Click for Coverage
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

CB Radio Guide - What's Your 20? Over.

Posted in How To on April 17, 2007
Share this

A CB radio is often one of those items that you don't feel you need until you are the one guy on the trail without one. Everyone is having a great time chatting on the road, and you are left out. Not to mention the peace of mind you get when the person ahead of you gives you an early warning of a hole that has opened up in the ground ahead. We figure most of our readers have owned a CB at some time or currently own one or have multiple units. Therefore, we thought it was time to share with you a little history about citizens band radio and what units the most popular companies in the CB world have to offer.

What You Should Know
In most countries, citizens band (CB) radio is a system of short-distance radio communication between individuals on a selection of 40 channels within the single 27 MHz (11-meter) band. Don't confuse the CB radio service with FRS, GMRS, MURS, or amateur radio. In some countries, CB does not require a license, and unlike amateur radio, it may be used for commercial communication. In the 1960s, the CB service was popular for small trade businesses (e.g., electricians, plumbers, carpenters) and transportation services (e.g., taxi and trucking firms). "10 codes" originally used in the public service (e.g., police, fire, ambulance) and land mobile service were used for short quick communication. With the advancement of solid-state technology (transistors replacing tubes) in the 1970s, the weight, size, and cost of the radios decreased. U.S. truck drivers were at the head of the boom. Many CB clubs were formed, and a special CB slang language evolved. CB radios really became popular during the mid and late '70s through films and television shows such as Smokey and the Bandit and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Originally, there were only 23 CB channels in the U.S.; 40-channel radios did not come along until 1977. In the 1960s, channels 1 through 8 and 15 through 22 were reserved for "intrastation" communications among units under the same license, while the other channels (9 through 14 and 23) could be used for "interstation" calls to other licenses.

So Which Units Should I Consider?
We chose the top two units from each of the most popular CB radio manufacturers among four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. All units come with varying options and features that may or may not suit your personal needs. Choose carefully, but rest assured that any one of these units is perfectly suitable for use on the trail.

Most Frequently Asked Questions
How far will my mobile CB radio transmit?
Be sure to get a good grounded mount for your antenna, and a good rule of thumb is 1 mile per watt of output power. Most newer radios feature the maximum allowed 4 watts, which gives you about 4 miles. Keep in mind this is drastically affected by landscape.

How are CB radios powered?
Mobile radios are generally hard-wired to your vehicle's 12-volt battery system. You wire them just like you would a car audio system.

How do I make my CB work with a PA horn?First, make sure your CB radio has the PA function. Then, simply purchase a PA horn and install it correctly, plug in your microphone to the CB unit, switch to PA mode, and speak through the microphone. Keep in mind it will be much louder than you anticipated!

What's special about channels 9 and 19?
Channel 9 is the universal CB emergency channel. In most areas, it is monitored by local law enforcement at all times, so please keep random chatter off this channel. Channels 17 and 19 are commonly used channels by truck drivers. 19 is often used by drivers going east or west; 17 by drivers going north or south.

CB Radio Antennas
As 27 MHz is a relatively long wavelength for mobile communications, the choice of antenna has a considerable impact on the performance of a CB radio. One common mobile antenna is a quarter-wave vertical whip. This is roughly 9 feet (2.7 meters) tall and mounted low on the vehicle's body, and it often has a spring-and-ball mount. Where a 9-foot whip would be impractical, shorter antennas include loading coils to make the antenna electrically longer than it actually is. The loading coil may be on the bottom, middle, or top of the antenna, while some antennas are wound in a continuously loaded helix.

Another specialty mobile antenna is the continuously loaded half-wave antenna. Usually you can identify this type by the very hard stick with a thin smaller wire wrapping up and around it to the top. It is also one of the most common among wheelers. You do not need a grounding plate for this type of antenna.

The main thing to remember when installing your antenna is: You want the majority of your antenna to be above the vehicle to achieve the best possible reception. Mounting a 4-foot small whip to the back bumper of your Jeep with only inches of antenna above the vehicle's roof is going to do you no good.

10-1 Receiving poorly
10-2 Receiving well
10-3 Stop transmitting
10-4 OK, message received
10-5 {{{Relay}}} message
10-6 Busy, stand by
10-7 Out of service, leaving air
10-8 In service, subject to call
10-9 Repeat message
10-10 Transmission completed, standing by
10-11 Talking too rapidly
10-12 Visitors present
10-13 Advise weather/road conditions
10-16 Make pickup at ___
10-17 Urgent business
10-18 Anything for us?
10-19 Nothing for you, return to base
10-20 My location is ___/What's your location?
10-21 Call by telephone
10-22 Report in person to ___
10-23 Stand by
10-24 Completed last assignment
10-25 Can you contact ___
10-26 Disregard last information/Cancel last message/Ignore
10-27 I am moving to channel ___
10-28 Identify your station
10-29 Time is up for contact
10-30 Does not conform to FCC rules
10-32 I will give you a radio check
10-33 Emergency traffic at this station
10-34 Trouble at this station, help needed
10-35 Confidential information
10-36 Correct time is ___
10-38 Ambulance needed at ___
10-39 Your message delivered
10-41 Please tune to channel ___
10-42 Traffic accident at ___
10-43 Traffic tie-up at ___
10-{{{100}}} Need to go to bathroom
10-{{{200}}} Police needed at ___

