While not as popular as it was in the past, the CB radio is still a communication method relied upon by many people in the United States and around the world. Most popular in the world of trucking, CB radio technology has also seen growing interest among the survival and prepper communities. On this page, we will introduce you to the concepts of the CB radio, as well as provide you with a good dose of information to get started, should it be something you wish to pursue.
What Exactly is a CB Radio?
The Citizens Band (CB) radio is an open radio communication system that allows people to communicate with one another over radio-waves. It is a completely open system, and used for both business and personal use. In the United States, there are 40 different radio channels for those who wish to chat over the air.
You may sometimes see CB referred to as a ‘Land Mobile Radio System’, or LMRS for short. That doesn’t mean anything technical. But to clarify, LMRS refers to any two way radio system that is set up for communication between people. This means that the radios can both send and receive audio communication. Devices that are one-way, allowing you only to listen in such as a police scanner, would not fall under the LMRS umbrella.
Since the CB is an open system, one is permitted to broadcast on the radio-waves, assuming they have the right equipment to do so. However, certain radio frequencies are often used for specific purposes which we will cover shortly.
The History of CB Radios
In the 1940s, the FCC started to designate certain radio frequencies for public communications. The Citizens Radio Corporation, was founded by the inventor of the CB radio, Al Gross. The Citizens Radio Corporation went on to sell over 100,000 radios, primarily to farmers and the US Coast Guard. CB radio technology in general began to grow out of being used among the public communication sector. At the time, if you wanted to use these radio frequencies, you would need to obtain a license. However, this requirement was soon dropped. Anybody could then broadcast on the CB radio channels, assuming they stick to FCC rules regarding range and equipment types.
In its earlier days, while CB was a bit more affordable than other types of tech, it didn’t really take off outside the world of hobbyists. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the technology started to really take hold. Around this time, truckers really began installing and using CB radios into their vehicles, which quickly became the norm. It allowed the truckers to communicate with others on the road better, which helped to up their productivity and keep them safe. The popularity of CB world really took off at that point and is still used all around the world today.
CB Radio Frequencies (Channels)
Each country has different frequencies for CB radio. In the United States, CB radio operates between 26.965 Mhz and 27.405 Mhz. You do not need to know the specific frequencies unless you have an ‘old’ radio. Most modern radio options on the market will, instead, have a channel list instead. Each channel will be tied to a specific frequency. There will be 40 channels in all.
Most of the CB radio channels are going to be empty. This means that you are free to transmit on them to your heart’s content. In fact, you are free to do that with all the channels bar one (Channel 9). However, it is worth noting that specific channels have evolved to really only be focused on one type of discussion. We want to run you through these channels now. It is these channels where you will likely find the most activity:
- Channel 1 (26.965 Mhz): truckers in the east of the USA use this channel frequently. However, it is more suited for those close to the Canadian border, as it often broadcasts maritime discussions.
- Channel 4 (27.005 Mhz): this is for off-road vehicles.
- Channel 6 (27.025 Mhz): no specific purpose, but a LOT of people will talk here in major towns and cities. It is a general-purpose channel.
- Channel 9 (27.065 Mhz): this is for emergency service broadcasts only. You are free to use this channel in an emergency ONLY.
- Channel 10 (27.075 Mhz): this is for discussions while traveling on regional roads.
- Channel 13 (27.115 Mhz): this is, mostly, for maritime traffic. However, in certain regions, you may find it is used by RV owners.
- Channel 14 (27.125 Mhz): this is used by old-school walkie talkies. Not much traffic on these channels nowadays, sadly.
- Channel 17 (27.165 Mhz): truckers traveling on north or southbound roads
- Channel 19 (27.185 Mhz): truckers traveling east or west.
Generally speaking, these are all the channels you really need to know. Any other channel is going to be fairly empty most of the time. If you are a trucker that wants access to the most conversations, then Channel 19 is where most of it happens. However, you may also wish to scan Channel 10 and 17 for maximum coverage.
CB Radio Range
A CB radio will have a maximum range of about 30-miles. However, this is going to be in absolutely perfect conditions. In most cases, you can expect there to be a range of somewhere between 3-miles and 10-miles. In extremely rare cases, you may be able to get slightly over 30-miles, but it wouldn’t be that much over.
To achieve the absolute best range on your CB radio, you need to purchase a quality antenna and spend some time setting it up the antenna i.e. ensuring it is in the best possible place for the best possible signal. In most cases, this is going to be as high up as possible. This will ensure that there is a minimum amount of signal interference.
