Smart Charger, which individually peaks each cell and offers fast, soft and conditioning charge modes to maximize battery life. I use Panasonic Eneloop is most of my devices, including my high-drain photographic flashes. I’ve found them to be among the best low discharge NiMH AA batteries available.
In conclusion, I find the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Analog scanner a good value with some caveats. The addition of the Diamond RH77CA antenna adds about $25 to the cost of the unit, which I deem as a requirement. The internal battery charger may be adequate, but battery charging for peak performance and maximum life should be done in a dedicated smart charger. I already owned one, so this wasn’t a big deal to me. That said, I’m finding this scanner at my side more and more. It’s performance is very good, as is the sound quality. I would recommend it to anyone involved in aircraft monitoring/photography, who didn’t absolutely need the military air band above 380 MHz. It’s a tremendous tool for the money and has made my time monitoring aviation enjoyable and successful.