Our reliance on digital technologies grows every day– especially when it comes to driving. Navigation apps are particularly helpful because they assist us in finding our way from point A to point B. However, map apps have their limits. They typically provide only general information about slowdowns, for example. Sometimes it’s better to have specific eyewitness reports about road accidents, construction zones, traffic congestion and other highway-related issues.
If you want more detailed information about what’s happening around you as you navigate long distance journeys, you can use CB radios to stay in touch with other nearby drivers. According to Belleville News-Democrat columnist Roger Schlueter, around half of all truckers still use CB radios. They discuss all kinds of topics, ranging from local restaurants to speed trap locations and more. RVers use CB radios to network about topics specific to their lifestyle, like where to find RV-friendly parking areas. Motorcyclists use CB to alert each other about treacherous road conditions.
Here are the best CB radios you can buy:
The CB radio with the best display
Uniden BEARCAT 980
If you’re looking for an all-around solid CB radio that has a modern look to it, the Uniden BEARCAT 980 could be your best option. Its multi-color display is one of its best attributes. The screen is large and you can switch among seven different backlight colors. It has a competitive blend of features as well, like NOAA weather alert compatibility and a built-in SWR meter for antenna configuration. The microphone that comes with this CB radio is of good quality and it has a built-in noise cancellation feature.
- Extra large display. The big, bright display is one of the BEARCAT 980’s major perks.
- Choose from seven different backlight colors. Available colors include red, blue, purple, dark green, light green, sky blue and white.
- NOAA weather alerts. Stay up-to-date with inclement weather conditions and receive official updates from NOAA stations.
- Built-in antenna calibration feature. The built-in SWR (Standing Wave Radio) meter eliminates the need to have your antenna configured at a car shop.
- Noise cancellation mode. The included microphone is equipped with noise cancellation technology.
- Dedicated channel 9 button. Call for help when you need it with the press of a button.
- Two-year warranty. The two-year warranty provides a longer length of coverage compared to competing brands’ policies.
- Emits a beep every time you twist a dial or change a setting. Sound effects are enabled by default. Thankfully, they can be turned off by adjusting the BEARCAT 980’s settings.
In a nutshell
Uniden’s BEARCAT 980 is a well-rounded, medium-priced CB radio that offers significant bang for the buck. Its extra large display is one of its best features. The fact that you can switch among seven different backlight colors provides customizability. Several more practical features are worth mentioning here as well, like NOAA weather alerts and SWR functionality.
The best low-cost CB radio
Uniden’s PRO505XL costs only a fraction of what you’d ordinarily pay for a CB radio. Its features are somewhat stripped down, but if all you need are the basics that may not matter– and some may actually appreciate the simplified controls. One of the few buttons that it has is a dedicated channel 9 button, which makes it easy to message for help in the event of an emergency.
- Inexpensive compared to other CB radios. The affordable price point is one of the PRO505XL’s main benefits.
- Compact design. The form factor is small relative to most CB radios.
- Large display. Even though the device itself is small, the display is large and easy to read.
- Dedicated channel 9 button. Channel 9 is a channel dedicated to alerting others of an emergency situation.
- Optional antenna kit. You can either use a third party antenna or buy the antenna kit, which comes with an antenna from Uniden.
- Simple and easy-to-use controls. The interface won’t leave you guessing. All the buttons and dials are clearly labeled.
- One-year warranty. The one-year warranty meets the industry standard for CB radios.
- Stripped-down features. The PRO505XL can’t receive NOAA weather alerts and you’ll need to use an external SWR meter to calibrate the antenna.
- The included microphone doesn’t filter out background noise. You may want to get a higher quality mic, particularly if you plan on using this CB radio in a noisy vehicle.
In a nutshell
If you don’t want to spend much money on a CB radio and you only care about basic features, the Uniden PRO505XL might be your best option. Even though it lacks some of the features found in more expensive CB radios (like NOAA alerts and built-in antenna calibration, for example), its four-watt transmitter meets the industry standard for power output.
