Radio is one of the oldest forms of communication. Before cell phones, people mainly used radios to communicate with each other. One of the most popular types of radio is called a CB radio.
But what is a CB radio and are they still being used today?
What is a CB Radio?
CB Radio, formally known as Citizens Band Radio, is a system of short-distance radio communication spread across 40 channels within the 27 MHz (11 m) band. Originally CB radio was designed for personal and business use without the need for a license but it became popular among truck drivers for real-time traffic updates and communication. CB radio operates using amplitude modulation (AM) and has a range of 3 to 20 miles depending on terrain and equipment.
A CB or Citizens Band radio was created by the FCC in 1945, and those who owned them could use public radio waves to communicate with each other. Although mobile devices have largely replaced CB radios, they are still used in circumstances where it is difficult to get cell phone service.
CB radios changed the landscape of communication when they were invented. So, read on to learn more about the impact of CB radios and their modern usage.
CB or Citizens Band radios are a form of two-way communication over radio channels. They fall under the Personal Radio Service and can be used for general and business communication. As long as you and the people you want to communicate with have CB radios, you can converse over 40 different private radio channels designated for CB users.
There is no age limit for CB radio use, nor is a license required, The only people that cannot use CB radios are federal employees and individuals with an active restraining order. Channel 9 of the 40 is used for emergencies and travel help only. All of the other channels can be shared and used for a variety of communications
Any CB radios in use must be approved by the FCC and cannot be modified in any way, whether it involves changing the power output or the parts inside. There are two main types of CB radios, mobile and handheld. The former is the type that is mounted in vehicles, while the latter functions like a walkie-talkie.
Are CB Radios Still Used Today?
CB radios are still widely used today by truck drivers and people who lives in Off-the-grid areas where there are no cell phone towers or internet connections. CB radios are faster and more effective when communicating with a large group than cell phones.
When using cell phones to communicate with a group, the most common options are conference calls and group chats. The more members there are in a group, the more chaotic these methods become and the higher the likelihood of connection problems. CB radios reduce these issues provided everyone has their radio to communicate.
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History of CB Radios
CB radios were invented in 1945 by Al Gross. They were created so that troops could easily communicate during World War II. After the war, Al wanted to make these radios available for personal use, and the CB radio service was created per the law in 1945.
The CB radio service was established to allow short-distance two-way communication. CB radios did not become popular with truck drivers until the 1970s. Following the nationwide 55-mile-per-hour speed limit for trucks during that time, truck drivers needed a way to talk to each other and find fuel sources. So, CB radios became their preferred communication outlet.
When they were first marketed to the public, a license was needed to use CB radios and there were lots of restrictions on the channels. As more people started to use them, the restrictions were lifted and so was the need for licensure.
Cobra (formally Dynascan Corporation) a lead CB radio manufacturer and creator of the first CB radio, helped popularize the radios and improves the technology and regulation surrounding them, In 2021, Cobra helped convince the FCC to serve CB radios through FM radio channels, where they were only functional on AM radio previously.
How Do CB Radios Work?
A CB radio is considered as a transceiver device because it can both send and receive communications. The key component of CB radios that allows them to function is the antenna because it is responsible for sending and receiving radio signals.
The antenna captures radio waves and converts them to electrical signals our ears can detect, which allows us to hear voices and receive messages. It also performs the opposite function and transforms electrical signals into radio waves to transmit messages.
The quality of communication is directly related to the quality of the antenna, and it is also important that the antenna is tuned to the proper frequency and wavelength to get the strongest radio signal. CB radios do not work at all without an antenna.
CB radios use a take-turn method where individuals take turns sending transmissions to each other. Messages can be up to five minutes long and can only be sent over a short distance. Artificially increasing the range of a CB radio is not permitted by the FCC.
Basic Controls of CB Radios
These are the main buttons on a CB radio and their purposes:
- On/Off/Volume Control- toggle the volume of the radio on/and off and make the volume louder or quieter
- Channel Up/Down- move forwards and backward through the list of 40 channels, used to switch between channels
- Squelch control- changes the strength of the CB radio signal
What Are The Uses of CB Radio?
CB radios are used by a wide variety of people. They may be used by the average person but also by truckers, hikers, and those who RV, as well as survivalists that spend a lot of time off the grid. CB radios can also be used to find detours and get weather information, among other things. Let’s explore why each of these groups uses CB radios in detail.
Truckers and CB Radio
Truckers use codes when on their CB radios to convey useful information. These codes include the following:
- Abnormal weather codes for rain, sleet, snow, hail, and other conditions
- Break check codes to report anything that may cause a delay in the route like construction
- “Bear reports” to beware of police activity on the roadways
- Codes to share trucking industry news
- Codes to indirectly communicate with other trucks about the need to merge, traffic conditions, etc
Although truckers communicate with their cell phones, CB radios assist them when there is no cell service. The information shared on CB radios is updated in real-time and will always shift according to the needs and conditions of the local area. They are more reliable than mobile apps in that sense.
