Are you looking for a powerful, reliable two-way radio you can use without a license? CB radios date clear back to 1945 and rose to their height during the 1970s. Since the advent of handheld FRS radios, they have lost some of their popularity, but they are still a mainstay for truckers, hobbyists, boat operators, and first responders.
If you are thinking about purchasing a CB radio, you are looking at either a fixed-mount or handheld model. Below is a product comparison table which can help you to take in the features of top cb radio models at a glance.
|Cobra 29 LX|
|Uniden Bearcat 980SSB|
|Cobra HH 38 WX ST|
- 1 What Are CB Radios?
- 2 How CB Radios work
- 3 Uses
- 4 History of CB Radios
- 5 Mobile vs. Handheld CB Radios
- 6 Power and Range
- 7 Features
- 8 Uniden PRO505XL: Perfect for Casual CB Radio Enthusiasts
- 9 Cobra 29 LX: Monitor the Weather and Communicate In Style
- 10 Midland 75-822: the Most Popular Portable CB Radio
- 11 Cobra HH 38 WX ST: Small Size, Lots of Power
What Are CB Radios?
CB radio stands for “Citizens Band radio.” The FCC first created them back in 1945. They were designed specifically to be easy to learn to use so that small business and ordinary individuals could communicate with them effectively. CB radios are cost-effective, powerful, reliable, and do not require a license. There are 40 channels available; a number of them are designated for specific unofficial uses. Channel 19 for example is used by truckers and travelers. While CB radios are more powerful than FRS radios, they are built for short-distance communication only.
How CB Radios work
CB radios operate using radio waves, just like VHF radios, cell phones, televisions, and AM/FM radios. Each CB radio is equipped with a long antenna, generally around 10 feet. If you use your CB radio in your vehicle, the antenna will probably be mounted on the back of the vehicle. The antenna captures the signals and transforms them into audio which you hear through the speakers.
A CB radio is a transceiver, which means that it is both a transmitter and a receiver. If you want to send out a communication, simply key into the microphone and talk. The words are converted into electrical signals and then are transmitted by the antenna. They travel through the air on radio waves which are picked up by other CB radios.
There are numerous different uses for CB radios. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Get traffic, weather, and travel updates and warnings when you are on the road (personal or professional use)
- Report emergencies or coordinate a response
- Chat on the road with friends in different vehicles
- Learn more about radio (CB radio is a popular hobby)
History of CB Radios
As mentioned previously, the FCC invented CB Radio in 1945 with the goal of giving individuals and small businesses a reliable two-way means of communication that wasn’t too hard to learn. CB radio reached a height of popularity during the 60s and 70s. The advent of solid-state technology allowed costs to drop precipitously.
When the 1973 oil crisis caused the US government to impose a nationwide speed limit of 55 mph, CB radio really took off. It allowed drivers to warn one another about police cars and gas stations which were out of fuel. Over time, CB radio clubs formed and invented special jargon for on-the-road communications.
In a way, CB radio was a precursor to the anonymous chat rooms of the internet. Of course, with the growth of the internet and FRS radio, CB radio usage has declined.
Mobile vs. Handheld CB Radios
While there is such a thing as a base CB radio which you install at home, most users want CB radio for the road. There are two main types: mobile and handheld.
Mobile CB radios are relatively compact, though not as small as handheld models (see below). You can mount one directly under the dashboard of your vehicle or install it on the transmission hump. Want to reduce static from the spark plugs? Wire the radio to the battery directly.
This is the most compact option for a CB radio. As the name indicates, you can hold the model in your hand and talk, or you can set it on your dash. Handheld models are not as powerful as mobile or base units, but they do offer the best portability.
Power and Range
The FCC sets power limitations for all types of radio communication. The maximum power allowed for CB radios is four watts. There is an exception—SSB radios, which transmit on 12 watts (we will delve into this in the features below). Most CB radios are limited to a maximum transmission range of around 10 miles. Note that this is the range you get with a clear, unobstructed path between two radios. Anything that interferes with line of sight can interfere with transmission and reception.
Being as most CB radios have the same wattage and range, most of the distinctions which impact cost and value take the form of features. Here are some important ones to look for.
Squelch control is a standard feature which reduces static on incoming transmissions. It is included in practically every CB radio on the market.
This feature lets you block faint signals and opt to receive strong signals only. It is a great way to filter out background noise. Alternately, you can use it to boost the strength of weaker signals.
If you have a PA horn, you can use your CB radio and microphone as a public address system.
Automatic Noise Limited (ANL)
This is another feature for filtering out static. It can also block out engine noise and other types of interference.
This is a feature which allows you to receive NOAA weather updates right on your CB radio (very helpful if you will use your radio while traveling).
This is a feature which allows you to skip directly to a popular channel such as Channel 19 for truckers or Channel 9 for emergencies.
This is a feature where you can set up your radio to automatically scan through channels on a loop. If it detects a conversation, it will pause and give you a chance to listen.
This is exactly what it sounds like, a display which is backlit for nighttime use. This is particularly helpful if you are a trucker who does a lot of night driving. This tends to be a feature that will cost extra.
Single Side Band (SSB)
As mentioned earlier, SSB (“single side band”) radios are permitted to transmit at 12 watts of power instead of at four watts. This triples the effective range of the radio. Note however that this triple range only works if you are communicating with someone else who also has a side single band radio. The rest of the time, you may as well drop the power to four watts (which is always an option), since you will be stuck with the limited range of other CB radio users who do not own SSB-outfitted devices.