The best CB radio for avoiding traffic tickets
Cobra 29 LX MAX
The Cobra 29 LX MAX is one of the most advanced CB radios on the market. Perhaps its most cutting edge feature is its Bluetooth-compatible handset, which you can use to legally take phone calls while driving. The iRadar app is another nifty feature. It relies on crowdsourced data to show you the location of speed traps and red light cameras. Another nice thing about this CB radio is rewind-say-again mode, which lets you replay messages that you didn’t hear the first time. The built-in SWR functionality is also handy because it lets you configure your antenna without the aid of an external SWR meter.
- Helps you avoid speed traps and traffic light cameras. The Cobra 29 LX MAX integrates with Cobra’s patented iRadar app, which helps you avoid tickets.
- Smartphone integration. You can take phone calls using the Bluetooth-enabled handset.
- Replays missed messages. Rewind-say-again is another unique feature that gives this CB radio an edge.
- NOAA weather alerts. Learn about and avoid inclement weather in your area by listening to official NOAA updates.
- Built-in antenna calibration feature. The built-in SWR meter lets you calibrate your antenna yourself instead of paying a technician to do it for you.
- Noise cancellation mode. The microphone is equipped with electronic circuits that block out wind and engine noise.
- Two-year warranty. The warranty provides one more year of coverage than most CB radio manufacturers offer.
- Expensive compared to other CB radios. The price point is high relative to the competition.
In a nutshell
The Cobra 29 LX MAX is equipped with all kinds of extra bells and whistles, including a smart handset that can connect to any Bluetooth-compatible smartphone. When you buy this CB radio, you get a free one-year subscription to Cobra’s iRadar app. You can use it to find out where speed traps and red light cameras are located.
The best CB radio with analog control knobs
When it comes to style, it doesn’t get much more retro than the Cobra 29LTD. Instead of buttons and touchscreens, the 29LTD’s control scheme consists primarily of analog dials and toggle switches. The microphone is ideal for loud vehicles because it automatically cuts out engine noise and wind and the built-in SWR feature eliminates the need to use an external SWR meter when calibrating your antenna. The extra-long microphone cord is another significant benefit.
- Classic analog look. The metal front panel and analog knobs bring to mind CB radios from the 70s and 80s.
- Durable design. The simplicity of the interface makes it a bit more rugged than most other CB radios.
- Four different backlight color options. Blue, red, green and amber are your options.
- Built-in antenna calibration feature. Since it has a built-in SWR meter, you won’t need to take it to the shop to calibrate your antenna.
- Loud, clear microphone. Most people who bought this CB radio were pleased with its handset.
- Extra long microphone cord. The nine-foot-long microphone cord is another significant plus.
- Two-year warranty. Most CB radio manufacturers offer a one year warranty, but Cobra offers two years of coverage.
- Doesn’t pick up NOAA weather alerts. Most modern CB radios have a NOAA weather feature, but this one doesn’t.
- No noise cancellation. You might want to invest in a third-party handset if you intend to use the 29LTD in a noisy vehicle.
In a nutshell
The Cobra 29LTD is all about simplicity and classic design. Most modern CB radios have interfaces that consist of LCD screens and plastic buttons, but this one is equipped with retro-looking analog dials and toggle switches. The high quality microphone that you get when you buy the 29LTD is another significant benefit. It automatically cuts out engine noise and wind.
The best portable CB radio
The Midland 75-822 is a small but powerful and versatile CB radio that gives you the ability to communicate via CB channels almost anywhere. You can either power it with six AA batteries or by using the included cigarette jack adapter. The display has a backlight mode, so you can even use it at night or during power outages. Conveniently, the headphone jack also accepts external microphone input. NOAA weather alert support rounds out the Midland 75-822’s feature set.
- Compact, portable design. This walkie-talkie style CB radio can be carried with you almost anywhere you go.
- NOAA weather alerts. Get official weather updates and find out if there are any dangerous storms in your area.
- Two different power options. You can either use the included cigarette jack adapter or six AA batteries to power the 75-822.
- Easy to use in low light conditions. The backlit display lets you check the settings in the dark.
- External headset jack. This feature makes hands-free operation possible.
- Reasonably priced. It costs about half of what you’d pay for a standard CB radio.
- One-year warranty. The one-year policy meets the industry standard.
- Small display. The display is bright enough, but its small size might bother some people.
