CB stands for “citizens band.” A band is a range of frequencies. There’s a whole spectrum, called radiofrequency or RF, that empowers telecommunications from 104 to 1011 (sometimes 1012) hertz.
The citizens’ band is a short-distance radio communication service. It is in use in many countries. The particular frequency band the CB uses is the 11 m (or the 27 MHz) band. CB is a two-way radio service. You can speak and listen to a source that’s transmitting on CB if you have CB. You must also have handy some CB accessories.
More on frequencies
Frequencies are a huge part of our daily technology. From garage door openers and cordless phones to airplanes and alarm systems and cell phones to air traffic control, GPS, and space stations: different radio frequencies are used for different kinds of communications in different bands.
What happens is that we make sound through a mic which is then imposed on a wave within a certain frequency band. That wave travels around and any antenna that is particularly tuned to receive that frequency captures the signal. That signal is how the original sound is received.
Now, there are different frequencies because if everything from phones and garage door openers to air traffic control and citizens telecommunications was imposed on the same waves, the signals would be distorted. Having separate bands means separate “channels” for separate purposes. This helps send the message to the appropriate receiver(s) and also reduces noise, distortion, or other mishaps.
CB: Why do people use it?
Why do people use the citizens’ band? Well today, it’s more like a hobby. It started with professionals and people in various trading jobs using the CB to contact the main office from their job sites, like carpenters or electricians. Truckers, hunters, hikers, plumbers – you name it.
Many professions used CB. But they’ve all moved on to more appropriate means of communication and bands with time. Truckers are an exception, which takes us to the second users of the CB besides the hobbyist users.
Truckers, especially long-haul ones, use the CB to communicate stuff ranging from traffic updates to navigational and directional information.
Because truckers relay many important pieces of traffic, direction, weather, and other information, CB radio is a handy service while on road trips. You don’t need to speak to them, just listen to what they are saying and you’ll probably gain some valuable insights in many places.
With CB, you can also start your local station to have people listen to your rhetoric or some sort of city news. 10-20 miles is easy with stronger antennas (check some of the best-performing CB antennas here) while not crossing the legal power upper cap.
There also has been a constant decline in the usage of the CB radio service. But it remains to be a hobby for many nonetheless for the sheer fun it is, for the experimentation and flexibility it offers, and for many other reasons. Do people do illegal stuff with it? Well, sometimes. Also, you might not want to use your cellphone or the internet to communicate about certain things. But the CB is not a reliable replacement for that every time.
What to do to have a CB radio?
You need various parts to have a working CB system of your own. There are the basics: the radio which will receive and transmit, a microphone to speak into, an antenna to capture and transmit the signal around, and a meter to tune your antenna so that you capture the right frequency.
Besides that, there is a whole market for CB radio. From belt clips and external speakers to antenna mounts and noise filters: using CB radio is a professional hobby that can be made more effective with add-ons. We recently reviewed the top CB radios in the industry, take a look at this page if you’re interested.
How do most people set-up and use their CB radio?
Most hobbyist CB radio users use their radio in their vehicles, especially as it’s been around for a long time (like the reliable Galaxy 959 CB radio). CB transmission faces tons of problems when the signal is moving indoors, that’s why it’s not recommended.
Drill through your vehicle (although not completely necessary for various equipment) and attach the antenna. It could be near the side mirrors, on the fender or roof, in the truck bed, anywhere. Now, attach it to your CB radio that probably sits on the dashboard. Use a meter to tune in to the right band and there you go. Microphones are essential, while external speakers or noise filters might be necessary for many conditions. If you prefer handheld CB radios, check here.
What is legal and what is illegal when using CB radio service?
The Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC, regulates the citizens’ band. The regulations list is long, but in a nutshell, here’s what legal:
- Using the CB to engage in short-distance communication.
- Utilizing your transmission without affecting anyone else or anything else.
And here’s what’s illegal:
- Some people use very high-powered transmitters to make their signals move across large regions. These signals can be intercepted and heard hundreds of miles away.
- Some people use high-powered transmitters that are often modified to generate spurs and harmonics that can cause potential interference, distortion, or other problems to equipment that captures signals. Sometimes, these also damage or produce interference in equipment functioning outside the citizens’ band or consumer electronics.
- Power output level beyond 4 watts for AM and 12 watts for SSB (at the antenna connection during transmission) is illegal for CB. Linear amplifiers often break this law, and for that reason, they were even banned from sales during the 1970s.
Using break: the CB radio communication protocol
There’s not a lot of protocols that you need to follow when you’re on the CB. One important protocol is the “break.”
In the citizens’ band, many users share the channels. In one instance, only one source can transmit. This is a shared channel and that’s what happens with two-way shared channels, it’s not a self-imposed rule of any kind.
Other users simply listen to the message and wait for it to be over so that the shared channel becomes free to use.
If the transmission you’re listening to stops for a while and you have something to transmit, you broadcast the single word, “break”, and follow that up with your channel number. Now, everyone else listening knows that you are waiting to speak.