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A Beginner's Guide to CB Radio

The Citizens Band Radio Service, or CB, as it is commonly called, is a type of radio communication under the category of Personal Radio Service. As with the other types of PRS, such as FRS, GMRS, MURS, and LPRS (Low Power Radio Service), CB is intended for both consumer and business use. CB is covered under Part 95 of the FCC rules. A CB radio does not require a license to operate.

CB service operates on 40 shared channels in an AM mode or Single SideBand (SSB) mode. SSB offers less noise and greater range than AM mode and is usually found on higher end CB radios. SSB has two modes, Upper Sideband and Lower Sideband. You can only communicate with other SSB CB radios when in SSB mode.

There is no minimum age requirement to operate a CB radio. In fact. almost anyone can use CB. According to the FCC rules (95.403) "you are authorized to operate a CB station unless:
(a) You are a foreign government, a representative of a foreign government, or a federal government agency; OR
(b) The FCC has issued a cease and desist order to you, and the order is still in effect."

CB channels and frequencies are not assigned to any specific individual or organization. For the most part, you can operate a CB radio on all 40 channels and frequencies designated by the FCC for CB, but there are some caveats.

First, you can use CB only on those 40 channels and frequencies. Channel 9 may be used only for emergencies or for travel In addition, however, any channel can be used for emergency communications or traveler assistance. In addition, as these channels are shared, you must always give priority to emergency communications on all channels.

The maximum power levels for CB operation depends on the type of signal you are transmitting. AM signals are allowed a maximum of four watts. SSB mode is allowed up to 12 watts Peak Envelope Power, or PEP. According to the FCC, you are not allowed to raise the power output of your CB unit, attach any type of power amplifier, or modify the unit internally. Also, according to the FCC, you must use an FCC-certified CB unit in the United States. FCC-certified CB units have an FCC-certified label placed on the radio by the manufacturer.

CB is intended for short range, local communications only, but there is a way to increase range considerably by bouncing or "skipping" the signal off the ionosphere. This method is called 'shooting skip". Some CB users can skip a signal thousands of miles. The FCC prohibits attempts to communicate with CB stations over 155.3 miles (250km) away; however, signals can skip naturally depending on tropospheric conditions, so it is not unusual to send or receive CB transmissions across the country - or even around the world - unintentionally.

Because the 40 CB channels are shared with other users, some common etiquette is required. users must never talk with another station for more than 5 minutes continuously and must wait at least one minute before starting another communication. In the early days of CB the FCC did require users to have a license and a call sign. While neither is no longer necessary, it is still common practice to have a "call sign" in the form of a pseudonym, or CB "handle". The FCC allows users to create their own handles.

CB users also have their own lingo and codes. 10 Codes are the universally accepted standard for CB transmission in AM mode while Q Signals are generally used for Single Side Band and by skip-talkers. For more information, download our FREE list of CB 10 Codes and Q Signals.

CB radio equipment is also standard. Popular brands include Cobra, Galaxy, and Uniden. Cobra is one of the most recognized and established brands of CB radio equipment in the world. There are two basic styles of CB Radios from these manufacturers: mobile (usually mounted in vehicles) and handheld (as with standard two way radios or walkie-talkies). Mobile units cost between $40 and $200. The Uniden PC68LTW, Galaxy DX 959 SSB, and Cobra 148 GTL SSB are all mobile CB radios offering many premium features for seasoned CB users on the high end. For the beginning CB user, equally mobile Uniden PRO510XL is a good, basic, entry-level radio priced at only 39.99. Handheld CB radios, such as the Cobra HH-Roadtrip and HH 38 WX ST CB Radios, usually cost between $40-$180.

When purchasing a CB radio, one thing that must not be overlooked is the antenna. While antennas are often included with handheld CB radios, they are not included with mobile units and must be purchased separately. Whether it is an entry-level unit or one on the high-end, performance will depend a lot on the type of antenna purchased and where it will be mounted. Consider your options carefully before purchase.

36 thoughts on “A Beginner's Guide to CB Radio”

  • Matt bowers

    I have the uniden pro 401hh handheld can rdio. do I need to program channels?

    Reply
  • Charles Ames

    I have been away from the CB world for some 40 years. I am getting a new one installed next week in my car. I live in Western Oregon where a lot of logging and gravel hauling takes place. So I would like to know how do I safely communicate with truck drivers and let them know where I am. I do see signs of roads that will say CB channel 14 or whatever. Cell phone service out there is typically none at best. I would rather pay $285 for an installed CB than have a nasty, and preventable accident.

    Reply
  • Lots of people use rear bumper fiberglass antennas, I really like the little wil magnetic mount ones... use it currently on a 2003 wj jeep. I am using the 3 ft one. I didn't want the hassle of mounting an antenna. The magnet on this antenna base is very good.

    Reply
  • Paul

    Hi everyone, I recently got a cobra 29ltd, and I want to get an antenna to set it up on my jeep any suggestions on what antenna pairs well with this unit? Thanks

    Reply
  • Andre

    Hi guys.
    Ive got an old beetle going with the roadside assistance look
    And i would really like to know if its possible to hook up my
    Old Tedelex TE 6000 on a type of trucker channel?

