Citizens’ Band radios or the popularly known CB radios took birth in in 1945 because of the efforts of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and it served as a platform through which public and small businesses could benefit from the radio communication without any prior study or experience.
This service does not need any license as well because the FCC specifically removed this requirement for best CB radio operations.
CB radios were initially allowed to have access to 23 channels only. But later in the 1970s, CB radio operators increased drastically in number worldwide and made the airwaves so crowded that the FCC was forced to allow access to additional 17 channels (or frequencies), making it a total of 40 channels for CB operations. Out of these channels, the channel 9 has been specified for emergency communication since the very beginning and is directly under the control of emergency services like fire departments and police. Channel 19 has been recognized as the “Trucker’s Channel”.It is used by the drivers, especially the truckers, to help other drivers by informing them of road hazards, speed traps, and the fuel prices. For other channels, the rules of usage have changed drastically over the years.
CB radio is the simplest, user-friendly and economical radio communication service of all. It has been preferred frequently by the small businesses and hobbyists for a very long time. Although the CB radios have largely lost their fame after the introduction of the cellular phones, but it is still the most commonly used means of communication among the truckers.
CB Radio Power Limitations
FCC is the main regulatory body for all sorts of radio communications. If defines the maximum output power that a given type of radio can generate. CB radios can only give up to 4 watts output power. CB is intended for short-range communications only. You can communicate maximum up to 10 miles under this power specification with the influence of terrain, weather, sunspots, and many users using the same CB channel simultaneously.
Some CB radios even don’t generate full 4 watts. For ensuring that all the CB radios are within the legal range of operation, they are made with in-built capacity of operating at lower than the 4-watt threshold. When you start operating the radio, you can ask any technician to bring it to the required output power generation.
Choosing the best CB Radio
For choosing the best cb radio it is important that radios have that qualities which are describe as below.
Single Side Band
There are CB radios that can transmit up to 12 watts of power. These are called the Single-Sideband CB radios. The main concept is that the original power generated is the same but it all goes into a single side band that increases the effective power output to 12 watts. Regular CB radios, on the other hand,make the power to be distributed in the main channel and the two side bands.
The only disadvantage of these radios is that it can help you communicate only with the users who have a SSB radio. If you want to expand your scope of communication, you need to switch to the regular CB radio but the power output will be decreased to 4 watts. Hence there is a trade-off in both the cases. SSB radios are also costlier than the normal CB radios.
There is an illegal practice often noticed that the operators connect a linear amplifier to their regular CB radios. These amplify the normal 4 watts to several hundred watts. Although the broadcast range can be increased using this device, but the signals are not received from distant spots.
There are many drawbacks of using this facility as well. Radio fails to control the signals that are stronger than the normal ones, making the adjacent channels to experience spillover. It is often observed that the users catch up with such transmissions on televisions and broadcast radio as well. That is one of the reasons why crime caused through these linear amplifiers often stay unnoticed because they are hard to catch.
Base Station and Mobile Radios
CB radios can be availed as base station and mobile configurations. Handheld walkie – talkies are also allowed to operate on CB radio frequencies. Children’s walkie – talkies generally transmit only through the channel 14.
Base station radios have power supplies that connect to the 120 VAC (volts of alternating current) found normally in anyhouse or building. They come with larger equipment but their power is the same as that of the mobile units. Majority of these radios have their internal working similar to that of the mobile units so they can sometimes be employed as the mobile units too but that is a rare case.
Mobile CB radios are the best ones to be mounted under the car’s dashboard or on the transmission hump. They are powered by the power system of the vehiclethrough the cigarette lighter or through direct connection with the accessory tab on the fuse block. The CB radio is often connected directly with the car’s battery with the aim of reducing the static caused by the spark plugs.
Typical Controls on a best CB Radio
CB radios come with a standard set of controls in addition to some unique features that make every CB radio model different. Without these functions, effective radio communication is not possible.
It is responsible for keeping the volume heard through the speakers under control. It has no effect on the output power generated by the radio.
There is often some static or “atmospheric noise” heard while you communicate through a CB radio.It is very irritating to the ears. With the squelch adjustment, you can monitor the signal level threshold so that only the most appropriate level of signal is allowed to enter your system. It filters out the weaker signals. It also mutes the background noise that is caused by the conversations of other users on the network.
Although there are 40 channels you can operate on, but selection of any specific channel becomes difficult sometimes. The channel selector consists of a knob with a disk on which channel numbers are present. The dial is backlit for making the channel numbers easily visible. There are CB radios that have a digital readout instead of the dial and it makes channel number easily readable.
Options Available on CB Radios
Apart from the basic controls, CB radios have many other features in-built that you need to consider while purchasing the CB equipment.
Automatic Noise Limiter
Automatic noise limiters is a type of automatic squelch control. They minimize the background noise and make the communication smoother. But sometimes they might accidently filter out the important signals affecting the overall radio communication.For this reason, the automatic noise limiters can be switched or turned off if you think that the signal reception is being affected.
RF gain stands for “radio frequency gain”.It controls the receiver of the CB radio and determines the amplification that the incoming signal will receive. Background noise can be eliminated by reducing the RF gain if the receiving station is somewhere near. If a station has a linear amplifier attached to it, it can transmit many overdriven signals to your station. You can control such signals through RF gain adjustment.
