CB Radio 101
CB Radios have remained a popular method of communicating in the trucking industry for many years. Despite the rise of more modern technology and social media, communicating through CB radios is still the preferred method by many over the road truck drivers.
Have you ever wondered which CB radio should you buy? There are so many options out there to choose from! Or what components do you need to purchase to install a CB radio for the first time? What is the best CB Antenna to use? And what about a Coax cable? Don’t worry, this guide is meant to assist you with this whole process and make it as easy as possible.
In the United States, there is no license needed to operate a CB radio. The distance that your radio can communicate depends much on the equipment you purchase but it could range anywhere from 1-10 miles.
What’s needed for a complete setup?
There are 5 main components that you will need to purchase to install a CB radio in your truck:
- CB Radio - View All
- Antenna - View All
- Antenna Mount (attaches antenna to vehicle) - View All
- Coax Cable (connects the antenna to CB radio) - View All
- CB Radio Mounting Brackets (If you don’t already have them) - View All
How to choose what radio to buy?
There are so many different features to choose from when buying a CB Radio. But when it’s all said and done, all CB radio units transmit at the same power, 4 watts. The exception to this would be SSB (Single Side Band) radios. They broadcast at 12 watts. But they are far less common and this guide primarily focuses on CB radios.
The standard 4 watts of power that all CB radios have is controlled by the FCC. That means if you spend $50 or $200 on a radio, they will both have the same power. You may gain extra bells and whistles with the more expensive one, but not a greater ability to transmit further. The ANTENNA is what is important and really determines the range a radio will have.
So then how do you choose which radio to buy? Based on features, not range. Decide which bells and whistles you want. But again, more money doesn’t mean more range for the radio unit.
CB Radio Features:
Weather Alerts - Flip a switch and get a real-time weather update
Backlit Display - This is a big deal if you are a nighttime driver
PA system ability - Some CB radios have the ability to attach a speaker to the back of the radio and mount it somewhere on the exterior to amplify their voice through it
Channel Scanning - Instead of having to manually search for activity
SWR Meter - Some radios have this meter built-in. It’s used to tune your antenna. You can also just use an external SWR meter instead
Single Side Band - This is the one exception where you can get a radio that broadcasts at 12 watts instead of 4 watts. The caveat is that you need someone on the other side of your transmission also with a single side band radio to be able to talk with them. If you’re outfitting a fleet of vehicles or you know you’ll be talking with other SSB folks, this might be an option to consider
Here at Raney’s, we offer a wide variety of the top name brand CB Radios. Click the link below to shop through all of the different options:
View All CB Radios
If you need to purchase a stand-alone SWR meter then click this link:
View SWR Meter
What is the best CB Antenna?
The antenna is the single most important item for impacting the range at which you can broadcast. Even though some antennas are clearly better than others, not every person can use the same antenna do to a variety of factors. Choosing an antenna has to work for your vehicle and driving conditions. This section of the guide is meant to help you gain a fuller understanding of antennas and why you would choose one over the other.
Factors to Consider:
- The longer the better! - This is the first and most important rule with Antennas. Not only that but the higher you can mount your antenna the better as well. It’s important to make sure that the coil on the antenna is above the roof of your vehicle.
- Build quality - The old saying “You get what you pay for” applies to CB Radio Antennas. You might be able to buy a cheap coil antenna for little money. But will it match the build quality of the K40 Helican Coil antenna? Likely not. Build quality largely affects how well your CB radio will perform so it’s best not to cheap out when choosing an antenna. Pick a reputable brand that is known for quality.
TIP / Myth Buster - Antenna Wattage Rating: You will see a wattage rating on many antennas and some sites try to make it seem like that a higher wattage is better than a low wattage. That is a myth! There is very little evidence to support that the wattage rating actually matters. Many consider it to be little more than a marketing ploy. Antenna wattage basically means that is how much the antenna will withstand before melting. As mentioned before, CB radios only put out 4 watts. If your antenna is rated at 1,000 watts, that antenna will be plenty strong enough. Some individuals want to install an illegal amplifier to the system in which case higher wattage can matter. But again….that’s illegal. As we just mentioned above, you get what you pay for. The more money you spend on an antenna, the better the components and usually the higher wattage rating. It’s the better-made product, not the wattage, that results in better performance.
