About five or six years ago I remember having this irresistible urge to buy a citizen’s band (CB) radio. I don’t remember what made me so interested in owning a CB radio, but I am sure I can thank a YouTube creator or two for selling the hobby to me at a young age. I can recall going to second hand stores and finding old CBs covered in dust and grime just sitting on the shelves. I remember dragging my girlfriend at the time to all these different stores just so I could browse the selections of radios, just to be disappointed at the limited options.
It is crazy for me to think back and reflect on my changing perspective in regards to the hobby/radio. It went from a form of communication seemingly only used by truckers, off roaders, radio enthusiasts, and farmers to a tool that could be used for the general public again.
Many are familiar with CBs through trucker culture and their appearance in various hit movies such as Smokey and the Bandit, Convoy, and Joy Ride. All of these movies (except Joy Ride) were made during the “golden era” of CB radio, which is said to have occurred during the mid to late 70’s. Many of our grandparent’s generation tend to remember this era fondly as they were young and in their prime. CB used to be everywhere, almost in every home and vehicle back in the day as I am told. They ranged from base station type radios to mobile radios, as well as hand held walkie-talkie type radios.
This radio hobby was a fad for a lot of people as technology advanced; mobile phones, GPS systems, and the internet were quick to replace the need for CB radios. Over the past 20 years there has been a decline in CB use, but lately there seems to be a revival. Many hobbyist and people who care about emergency preparedness are trying to bring it back. Many truckers still rely on this tool when driving on the interstate to communicate with other drivers.
There is a reason why some truckers still use these radios on the road; it is because it can save their life! There is great benefit to using radios as a means of information and communication. CB radios excel at close/local communication as the common, cheaper models operate only on AM frequencies (26.965 – 27.405MHz) which have a naturally limited range with the legal power requirements for radios (about 4-20ish miles depending on antenna/location).
CB is a great tool for driving on the interstate during poor weather and road conditions, as well as during a time of emergency as there will be a lot of good information being shared about local news/events. Because of these perks, I feel the need to dive into this subject for you and list the benefits below so that you too, may familiarize yourself with the radio in case of emergency.
1. Information on the road
As I mentioned earlier, the use of CB radios is predominantly on the road. I myself have a mobile set up in my vehicle for this reason. This investment has proven to be very helpful for me along my travels on highways, interstates, and in areas of dirt roads where there is no phone service.
An example of how a CB radio can help you on the road is obvious. There are many things that can turn your easy little day trip into a nightmare. Things could be as small as a tire shed in the middle of the road, road kill, etc. Or it could be more extreme cases such as a bad wreck, bad weather, ice, or more.
If roads are getting closed and weather is get bad you will be one of the first drivers to know miles BEFORE you have to deal with the mess of everyone else figuring it out. If you have seen those recent videos of 10+ car pileups in the winter, just know that most of that could have been avoided if people were both driving correctly in the given conditions and were made aware of accident via CB miles before encountering it, as that would give people enough time to slow down and avoid losing control themselves.
2. Local Information
Since the range of CB radio is limited generally speaking, it makes it ideal for accessing local information. I frequently can hear conversations of truckers, workers and other hobbyist from all over my town. It is nice, because if someone is reporting something way north of town, you are now in the loop despite not being there. Do understand that people will lie and stretch the truth, so research before you pass it on.
The limited range is perfect as it also limits the amount of potential listeners that could be tuning into your conversation if you are trying to have a more “private” conversation, but do be aware that there is no such thing as private channels on CB radio as there is no licensing and anyone can go buy a radio.
3. International Information
In my previous blog about shortwave radios I mention that radio waves can bounce off of the ionosphere and be receivable at distances that they normally would. This phenomenon is referred to as “skip”. Think of it as like skipping a rock on water and the rock being the radio wave. That is pretty much what’s happening.
I really like this aspect of the radio hobby as it can make what you are able to listen to way more interesting and unpredictable on a given day. Some days all you here is local chatter or a lack there of and other days you will hear people from all over the country and sometimes the world. I frequently hear people from Spanish speaking countries as well as people up in Canada.
This allows you to get information from around the globe and outside of what our media is reporting depending on the ionosphere, also referred to as “conditions” or “mother nature” in the hobby. This is more ideal for a larger scale emergency rather than locally as the noise can clog up the channels with garbage from day to day hobbyist users.
Some models of radio even contain extra channels, which are the same channels, but just slightly different frequencies referred to as upper-sideband and lower-sideband. When using these channels radios are allocated a little more power, which can push your signal a little bit further than it would if you were just using a regular 4 watt AM radio. The FCC has recently approved the use of certain FM frequencies for CB radio, which has yet to catch on and may give you a more “secure” form of communication.
4. From Boredom….
CB radio is kind of random and spontaneous at times to be honest. I never really know what to expect when turning on my radio every day. Sometimes it is super quiet and other days it is loud and you can’t make out what everyone is saying. Beyond that, there are no license requirements or tests like that in HAM radio, making CB radio somewhat “lawless”.
People will say outrageous things that you never would expect to hear. Some days it can feel like you are reading graffiti off of the wall in a bathroom stall in either a bar or a middle school, but nevertheless I truly appreciate the chaos. If you are stranded somewhere for the time being with nothing to do it is surely a way to pass the time.
5. During a Time of Emergency
During a national or local time of emergency it is safe to say that if the cell towers or Wi-Fi go out, people will not know what to do. We have become so used to having constant information at an arm’s reach for the past decade or two. You wouldn’t have to worry about this if you have a CB radio as they are readily available and easy to use.
You would still be able to have conversations with friends and family across town while driving and hear what truckers are saying from their routes. This tool is especially useful if operating in a group of cars that is riding throughout an area with little to no cell service. Everyone can be tuned in on the same channel and communicate back and forth. This is why off roaders and farmers still use the tools today when out and about with their hobby/work.
CB radios have played an important role in relaying information across the United States and other countries for decades. They continue to prove their worth in an era of internet and technology despite their old school appearance and function. They can help save you from dangers on the road as well as keep you up to date about the potential dangers around your home.
It holds a wild, unpredictable hobbyist community that is often interesting to listen to and can be comforting if stranded with no one to call. It can save you from boredom and aid you and your friends/family during a time of need. Many people’s grandpa or grandma has an old CB radio lying around in their basement or attic. Pick it up and find an antenna and try it out! It is better to have an alternative to a cellphone in a time of need; it may even lead you to also entering the radio hobby!