Midland 5001z
Midland has been a leading manufacturer of CB radios for over 40 years. The company has been developing high-quality, rugged, and durable products that have stood the test of time both on and off the road. The new 5001z unit is based on Midland's very popular 1001z unit and boasts a laundry list of upgraded items. Those new features include:

4 watts output power (maximum allowed by law)
Extra Talk function that boosts transmit levels to provide increased voice clarity
Front-panel microphone connectorPA capability
Instant channel 9 access for emergencies
Automatic noise limiter to improve reception for weak signals
Ergonomically designed microphone
All mounting hardware and bracket included
Suggested retail price for this model is $99.99.

Cobra 25 LTD
Cobra Electronics has reintroduced one of its most popular CB radio units with the release of the all-new 25 LTD model. Due to professional driver recommendations, the unit offers new features such as a front-panel microphone connector for convenient in-dash installation and tactile controls which allow the operator to feel where the dial is without taking his or her eyes off the road. The front chrome panel has long been a popular feature among truck drivers and is a big selling point for this model. A few of the other features include:

40 CB channels
9-foot microphone cord for easy reach
4 watts AM RF power output (maximum allowed by law)
PA capability
Dimmer controls
Switchable noise blanker for increased noise reduction
Suggested retail price for this model is $99.95.

Midland 1001z
One of the reasons that the Midland 1001Z CB radio is among the company's most popular products is its size. At just 2 pounds 2 ounces and measuring 4-1/2x1-7/8x7-1/8 inches, this unit will fit just about anywhere. The all-black body is also a great choice for those not attracted to the chrome look of most CB radio models. Great for those building custom rigs where everything must match up. Features include:

40-channel digital tuner
4-watt output power delivering maximum communication range
Sensitive RF gain controls
Dedicated channel 9 switch for emergencies
Digital power meter showing incoming strength and transmit power
CB/PA switch that toggles easily between public access and normal CB operation
Compact design
Locking microphone connector
Suggested retail price for this model is $44.99.

Cobra NW
NW stands for the Night Watch series of CB radios in the Cobra lineup. The NW feature fully illuminates the radio's function settings for easy viewing during night driving. This lets the operator safely review and alter settings without compromising vision. The unique, solid-state, electroluminescent backlighting is powered by a dedicated integrated circuit to maximize night vision while minimizing eye fatigue. Some of the additional features include:

40 CB channels
Full RF power output
Variable dimmer control
4 watts AM RF power output (maximum allowed by law)
Instant access to emergency channel 9 and information channel 19
Tactile controls
PA capability
Front microphone connector
Suggested retail price for this model is $129.99.

Uniden PC78Elite
On top of producing some of the best cordless phones we have ever used, Uniden also has a few high-quality CB radio units we thought you should know about. The company's new PC78Elite unit is part of the Bearcat Pro Series of Uniden CB radios. One of the coolest features we found right away was the ergonomic pistol-grip microphone. It felt great in our hands as we talked with our buddies on the road. The list of features on this unit is vast; here are just a few:

40-channel operation
Dynamic squelch control
Delta Tune
Enhanced night-vision display
Display dimmer control
RF and mic gain control
Channel indicator
Instant channel 9 button
PA/CB switch
Analog S/RF/SWR meter
7 weather channels
Backlit control knobs
Suggested retail price for this model is $189.99.

Uniden PC68Elite
The PC68 Elite unit is also part of the Bearcat Pro Series of CB radios from Uniden and also comes equipped with the ergonomic pistol-grip microphone. We found both of these units to be nearly identical, with the PC78 containing a few features the PC68 does not. The PC68 does not have the Delta Tune feature for increased tunability or the analog SWR meter found in the PC78, but this is still one great CB radio. For those who want to save on space, the PC68 should be considered as it is smaller in all dimensions and weighs a bit less than the PC78. Following are a few other features both units share not mentioned above:

Frequency range of 26.965 to 27.405 MHzAntenna impedance of 50 ohms
Operation Temperature of -20 degrees F to 140 degrees F
Distortion range of less than 10 percent at 4 watts output
Hum and noise better than 40 db
Frequency response of 300 to 2,500 Hz
Suggested retail price for this model is $149.99.


Uniden America Corp.
Cobra Electronics Corp.
Midland Radio Corp.

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results