    Reply
  • Sailor

    1. Get your antenna as high as you can and use RG8/u or RG 213 (at a minimum) coax cable if you have a long run. RG58 is skinny and convenient but has considerable power loss over long runs. Get an SWR meter--learn how to use it and measure your reflected power on channel 20 or so.. Anything over 1.5 to 1 is unacceptable. Go to the lower channels and measure it. Then go to the higher channels and do the same. IF the SWR is higher at the lower chanels then adjust the antenna to a shorter length. Do the opposite if it's higher at the higher channels. The FCC places restrictions on CB antenna height so be sure you don't violate that rule.
    2. Buy the best antenna you can afford. At a minimum buy a solidly constructed full sized quarter wave ground plane which will give you omnidirectional receive and transmit capability. There are ground plane antennas that offer some "gain" over the standard quarter wave models.....but beware of any antenna ad that claims to multiply your power by some fantastic figure. I've seen antennas that claim to multiply four watts radio output into 800 watts radiated power. Nonsense. A three element rotatable yagi antenna will yield about 16 watts of effective radiated power at best with 4 watts radio output. More elements equals more gain--but the law of diminishing returns rears it's ugly head and the cost/performance ratio drops significantly with antennas over 3 elements--not to mention more weight, more wind loading, more powerful rotator, etc
    3. Get real about what is possible. You've got 4 watts of RF power to deal with. That's mice nuts. Try to get as much of that peanut whistle signal into your antenna as possible. Use quality coax cable, ground your radio to a cold water pipe or a ground rod at least six feet into the gournd using heavy gauge wire or copper braid. When conditions are right it's possible to talk to the world with less than 4 watts....which is illegal for CB ops.....but for line of sight communication....don't expect to be having a chat with the space station.
    4. Don't even think about using an amplifier.....it's illegal and can lead to real problems with the FCC and every piece of electronics in your house, your neighbor's house.....just don't. The last thing you need is a neighbor who doesn't like your antenna in the first place writing to the FCC about interference to his stereo or phone caused by your amplifier.
    They can pay you a visit......and the outcome will ruin your whole day. A cber in Jupiter, Florida spent 18 months in federal prison, lost his house, his money and his wife!! (handle--Rabbit Ears) for being a bad boy on the air.
    5. Consider getting a ham radio license. It's easier than ever and opens up the world to you. Good luck.
    .

    Reply
  • Sailor

    Glen made a comment about antenna height not being as important as getting your radio "tuned". That is incredibly wrong. You can "tune" your radio all you want but if you have a poor antenna or one that is at a very low height your ability to contact other stations will be severely limited. I know there are many fish stories out there about a mobile antenna mounted on the trunk lid talked to Mars or something.....but antenna design and height above ground are the two most important factors in hearing and being heard. Ever see a TV station's antenna mounted at ten feet? There's a reason.

    Reply
  • Too bad it's nearly completely dead air these days. I don't even hear anything on Channel 19. I'd say that CB is good for walkie talkie usage between friends, but don't expect to hear anything interesting like you could in the old days.

    Reply
  • Thanks for nice post about Cb Radio. Its really helpful for most of the people who can communicate several times.

    Reply
  • Rick

    Hi Chris, if it is a CB radio, it did require a license to operate back in the 70's. However, in 1983, the FCC changed the licensing requirements to "license by rule", meaning that having a CB radio within the legal spec for CB and operating within the legal limit of 4 watts automatically grants you a license to use it, and you don't need to apply for one.
    In other words, as of 1983 you no longer need to get a license to operate a CB radio.

    Reply
  • Chris

    Do I need a license if the radio says I do but it's from the 70's and this website says that I don't and if I do please tell me how to acquire one HMU text if possible please and if not email. THANKS YOU ALL FOR THE INFO AND THE WEBSIGHT!!!!

    Reply
  • Chris

    I'm 12 and I recently acuired a Midlan radio from the 70's and I need to hook it up and on the back it says I have to have a license but reading this it says that I don't so if anyone can help HMU text if possible if not email is fine

    Reply
  • Bill

    CB Radios are fun to operate, Check your SWR's every month, I have been repairing CB Radios & Ham Radios for other shops for over 25 years.

    Reply
  • Skip

    I have a question concerning echos. I have a Galaxy 979 and its a great radio. When I hear other people on their radios I noticed those with just a little echo seem to sound much clearer. Where do you get the echo? Is it an install in the radio or is it a specialized mic?

    Reply
  • Bob Hemmes

    Just getting back into CB use after 50 years. I recently purchased a Cobra 2000 stock radio, with a CR 577 power mike. If I attained a technician "HAM" license could I use the above radio to speak on both the 10 and 11 meter band legally.

    Reply
  • This seems like a great article that would be helpful for people new to the cb radio. My uncle is a truck driver and uses a cb radio a lot. It helps keep him from getting lonely on the road.

    Reply
  • So the CB in CB radio stands for Citizens Band and you don't have to have a license to use one. That's good to know because I've been thinking about giving it a try. My brother wants one, but we haven't talked much about it. I'll have to remember to avoid channel 9 since that's only for emergencies or travel.

    Reply
  • Shawn

    I'm interested in buying a handheld unit for travel as well as in a potential survival situation. Any suggestions on which brand/models to look at. Any first hand suggestions and advice is greatly appreciated

    Reply
  • Lee

    Hi,
    I am interested in getting a CB radio, but I am ignorant about them. There is so much information out there, and I don't really know what to believe. Can anyone recommend a good, portable CB radio that covers a good range, has clear audio and is not real expensive? At this point, I don't want to permanently mount a CB radio inside my vehicle. I would appreciate any information you can provide. Also, any recommendations on an antenna and any other recommendations?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • My husband loves CB radios and I never really understood them. I want to get him a really nice one for Christmas. Thanks for all the great information! It'll be easier to find the right one now!

    Reply

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