Chris Dzombak

Radio in Ann Arbor: Scanning KARB

This is a brief and lightly-edited collection of notes I wrote for a friend who asked about listening in on Ann Arbor Airport radio activity from our neighborhood.


I do not have a particularly notable scanner setup. I am using a Uniden BC125AT, which is available cheaper elsewhere. And I bought this air-band antenna which works with the scanner.

The air-band antenna does seem to improve pickup of air-band frequencies vs. the stock scanner antenna, which is no surprise. Of course, I assume it’s worse at most other frequencies.


Even with that equipment, there are a number of reasons you might not hear anything on your scanner:

Aircraft and tower radios/antennas are set up for air-ground and air-air communication. Comms from the ARB tower will typically not reach our neighborhood at ground level, though near the airport you can hear them; if you’re in an airplane, of course, you can talk with the tower from tens of miles away.

However, I was — barely — able to listen in on the weather feed from ARB, on 134.55, from my house. That’s a continuous broadcast from the airport which makes a nice test case.

Of course, that means you should be able to listen to transmissions ​from​ aircraft. However, keep in mind you’re still surrounded by houses and stuff on the ground, which is a problem for listening in on lower airplanes (like those which are flying over town or in the airport’s traffic pattern).

You have to be able to ​find​ the aircraft. The ARB tower frequency is 120.3, and ground is 121.6. Listening in on the ground frequency from our neighborhood is a waste of time, so you’ll want to listen to 120.3. You ​may​ hear some tower transmissions, and you’ll hear some planes talking to the tower, particularly on nice-weather days.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the control tower is manned 8am-8pm local time, so you’ll hear more traffic then. Outside of those hours you might hear planes on 120.3 advising other traffic of their positions, but that frequency will be much busier while the tower is in operation.

Finally, another “finding airplanes” consideration: The air band is big, so scanning it all takes a while, and aircraft/tower communications are concise (ie. short). So you’re likely to hear nothing if you just sit scanning the entire band.