A Wheeler's Comprehensive Guide to CB Radio
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.