The Leader in Scanner and Shortwave Communications

Return to

Monitoring Times Home Page

Monitoring and the Law

Jorge Rodriguez


Dumb Radio Laws



            Two years ago. when Andy Powell and Jeff Koon, barely out of high school, published You May Not Tie an Alligator to a Fire Hydrant: 101 Real Dumb Laws, it may have never occurred to them that they could have filled an entire volume with real dumb radio laws. So, when we recently received in the mail the well-intentioned but complicated Chattanooga city code concerning interception of police radio signals, their book instantly came to mind.

            Powell and Koon operate a web site ( where they collect and publish dumb laws from around the country and the world. We’ve also provided several links below for you to explore your own city or county’s local ordinances and decide for yourself if it has a dumb radio law, too.



Chattanooga's Dumb Radio Law



            Under Article IV of the Chattanooga City Code, entitled Interception of Police Radio Signals, section 16-71, what struck us first was the broad definition of a police radio or scanner which the ordinance covers. Prohibited is any "high frequency police radio receiving set" which the city considered to be any radio receiving set capable of receiving any message sent out by any police radio station.

            Unlike other state and local laws we’ve seen in this area, there is no requirement that the message be sent over assigned frequencies or even a Federal Communications Commission licensed station. Therefore, if the Chattanooga Police decided to use Citizen’s Band radios, for example, to send messages from their police stations, a strict reading of this ordinance would mean every CB radio operated without a permit could be in violation of this law.

            So how can you have a police scanner in Chattanooga? By Permit Only. The ordinance provides an application process to obtain a permit for the operation of a high frequency receiver. Otherwise, it is unlawful for any person to equip or operate inside the city a motor vehicle with a high frequency police radio receiving set. No definition of "equip" is provided in the code, so expect that even having a radio in the car, such as a handheld scanner, will be considered illegal. Exceptions are made in the law if the vehicle is being used by the federal, state, city or county government or a peace officer.

            Applying for a permit to install and operate a mobile scanner is a rather involved process. According to the code, an applicant must: (1) file an application with the police chief, in writing, stating the name of the applicant, the license number (the ordinance does not specify if this is the driver’s license number or the vehicle's license plate or tag number), motor number or vehicle identification number, model and make of the motor vehicle in which you want to install such set, and you have to furnish a photograph of the applicant and a set of fingerprints. The applicant also has to give a reason why they desire to install the set.

            Once that is done, the Chief of Police is supposed to investigate and determine if the applicant has shown a need for the radio set, that the radio set will be used for a lawful purpose and that the public interest will be served by the granting of the permit. If he does, he then sends a recommendation to the mayor.

            Once the mayor approves the permit, the city treasurer shall issue to the applicant a permit for installation and use of the radio set after upon payment of a license fee of twenty- five dollars ($25.00) per year.

            And, what about next year? A new application must be filed and a new permit secured for each year a high frequency police radio receiving set is used.

            You can forget about loaning your car to others if your radio is permanently installed. Any radio permit issued under the provisions of section 16-55 of the Chattanooga City Code cannot be transferred to any other person. Any high frequency police radio receiving set authorized to be installed and used by any such permit cannot be placed in any other motor vehicle other than the one described in the application for the permit without first obtaining a permit from the police chief for the removal of the set to the other motor vehicle. Fortunately, no additional fee is required for a removal permit.

            If you change your license plate, “the owner of such vehicle shall notify the police chief of such change within five (5) days after the change is made.” And doing something illegal with your high frequency police radio receiving set means your permit may be revoked. You get five (5) days notice to appear before the mayor to show cause why such permit should not be revoked.

            In addition to this Chattanooga City Code, readers are reminded that several other cities in Tennessee also have laws on their books concerning police scanners. 

            If you would like a copy of the actual Chattanooga City Code you can find it at



Finding Your Own City Code


            How can you check to see if your local city or town has similar laws prohibiting scanners or requiring a permit? Here are five web sites that can get you started.


Municipal Code Corporation has more than 50 years experience publishing Codes of Ordinances for local governments. Here you’ll find more than 1,100 local governments.


General Code Publishers offers numerous municipal codes in folio infobases, especially for cities and counties in the northeastern United States; such as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania .


The web library below includes links to Municipal Codes published through  LexisNexis Municipal Codes Publishing and Ordlink Services.


American Legal Publishing Corporation began as the codification division of the Anderson Publishing Company of Cincinnati in 1934 and became a separate corporation in 1979. Their online links will take you to the Code sections of over 1,000 municipalities and counties nationwide, ranging from villages with fewer than 500 people to large cities with populations well over 1,000,000


            If you still haven’t found your city or town listed, try going to their web site directly.


The State and Local Government on the Net Directory provides convenient one-stop access to the websites of thousands of state agencies and city and county governments. Here you’ll only find web pages that are controlled and managed by state and local government agencies