There is a special button found on the CB radios that allows the users to receive the weather reports from the NOAA radio network. It allows you to receive NOAA’s broadcast after bypassing the receiver of your own CB radio.
General this control allows you to quickly tune into the channel 9 for emergency transmissions. You can also find such a button for instant switching to the channel 19 in some CB radio models but that is rarely seen.
CB operations are often hindered during night because the controls are not visible. Latest CB radios have backlit displays that make the buttons, legends, and knobs on the radio clearly visible even in the dark. The branded CB radios also let you control the brightness of the backlit display through the brightness control.
Public address (PA) systems are commonly found on the mobile CB radios. It allows the operators to communicate with the people outside the vehicle through the CB radio speakers. On the outer side of the vehicle, a waterproof speaker is installed and connected to the CB system for effective PA activities. A PA “horn ” is usually installed inside the engine compartment that further facilitates this type of communication.
Built-in SWR Meter
For effective radio communication, a high-performing CB antenna needs to be installed and integrated with your CB system. During the antenna installation, the length of the antenna is adjusted carefully for attaining the ideal frequency length. Some of the signals usually return to the radio instead of being transmitted through the antenna. They are known as the “standing wave.” A standing wave ratio (SWR) meter is built-in with all the CB radios that measures the standing wave activity and points out the situations in which antenna needs to be readjusted. It works in parallel with the signal strength meter, and a switch is provided through which you can select the meter you want to operate.
The delta tune places an impact on the receiver of the CB radio. If you want to tune into a channel that is transmitting slightly off frequency, then you can use this control. But here the communication is not as smooth as that experienced on the other channels. When the delta tune is adjusted properly, the receiver’s frequency is automatically adjusted and transmissions are received clearly.
A Word about Antennas
Antenna selection is an extremely important part of the CB installation process. The performance of the entire system is affected if a poor antenna is used.The most ideal antenna for the mobile CB radios is the “quarter-wave” antenna. In this case, length of the antenna is one quarter of the length of the radio wave. The antenna height is usually 8 feet in the case of the CB radios.
As such long antennas are difficult to handle and install during the antenna setup process, there are many types of handy CB antennas introduced into the market. In these antenna varieties, the 8 feet of wire are shaped into a spiral or it is there in the form of load at the base of the antenna.
These antennas should be mounted at the highest point of the vehicle possible. Roof is the most optimal point for this purpose. If roof mounting is not feasible, then try any other spot on the vehicle that is clear and sufficiently high. Another effective place is the trunk of the vehicle where half of the antenna is easily placed above the roof line for effective transmissions.
The base of the place where you mount the antenna on the vehicle is the ground plane of the antenna. The radio transmissions are usually found to extend over a longer range if they are in the direction of the largest ground plane. In the case of trunk-mounted antennas, the front of the vehicle is the place where you will experience the longest transmissions. In case of antennas mounted on any of the sides, the opposite corners of the vehicles will give the longest transmissions.
Base station antennas don’t need any ground plane as they have one of their own. You will find a series of metal rods spread horizontally over the antenna base hence forming its ground plane.
If you are thinking of mounting the Twin antennas,keep them at least 8 feet apart. Truckers utilize their vehicle’s rear-view mirror for making this possible. The passenger cars and pickup trucks however cannot keep these antennas sufficiently apart. With the twin antennas, the signal strength is the highest at the front and rear of the vehicle. This option is the most suitable for those truckers who want to keep a check on the road conditions.
choosing the Best CB radio for Your Needs
Whether choosing the best cb radio, personal discretion of the users plays a major role in this process. With greater investment, you can avail more advanced features in your CB radios. But their power generation capacity will remain the same,irrespective of their price.
Usually over-the-road truckers invest generously in their CB equipment as it is the means through which they conduct their professional activities with ease. Hence they make sure that they bring home the best CB radio and antenna in town.
Many small businesses make full use of the CB radios by installing them in their delivery vehicles and utilizing this service for communicating with the staff and they prefer using the SSB radio. They select this type of radio because they offer better range, clarity, and better communication due to lesser traffic on the channels.
If you have a CB radio in any of the off-road vehicles, then you can stay connected with other drivers driving with you on the same road and can help you in the time of emergency. These vehicles only have space for smaller radios.
Manufacturers also offer CB radio models for use in motor homes and other recreational vehicles. These radios come with external speakers and are best mounted on the dashboard of the vehicle. CB radios have long been used for on-road and off-road communications and have proven their worth to millions.
CB radios are known as the most accessible and affordable form of communication for public as well as for the small businesses. They prove to be the most effective at the time of emergency when all other means of communication are down. Although cell phones are more popular nowadays, CB radios still have their luster intact.
It is not wise to invest too high in the CB radios as they all transmit the same power output of 4 watts. The expensive CB radios, however, feature more options that make the CB radios more beneficial for the users. Operators can also opt for the single-sideband radios that are designed to give power output of up to 12 watts. But these radios are also limited as they can communicate only with the operators having the SSB radios.
Selecting a good antenna and its correct installation are important steps towards flawless CB operations. The antenna is responsible for determining the range of the CB system. Preferable point for antenna mount is the topmost point of the vehicle. It allows the signals to be received from and transmitted in all the directions and achieve more effective communication.
Used CB radios can also be opted for as they can allow reasonable means of communication. Their biggest drawback, however, is that some of them only have access to the 23 channels instead of the 40 channels.
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