David Schoenberger

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Tips on Scanning Malls

Part I: Finding frequencies used by mall security and operations

Most malls will have at least one or two frequencies in use for operations. One frequency will be for security, and the other for housekeeping. Some malls, particularly smaller ones, consolidate security and housekeeping on one frequency. If you're at a larger mall, also look for frequencies for engineering, management, customer services/concierge, special events, and valet parking.

The vast majority of malls use VHF or UHF frequencies. Observe the antennas of the portable radios of mall employees. Here are some antenna sizes and the frequencies that the radio uses:

six inches, "stubby" VHF
four inches, "stubby" UHF
six inches, thin UHF
six inches, thin, small ball at tip 800/900 MHz
three inches, thin, small ball at tip 800/900 MHz

The FCC database can be an excellent source of information for mall frequencies. Unlike the stores in the mall, which may not license, or may not have to license, malls generally do license their frequencies. If you can't find anything by looking up the actual name of the mall, try looking up the owner of the mall. Some common mall owners are Simon, General Growth Properties, Forest City, Taubman, Mills, and Macerich. The mall may also be licensed under some obscure acronym or other name, so get the latitude and longitude of the mall, and then do a radius search on the coordinates. If anything's licensed, you'll probably see it right away.

Particularly with older malls (but sometimes newer ones as well), a search of the local control frequencies is a good place to start. These twelve frequencies are intended for users with compact, campus-like settings, as opposed to users who need citywide coverage. Besides malls, common users of local control frequencies are amusement parks, colleges, hotels, and hospitals. The twelve frequencies are 464.3250, 464.3750, 464.4250, 464.4750, 464.5250, 464.5750, 464.6750, 464.7750, 464.8250, 464.8750, 464.9250, and 464.9750.

Part II: Finding frequencies used by the mall's stores

First, which stores typically use radios? Here's a list of stores where you might find radios in use:

Store Common Frequencies Nationwide License
Abercrombie 467.8500 [ d412] WQIG766
Abercrombie & Fitch 467.8500 [ d546] WQIG766
Ace Hardware 467.9000 [  85.4] WQJU801
Aeropostale 464.5625 [203.5] WQIP519
Aldi 467.8500 [  94.8] WQOL519
AllSaints WRCJ432
Altar'd State WQYH901
American Eagle 467.8500 [  67.0], other UHF Itinerant/Dot/Star WPPP279
Ann Taylor 464.5625 [  94.8] WQKL423
Anthropologie 467.8750 [192.8], 467.9250 [218.1] WQMJ701
Apple UHF
Auntie Anne's UHF (often FRS/GMRS)
Banana Republic 151.8350 [  74.4], 158.4000 [  74.4], 467.8500 [ d032] WQVZ665
Barnes & Noble WQZW552
Bass Pro Shops UHF
Bath & Body Works 461.0375 [ d734], 461.0625 [ d632], 467.9000 [ d632]
Bed Bath & Beyond UHF WQMK704
Best Buy 467.9000 [ d743], 467.9250 [ d506] WQFU432
Big Lots WQXM487
Burlington Coat Factory 467.8500 [ d351], 467.9000 [ d074] WQLA944
Cabela's WQNB242
Camping World/Gander Outdoors/Overton's WRAQ389
Carter's WQWA330
Catherines WQWW366
Chico's 468.2625 [192.8] WQON602
Children's Place 467.8500 [ d712] WQHJ787
Chuck E. Cheese's WQWQ487
Coach 462.9375 [ d703], 464.9875 [ d464] WQVY620
Crate & Barrel UHF
DSW UHF Itinerant/Dot/Star
Dave & Buster's 467.8250 [ d131], 467.9000 [ d043] WQXE830
Dick's Sporting Goods 467.8750 [  94.8] WQKQ994
Disney Store 467.8750 [ d712] WQHP675
Express 467.9000 [118.8]
Finish Line WQWG921
Food Lion 467.8500 [ d412] WQXE407
Foot Locker UHF WQNZ691
Gap VHF WQVZ665
Guess 467.8750 [ d723] WQIN744
H&M 466.2875 [ d155], 467.1375 [ d155], 468.8375 [ d155], 469.0000 [103.5], 469.7625 [ d155]
Harbor Freight 467.8750 [ d411], 467.9250 [ d343] WQOU225
Harris Teeter 467.8500 [146.2] WQKK826
Hermes WQWG609
Hollister 467.8500 [ d506] WQIG766
Home Depot 467.7625 [ d065], 467.8500 [ d331], 467.8375 [ d263], 467.8750 [ d413]
J. Crew 467.9250 [  88.5] WQZE482
JC Penney 461.9375 [ d732], 466.9625 [  85.4], 467.2250 [ d365]
Justice WQUN843
Kmart 467.8500 [ d445], 467.9000 [ d465]
Kohl's 467.8500 [ d023] WQFN651
Kroger 467.8500 [100.0] WQIL782
Lane Bryant UHF WQOA678
Lidl WRCT613
LOFT 466.0375 [  94.8]
Lowe's VHF
Marshalls 461.2375 [100.0], 467.8750 [100.0]
Michaels 467.8500 [ d532] WQMD882
Neiman Marcus 464.5750 [127.3], 464.9250 [127.3]
New Balance 457.5250 [ d071]
New York & Company 467.9000 [ d731]
Nike 466.0250 [ d371], 467.3750 [ d223], 468.2625 [ d343]
Nordstrom 464.5250 (various CTCSS tones)
Office Depot 467.9000 [ d131] WQZB567
Old Navy 467.8500 [ d047]
Pavilions WQZB747
Pier 1 Imports WRCI828
Pottery Barn 467.8750 [ d165]
Pottery Barn Kids VHF, UHF
Rack Room Shoes WQVD643
Restoration Hardware VHF, UHF WQNB244
Ross 467.9250 [ d271] WQLM935
Sephora 461.1125 [ d412] WQCU374
Skechers WQWG610
Staples 467.9000 [225.7] WQRH236
T.J. Maxx 461.2375 [100.0], 467.8750 [100.0]
Target 467.7500 [ d115], 467.7750 [ d072], 467.8500 [ d306], 467.9000 [ d205], 467.9250 [ d155] WQDF547
Tilly's 464.4875 [  67.0]
Tommy Hilfiger 467.9000 [ d503] WQKE468
Ulta WQJC797
Under Armour 467.9250 [ d311]
Urban Outfitters 467.9250 [218.1] WQMJ701
Victoria's Secret 467.9250 [ d743], 469.5375 [ d743] WPYX853
Walmart 154.5700 [ CSQ], 154.6000 [ CSQ]
Wawa 451.8000 [ d506], 451.8125 [ d506], 456.8125 [ d506] WQQU922
West Elm UHF
Williams-Sonoma UHF WQLJ283
Windsor WRAG974

