CB radio, short for Citizen’s Band radio, is made up of 40 channels within the 27 Mega-Hertz band. It’s a short-range communication system used by individuals and businesses. Unlike the wider-ranging amateur or “ham” radio, CB does not require the operator to have a government-issued license.
The typical CB range is two to twenty miles, depending on the terrain and the size of your antenna. But when you listen in to the channels used by truckers, you can extend your range, in a manner of speaking, because they essentially have a relay of information already set up.
To tune into the truckers and other drivers, listen to channel 19 and occasionally switch over to channel 17. These two channels are used most by travelers. Another important channel to know about is channel 9. This is the lone CB channel reserved for emergencies by the FCC. That means if you have a CB radio, you can’t call out on that channel. During an emergency, though, you want to listen to it regularly to gather any information you can about what is going on.
Many towns and cities also designate a channel for local residents. Finding out your own town’s CB channel gives you another source of information during a period of social breakdown or other emergency. Through this local channel, you can hear from businesses, churches, and community organizations that have news to share. And you can relay any valuable information that you happen to have as well.
A fourth way to use your CB radio during an emergency is to set up a channel for your friends and family. This basically just means agreeing ahead of time what channel you’ll use to communicate. Keep in mind that your communications via CB are not secure. (This is another time when employing code words to keep your communications private can protect against outsiders who are listening in and may discover that you possess items they would like to steal.)
Remember, CB radios do not broadcast over a long distance. Most reach about four to five miles. But you may be able to leapfrog your messages from one CB user to the next to reach people further away.
One of the reasons I like CB radios is that the CB world is still a bastion of freedom in a highly regulated world – you don’t have to purchase a license to operate a CB.
Another advantage – a CB doesn’t require a large, conspicuous broadcast antenna in your yard. And buying a CB radio is easy. You can pick up a cheap model for around $50 on Amazon. Or you can opt for something fancier if you’re able to spend a little more.
The main feature to look for is RF Gain Control. This feature allows you to filter out weak signals to cut down on background noise. Without it, you’ll have to listen to a constant stream of competing signals, trying to pick out the signal you want to listen to against all the others. It can get very annoying and diminish the usefulness of your radio.
If you opt for a higher-end CB radio, consider purchasing one with a sideband or SSB. This feature will give you access to the upper and lower bands on either side of the usual 40 CB channels. Those bands can be useful for setting up a Tribe channel. And they don’t have as much traffic, so the signals are clearer, too.
Finally, you might also consider augmenting your CB radio with a power mike. These mikes don’t extend your radio’s signal, but they can make your voice clearer and easier for receivers to understand. That’s a valuable feature if you’re ever in the position to send out a call for help. A CB radio is an inexpensive way to make sure that you can stay connected during a crisis. It gives access to critical information during an emergency and provides you with a method to reach out for help if you need it.