Citizens band radio.
Citizens Band used to be part of something called “Class D operation” – My call sign was KCM9704 back in the heyday of the CB. I think the licenses were at various times $75, $50, $35 and $25, then free. Yes there were call signs you were supposed to use every ten minutes, just like Amateur Radio. Handles were used frequently as well. My handle on the CB in those days was “Tigerpaw”. No clue where I got it, I think the cat scratched me or something and I was Tigerclaw, but no one could understand me so I changed it. Haha.
Currently there is NO license fee. In fact, there is no license any more. Perhaps fortunately you don’t have to have one. You can just go purchase a CB radio, anything from a “base unit” to a mobile unit that runs on car batteries or a power supply. Unfortunately, having no license means the frequencies are pretty much unregulated, shared with everyone else (which is good because you have others to talk to), but a lot of foul language passes through the airwaves. Perhaps this doesn’t bother you, and perhaps you want to shield your children from such things. Either way it is something you should know.
CB frequencies are in the 11 meter band. For the uninitiated, this is about 26-28 MHz. Basically, this is the top end of the HF band, which of course is affect by the ionosphere under certain conditions. If your radio is having a good day, your antenna is the best it can possibly be, the conditions are just right, you can bounce a signal off the ionosphere at certain times of the day, and talk around the country. Is this legal? No, not really. There is an FCC imposed “155 mile limit” and you’re not supposed to talk to people in foreign countries (Canada and Mexico are included). You can find all of the rules for all classes of radio operation on the FCC site, cited in a previous message.
The reason CB was called “Class D” was because the rules for CB operation fall under FCC Regulations, Part 95, Part D. Amateur Radio operations fall under Part 97. There are 40 frequencies. There used to only be 23, but this was changed in the late 1970s or early 1980s (I don’t recall the exact date, but I recall a lot of new radios coming out in that time period). CB radios have been modified so that higher frequencies can be listened to. This generally puts the radio into the lower 10 meter band, which is a ham radio band. Most of us hams frown on folks using our frequencies without licenses, thus, we will hunt you down. That’s actually not a joke. If CBers get into out frequencies, especially the low end of Ten, it interferes with our “Novice bands” – and morse code.
There is nothing more irritating then talking to a new person on slow code, when some CBer jumps in on Single Side Band and starts cussing over the top of a CW signal. It’s difficult to convince a new person to continue with the QSO (conversation) when they are already scared at making contact already, and now they have QRM (man-made interference) they can do nothing about. It usually puts them off quickly and they cease the conversation. Most hams have the ability if they have taken some time to do direction finding. A few folks usually can get together and triangulate the offender rather quickly. I’ve seen people located in a given area in less than five minutes. My advice is do not modify radios to be go outside of the bands under normal circumstances. In fact, it’s not legal for you to modify a CB outside of the band, unless you’re a Ham and putting it on the Ham bands for your own use.
A list of Citizens Band frequencies can be found below.
Channel Frequency Channel Frequency
1 26.965 21 27.215
2 26.975 22 27.225
3 26.985 23 27.255
4 27.005 24 27.235
5 27.015 25 27.245
6 27.025 26 27.265
7 27.035 27 27.275
8 27.055 28 27.285
9* 27.065 29 27.295
10 27.075 30 27.305
11 27.085 31 27.315
12 27.105 32 27.325
13 27.115 33 27.335
14 27.125 34 27.345
15 27.135 35 27.355
16 27.155 36 27.365
17 27.165 37 27.375
18 27.175 38 27.385
19 27.185 39 27.395
20 27.205 40 27.405
* Channel 9 is ONLY to be used for emergencies. Please monitor it whenever possible and assist anyone that asks for aid.
Citizens Band has two three modes of operation. Amplitude Modulation (AM), Upper Side Band (USB) and Lower Side Band (LSB). Technically, single side band (SSB) is just another aspect of AM. However, it is considered like “three channels” by CBers when you are on channel 17, and go to AM, LSB or USB. Problem is, it really is still only one channel, but three slightly different methods of sending out intelligence (intelligence in this case is “audio” and can be any sound). Occasionally, you won’t hear any “intelligence” on a CB at all, even though a lot of people are talking…. (grin).
CB radios capable of SSB operation will be more expensive than a little mobile rig you can purchase anywhere from 30 bucks to 300 bucks. If you want to get one, go hit a pawn shop and see what you can find, or pick up something cheap from Radio Shack to play around with. You will need to buy an antenna (again, Radio Shack will have a selection of mobile antennas you can use, or you might build one… we’ll get into that sort of thing later).