Built-in SWR Meter
SWR stands for “standing wave ratio.” If your CB radio is equipped with a built-in SWR meter, you can measure how effectively the power signal your device is emanating is moving through the antenna. You can use the SWR meter to properly adjust your radio or maximum effectiveness.
This knob is yet another feature for reducing static. It is also known as a “clarifier control.” As you adjust it, you will notice that the pitch of the person’s voice on the other end changes. Delta tune is handy if the other person sounds “squeaky,” and you want to reduce that effect so you can make out what they are saying more clearly.
Now that you are familiar with the basics of CB radios and know which features to look for, we can get into some CB radio reviews. The following reviews cover popular and highly rated models on Amazon.com which we can heartily recommend after conducting thorough research into the products which are currently on the market.
Uniden PRO505XL: Perfect for Casual CB Radio Enthusiasts
The PRO505XL is a good choice for beginner CB radio users. It doesn’t have the full range of features found in professional CB devices. However, it is cheap compared to most CB radios. Plus, it’s very easy to install.
- Simple installation. No need to take your car to a mechanic to install this radio. The whole installation process takes about 15 minutes.
- Mic sends out strong, clear signals. Even though it’s not as powerful as some CB radios, if you’re in range your transmissions will be strong and loud.
- Minimalist design. The PRO505XL has less knobs and buttons compared to other CB radios. But if you’re looking for a beginner CB radio, simplicity is a good thing.
- Very reasonable price tag. This radio is significantly cheaper than most CB radios on the market.
- Good quality built-in speakers. The speakers are clear and loud enough to hear with your driver’s side window open.
- Small, compact body. This CB is slimmer and more compact than most pro CB radios.
- Inline fuse prevents electrical problems. If your radio short circuits, the fuse prevents your car’s electrical system from taking damage.
- Made out of plastic, not steel.
- Lacks a RF gain knob to turn down noise.
Cobra 29 LX: Monitor the Weather and Communicate In Style
All Cobra products sport a distinctive look. The Cobra 29 LX is no exception. If you’re looking for a stylish CB radio that’s especially designed for CB radio users who like to keep track of weather alerts the Cobra 29 is worth a hard look.
- Switches to alert mode when there’s a storm coming. If stormclouds are gathering on the horizon, you’ll be the first to know.
- Sleek design. The Cobra 29 LX is the most attractive CB radio we’ve seen so far.
- PA capability. A built-in PA jack allows you to make announcements as you drive if you buy a loudspeaker.
- Diagnostic mode. This CB radio constantly monitors your antenna connection and alerts you of any pressing voltage issues.
- Four display options. You can switch between four different colors.
- Max power. Beyond 4 watts, you’d be breaking the law.
- Extra long microphone cord. The 9 feet microphone cord allows anyone in your car or truck to use the CB.
- Lacks side band compatibility (SBB).
- Awkward knob design places the volume knob in the middle of the squelch knob.
Midland 75-822: the Most Popular Portable CB Radio
If you need to stay in touch with people over CB when you’re away from your vehicle, check out the Midland 75-822. It’s the most popular portable CB device on Amazon right now. Unlike many portable CBs, this device from Midland has a long list of attractive features. It’s also quite inexpensive.
- Popular on Amazon. The Midland 75-822 recently moved to the top spot on Amazon’s list of most popular portable CB radios.
- Compact. This device is light enough to carry on your belt.
- Versatile. It performs well anywhere you take it.
- Batteries last a long time. You can get 8 to 10 hours of use out of a single charge.
- You can hook it up to an external antenna. Hooking up your car’s CB radio extends the 75-822’s range.
- Low price. This radio costs much less than most CB radios that are built to be used in an automobile.
- Accesses NOAA weather alert channels. If foul weather approaches, the 75-822 fires off a short emergency tone.
- Range isn’t quite as good compared to fixed, nonmobile CB radios.
- This radio will not survive an encounter with pavement. The shell is made out of cheap plastic.
Cobra HH 38 WX ST: Small Size, Lots of Power
This little yet powerful CB radio from Cobra allows you to send and receive messages via citizens band wherever you go. It’s just as powerful as a normal hardwired CB radio, yet it’s a whole lot smaller and lighter. In addition to normal CB radio signals, you can also get weather alerts via this useful gadget.
- Sturdy design. The Cobra HH 38 WX ST is small and lightweight, but it’s tough and won’t crack or break easily.
- Clear audio. This unit comes fully equipped with Cobra’s excellent Soundtracker noise reducing technology.
- Instant weather alerts. In the event of a power outage, you can use your HH 38 WX ST to find out about the latest weather conditions.
- Max wattage. Because it’s already rated at 4 watts, if this device was any stronger it would be illegal.
- Detachable antenna. If you don’t like the stock antenna that comes with the Cobra HH 38, just unscrew it and swap it out for a new one.
- Mobile communication. Because this portable CB radio is no bigger than an average walkie talkie, you can take it with you wherever you go.
- Make new friends. In the United States alone, 30 million people use CB radios to communicate via radio waves.
- You’ll need to invest in a better, longer antenna for this portable CB radio if you want to maximize its range.