- Lacks an antenna calibration feature. You’ll need to either get in touch with a technician or buy an external SWR meter if you want to calibrate your antenna.
In a nutshell
The Midland 75-822 is a portable CB radio that’s designed for mobile use. Its headphone jack accepts microphone input and supports VOX mode, so you don’t need to use your hands to operate it. This, together with the NOAA weather alerts feature, makes it a good gadget to have around in the event of an emergency.
Buying guide for CB radios
Almost all CB radios are equipped with four-watt transmitters. The FCC doesn’t allow CB radio manufacturers to design transmitters that are more powerful than that. This is because CB radio transmissions can interfere with some kinds of TVs and other electronic devices.
Handset quality and type
Even though you can always get a different handset if you don’t like the standard one, handset quality is still an important point to consider. Most– but not all– CB radios come with noise-cancelling handsets. However, some budget CB radios’ handsets don’t filter out noise.
Built-in vs. external antenna calibration
You don’t have to calibrate your CB radio’s antenna, but you’ll get much better results with it if you do. Some CB radios are equipped with a built-in SWR (Standing Wave Radio) meter. If your CB radio lacks this feature, you’ll have to use an external SWR meter if you want to get the most out of your antenna.
Typical CB radios are designed to be installed in cars, but portable CB radios exist as well. Most portable CB radios are about the size of a walkie-talkie. As is the case with standard CB radios, almost all portable CB radios are rated at four watts. That means that they have about the same range as standard CB radios.
NOAA weather alerts
If you want to be able to receive official weather alerts, be sure to get a CB radio that supports NOAA broadcasts. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Part of the US government organization’s mission is to help the public get reliable information about storms and other natural disasters.
Analog knobs and toggle switches vs. LCD screens and buttons
In general, analog knobs and toggle switches tend to withstand wear and tear better than LCD screens and plastic buttons.
Emergency channel accessibility
In the United States, channel 9 is reserved for emergency use. Some CB radios let you access channel 9 instantly via a dedicated button, while others require you to dial in the channel or enter it in manually. Volunteer organizations like REACT monitor channel 9 for emergency transmissions and help coordinate relief.
Some CB radios come with Bluetooth-enabled handsets. These handsets can connect to smartphones and other Bluetooth-compatible communications devices. Other CB radios can be used with smartphone apps that can help you detect and avoid speed traps.
The industry standard seems to be one year. However, some CB radio manufacturers offer two years of warranty coverage.
You can get a decent entry-level CB radio for under $100. In fact, many portable CB radios are at this same price point. Since range is similar across all CB radios, budget devices could suffice for people who just want the basics.
At this price tier, you’ll begin to find CB radios with built-in support for antenna calibration. Other extra features– like customizable displays, for example– can be found, as well. Expect to pay around $120.
Premium CB radios in the $200 price range can send data to and from smartphones. Smart features let you do things like take calls using your handset.
Frequently asked questions
Q: How far will a typical CB radio broadcast go?
A: The “one mile per watt” rule of thumb is a fairly accurate way to estimate transmission distances. Since almost all CB radios are rated at four watts, you can expect a range of about four miles. Weather conditions, altitude, antenna quality, antenna calibration, physical obstructions and other environmental factors can extend or reduce range.
Q: Will an uncalibrated CB radio work at all?
A: Yes, but you should calibrate your CB radio’s antenna with an SWR meter for best results. If your CB radio doesn’t have a built-in SWR meter, you can use an external one if you want to get better performance out of it.
Q: What does RF gain do?
A: An RF gain controller lets you increase or reduce your CB radio’s sensitivity. Turning RF gain down has the effect of filtering out weak signals that aren’t coming in well. Likewise, amplifying RF gain can help you search for far-away transmissions.
- External SWR meters are inexpensive. They also tend to be more accurate than built-in SWR meters that can be found on some CB radios. You can get a high quality external SWR meter for around $20.
- You don’t necessarily need to drill a hole in your vehicle to install an antenna mount. High quality magnetic mounts are sturdy enough for most purposes.
- CB radio operators use all kinds of slang terms that may seem indecipherable or confusing to rookies. Truckers often refer to pieces of blown tire on the road as “alligators,” for example. Various lingo guides can be found on the internet. These can clue you in on what everyone is talking about over CB.