A Review of the Radio Shack Pro-404 Handheld Scanner

So, I had been interested in radio electronics since toddlerhood, but the interest didn’t come to fruition until the age of fourteen.

Likewise, I had been interested in trains since infancy, but somehow the interest became dormant until the age of seventeen, when I was walking around Schriever, Louisiana, and saw a train up close for the first time. This was in the Spring of 2004. I began downloading pictures of trains and trying to listen to them on my scanner but had very limited success with the latter. Then in June of 2004, I had a mental breakdown and was to be medicated for the rest of my life. The medication I took exacerbated my anhedonia, which is the inability to have interests or feel any kind of pleasure. I suffered from this until January of 2006 when I was prescribed a much better medication known as Geodon. By that time my train interest sadly went dormant again. It was so dormant that I rode on a train in June of 2006 and didn’t think much of it, whereas most people who love trains as I have felt at certain times in my life would have felt a state of euphoria just below that of worshipping God in Spirit and Truth and being overcome by His presence just from seeing a train, much less getting to ride on one. But I didn’t think much of it. It would be this way until some time in 2010 when I was attending a church near a mainline railroad and spending a considerable amount of time near the same mainline as well. In September of 2011, I quit my job, mostly due to my hours being drastically cut, a demotion from a position where I performed better than anyone else on-site, and just the toxic environment I worked in. I was able to live well enough off of my disability income in addition to my then-wife-now-ex-wife’s disability income.

It was during this time that my interest in trains came back in full force and stronger than ever before.

I planned to purchase a cheap scanner to take with me whilst foaming and decided on a Radio Shack Pro-404 and that is what this piece will be a review thereof. I had watched several YouTube videos that my fellow foamers created either reviewing this scanner or using it trackside. It seemed to be the perfect scanner for foaming. In those days and still, very much today though sadly changing, one only needs an entry-level scanner to listen to railroad traffic. I know times are changing, though, with this wretched Nexedge being slowly adopted as the new communication standard for railroads and therefore needing a top-tier model scanner to decode such transmissions. That was a factor in my decision to start listening to marine communications which I began in October of 2015 and still do to the present. Watching boats had sadly now taken priority over watching trains although I still think trains are much cooler and likely always will.

In mid-December of 2011, a friend owed me some money which I used to purchase a Radio Shack Pro-404. From December 2011 until March 2014, this was my EDC scanner and I had it until it died on me in July of 2014.

The Radio Shack Pro-404 was the first scanner that I dedicated to my foaming hobby. But I also used it for listening to fire departments and business band users among other things.

The one frequency I wanted to listen to most was 160.290 MHz (AAR Channel 12) which is assigned to BNSF’s Lafayette Subdivision. I also listened to other railroad frequencies on it such as 160.515 MHz (AAR Channel 27) which is heavily used in Louisiana and system-wide by Union Pacific, 160.920 MHz (AAR Channel 54), and 161.190 MHz (AAR Channel 72) which are used by Canadian National DBA Illinois Central in Southeast Louisiana and 160.260 MHZ (AAR Channel 10) which is used by Kansas City Southern on their mainline from Shreveport to New Orleans.

Sadly the particular unit I bought was defective and I didn’t fully realize this until it was out of warranty. The only railroad channel it received with any consistency was 160.260 MHz even most of the time I was 40 miles away from the dispatch tower. In those days BNSF’s Lafayette Subdivision mainline was my favorite railroad line mostly because it is and was the closest mainline railroad to me and because it is an ex-Southern Pacific line. When I became a full-blown foamer in 2011 and learned about the Southern Pacific and how it was split between Union Pacific and BNSF after merging with Union Pacific, I was angry because I had developed a tremendously strong prejudice in favor of the old Espee. I was married at the time, but as my marriage started to deteriorate, I had vowed not to ever date a young lady who was born on or after September 11, 1996-the date of Southern Pacific’s death. I pretty much stayed true to this vow, although in late 2020 and early 2021, there was one very brief online relationship with a young lady born several months after that date. So even though I resented BNSF for taking that former Southern Pacific mainline, I still wanted to tune them in and this scanner just could barely pull anything in on the required frequency. I even tried high-performance antennas but to no such avail. Union Pacific’s frequency came in but I had to be closer to one of their mainlines than I usually was and voice transmission on that frequency was so sporadic due to the heavy use of Centralized Traffic Control. I don’t remember how well this scanner performed on the CN DBA IC channels I programmed for it. In July of 2013, I traveled to Texas for the first time. The trip was with my now ex-in-laws and I didn’t have to pay anything. I did a little bit of foaming in San Antonio, and this scanner performed slightly better, to the point that I was disappointed when I had to go back to Louisiana.

