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High Power CB Radios, Not Just For Truckers
About me. I was an over the road trucker for over ten years and have used high power CB radios to keep in touch with other trucks, and sometimes even law enforcement if I witnessed a wreck or drunk driver. (In some states, state troopers still monitor channel 19). In the time that I spent long haul trucking I saw many accidents avoided thanks to a CB radio. Situations such as washed out roads, ice and wrecks ahead were relayed to me by other truckers using high power CB radios. I do not endorse increasing the power of a CB radio beyond the legal limit, instead tuning it to the maximum legal power with a good antenna..
This article refers to high power CB radios but does not endorse modifying a CB radio to transmit more power.
Are you old enough to remember when everyone had a CB radio? CB or Citizens band radios were once in most cars and trucks and used by drivers to communicate between vehicles and summon help in an emergency. Today they are mostly used only by truckers. Truckers use them to warn other truckers about road conditions and speed traps.
High power CB radios can still be legal, within FCC rules if the radio has not been modified to increase it's power. Without modifying a high power CB radio, such as a Galaxy, you can still enjoy the benefits of superior signal processing, professional metering and features like talkback ( which allows you to hear how your transmitted voice sounds) and a roger beep that indicates when you have finished transmitting by an audible beep.
These kinds of radios are referred to as high power CB radios because, even though they are tuned for the legal 4 watts, 12 watts SSB, the final amplifiers can handle much more. This means that a radio such as a Galaxy can operate for hours without any overheating.
High power CB radios such as the Galaxy models meet FCC requirements if they are not modified. Many include frequency counters which show the frequency of the CB channel being used.
Since the CB or Citizens Band is located in the 11 meter part of the radio spectrum, next to the ham radio band of 10 meters, there are many truckers using modified ham or amateur high power 10 meter radios on the CB band. This is illegal. For those that do have a ham radio license you can operate such radios on the ten meter band. An amateur radio operator can modify a CB radio that has SSB or single sideband, for use in the ten meter band but a CB radio operator cannot legally modify a ham radio to work on the CB band although many people do so for the extra power.
Why Have a High Power CB?
If you do a lot of traveling it is a wise decision to have a CB radio installed in your vehicle. Even though you may have all the latest high tech toys, GPS navigation, Onstar, cell phones, etc, none of them can pick up a message from an eighteen wheeler coming in the opposite direction that the road is closed or that a tornado has been spotted coming toward the highway. Truckers constantly have their high power CB radios on and communicate about road hazards and more. There are many areas of the country were cell phone a coverage is spotty and if you happen to break down in one of these areas a CB may be the only way to summon help from a passing truck.
A high power CB radio should be connected to a suitable, high gain antenna. You may want to consider a magnetic mount model that you can easily place on the roof and take off when not on a long cross country trip. Be sure to use an "SWR" meter to tune the antenna to match the radio. Most meters include instructions on how to do so. Many high power CB radios such as the Galaxy models below have a built in SWR meters built in, to assist you in tuning the antenna.
Why Have a CB with SSB Capability?
Part of what makes radios like the Galaxy series radio shown below high power CB radios is the fact that they can transmit in the high power SSB mode. Single Sideband is a form of transmission, like AM or FM, but can go farther. Most SSB transmissions occur above channel 35. It should not be used on the traditional AM channels like channel 19. In an isolated area you may be able to summon help on the SSB channels. Tune to a channel between 34 and 40, set the radio to SSB upper or SSB lower and tune the clarifier control until you can understand the voice. SSB CB operators often use the phrase "CQ" to call each other, such as "CQ, CQ, For any station in Minneapolis", etc.
What Is CB Skip or DX?
DX. Illustration of how an ultra long range CB transmission is achieved.
When the CB radio service was started many years ago the FCC unwisely chose a long range band in the HF or shortwave spectrum, capable of worldwide transmissions under the right conditions. Skip refers to a signal skipping off a layer called the ionosphere and ending up hundreds or even thousands of miles from where it started. Many CB operators, using high power SSB radios 'talk skip" although the FCC considers this illegal. The maximum range allowed us 155 miles, but is seldom enforced. Recently a truck driver, who was stranded twenty miles off the interstate in Kentucky during the ice storm, made a call for help on channel 40 on his high power SSB CB radio that was picked up in Arizona. Authorities were sent to the driver's location. He had run out of diesel, food and water and would not have likely survived. His cell phone was useless in the mountainous area. What the national news never mentioned was that the FCC considers this against the law, but it saved the truck driver's life.
Galaxy High Power CB Radios
The radio below is an example of a high power CB radio with a frequency display and talkback circuit. It is almost identical in design to the ham radio below it. but contains a small wire across an internal jumper that prevents it from working on the ham bands and unused channels above and below the 40 CB channels. It has also had it's power tuned down to the legal 4 watts although some users opt to have the radio tuned for maximum performance at a truck stop's radio shop. The Galaxy radio below works right out of the box on the 40 legal CB channels although some users modify it illegally to work on the unused channels just above and below the legal ones. I do not endorse this, just stating the facts.
Having a good antenna is essential. No high power CB radio can work well without a good antenna. The K-40 series offers high power capacity and comes in two versions, the smaller K-30, which is ideal for smaller vehicles, and the K-40 for full sized trucks.
So What Is A Good Antenna - Radio Combination? For four wheelers you want a base loaded antenna set on the top of the roof. This tried and true setup is the absolute best configuration and will give you the longest CB range without going to a full sized whip antenna (which is around 108" tall and not that practical.) For trucks you will want dual fiberglass 5/8 wave antenna.
Not Ready For A High Power CB Radio But Want Something For An Emergency? Compact CB radios such as those made by Midland, Cobra, Uniden and other may not talk 20 miles but will be able to summon help within a couple of miles out on the interstate. There are many places where a cell phone will not work but a CB will. You can set up the following models in seconds without having to have any antennas permanently mounted on your roof. Both plug into your car's accessory power or cigarette lighter. Each of the models below puts out the full legal power on AM channel 19 which is used most by truckers.
To use an emergency CB radio tune to channel 19 (channel 9 is the emergency channel but seldom monitored). You can try channel 9 if no answer on 19. Turn the volume up about halfway, the squelch down low and push the mic button. Say "Break One Nine, this is (describe your car and location) and I have an emergency, does anyone copy?". Wait for a response and give your details and location to the person who responds and ask them to call for help for you.
Again, I don't advocate tuning any radio beyond it's legal FCC limit. Having a high power CB radio tuned legally in your vehicle is a very good insurance policy if you drive for a living.