The CB radio (aka Citizen Band Radio) was introduced in the 1940’s, and is used for short distance communication between individuals on a selection of 40 channels within the 27MHz (11 m) band. Only one station may transmit at a time. Other stations must listen and wait for the shared channel to be available. The CB was invented in 1945 by Al Gross, who also invented the walkie-talkie. It took about 20 years to gain popularity.
CB services began in 1945 to permit citizens a radio band for personal use. In 1948, the original “Class D” CB Radios were to be operated on the 460 MHz–470 MHz UHF band . Radios at that time were expensive and not practical for the average consumer. In 1958, the Class D of CB Radios was released and was opened at 27 MHz. There were 23 channels; then 40 channels came out in 1977. Most of the 460 MHz–470 MHz band was reassigned for business and public safety uses. Channel 9 was reserved for emergency use only in 1969.
By the late 1960’s, advancements in technology gave the general public access to the CB radio by decreasing the weight, size and cost of the radios. It became a popular tool for trade business such as truckers, carpenters, plumbers, as well as radio hobbyists. Many CB clubs were formed, and the special
CB slang language evolved, including the 10-codes similar to those used in emergency services today.
In the 70’s, a $ 20 licensing fee was required along with the use of a “call sign.” That was reduced to $ 4 in the late 70’s, but when the CB craze was at its peak, many people ignored these requirements and others including antenna height, distance restriction for communications, and allowable transmitter power. After the FCC started receiving over 1,000,000 license applications a month, the license requirement was dropped entirely.
Who uses the CB radio? We all know the CB radio is a favorite tool of truckers to communicate locations of service stations, troubles on the road, police speed traps, or just to keep each other company. However, it’s also a favorite tool for businesses and homeowners, especially in remote areas where cell and internet service is not readily available. With the introduction of cell phones and the internet, CBs have declined somewhat in popularity, but they are still very much in demand by truckers and businesses and also as a hobby. Handheld models are especially popular among hunters and outdoorsmen who find themselves in remote areas. Just imagine being lost in the woods with no means of communicating – except you have a CB radio and can call for help.
CB radio use is regulated by the FCC (Federal Communication Commission). No license is required to operate a CB radio. In fact, anyone can operate a CB radio unless forbidden by the FCC (or other governing agency) or if they are from a foreign country. The FCC requires the use of certified equipment, and modifications are not allowed. There are severe consequences for anyone violating the FCC rules and regulations, and that goes for retailers as well as the consumer. The output power is restricted to four watts for an AM transmitter. Up to 12 watts of output power is allowed on an SSB (single sideband transmitter). Also, the antennas should not be more than 60 feet from ground level or 20 feet from the point of mounting.
Operators must communicate in plain language that is understood by anyone listening to that channel. The use of “ten-codes” or “handles” is permitted, but the use of any veiled communication is not allowed. It’s also illegal to broadcast obscene or profane materials or any communications with regard to illegal activity. Also, any communication that doesn’t relate directly to the operator’s life or household, such as music or updates about a third party, are prohibited.
There are a few things to consider when purchasing a CB Radio, but it need not be a nightmare. Here are a few considerations:
1. What are you going to use it for? This will help determine what features are needed for your intended use. For instance, if it’s for your personal use or hobby, you may want a unit with a wide range of frequencies. Truckers or long distance travelers may require a full featured unit, while business owners or tradesmen may require only limited features but will want powerful, clear transmission.
2. What’s your price range? Higher pricing does not necessarily mean more power or a better quality sound. All CB radios, whether cheap or expensive, have exactly the same power output, 4watts. The difference in power or clarity mostly depends on the antenna and microphone. So your price range will be dictated by the intended use and features you require.
3. Which antenna should you use? As far as length, basically, the longer the antenna, the better the communication. The optimum length is 8½ feet or 102 inches which is ¼ the wavelength. If your intended use means an antenna this length is not practical (mounted on a vehicle) you might consider a coil based antenna which will have the length of wire coiled at its base making it more practical to handle. Handheld units will obviously use a small antenna, usually about 8 inches. However, you might want to upgrade the antenna with a booster unit. With regard to location, the higher the better, and avoid having any part of your vehicle or building block the antenna. Many land based antenna are mounted on high poles and secured with guy wires for stability while vehicle mounted units are usually located on the roof or hood. As for tuning, ideally the antenna and radio unit should be the same brand to minimize compatibility issues, and be sure to have the antenna correctly tuned to the radio unit.
4. Which microphone should you use? This is important! It makes no sense to purchase a fantastic antenna and then use an inferior microphone for transmission. The difference in clarity is huge when a good microphone is matched to a good antenna, and this factor may be critical, if you are using your radio to transmit important instruction on a regular basis.
5. What other features do you need? Again, this is determined by your intended use. For instance, if this unit is on your boat or exposed to outside elements, of course you’ll want it to be waterproof. For a vehicle-installed radio, a “Noise Blanker” or “Automatic Noise Limiter” will be important. This will reduce or remove static noise when your cigarette lighter outlet is being used for accessories. If you’re sight impaired, you may want a backlit screen with bright digitals. So you can see the features are limitless and are determined by your intended use and personal needs.
6. I think the best tip I can offer when purchasing a CB Radio is “Buyer Beware”. Do your homework and purchase from a reputable source. Be sure to check out the warranty offered by the retailer and the manufacturer. If you purchase online, be sure they are a legitimate, active online business with a way to contact them, if need be.
Hope you find these tips helpful, and I hope you enjoy your CB Radio.