Many department stores also use radios. Even national chains of the same company tend to use a wide variety of frequencies. It's best to look up the department store in the FCC database. Many license a single repeater for use in the store. Note that most department stores use their frequencies for loss prevention. Therefore, you might not hear anything from a particular department store on a given day.

If the mall has a movie theater and/or restaurants, they are also likely to use radios. Check the VHF and UHF itinerant/dot/star frequencies for movie theaters. Check the same frequencies for restaurants, and also the Family Radio Service (FRS) frequencies. Restaurants typically use radios for coordinating seating, clearing tables, etc. Therefore, only busy restaurants are likely to use radios. The Cheesecake Factory is a good example of a restaurant that uses radios.

Some mall stores are owned by the same company. Some examples of sister stores are: Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic; Abercrombie & Fitch, Abercrombie, and Hollister; Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, and West Elm; and Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. Knowing which stores are related is important because it usually means their radio use is similar--sometimes sister stores even use the same frequency/tone.

Particularly with clothing stores, it can be difficult to identify the exact store. The best way to identify the frequency is with careful, patient listening. Take note of anything said you think might be important. Everything from a unique color or style to a stock number can be useful in identifying the mystery store. Anything significant you jot down can then be searched for on the Internet, and this will often lead you to the store. I found an Anthropologie store once by looking up a style of curtains that was mentioned on the radio. Similarly, I've found stores by searching for stock/inventory numbers heard on the frequency. I identified an American Eagle store when they mentioned an "AE Moneycard." I've even identified a Cheesecake Factory restaurant by listening for unusual menu items mentioned, and then walking over to the menu display and finding the menu items.

If you're in a large mall, you're not going to be able to hear a store radio from all over the mall. (The exception would be a repeaterized department store frequency, which you could probably hear easily even outside the mall.) This fact can aid you in figuring out the store that's using an unidentified frequency. If you listen to a frequency, and the signal is weak in one part of the mall, but much stronger in another part of the mall, then you know the store has to be close to where the signal is stronger. Take note of where you are when you hear a strong signal. Also, be sure to use a mall map to identify possible stores near where the strong signal is originating from.

Other General Tips

All other things being equal, you will typically discover many more frequencies at a mall during busy shopping periods. In fact, during the biggest shopping days of the year, some frequencies might be active that are only used a few times per year. In general, weekends and holidays are better days to go scanning at the mall than weekdays. The best period is probably from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year's.

A frequency counter (or scanner with Close Call/Signal Stalker) is an excellent resource for discovering frequencies. Beware of their limitations, however. You usually have to be within a few hundred feet--often much closer--to capture the frequency of a handheld radio. Since mall operations frequencies are often repeaterized, you have a good shot at capturing this frequency from many locations in the mall. Capturing an individual store's frequency probably requires you to go inside the store, or at least be right outside the store. Use caution with counter hits, however. Sometimes a hit from inside a store will be for a store next door, across the corridor, or even above or below the store. The best way to verify a frequency is actually used in the store you're in is to see someone talking on the radio as you get the frequency counter hit.

If your scanner can identify CTCSS/DCS tones, take note of them. Especially in a mall with a huge number of stores, some of the stores will share the same frequency, but use different tones. Using the tone function of the scanner allows you to separate the radio traffic of the different stores. Occasionally, two stores in the same mall will share the same frequency and tone, so be aware of this if you're hearing a clothing store and a restaurant on the same frequency/tone. (Usually, the two stores will only share the same frequency and tone if they're a distance away from each other, to avoid causing each other interference.)

Since malls are usually quite noisy, a good pair of headphones is helpful. They also allow you to listen discreetly.

See this page for some common frequencies: http://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/Common_Itinerant_and_Business.


Copyright 2020 David Schoenberger