When you are setting up your radio to ensure the optimal range and signal quality of your radio, you will need to use a gadget known as an SWR meter. Without going into too much detail on the technical use of an SWR meter, the purpose of this device is to ensure that the position of the antenna, as well as the length of the antenna, matches the received signals perfectly. With an SWR meter, you are trying to ensure that everything is in line.
There are some situations where no matter what you do, the range of your radio is going to be limited. Obviously, for the absolute best range, you need to be in an area with absolutely no obstacles. Every obstacle, whether it is a vehicle, hills, buildings, or trees will reduce the range of your radio a little bit. This is why you should never expect full range with your radio. It is nigh on impossible to find an area that is completely free of obstacles.
CB Radio Amplifier
The purpose of an amplifier is to increase the range of your CB radio, often by a considerable amount.
It is illegal to operate a CB amplifier in the United States, and you could be subject to fines from the FCC if you are caught using one. They may even provide you with a ban from being able to communicate via CB. Yes. We know that there are some stores in the US that sell amplifiers, but you are encouraged not to use one.
Some people may also encourage you to use a process known as ‘skip’, which, if done properly, can offer you a virtually limitless range on your CB radio. While we are not going to go into depth on this process, ‘working skip’ involves bouncing your radio signals off of the Earth’s atmosphere. If this is done correctly, you could feasibly talk to people thousands and thousands of miles away. However, do bear in mind that other countries will have different rules about CB radio operation, and you are really just going to be interrupting people who are trying to communicate within their local area.
CB Radio ‘Skip’
Just like with amplifiers, it is illegal to ‘skip’ with a radio. Again, if you are caught doing it, the FCC has the ability to fine you and to ban you from using CB. Granted, it is going to be difficult to catch you doing it, but a lot of people have reported being reprimanded. There are other ways to communicate with people over long distances, so it is best if you use those.
Long story short; you are not allowed to do anything that will increase the range of your CB radio, outside of using a quality transceiver and antenna. There is a range limit in place for a reason. CB has only ever been designed for communicating with people within the local area. Nothing more. Obviously, the FCC knows that there are some situations that radio will transmit signals further than intended. This is why they have a maximum limit of 160-miles before they take action. If you go beyond that, then you are running the risk of having to deal with some legal consequences.
CB Radios in Trucking
Nowadays, the most popular users of CB radios are truckers. While there is better ‘tech’ out there for communicating on the roads, most truckers will never shake the use of CB radio. It is something that they have grown up with. Nearly every trucker on the road will have a CB radio built into their vehicle. If you are a trucker without one, then you are going to be missing out on a lot of important road conversations.
For truckers, most radio communication is designed for keeping other truckers up to date on road activity i.e. if there is any traffic, whether there are police or other emergency services, etc. They are pretty brilliant at sharing this information too. This is why many people who are planning long haul trips, particularly those in an RV, may also have a CB radio installed in their vehicle. It allows them to keep ‘up to date’ with road conditions.
It is important to note that truck radio channels are not exactly the ‘cleanest’ channels ever. A lot of the discussions can get pretty filthy. So, if you are not a fan of extensive swearing or discussions about whether to find the closest brothel, then you may not want to be listening in too much. Although, to be honest, a lot of truckers have cut back on this sort of chatter in recent years, and a lot of areas just have people talking about road conditions and nothing more.
Any portable CB radio will be great for use in a truck. Just make sure that you purchase a quality antenna for the best signal quality.
Marine CB Radios
For a while, the main way to communicate with marine vessels in the immediate vicinity was via a CB radio installed on a boat. This was mostly due to the fact that CBs being far more affordable solution than VHF radios. The popularity of CB radios has declined somewhat in the marine environment, there are still many boaters still using it as their primary communication method. Many coast guards in the United States still monitor these CB frequencies.
If you have a boat and haven’t installed a radio yet, understanding the differences between CB vs VHF radios could be helpful. Both are affordable solutions nowadays, and they will provide you with multiple ways in which you can keep in touch with people in the immediate area. However, do bear in mind that as of this writing, VHF radios are becoming the more common choice when equipping marine vessels.
CB Radio Use on Tractors
Much of the farm land within the United States is miles away from the nearest cell phone tower. Installing a CB radio on a tractor makes for a simple communication method to the family and other workers on the land. Most tractors and combine harvesters already have 12-volt wiring, so the only real requirement is finding a good spot for it. While most farm equipment spend the bulk of their time outdoors, there are important features to consider like general ruggedness and being able to handle exposure to the elements.
How to Use a CB Radio
Honestly, using a CB radio isn’t all that difficult once you have switched it on. If you have done everything properly, it should start to receive signals right away, and you can listen in to your heart’s content. If you can’t hear anything, then switch to one of the main channels that we mentioned under the CB Radio Frequencies section to see which channels are going to be the most bustling with activity. We suggest that you only listen in on conversations to begin with. It will get you familiar with how everything works.
