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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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Lee

    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?

  • 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!

  • sean

    i have a lot of fun on my cb i even met my wife of 20 years on the cb.i like skip and the baces a round town

  • Rick

    Hi Gary, The Uniden will not talk with the Midland because the GXT 860 is not a CB radio, it operates on FRS and GMRS frequencies. We explain the different radios and radio services in The Two Way Radio Show Podcast Episode #75 - Types of Two Way Radios. You may want to give it a listen.

  • Gary Conner

    Hello, I have a CB radio Uniden model Pro 510 XL and 2 -Two way radios Midland GXT 860 Model. I tried to use the CB radio to talk with the hand held radios and I couldn't communicate. Can anyone assist me with this problem?
    Thank you in advance, Gary Conner

  • Rod Schultz

    Hi I have a Uniden PC122XL SSB and was wonding what is the best antenna would be good for best single . I am in the north qld Australia . please reply to [email protected]

  • Motor mouth

    Yes the stryker. Is a 10 meter but Easley converted by just moving a jumper on the inside of the radio once converted use band d on am that is the regular 40 on cb

  • Rick

    The SR-497 is not a CB radio. It is a 10-meter radio that operates on amateur radio frequencies.

  • hotwire

    I have a stryker 497 l would like to know the freq on the a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h on the selector knob

  • BOB N

    I have a ranger cb radio with all the upper channels, do I need a licence and how do l apply for one?

  • Jim

    Radio can be a lot of fun. I started out as a kid with a walkie-talkie and also used to listen to shortwave. Later I decided to get my Amateur Radio license but I still have a CB radio in my shack. The fun of it is in learning about radios & antennas ... I never stop learning even after 50 years in the hobby. Find yourself a radio friend who is willing to share information and what he knows. Now days, you can go online and find out anything you want to know then start building stuff. Consider getting your Ham Radio License and join a club. Lots of good people in that hobby.

  • Patrick

    I am trying write something about buying CB for on my own blog but after reading this I have a lot to do... Really good job and I learned a lot of usefull stuff
    Now I think my article may be only prelude for longer series:

  • Brad

    Purchase good solid equipment . You r only be as good as your equipment is.You don't have to buy the most expensive but do buy good brands. I run two Galaxy Radios DX 959 and a DX 95T2 and am very happy with them as well as a Cobra I lend out. If you are serious about radio as a hobby do yourself a favor and spend a little now. Don't replace equipment later and waste good money with equipment your not happy with and never use, start off right. Remember, no matter how "big or bad" someones radio is-someone else has one "bigger and badder". Get a good working system that you can be proud to own and enjoy the hobby..

  • Glen

    I would recommend if starting out you get a book entitled CB Radio For Dummies. then i would recommend a tuned radio such as the Galaxy 959 for AM or Uniden 980 for SSB. As for the 5 minutes only talk time and then wait for a minute that is absurd. there are enough channels that you can meet on. Buy your CB tuned from a reputable shop or get it tuned for maximum performance. The antenna height is not so important as in getting it tuned. Cars have them on their trunks. A good base station is available from Uniden or Galaxy.

  • Mario

    hi i'am thinking about getting myself a Cb home base radio'' how high do i have to put up the antenna for the best long range also note I'am looking at getting a Rci 2980wx radio are they any good

  • charles carter
    charles carter July 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    I have been intristed in cb and ham raidio since i was a kid how ever i just now started useing my first mobile cb raidio for the first time. I must say though i dont have any idea on cb lingo or talk or how to use code or how to increase my signal strength i am located in the mid west in leavenworth kansas i would appreciate any advice or tips on how to increase signal strength so i can better enjoy communication with other handlers in my local area or truckers on the hihway. any tips or advice would be great. pleas send to email listed above.

  • Salden hund

    Just what I needed to read to familiarize with thE CB.


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