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A Beginners Guide to CB Radio – Don’t Sabotage Your Experience Before It Begins
Citizens band radio or more commonly called “cb radio” offers many types of radio experiences, including a small number of legal channeled radio frequencies. As an example, you want a cb in your car or in your home. Maybe you have a business reason, maybe you’re interested in starting a new hobby, whatever.
This article is written for cb radio beginners or people who may be thinking about getting a radio. I’ll cover what type of radio is best to get when starting out and why and if you decide to give the hobby a try, what happens with most new ones. Don’t worry, it only hurts your pocket.
Almost all CB radios have a channel selector on the face and some kind of lighted indicator that shows a number, usually 1-40 or 1-23. Radios with 23 channels are older and unless you have one for very cheap or free I would not buy one of these units. There are a lot of old units out there, but for reasons I’ll explain later, you should get a newer setup. If it doesn’t make sense just read it and everything will become very clear.
Mobile vs. Base type units
CBs, for the most part, come in two flavors, basic or mobile. Mobile units are smaller, but can have all the features of a base radio, the same power output, however, there is a downside to the small size and that is the size of the control buttons on the front. Generally speaking, base radios have larger and in most cases more buttons compared to the mobile unit. What does all this mean? If you have fat beer drinking fingers, fiddling with tiny knobs in heavy traffic can prove to be a complete pain in the ass. This choice will be up to you.
Almost all mobile CB radios have an internal speaker, usually on the bottom of the radio. These speakers are garbage. They are overrated, cheap and sound bad. Consider an external speaker when space is available.
Some cb base radios will have a built in speaker, they sound better than the mobile but a quality external speaker should also be considered.
Most base station radios also have an internal power supply. It’s something to keep in mind when buying a setup. Cell phones are designed to run on a car battery, so they generally don’t have a 110-volt outlet. Base units, on the other hand, have built-in power supplies and are easy to connect. If you decide to use a cell phone as a base station, remember that you’ll need to get a 12-volt power source or have a spare car battery handy.
The range distances of mobiles are also much less compared to the base station due to the size of the antenna. There are glass cellular antennas similar to 8 ¼-foot wave antennas. The minimum length for a mobile setup to start working properly is 40 inches. Anything less is a waste, so the cellular aspect may look great, but it won’t have a very good range, maybe a mile or so.
Basically what it boils down to is that the bigger and taller the antenna is physically, the greater the range of the radio assuming everything is working properly.
CB radios as a travel companion
A cb radio in the car can be a very valuable tool. You can get tons of road information in real time from truckers, you don’t even have to speak. Just listening will tell you a lot about road conditions in advance, you’ll hear about accidents or traffic jams long before any broadcast band gets the information. The best part is that almost all the time you can hear where any speed traps are. The upside to all this wonderful information is what you have to hear between reports. Not something you want your kids to hear in general. If you don’t mind and it’s just you and your wife or girlfriend, then pick it up and join. It can make a long trip seem short when you’re itching the whole time. You can even make a report if you see something first. The question I hear most from truckers is about the condition of roadside scales. You can talk all the mess you want on the radio, but pay attention when you pass the scales on the other side of the road you’re driving on. For example, if you are traveling north on a freeway, look for stairs on the south side. Check if they are open or closed and relay that information as you drive down the road to the truck drivers and continue your rhetoric.
CB radios as a base station
And another side of the CB radio is the base station. You will find that there is generally a “local channel” in almost any city. There you’ll find regular people to tweakers and anything in between and like truckers, you probably don’t want your kids to hear what’s coming out of people’s mouths.
Having a base station usually means a larger antenna, which equates to considerably longer communications in terms of distance. Even with a 4 watt radio (the FCC legal limit) it’s not uncommon at 10 or 20 miles. If you live in or near a larger city, there will be a lot of people at what seems like all hours. The CB never closes.
CB is starting to overtake your life
So you get your base going and get out there. It becomes instantly addictive. Friday nights will be spent more in the garage drinking beer and talking on the radio. You will hear a lot about radio and get advice from a lot of people. One of the first things almost every CB’er wants is radio mods. In general, being stronger and having great signals at the receiving stations are the 2 most common modifications, being stronger is probably number one.
Be stronger? What does it mean?
This is where the line is drawn between what is technically correct and what people want. It is true that a “stock” radio will be listenable on a receiver, but the real question regarding the human psyche is how is heard
You can liken modifying a CB radio to owning a car and by changing certain parts or modifying the engine, wheels, tires, etc., you will improve its performance and make your car driving experience more enjoyable. It’s further validated when you win a friendly street race. This is not at all dissimilar to mods on a CB radio where the CB mates notice that your voice on their speaker is louder than others. Often referred to as “Tree Top Tall or Walkin the Dog and Kickin’ the Cat.” You get the idea.
This is where you will need to answer your first questions. I think it’s important to have a great microphone first. It won’t be long before you hear about the famous Astatic D104 base microphone. (note that there is a mobile version which is noisy, but its tone hurts) The base version is an impressive looking piece and has a reputation for being a ‘noisy’ microphone, meaning that everything all you have to do is plug it in and it’s instantly connected. the sound will change, and it will definitely come from the stock microphone.
I think the D104 is a good mic and it’s loud, however, its tonality is not acceptable due to its preamplifier (the electronics that contain the base of the unit). When I use the word tonality I mean how it is amplified in terms of sound quality and not necessarily loudness. Of course, there are a lot more variables than just the mic preamp, but if the mic doesn’t have the ability to capture and reproduce a natural, tonally pleasing sound or your better-than-average audio capture is going to disappear right there. At this point, you can also drive a screw into a wall with a wrench. It won’t make much difference what changes you make to the radio if the microphone can’t keep up.
The radios I think are great starter units
I have to say there are a lot of great radios out there. I created this list from
- Cost vs. performance
- Availability of parts
- Ease of finding stores that work with the models
- Abundant information available and easily accessible
- Good resale value
25/29 Classic, LTD
Cobra 2000 GTL – Base unit
Cobra 142 GTL – Base unit
President Washington – Base unit (There are two versions) one with one meter or two meters. The one meter unit is almost a cobra 148/2000 – There are some slight differences technically, but the two meter version looks nothing like any of the radios listed here despite the same name. If you end up with a dark radio, the time it will take a technician to review the schematic and come up with some modifications may or may not be possible or too expensive to justify.
Example 1: Buy an obscure radio for $40 in working and stock condition. Then you get a D104 and I’ll just say it’s $60. You take the radio to the technicians place, he/she has little experience with this model. If the technician does not have the schematic, you will have to provide one or wait and it will cost more money, say $15. Now wait longer until the tech comes up with a fix. Or maybe he just gives it a “tune-up” (leaving it to someone’s interpretation of what it really is) and charges you 40. So after $155 you have a D104 and a radio that doesn’t really have anything done to it. to him. When people ask you about your radio setup (and they will), you’ll find yourself excusing why you have this radio as “I got it cheap.”
Example two: Buy a Cobra 25 or 29 for $40 + D104 for 60. The technician has made many of these radios, probably has all the parts on hand and can do some nice mods in a few hours. It might cost $75, but look at the math. It adds up to a total of 175, but you get your radio back in no time, the mods will have made a huge difference and your love life. When people ask you about your setup, you’re proud of it and instead of making excuses, you talk about taking it to the next level, moving up into the CB world. It can make or break your CB radio experience. Trust me on this one.
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