Channel 9 is used for emergency assistance, and channels 17 and 19 are used for information pertinent to different directions of travel, such as north-south and east-west.
Motorcyclists/RV Users and CB Radios
These groups use CB radios to get the traffic and roadway information shared by truckers. This allows them to plan and modify their travel as needed to account for accidents and other variables that cause trip delays. They can also use the CB radio to call for emergency assistance and coordinate travel details with others when out of cell phone range.
Survivalists and CB Radios
People who participate in off-the-grid survivalist-type activities like hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking also benefit from CB radios. Handheld CB radios are the best way for them to communicate when out in the woods, on top of mountains, or wherever they might be in nature. They work better and have a greater range than most hunting or other industry radios.
Emergency services can also be contacted quickly in the event of injury. Furthermore, CB radio service is inexpensive compared to other radio service offerings.
With the abundance of technology available today, you may be wondering if CB radios are still considered useful devices.
Points to Consider When Purchasing a CB Radio
Now that you understand how CB radios were developed, how they work, their purpose, and the advantages that they can have, you may be considering purchasing one for yourself. Here are some key points to consider when buying your first CB radio.
Types of CB Radio
There are several types of CB radio, and each one has positives and negatives. Some are specifically designed to be used in vehicles as well. These are the core types of CB radio:
- Mobile CB radio- installed on or underneath the vehicle dashboard or mount to the floor, comes in different sizes and with varied features
- Handheld CB radios- otherwise known as walkie-talkies, can be stored when traveling on foot but also mounted on motorcycles and bicycles. Battery-powered and can be recharged.
- Base station CB radio- permanently fixed in a designated location and plugged into a wall outlet. Antennas must be mounted high up so they can pick up a signal
- All-in Handset CB radio- compact units that have built-in controls and settings, allows for a bigger microphone and simpler installation
Also, Read Ham vs CB Radio.
Types of CB Radio Antennas
Aside from the different styles of CB radio, there are different antennas to choose from. The most readily-available types of antennas for CB radios include:
- Mobile whips- CB radios for trucks that mount on the truck mirror
- Magnet mount- attaches magnetically to the roof or trunk of vehicles
- Base antenna- used with a CB base station
- Portable antennas- rubber antennas for portable CB radios
Types of CB Radio Microphones
There are also several choices for microphones in CB radios. They are as follows:
- Noise-canceling microphones- can remove background noise and static from transmissions
- Power microphone- permits adjustment of the voice signal being sent. Amplifies the power of voice signals so that they are louder
- Echo microphone- has a special delay circuit that gives transmissions an echo effect
Each type has a situation and space they best fit. Choose the model of CB radio you purchase based on when and where you will use it the most. This way, it will be more cost-effective for you.
CB Radio Brands
Each brand of CB radio has different models and features for a certain demographic of radio users. The most popular brands of CB radios include:
- Cobra- in business since 1945, famous for affordable yet high-tech CB radios
- Uniden- in business since 1968, famous for durable CB radios with unique features
- Stryker- famous for 10-meter band CB radios and popular with those who need radios on a budget
- Midland- famous for rugged and water-resistant CB radios
CB radio brands all seem the same at first glance, but they all have certain strengths such as affordability or high signal transmission rates
CB Radio Features
CB radio models all come with standard features. However, the different types of CB radio may have features specific to them. Features designated for more modern radios include built-in meters indicating signal strength and the transmission rate/. Basic features to look for in a standard CB radio include:
- Backlit displays so you can make transmissions at night and or in dark places
- Weather forecast display feature
- Channel scanning to get the activity level on each CB channel
- PA speaker to share information with large groups
- Single sidebands to capture frequencies from both AM and FM channels to improve signal transmission
- Radiofrequency gain to sort through channels by signal strength and pick out the weakest one, Helps to reduce background noise during transmissions
- Multiple sizes to work with whatever mounting situation you like best
CB radio features are frequently updated to meet the needs of modern users.
CB radios range in price from $50 for the cheapest to $200 for the best one possible. The price differs depending on the quality of the antenna. and the size of the radio
Having the features you want and a price that fits within your budget nailed down will help you choose the CB radio that works best for you.
Benefits of CB Radio
CB radios have many benefits that set them apart from cell phones. They are cheaper than cell phones and do not require a special license to use. They have greater network coverage and can send transmissions from remote areas, and provide weather and traffic updates to make journeys as smooth as possible.
CB radios are compact yet powerful radio devices used by truckers and outdoor enthusiasts. Although cell phones have skyrocketed in popularity, CB radios are still used today in places where cell phone towers and internet connection don’t reach. When purchasing a CB radio, consider the type of radio, antenna, and microphone, the brand, and the features you need.