My then-wife and I would make frequent trips to the New Orleans area to go shopping and of course, I would use my Radio Shack Pro-404 to tune in railroad traffic. It performed better in the New Orleans area and maybe even better in Texas. Still, for the one frequency, I wanted to hear most it wouldn’t even stop on but my other scanners would.

By the Fall of 2013, I could tell that this scanner was not as great as I expected it to be or as great as the ones I saw on YouTube. I had assumed that all Radio Shack Pro-404 scanners were like this but was wrong to assume this. I was an immature Christian in the early 2010s though I had been born again for almost a decade. I also did not consider the possibility of spiritual attacks, especially those on the personal possessions of Christians. I still had some superstitions and assumed that this scanner was cursed, which maybe I was partially correct, but not cursed entirely in the way I was thinking back then.

As obsessed as I can be with trains I know that my interest in them never was an idol but, rather it brought me closer to my God. Case in point, I was in Sunday School back when I attended a church near the aforementioned BNSF mainline. My then-Pastor-Teacher was speaking to the class and mentioned how so many people are not in church on Sundays and instead are engaging in worldly pleasures. At that moment a train passed through town and I heard it loud and clear and I felt spiritually vindicated in that moment, knowing I was in church. My then wife smiled approvingly at me but on the flip side of that, she would curse me lower than a dog because I liked trains so much. I think she is a borderline narcissist because she hated everything that brought me happiness anything besides her that made me happy was a threat to her ego. But I truly believe God approves of my train hobby because it is good, clean, wholesome, and harmless fun and every time God allows me to enjoy this hobby my heart is filled with pure gratitude and delight towards Him. And I know for a fact that God is glorified by such. So this could explain why this particular scanner was under spiritual attack. Furthermore, the friend who owed me the money which I used to purchase this scanner would also take me out drinking even though I was a married man. As a Christian, I felt so out of place in a bar room, although the food was delicious and the beer tasted wonderful at the time. I no longer think beer or any other strong drink tastes wonderful and praise God in Jesus’ Name because he delivered me from such desires! But because of the less than noble means by which I acquired this scanner, I can see it not working properly when trying to use it for a godly hobby and I now chalk it up to spiritual attacks.

To further add weight to this testimony, sometime after Hurricane Ida, I saw another Radio Shack Pro-404 for sale on eBay, and feeling nostalgic for those times when I was a full-blown foamer, I purchased it. When I used this new one, it worked very well. I remember taking it on a camping trip that the men from my current church had done and it was pulling in Aircraft, Marine, and dare I say even Railroad Traffic beautifully. While the campsite was close to an airport and a major waterway it was further from any railroad lines than my usual listening posts. I still have this newer unit and while I don’t EDC it, I still use it from time to time, especially if I want to hear Air Traffic because that is where this is a winner!

I will say that GRE made much better scanners than their successor company Whistler, but that is something for a different blog piece.

Below is a list of the features and specifications of the Radio Shack Pro-404 along with my commentary:

200 Memory Channels in 10 Banks-More than enough for anyone who wishes to use this for any sort of logistics listening hobby. Along with many memory spaces to spare for other listening interests.

Automatic AM/FM Selection-I wish there was a choice between AM or FM for any frequency but this is symptomatic of an entry-level scanner.

PC Programming/Cloning Jack-The cable needed for PC programming is not included and the software only supports Windows-not cool!

