How to Use a CB Radio Properly

truck driver using a CB Radio

A CB radio is used by both businesses and citizens. You don’t have to have a radio license to operate a CB, which uses 40 shared channels in the single sideband or AM band. It’s considered a mobile radio, but unlike other types of radio equipment, anyone can use a CB. Additionally, there are no minimum age requirements according to the Federal Communication committee rules. You can use all 40 channels, however,  Channel 9 can only be used for an emergency when emergency communication is needed. Since everyone has to share CB channels, you must learn how to use a CB correctly and responsibly.

What You’ll Need for Your Radio Setup

The components you need to install a new radio and antenna system can depend on the type of model you purchase, whether it’s designed for vehicle use or home use. In most cases, you’ll need the following gear for a pro setup:

  • Radio
  • Antenna system
  • External SWR meter
  • Coax cable
  • Mounting hardware

Mounting Locations

The most common place a CB  is mounted is in a vehicle. It’s crucial to mount the CB in a location that won’t hinder your safety while driving. Underneath the driver’s seat is probably the most common place to mount it.

Some models will come with their own mounting hardware that may require you to modify your vehicle. However, only older, larger models will require this type of installation. Smaller radios won’t require any serious installation and can easily fit on a dashboard. Before you buy a CB  make sure you check the mounting instructions and requirements and ensure it’s properly installed before use.

Antenna Installation

You can purchase larger antennas for your CB radio for a wider range in service, however, bigger antennas require more time to install. A small profile antenna is a great choice and can be used even on motorcycles. The center of the roof is the best place to mount a CB radio antenna.

Depending on the type of antenna you purchased, you may need to drill holes into your car or truck. Again, it’s important to check the installation requirements before you buy an antenna. Magnetic antennas offer the perfect solution for the buyer who wants an easier installation process.

 

Dual Antenna System

Some people use a dual CB antenna because this type can co-phase, changing the radiation pattern by forming a couple of figure eights that overlap. This increases the strength of the radio’s transmission to the back and front. This is a huge advantage because the CB radio user usually wants to speak to people behind them or in front of them. A dual system provides some help to signals by dividing the standing wave ratio in half, cutting the transmission noise in half.

If you install dual antennas, they must be placed approximately six feet apart. Both of the antennas will need sturdy mounting hardware, grounding, and a sufficient ground plane.

 

Use an SWR Meter to Tune the Antenna System

trucker using a CB Radio

When you’re installing a CB in your vehicle, make sure you move your car to a spot that has no obstructions. This will allow you to easily tune the antenna and receive a more accurate SWR reading. Tuning an antenna is the process of adjusting it to the correct length for optimal transmission. It’s also mandatory if you want to get the most out of your radio. Not tuning the antenna can result in poor reception performance and transmission and can permanently damage your radio. To tune the antenna correctly, you’ll need to use an SWR meter. SWR, or standing wave ratio, is the ratio of output power that reaches its destination compared to the power that’s reflected back. If the output power is delayed, the waves aren’t radiating the way they should. A low SWR reading means that the antenna is transmitting the right amount of radio frequency power.

The goal is to bring the standing wave ratio to 1:1. You can move the antenna around until you’ve located the perfect spot to install it, based on the meter reading.

When you use the meter, if the SWR reading is higher on CB channel 1 than it is on channel 40, then you may need to slightly lengthen the antenna. If you get a lower SWR reading, then shorten the antenna.

Coax Cable

The antenna’s performance can be impacted by as much as 25% by the coax cable connection. When you’re installing your radio, make sure you use a cable that’s thickly insulated and coated to protect it against the weather.

Next, you need to wire the device, which means you’ll need to run the cable from the radio to the antenna and provide a source of power to run the CB radio. If you’re installing a CB  in your vehicle, then how you’ll run the cable will depend on the type of vehicle you have. In a vehicle, you’ll have a couple of power options, connecting it to a radio’s aux plug or connecting it directly to the battery.

Tuning a CB Radio

As I mentioned earlier, CB channel 9 is reserved for emergencies only, while 19 is usually reserved for truck drivers. The channels on your CB radio can usually be tuned by a knob, although some models will have a separate button or switch that you can use to turn to 9 in the event of an emergency.

Before you pick up the radio’s mic, you’ll want to confirm that the gain control is placed on maximum to ensure clarity.

Background Noise

You can turn up the squelch knob to cut off any excess noise. In the absence of a signal, any background noise can be very annoying when there are no transmissions being made.

Squelch

The term squelch refers to the knob that will quiet down any background noise on the radio when there’s no signal. To eliminate noise completely, keep turning the squelch knob. Squelch ensures that the receiver is fully quiet unless a signal is present. These knobs are usually found on other types of two-way radios as well.

Range

These radios are designed for local and short-range use, so a mobile radio can usually pick up another signal from approximately 15 miles away. Obstructions such as buildings in the area, terrain type, and the number of people on one channel can decrease or increase range.