The one thing that we do want to point out is that each CB radio will only allow one person to transmit on a channel at any one time. This means that you should not ‘hog’ the radio waves. Say your message and be quiet. If you don’t, somebody might tell you that you are talking too much. Unless you are on a channel that you know is empty, you should not be having full-blown conversations. Just share short, snappy messages. This is especially important on dedicated trucker channels. Those guys can be pretty mean if you are interrupting their important communications.
It is also important to note that unlike other types of radio, there is no way to make your conversation private. So bear in mind that everything you communicate over CB radio is public. Even if you think nobody is listening in on your conversations, assume that they are. There isn’t really any way to tell. So, never communicate private information over a radio.
Do You Need a License to Operate a CB Radio?
One of the main benefits of a Citizens Band radio is the fact that you do not need a license to operate one. It is also a simple technology to use. For the most part, you pick yourself up a radio at a quality online retail store, switch it on, and you will be able to communicate with people effectively. Just make sure that you pay attention to general etiquette when operating your radio. Nobody really wants you to be clogging the radio waves with pointless comments when CB is still an important communication method for many people.
It is worth noting that while there is no license required to operate the radio in your vehicle, the same rules for operating a cellphone in your vehicle apply to the operation of a CB radio. So, in some states, you may not be allowed to hold the microphone when you are driving. Instead, you will need to look into some sort of hands-free operation. This to help ensure that you stay as safe as possible on the roads. There is nothing that says you can’t listen in on conversations, as long as you are not directly interacting with the CB radio.
CB Radio Codes
When you use a CB radio for the first time, you will often notice that there is a lot of lingo happening on the radiowaves that you just do not understand. CB radio operators tend to try and limit the amount they are speaking. This is partly to ensure that the radiowaves are kept open. Remember; only one person can chat on a channel at once. The second reason is to ensure that their message is received properly. The more words you use in a message, the more chance that something will get lost in translation.
Before you talk on a CB radio, we suggest that you listen in for a short while. This will allow you to get a rough idea about how people tend to communicate in your area. It will allow you to learn general etiquette. It is important to note that there may be differences based upon where you are using the radio. This is why it is important that you always get a feel for local etiquette and what is being discussed on certain channels. Yes. There is a little bit of an overlap between locations, but it is still worth learning the local nuances. It will make communicating via radio so much better!
There are some general two-way radio communication codes that you may find used all over the United States. It is worth learning a few of these codes, as it will make communication a little bit easier for you. It will also make it a little bit easier for you to understand what is going on. This is not a complete set of CB radio codes by any stretch of the imagination, but they are certainly the ones that you are going to be hearing the most:
Discussing the Quality of Transmissions
When you talk on CB radio, it is generally a good practice to ask if your message can be heard. This will help you to identify any issues with your signal quality. When you ask, you may be greeted with one of these radio codes as a response. Some of these you may have heard of:
- 10-4: this means that you can be heard clearly or that your message has been received properly and has been understood.
- 10-1: people cannot hear you clearly
- 10-2: your signal quality is good
- 10-11: your signal quality is good, but you may be talking a little bit too fast for people, and thus they cannot fully understand you.
You may also find certain words that seem a little bit out of place. These words are really just ‘slang’ words, initially designed to obscure what people were talking about, but the codes are so well-known now that it doesn’t really obscure anything. These codes include:
- Brake check: this indicates that there is heavy traffic in the local area.
- Advertising: there are police in the area. This mostly means they have their sirens on.
- Band-aid buggy: there is either an ambulance in the area, or somebody needs an ambulance.
- Chicken coop: this is a trucker-only term that indicates that there is a weigh station in the area.
- Drop the hammer: you can go fast. There is no traffic. Just clear roads.
- Kojak with a Kodak: slow down. the police are using radar guns to check speeds in the area.
You may find that there are even more codes for your local area. The best thing you can do is just listen in and see what people are talking about! Yes. We know some may seem a little bit odd to you, but this is part of the charm of using a CB radio. The sense of culture.
In larger towns and cities, you may actually find that there are courses for CB radio operators. These will teach you the basics of using a CB radio, and thus if this is something that you are planning on taking seriously, it may be worth looking into one of these courses. The fee shouldn’t be that high, most of the courses will only last a day or two. However, at the end of them, you will be armed with the knowledge that you need to communicate via CB radio confidentially.