Specific Area Message Encoding for Weather Alerts-This could be helpful if used by a Skywarn Volunteer or storm chaser or just someone who needs access to reliable weather information whilst outdoors and on the go.

1 Priority Channel-I never saw this as a useful feature on any scanner because it interrupts reception on all other channels.

Signal Stalker (GRE’s Spectrum Sweeper)-very helpful for detecting unlisted nearby frequencies. This feature alone has lent tremendous aid to the scanning hobby in general.

Orange Backlight for Display Reading in Low or No Light conditions-This is another great feature but I wish it could be toggled on or off instead of pressing the light button and activating the light for only a few seconds.

Earphone Jack for Discrete Listening-this is a standard feature on just about every scanner I’ve handled.

Frequency Coverage:
29 MHz-54 MHz FM-I wish this could go down to 25 MHz and receive AM as well.
108 MHz-136.9875 MHz AM-The reception on this band is great but now partially obsolete because this band has narrowed down to 8.33 kHz steps as opposed to 12.5 kHz steps.
137 MHz-174 MHz FM-I wish the lower portions of this band (137-150) could also do AM because of some military and amateur radio users. It is also partially obsolete for railroad traffic because of the 5 kHz steps as opposed to the new 7.5 kHz steps and Nexedge.
380 MHz-512 MHz FM-The 380-420 “Feds and Military” portion is mostly obsolete on this scanner because most of the traffic there is either digital or trunked or both. But that wasn’t as much the case from 2008 to 2013 when this scanner was on the market. Also, this band goes in 12.5 kHz steps which made it partially obsolete in 2018.

5 Pre-Programmed Service Searches-This feature originated on the Radio Shack Pro-82/Pro-2018/Pro-2054 and was carried down to their successor models, the Pro-404 being the direct descendant of the Pro-82.

These service searches are accessed by dedicated keys for each one:
A key with a ship icon indicating VHF Marine.
A key with a flame icon indicating Public Safety.
A key with an airplane icon indicating Civil Aviation.
A key with an antenna indicating Amateur Radio Operators.
A key with a cloud and lightning bolt indicating Weather Band.

I think there should also be a key with a $ icon to indicate Business Band, a key with an eagle icon to indicate Federal Government and Military, and, of course, a key with a RR crossing icon to indicate Railroad.

Fun fact, the original ancestor of Pro-404 is the Radio Shack Pro-32 from 1987, which was the first handheld [Radio Shack] scanner to have 200 Memory Channels and the same frequency coverage.

I get that many scanner listeners want to hear Public Safety and Government communications but typically a premium scanner is required to do so. However, with a Radio Shack Pro-404 and any of its current successors, one can still hear things like many local business and retail operations (very interesting stuff, especially on the itinerant business frequencies), fire and EMS dispatch calls ( very similar to what is heard on Emergency! and Chicago Fire, and is still overwhelmingly in the clear. In real life, the Chicago Fire Department’s dispatch calls are encrypted but Los Angeles County Fire Departments are still in the clear!) almost all civilian aircraft traffic, Amateur Radio operators in FM mode on 70 centimeters, 2 meters, 6 meters, and some of the 10 meters bands (this is quite interesting at Ham Fests.) Civil aviation is also available and that is where this scanner performs best! Then there are my two favorites: Railroad and Marine. I’ve been defaulting more to Marine in recent years because not only are the days of railroad traffic in the clear numbered but there’s also the advent of Positive Train Control which may do away with railroad voice communications on the 160-161 MHz band altogether. Whereas VHF Marine will still be in the clear for years maybe even decades to come.

If it were between 2008 and 2013 and there was no demonic assignment on my first Radio Shack Pro-404, I could give it a solid four out of five stars simply because there are no additional dedicated searches and the scanner itself isn’t as compact as its competitor Uniden’s counterparts from the same era. The second one I purchased works very well even in 2022 and while it isn’t my main scanner, I still have some use for it, at least as a backup.

I guess this, therefore, concludes my review of the Radio Shack Pro-404 Handheld Scanner.

I hope that you, the reader, have been informed, enlightened, and maybe even entertained.

May God richly bless you as He has blessed me!

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