How Do CB Radios Work? A Newbies A to Z Guide

A CB or Citizens Band radio has been around since the 1940s. Since then, they have gained popularity with truckers, as well as motorcyclists, hobbyists, and RV drivers.

The CB radio gives you the chance to reach out to other CB radio users within a short-range. In cases of emergency, when all other means of communication are cut off, a CB radio can come as a lifesaver.

You don’t need to get a license in the US to use a CB radio, which sure does make things easier and cheaper than using any other types of radios. CB radios are allowed the range of 1 to 10 miles, and there are 40 channels currently in use in the US.

A Brief History of CB Radios 

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) took bands from the Ham radio’s channel 11 to form a specific band for personal and business communication. FCC regulates CB to this day. Amateur radio channels are not allowed to have business communications, which is where CB radios come in handy. 

Back in 1948, Class A and B radio services were introduced. These were the base of the Family Radio Services. 10 years later, in 1958, Class D was introduced, which later became the forerunner of CB radios.

CB radio channels have expanded since then. Class D had 23 channels, but by 1977, CB radios had 40 channels in the US, which is the standard nowadays.

It was during the 70s when CB radios started gaining popularity. During the oil embargo declaration of OPEC, when the US responded with a ban of speeding over 55 mph, locating gas supplies became tough as the embargo caused fuel shortages and rationing. This was when the use of CB radios exploded. 

Then, CB radios became a common form of communication among drivers to find fuel resources and pass information to one another. Truckers get paid via miles driven, so their wages got impacted due to the 55-mph speed limit. They used their CB radios to organize protests by causing highway blockades. 

How Do CB Radios Work in Modern Day?

Getting an FCC license is both time-consuming and expensive, so having a CB radio instead makes sense. They are relatively cheaper, and you don’t need to wait for a license to start communicating. The CB radios have different features, and how you use them to communicate is entirely up to you.

Here are some features which can help one to improve the frequency quality of their CB radios:

RF Gain 

This lets one create filters so that only strong frequency and transmissions are received. This is useful in two situations:

  1. Blocking out the weak transmissions so that there is no background noise while you are talking to someone with a strong signal.
  2. Improving the clarity of all the channels by bringing in the weak signals.
CB Radios Work

Automatic Noise Limiter 

This feature can improve the reception’s sound quality. The ANL lets operators filter the interferences, such as engine and static noises. This is very helpful for someone with a particularly larger truck. Cutting down on those annoying static noise can sometimes help restore one’s sanity.

Instant Channel Functions 

This is a feature for some specific CB radios only. Some radios come with the option to choose between two popular channels and jump between them quickly. For example, channel 9 for emergency and channel 19 for the truckers residing in the US. 

Weather Reports 

This feature lets one receive real-time weather updates through any local radio station. This is a useful feature for RV or motor home drivers, as well as truckers. 

PA Functions 

You will get this feature after purchasing a separate PA horn. This horn is mounted on the top of the vehicle or under the hood, and this helps the radio to work as a public address system.

Squelch Control 

This is a very helpful feature to have if you don’t want unwanted static noise. The squelch control lets the CB radio to activate only when it receives a CB transmission or frequency. 

Backlit Display 

This is a must-have feature for those driving during the darker hours. The backlit display is helpful in using the radio buttons properly. Albeit, this is only added to the most expensive CB models, but having one is worth the investment if you drive in the dark. 

How to Make CB Radios Work 

You need the correct assortment of CB equipment to make CB radios work properly. Get the following items to install a CB radio.

  • CB radio
  • CB antenna
  • CB microphones
  • Coax cable
  • Antenna mount and stud

What Each Component Does 

Don't be intimidated by looking at the CB equipment to set up the radio. Here is what each of the components does.

Antenna 

You can hook up the antenna to the mount and the stud easily as this will be universal. There is no need to worry about compatibility issues here as there are threads on the left of the antenna, which will attach to almost any stud you buy. However, getting the best CB base station antenna won’t hurt.

Coax Cable 

This is the cable that connects the antenna to the radio. Any coax you buy is alright. It’s going to fit into the radio. There is a port at the back of the radio where the barrel connection hooks up.

Antenna Mount and Stud 

The antenna mount portion is an L-bracket. This can hook up to any vertical surfaces.  The antenna stud is the part that lets the antenna and the coax cable connect to a mounting surface. You can also remove the stud to pair up any stud to any mount you want.

There is a top portion on the stud where you can screw the antenna into. Then there is the coax that connects to the bottom part of the stud. 

How to Choose a CB Radio

When it comes down to choosing a handheld CB radio, the main thing to consider is your budget. Whether it’s a $200 or $50 radio, the difference will be in the features, not the fundamentals. All top-rated CB radios transmit at 4 watts regardless of their price.

If you want to talk further on the waves, you should spend more on purchasing an expensive antenna. You should get a CB radio that best suits your vehicle size. Getting a compact radio or one with many features is entirely up to you. Choosing a CB radio is not a difficult process in that sense.

How to Choose a CB Antenna

The best CB antenna for you is the one that best suits your vehicle. A CB radio antenna’s performance quality depends on the length, its build, and where you mount it on the vehicle. 

a CB Antenna

Picking the right mount location for the antenna is dependent on the vehicle. Some antennas work better with rear mounts, while some work best with the side mounts. Choosing a CB antenna will depend on the type of vehicle you own.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most commonly asked queries regarding the way a CB radio works:

1. Can I use my CB radio for business talks? 

Yes, there are no restrictions in using a CB radio to operate your business.

2. Can I use a linear amplifier? 

CB radios are permitted to operate at 4 watts only. Using additional power is illegal. This can sometimes cause interference in other electronics such as TVs, Stereos, VCRs, and telephones. So no, you can’t use a linear amplifier legally. 

3. What are a spring and a disconnect? 

A spring is installed between the antenna and the mount. This is to provide flexibility if the antenna is hit. A disconnect is also installed between the antenna and the mount, and it is used to quickly remove the antenna without using any other tools. 

4. How far can I talk to with a CB radio?  

You can reach within a 10-mile range with a CB radio. Factors such as how crowded the channel is, number of building around the area can affect the transmission. 

5. What is a Sideband? 

Sidebands, also known as Single Sideband or SSB, is using the existing channels on a CB radio more effectively. A sideband will travel further than your normal CB radio antenna.

Keep in mind that the signal is not as clear, and you need to use other tools to clear up the transmission. But you can grab greater distances while using a sideband for sure.

6. Where can I find the accessories for CB radio? 

Your local electronics store should have many accessories available for CB radio. Sometimes great finds are available at yard sales for astonishingly low prices. You can also look online for specific CB radio accessories.

Install a CB Radio for Emergencies!

Life is unpredictable, therefore getting a CB radio for your car can be a good way to go, especially if you are on the road a lot. During emergencies, a CB radio can come in handy for fast responses.

Moreover, reaching out to other drivers for useful information such as road blockade, accidents, etc. saves time. Getting a CB radio will hence enhance productivity as well.

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