Saturday, April 30, 2016

CB Radio Tips

Hey rubber duck, got yer ears on? Citizen's Band (CB) radio has held its popularity with off-roaders. No license required and a mobile-mounted CB has reliable, sufficient performance for the trail.

Ready to buy a CB system? Read on for some thoughts and experiences...


At wheelin' ranges, any decent antenna should work. Buying used saves money, too. I've run across some great deals along the way. Cruise the Goodwill, 4x4 club swap meets, Craigslist, etc. You might occasionally find a deal on ebay.

I've run: Hustler 17" permanent mount, Larsen permanent mount, cheapie fiberglass bumper mount, and a K40 and K30. They all worked ok but the K40 magmount was the best performer. It hit too many branches, though. I run the Larsen with a spring on the base.

In some cases you may have to tune the antenna to resonate across the CB frequency range. Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) meters measure how much power is transmitted versus reflected back to the radio. You can find low cost vintage SWR meters on ebay.
SWR / Power Meter
A perfect setup has an SWR of 1:1 and will maximize the legally limited 4W of radio power, while anything under 2:1 is acceptable. 

Generally I find that better and/or longer antennas have a lower SWR over a wider range of frequencies than smaller and/or cheaper antennas.

Installation matters. Grounding the radio to the chassis is important for good permanent mount performance. 

Placement in the center of a steel roof maximizes performance in all directions. But it also maximizes branch hits. You need a spring, strong magnet, and/or durable antenna. I prefer permanent mount on the roof with a spring.

You can mount it on the back of the truck (bumper, tire carrier, etc.) where it's more out of the way, with a tradeoff in performance that probably doesn't matter at trail ranges.


You're legal limited to 4W, Amplitude Modulation so radio performance matters very little. And, look around for deals on used CBs. I've gotten lucky a few times. It's more about features, many of which I personally think are a waste of money for four-wheeling. 

Single Side Band is rare to find on the trail and really only good for long distance communication.

Chrome on radios reflects sunlight, blinding you on the trail as your rig moves at various angles.

RF Gain effectively ignores people further away than your 4-wheel group. You can always switch channels, though.

Noise filtering clean up the audio from ignition noise electric fans, etc.

Weather (WX) channel capability would be handy to have.

CH 9/19 switch is less useful than I originally thought.

Public Address (PA) is marginally useful to have if you hook up a PA behind the grille. Can be helpful in communicating with spotter or people walking.

I really like my Uniden 520XL, a small, all-black CB with RF Gain and noise filter, and think it is a great unit for four wheeling. The Uniden 510XL is a budget option lacking RF gain.


This is just a short overview of some thoughts when you go to buy a CB and antenna. For an outstanding set of articles on antennas and how to get the best performance out of your radio, check out the Firestik Library.

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