How to Use a CB Radio Properly-Basic Etiquette

Many semi-truck drivers use CB radios. Truckers drive thousands of miles and use CB radios to communicate, share travel information and warn other truckers where a police car may be hidden, waiting for someone who is speeding. Professionals such as electricians and plumbers also use a CB radio system to stay connected for business. For the rest of the world, CB radio use is just for fun.

To get started using your CB radio make sure that the power is on and you have the antenna connected correctly. Read the user’s manual from cover to cover before you use the device for the first time and become familiar with its different channels, knobs, buttons, and features. Once you’re confident you know how the CB radio works, you’re ready to start interacting with other users.

 

  • Sharing CB radio channels means that proper etiquette is required. It’s common practice not to speak with another user for over 5 minutes. You must also wait at least one minute before more communication.
  • Make sure that you wait until others are finished speaking on the CB channel before you begin talking. Unless you’re in an emergency it’s always best to follow the etiquette rules.
  • Push the speak button and talk directly into the mic. You don’t have to hold it very close to your mouth since doing so can cause your words to sound muffled. Also, make sure that you don’t have the TV on or any music playing in the background.
  • If you want to reach out to other CB users, make sure you remember the handle of the user you want to reach and say their handle name into the mic. Handle names can protect the other user’s privacy.
  • Remember to say the word “break” if you want to speak. You’ll know you’re given the break when the other speaker responds with the “go-ahead break”.
  • Ask for a radio check to see if another user wants to talk on a channel. This is very helpful since not everyone is looking to chat.
  • If you hear a conversation underway, wait for a break and ask for a check. If you get a response that seems like they want to communicate, go ahead. If you don’t get a response, try another CB channel.
  • When two people are carrying on a conversation with each other on a particular channel it means that they’re the temporary owners of the channel. The FCC regulations in America state that you must give people opportunities to use the channel for at least 5 minutes.
  • An outsider is not allowed to take the channel away from the two users speaking unless it’s an emergency, in which case they must request a break.
  • Avoid stepping on other units. Not stepping on other units means not transmitting at the same time as other people. Doing so essentially makes it impossible to understand your transmission.
  • No one likes the user who keys over someone else. Doing so is only acceptable during an emergency.

Learning CB Lingo

worker communicating via CB Radio

Talking on a CB is pretty easy and it becomes much easier with time and practice. Learning common CB jargon such as ten codes and slang can help you communicate with other users faster.

CB Ten Codes

Ten codes are a type of special dialect used in the CB community.

Below, you’ll find a list of ten codes you can use to carry a conversation with users all over the country.

  • 10-1: Receiving poorly- Can’t hear you
  • 10-2: Receiving well-Can hear you
  • 10-3: Stop transmitting
  • 10-4: Message received/affirmative
  • 10-6: Hold on/busy
  • 10-9: Repeat message
  • 10-10: Transmission complete
  • 10-13: Road/weather conditions
  • 10-17: Urgent
  • 10-20: Identifying location
  • 10-27: Moving to channel ( list channel)
  • 10-33: Emergency traffic
  • 10-38: Ambulance needed
  • 10-45: Units within range report
  • 10-62: Please use the phone, unable to copy
  • 10-99: Mission completed
  • 10-100: Bathroom break
  • 10-200: Police needed

Once you become familiar with ten codes and general slang, you’ll understand what’s being said once you start communicating with other users all over the country.

CB Terminology

There are over two thousand CB slang terms commonly used by your average user or trucker. While you may not be able to learn all two thousand terms right away, below is a list of some of the most commonly used terms that will allow you to easily communicate with other users on the road.

Affirmative

Yes

All Locked Up   

Closed weigh station

Alligator

An alligator is a piece of tire on the road that can be hazardous if hit by a vehicle.

Back Door

This term means there’s something behind you

Back it Down

Slow down or reduce your speed

Blue Slip

Ticket

Backed Out of it

If a driver isn’t able to maintain their speed they may need to downshift

Bear In the Bushes    

This term means that a police officer is hiding out of view trying to catch speeders

Breaking Up

The radio signal is fading, weak, or cutting out

Come Back

This term is used if one user is unable to hear the last transmission made or they want the other user to respond to a question

Copy 

The radio transmission is understood or acknowledged

Final Thoughts

Learning how to use your CB correctly will allow you to effectively communicate with other local CB radio users in your area, or when you’re on the road. In fact, these radios are still heavily used by truck drivers all over the country as a safe and effective way to communicate with fellow truck drivers and other motorists. Learning the slang, ten codes, and proper CB radio etiquette will be crucial since you must share the same 40 channels with hundreds of other CB users in your area. While getting the hang of CB radio slang and remembering how to correctly use the ten codes can take time, once you get the hang of it, you can connect with other drivers, campers, motorists, RV users, and your neighbors. You’ll also find that you can rely on your CB radio in an emergency and communicate more effectively.

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