Types of Antennas:
CENTER LOAD ANTENNAS
Sometimes called "trucker antennas" because these are often seen on Semi Trucks. They have a thick stainless steel lower shaft that makes up the lower portion of the antenna. The coil sits above this, usually in a plastic housing, and the remainder of the antenna consists of a long, thin steel whip. The thick plastic housing on the antenna shaft is where the coil is located and generally the dead giveaway when identifying these.
As a reminder, it's important to try and install the coil ABOVE the roof of your truck for the best performance.
Here is what you should consider before buying one of these.
Pros: Best performance (besides 102” whip antennas)
Cons: More expensive than other options | Damage prone if impacted
Approximate ranges for center load antennas are as follows:
7-10 Mile Approximate Range
Pros: Very durable
Cons: Provide a decent range, but not the most range you can get
2' Length= 2-3 Mile Approximate Range
3' Length= 3-4 Mile Approximate Range
4' Length= 4-6 Mile Approximate Range
5' Length= 5-7 Mile Approximate Range
Approximate ranges for fiberglass antennas are as follows:
Pros: Easy installation | Great performance on metal roofs
Cons: Not as durable | Possible clearance issues depending on how high you mount it and if you are prone to low lying hazards
MAGNETIC MOUNT ANTENNAS
Approximate ranges for magnetic mount antennas are as follows:
3’ Length= 3-4 Mile Approximate Range
5’ Length= 5-7 Mile Approximate Range
102” WHIP ANTENNAS
Most truck drivers would find it difficult to use one of these. They can cause clearance issues on Big Rigs if not mounted in the right place. 102” is super long! However, they are considered to be the ultimate CB antenna.
You can find a full list of the best CB antennas on our site. We carry the name brands you know and love such as Wilson CB Antenna, Firestik Antennas, K40 Antennas and more! Click the link below:
View All CB Antennas
Antenna Tuning is a very important thing to get right. Customers must match their antenna to their vehicle or nothing will work right. The antenna is using the metal surface of your vehicle to help transmit and receive a signal. Because all vehicles are different, the ideal length of your antenna needs to be adjusted after being installed to match up with your vehicle. This is accomplished by taking some readings on an SWR meter (some CB radios have this built in) and based on those readings you will either lengthen or shorten the antenna. If you are not familiar with this we recommend letting the professionals handle this. If you trim your antenna too much then you might as well have thrown your money into the trash!
CB Coax Cables - Will they all work?
Yes, a coax cable is a coax cable. They will all do the same thing. Sometimes you might need a specific length or want a style of a chord. But in terms of compatibility, they are all the same.
Remember, a coax cable is just needed to attach the antenna to the CB radio. So first you have to decide where you will mount your antenna. Then you need to determine how long of a coax cable you’ll need to reach your CB radio in your truck.
You can find a selection of coax cables for your needs at this link:
View All Coax Cables
CB Antenna Mounts
The CB Antenna mount is basically a bracket that holds your antenna. It will be fastened to the surface of your truck or your mirror and it provides the stability your antenna needs. The Antenna mounts are very unique to each individual. It can vary based on where you are trying to install the antenna. Some mounts are even specific to your truck’s make and model which can make it a lot simpler to choose where to mount your antenna.
Most mounts include the needed stud to attach to your antenna which cuts out all the guesswork.
To find a selection of CB Radio Antenna mounts on our site along with other miscellaneous installation components click this link:
View All CB Radio Installation Parts
At Raney’s, we want to make the buying experience as enjoyable as possible. Feel free to call us about any questions you have about CB radios. Or you can visit our Big Rig superstore in Florida to find a selection of CB Radios, antennas and components in stock.