The Citizens Band Radio, more commonly referred to as a, “CB Radio”, is a type of communication that happens over the radio waves. In the United States, this system was set up by the FCC in the 40s. There will be similar systems throughout the rest of the world, although they may not always operate in exactly the same way.
CB radio operates strictly on shortwave radio signals. This will be in the 26Mhz to 28Mhz range although, once again, this is going to be dependent on the country where the CB radio is being operated. This means that communication can only be carried out within a very small radius, normally somewhere between 5-25 miles, although it could (in theory) stretch for a slightly larger distance.
On this page, we want to look at the basics and try to establish ‘how do CB radios work?’ (honestly, it is much simpler than you may think!)
It’s All In The Antenna
Everything about the operation of your CB radio is in the antenna. It is the antenna which will send and receive the signal being sent by your CB radio unit.
The antenna of your CB radio has two jobs:
- To capture signals in the local area
- To send out signals from your transmitter
In the first case, your antenna will be capturing radio waves. It will be up to your receiver to convert these into a sound signal that you can hear. In the second case, the transmitter will be sending out radio signals that your CB radio sends to it. It will send these signals out at a certain frequency to ensure that they are sent to the correct radio channel.
In nearly every single case, it will be the antenna which determines the quality of the signal you receive and the audio that you transmit.
How The Antenna Works With the CB Radio
We don’t want to get too technical here. All you really need to know is something called ‘impedance’. This is how resistant the antenna is to an electrical current. You want the antenna to allow as much of the electrical current in as possible. This will allow the antenna to transmit the full electrical current as a radio signal which, ultimately, translates to better audio quality for the recipient. Of course, it also means that receiving audio will also be better.
In order for the CB radio antenna to work, it needs to be of the right length to send out the radio signals on the correct frequency. Worried about what frequency the CB radio uses? They’re pre-programmed, so nothing you need to worry about. Again, we don’t want to go too heavy on the science behind this. However, for an antenna to work on the full wavelength designated for CB radio, be sure to follow the installation instructions in the owners manual. There’s not a who lot to it, so no need to fret.
Number of Channels
Since CB radio only operates at a specific frequency, there is only a limited number of channels that can be broadcast on. In the United States, this is 40 channels. In the United States, you can freely broadcast on any channel that you wish. The only exception will be Channel 9 which is limited to emergency communication.
Due to the nature of how a CB radio works (and all radios, for that matter), only one person will be able to broadcast on a channel at a specific time. On the busiest CB radio channels, it can actually be difficult to get a word in edgeways. There will almost always be somebody talking, and you need to be pretty quick on the button if you wish to say something on the channel. There are various regulations that help to control this, but because they vary so differently from country to country, we will not go into too much depth on this.
Remember; broadcasts on CB radio will not be private. While it is a fantastic way to communicate with people, do bear in mind that anything that you broadcast over CB radio can be heard by anybody else tuned into that channel in the local area. This may not pose that much of a problem if you are in the middle of nowhere, perhaps on a hunting trip, but if you are at home, you probably wouldn’t want to be using CB radio to discuss personal things with your friends and family. Although, CB radio is completely anonymous. Nobody will know where you are broadcasting from unless you tell them!
The Range of a CB Radio
Most CB radios with base antennas can transmit about 5 miles. Better quality antennas may be able to broadcast and receive transmissions by as much as 50-miles away. In theory, it is possible to transmit on a CB radio anywhere in the world. This is done by a process known as ‘shooting skip’. However, this is illegal. In the United States, the FTC state that you can only transmit a maximum of 150-miles on CB. Although, this doesn’t stop people from ‘skipping’. This is because regulation is quite lax here.
Part of the reason behind how far a CB radio can reach being limited is because they can only operate at a maximum transmission power of 4 watts. It simply would not have the power to transmit a powerful signal. No matter which CB radio you purchase, it will only ever have a power capped at 4 watts.
Honestly, beyond the ‘basics’ you don’t really need to know how CB radio actually works. Because of it’s nature, there is very little set up that you need to do yourself. If you’re in the market, be sure to check our reviews. Any CB radio that you purchase will be pre-programmed to the correct frequencies. About the only thing that you will need to do, might be an SWR tune. It’s a painless process with the right equipment.