CB Radio Shops
Sadly, CB radios are not used to the same extent that they were in the past. Trying to find a place where you can buy a CB radio can be difficult. It is a bit of tech that seems to be limited to truckers and hobbyists. This means that you will need to hunt around a little bit in order to find a reputable CB radio shop to purchase from. You will not really be able to find quality radios from your typical radio supply store, this is because most of them are trying to push more recent technology (e.g. VHF radios)
This is why we always recommend purchasing your radio from a supplier like Amazon. While they are a ‘general store’, they do have one of the larger ranges of radios on the market. This includes offerings from a lot of the bigger manufacturers out there. They also have a good range of accessories to boot. All of this will come in at an affordable price, which means you can get started with your brand new piece of kit sooner as opposed to later.
Remember; before you purchase any radio, you will always want to ensure that you read through reviews. The reviews that we have on this website are a great start because we have spent a lot of time working around CB technology. You can also use the user reviews on Amazon to supplement with a bit of extra information to ensure that you are getting the best radio for your needs.
CB Radio Base Station
Generally speaking, when we talk about a CB radio base station, we are talking about a radio that you will have permanently wired into your home. This is how a lot of hobbyists communicate via CB radio. Obviously, you will be unlikely to move this around, although some do provide you with the option of being able to power them from your vehicle. However, the sound and signal quality tends to be a little bit better on a base station. This is because you are not constantly ‘on the move’, and this will provide you with more of an opportunity to set things up properly.
In many cases, a radio base station is only there to interpret the signals it receives and code signals it sends out. This means that you may need to purchase the following bits of kit separately:
The benefit is that because a lot of these stations are not designed to be portable, they often boast a few more features. There are some models on the market, for instance, that may boast an SWR meter. Of course that would save you from having to purchase one separately. Although, as always, make sure that you read through reviews so you know exactly what you are getting for your money.
Portable CB Radios
Portable radios can fall into one of two categories:
- Vehicle radios
- Handheld CB radios
The second option isn’t as popular as the first. This is because CB technology is a bit more limited when you are out, wandering around. Remember; you cannot make your radio broadcasts private via CB. This means that it isn’t a great technology for being outdoors and exploring. It is also not a great technology to run your business on, or for running an event. Yes. There will likely be some open channels that you can broadcast on. There is always the chance that somebody could be ‘joining’ you on those channels. Handheld CB radios are more suited for those who just want something a bit more portable than your average radio.
Vehicle radios are, of course, exceedingly popular. Most of them will be permanently wired into your vehicle, so they will operate just like your typical base station. The only difference is that you are roaming the roads, so you will always be picking up on different broadcasts. Remember; the range of a CB radio is pretty small, so you could drive 30-minutes up the road, and you will be able to enjoy a completely different set of broadcasts. This is why CB is so fantastic. It means that you will always be able to keep up to date with very local information.
Accessories for CB Radios
If you pick up a CB radio, you are going to need to load yourself up with a few accessories at the same time. This is why it is important that you pick up your radio from a reputable store. It ensures that you will be able to get the right accessories for your bit of kit.
Even if your radio comes equipped with an antenna, it is still wise to purchase a separate one. Generally speaking, even the ‘high quality’ radios tend to have rather abysmal antennas. They are more there to ‘get you started’. Purchasing a separate antenna will offer you a larger range on your radio. It also provides you with better sound quality. The best part is that these antennas tend to be fairly affordable, even if you purchase one from a top manufacturer.
You may also wish to purchase a separate speaker for your radio. While most radios nowadays will come equipped with a speaker or headphone jack, the sound quality is never going to be perfect. Many people who are using a CB radio on a regular basis will purchase an external speaker that they can attach to their radio. This will ensure that you are able to hear absolutely everything that is broadcast.
Tuning A CB Radio
To get the best performance from a CB radio, you will want to tune it upon initial installation and whenever you suspect it may not be performing up to expectations. To do this, you will need to purchase an SWR meter for CB radios. The meter is there to ensure that you have set-up your antenna correctly. It is the only way to guarantee that you are getting the best signal quality with your radio. If you use your CB radio often, there are styles of SWR meters that are meant to be left plugged in. This way, you will have instant feedback if any adjustment is needed.
Other than this, there isn’t much extra you will need to purchase for your radio. Some people may purchase a separate microphone. Others may purchase a better power supply. However, generally speaking, pretty much everything that you need to operate your radio will be included in the box, with the exception of an antenna. However, it may be worth reading through some CB radio reviews to get an idea as to what you are going to get exactly with your radio. Our reviews go into depth on a lot of this.
If you wish to find out more about CB radios or are perhaps looking to pick one up, then we encourage you to browse this website. We have packed it to the brim with information on all sorts of reviews of all kinds of wireless communication, as well as a bit of information on how you can ensure that you can get the most out of your brand-new gear.