Getting Out When You Get Out
In Part 1, we spoke of ways to bounce signals off satellites and what was out there and how they worked. This time we are going to talk about the more mundane, and sometimes more misunderstood, “ground based” units. The difference between what we talked about last time and this time, is these send a signal to another station, whether that station is land-based, or in the hand of another Jeeper. No extraterrestrials are going to be involved with these things.
We’ve all been around them for years: CB radios, HAM radios, and for a lesser amount of time, hand-held UHF and VHF radios and cellular phones. They are all good choices for both Jeep-to-Jeep communication and sometimes Jeep-to-base communication. But like their space-roaming counterparts, there are a ton of options available and it can be difficult for the newcomer to wade through all the information…and misinformation.
While not many of us use these things as lifelines, if we go out on our own, we may have to. With that in mind, our bean counters and ambulance chasers want us to add this little bit here. Don’t go running out into the middle of nowhere with only a cell phone or a CB for a lifeline. Odds are really good when you need them, there will be no one on the other end. These things don’t take the place of common sense, the buddy system, or Chuck Norris in the shotgun seat.
Okay, legal disclaimers aside and proper number of beans tallied, let’s move on. What we’ve got here is a collection of common and commonly-confusing devices that you have probably seen before. We’ll get a bit techy so you can compare them and bench-race them later with friends. We aren’t going to go off the deep end regarding tech, but will just skim the surface and give you some info you might not have had before. We will also explain how they work, where they work well, and under what circumstances they might not be a good choice.
The Citizen’s Band radio, or CB, was popularized by the movie Smokey and the Bandit in the late ’70s and early ’80s to the point where Jeep offered it built into factory-installed radios as an option for a few years.
But the good old CB actually started back in the ’40s, and as they were then, they are still governed today by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). In the beginning there were only 23 channels on the CB and power output was limited to 5 watts. The full 40 channels we enjoy today were opened up in 1977, and today’s power output is limited to 4 watts. Yeah, we hate the “lowered” output rating, but much like the horsepower ratings in the fabled horsepower wars of the ’60s, not all ratings are equal.
Just like a 500hp car from today puts out more power than a 500hp car from the ’60s, so too does a 4-watt CB today actually put out more than the old rating. The old rating would be 3 watts and change today. The FCC’s power output regulation limits interference between CB channels, CB units, and other electrical devices such as R/C cars.
That relatively low power output also limits the range of the radio, and sometimes even reaching the Jeep in front or behind on a trail run becomes difficult. CBs run on AM, and you know how they work if you’ve ever listened to AM radio—the same interference affect CBs.
Sidebands were more popular 15 years ago, but you hear less about them now. If you picture tuning that old dial-based AM radio, you know there is a range on the indicator where you can hear the station you are looking for, and depending on where you are or what’s around you, you need to tune it up or down to keep the station. That’s like your channels 1-40—they can be heard on a wide range on the dial. Sidebands are only above or below the sweet spot. Because of the narrower range, the FCC bumped the limits on sidebands to 12 watts.
In its heyday, it was common to see stationary base units, mobile vehicle-based units, and handhelds. There are less base and handhelds being sold today, but automotive-based units are still pretty popular. At the end of the day, though, AM signal is AM signal, and you know its limitations. The same limitations exist for CBs.
PhotosView Photo Gallery
Frequency: 26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz
Max power: 4 watts; 12 watts (sidebands)
Average range: Up to 5 miles (flat ground)
Use for: Jeep-to-Jeep communications
Not good for: Jeep-to-base or Jeep-to-home communications