What are they good for? What can you really use a CB for? What about survival communications? Can I use one anywhere?
There’s probably other questions I’ve not thought of, but since this is a communications forum and we’re discussing survival communications specifically, let’s talk about that.
CB radios HAVE saved lives. There is actually an organization called REACT – Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams which will help you get set up to operate as a REACT station if you have the desire, or perhaps a need in your local are to assist motorists traveling through the area. I belonged for many years to REACT before I became an Amateur, and which I was a young man in Detroit Michigan spent many hours in the summer sitting at the radio assisting folks with directions around the city, as well as operating during several emergencies including one truck loaded with fuel that hit a bridge. It subsequently exploded and messed up a piece of the freeway, but the trucker lived and we managed to get police to stop traffic before there were fatalities.
I have heard many stories about CB radios saving lives, but in each one, someone else was listening and took some action to assist those in trouble. That’s the point I suppose of having two-way communications available, and listening to it – to be available to others in case of need. By the same token, if you’re the one in need, you’re going to be hoping, praying and cussing about someone listening in. So essentially, this means any sort of communications is, well… better than nothing at all. But, is CB the best? Is it the worst? No to both questions.
CBers abound across the country and if you’re anywhere near an interstate freeway, you’re going to hear CBers talking. Some cities have large groups of people on the CB, and you will find the “regulars” on certain channels throughout some cities. I used to “hang out” on Channel 17 in Detroit, many moons ago, and there were a lot of people there. Some had funny “handles” and some were serious, some were kids, some adults and men, women, and everyone in between. So, you will find many, many people in populated areas you might be able to talk to.
On the highway is where the CB “shines”. You get “smokey report” – From Smokey the Bear, the type of hat most state troopers use. You can find out ahead of time that there are congestion problems before you get to the area you’re trying to pass through, or find out what caused the blockage on the other side of the highway. You can get directions to a place to eat, or sleep, or you can get help finding that special place you’re going on vacation. So CBs are very good in those situations.
Most folks that go “Four Wheeling” here in Colorado tend to have a CB in their vehicle. I used to keep one in the jeep, but I’ve since taken it out. I’ll likely get a new one to go in there some time soon.
If you’re caught in a situation where there is no power, and there is no way to go anywhere (say, a blizzard) a CB can assist in your rescue. People do listen in our area and if you get on and ask for help enough on Channel 9 someone is bound to hear you eventually. If you want to communicate with a lot of folks in a group that are going into the woods, then there are walkie-talkies available, or you can slap together backpack radio systems with cheap CBs, made up antennas and some portable battery packs. A little ingenuity will get you communicating with your back packing mates at a couple miles distant through even bad terrain if you have the time and inclination to set something up. Having something like that might just save someone’s life in avalanches, floods, blizzards and storms.
CB isn’t the BEST communications service available. Remember, under ordinary circumstances though, you have limitations placed on you by the FCC in the United States for the operation of CB radios. You are limited on distance you can LEGALLY talk. You may ONLY transmit “plain language” messages, meaning you can’t use secret codes, you can’t use encryption and the like. There are no other modes on CB except voice (unlike Ham radio which allows voice, digital and many other things). Radios are absolutely limited (legally) to 5 watts or so. No more. Less is ok, and you can do fine with less, but more than 5 watts under ordinary, day-to-day conditions will get you a fine if you’re caught by the FCC. If you are causing interference, you’ll eventually get caught.
CB isn’t the WORST of all communications services. No license is required. There are usually a lot of people listening, and the radios have the capability of being able to “talk skip” under certain conditions, giving you a long distance radio cheaper than many other devices. It is cheap, easy to use, easy to install as anything from a mobile unit to a home base station, to a backpack radio system you’ve rigged up. You can build your own antenna systems, if you’re handy with that sort of thing, and they will perhaps outperform anything you might obtain commercially.
Given what CB is and has become – and I’ve watched it since before the days of the big Trucker Strike in the 1970s, which is what made CB so famous – I would say that for the “average joe” in America, CB is a good enough form of “family communications” if you have a couple of cars, you don’t go far from home and you have kids at home. Anyone can use the radio and communication with whomever they wish.
Remember though, radio communications are anything but private. None of the modes we will discuss are “private” except cell phones, to some extent. Even then, they are still radios and subject to monitoring if you have the right technology.
If you have any questions at all on any of these articles thus far, post a message here on the forums and ask away. I’ll endeavor to answer them to the best of my ability. If I don’t know the answer right off, I’ll certainly help you find it.