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CB Radio Basics

Author: thephantum

Choosing a Radio

The first thing to note about choosing a CB radio, is that the FCC regulates power output of CB's, what separates a $200 radio from a $50 radio is not much more than "bells and whistles". An inexpensive radio and a thoughtfully installed and tuned antenna system will have much better performance than a $200+ radio and a mediocre antenna or questionable antenna installation. So, it's the antenna...not the radio...that makes the difference. See this article for more on CB antenna Basics.

The second thing to consider, is the number of channels. Stick to a 40 channel CB radio. Do not be duped into pitches like "240 Channels!!!" If you understand how transmitting radios and antennas work, then you will understand the dangers of operating a wideband radio with a relatively narrow band antenna. Suffice to say, it's the folks who don't understand the consequences of what they are getting into that are buying most of these radios. They go to buy a CB and are shown a radio with 240 channels. "240 channels is much better than 40 channels!" So they buy a wideband radio and some no-name, narrow band antenna and end up burning out the radio because the antenna can't handle all of the frequencies. Stick with a 40 channel CB.

Useful Radio Features

Every CB radio shares some common features:
  • An on/off/volume control
  • A dial (or switch) for changing channels
  • A squelch control
If the radio has PA capabilities, it will have a PA/Radio switch allowing you to switch between those modes There is another feature that is nice for Jeepers to have...that's "RF gain." RF gain is a receive only adjustment that allows you to control incoming signal strength when strong signals are present and over-powering...like when you are talking to the guy behind you on a trail. Mic gain is also a nice feature to have.

Nice Radio Features, but not necessary

As you move up in price range, you will find features such as Automatic Noise Limiting (ANL), SWR/Power meters, NOAA channels, and lots of pretty lights. Let's look at each one.

ANL - this feature cuts out lower level noises on the airwaves...it's basically noise reduction. The thing to keep in mind is that the radio doesn't know the difference between a hissing/static sound or your friend saying "Hey man, I'm stuck" from a decent distance. ANL is okay for short distance communications, but IMHO, it's better to just use the squelch and allow the radio’s receiver to gather up all the broadcasts that it can.

SWR/power meters - The antenna system should be tuned and tested with an external meter. The most valuable part of having an internal SWR meter is having the ability to spot-check the antenna system...but this should be done periodically with an external meter anyway. See this article for additional SWR details.

NOAA Weather radio - Here's the problem with this...weather information is typically broadcast from the major metropolitan areas at low power....so you don't have to go very far to be out of range. Your better off getting weather information from an AM/FM radio. If you are interested in those frequencies, get a mobile scanner. It will pick up the weather bands and much, much more.

The bottom line...

Radios with the very basic features (Volume, Squelch, RF Gain) are generally compact and it is pretty easy to find a location in a Jeep to mount them. If your intent is functionality, bigger does not mean better and neither chrome nor lots of lights nor cool looking meters makes a radio perform better.

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