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What is a CB Radio?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 16, 2024
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Citizens’ band (CB) radio is a communication device that allows people to talk to each other using a radio frequency. The user has 40 channels to choose from and uses an 11 meter band or 27 MHz. CB radio was one of the few radio services available for personal use in the 1940s, but the equipment needed to use it was prohibitively expensive, so it was primarily used by tradesmen and truck drivers through the 1960s.

The 1970s saw an explosion in the use of CB radio. The radio equipment technology had become smaller and became quite popular among truckers. Since the national speed limit had been lowered to 55 mph (90 kph), truckers began to use radios to alert each other when they saw speed traps set up by the police.

Its popularity also took off in the 1970s thanks to films such as Convoy and the Smokey and the Bandit series. Television shows such as The Dukes of Hazzard also introduced the radio to the American public. These films and television shows depicted truckers and good ol' boys outrunning the law with the help of their CB radios.

At the same time, the popularity of CB radio exploded around the world. Clubs were formed, and not only truckers were members — many people spent hours in their homes chatting to people. Users had their own language and their own call sign names, known as handles. Channel 9 was specifically designated for emergency calls to provide assistance for parties in trouble.

People who owned a CB radio in many countries were legally required to obtain a license for it. Many people ignored this rule, as doing so contributed to the enthusiast's outlaw image. As with any form of communication in which a person can remain anonymous, the system was open to abuse and crank radio calls were a source of irritation to some and hilarity to others.

CB radio is still a popular pastime for many people around the world, but with the advent of the Internet and mobile phones, it is no longer as popular as it once was. It is still used widely by truckers and is particularly useful in rural areas where phone lines cannot be used.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1002170 — On Sep 21, 2019

I just got into CB radio. Why?

1. NOAA weather- traveling through tornado alley...nice combo CB/NOAA. NOAA shows what might happen, but the CB tells what is happening.

2. Clubs- off-road 4x4, camera clubs/etc. It's an easy way to communicate as a convoy.

3. Radar traps- leaving it on ch 19 (squelch on) isn't going to hurt, and can save you money and points. The radio pays for itself.

4. Dangers ahead: moose/deer near or on road. Truckers report these right away.

5. Traffic/road conditions

6. Emergency: the primary reason for me. Photographers like going to secluded spots for a great photo, usually outside cell range.

7. Parks, state/national do not allow cell towers. Your only form of communication is by CB/ham/GMRS/etc. Pick!

8. Truckers: have their uses, like loading situations, etc.

9. Cottage areas/boonies: often only the form of communication. Living around metro areas, we take cell coverage for granted, but look at the cell coverage map, and how many areas you want to hunt/camp/hike in that are not covered.

10. Radio for as low as $50-100 is not a major purchase, but does things a cell phone cannot.

11. There are 700,000 licensed HAM operators in US. With CB, there are over 5 million truckers, and most have a radio. Neither type is guaranteed to be turned on all the time. Now add in how many millions own a CB for their car, hobby, cottage, own property in fringe areas out of cell towers.

12. Chat: many enjoy skipping as a hobby, and no license needed.

Cell is enough for 90 percent of us, but the rest look to satellite phones, CB, HAM/beacons/etc. It's up to each of us to decide which suits us in an emergency when traveling.

By anon321334 — On Feb 22, 2013

The year was 1977 here in Australia, I was 10 years old and borrowed a Sanyo ta2100 18-channel AM CB and power pack from my sister's workplace. I had to buy a magnetic base antenna to put on the roof because her work antenna was a bit tricky to take down for a weekend loan. The skip into the USA was strong and skip from Tasmania to mainland Australia was great.

I had a friend who was the only child and his parents bought him an HMV Round hound 18-channel AM SSB radio and a five-foot whip antenna. He had a great setup compared to my borrowed unit. I bought my first AM 40-channel CB for $79 AUS working on weekends while in high school. I've bought many radios and antennas since then and have still found it hard to kill my CB habit after all these years.

In early 1994 I got a standard Vk7 Australian ham license, but still listen on my old Super Cheetah CB. I have collected many different types of radios and antennas over the years and have them on show in my garage. I think that what I have collected is a reflection of what I could not afford when I was 10 years old. I still enjoy listening to 60 channel 6 shoot outs and keydowns and here in AUS, channel 4 in Asia with all the bells and whistles. I bought a CB bicycle yapper CB about 10 years ago online. It used to sell here in AUS for $24.95 and I wanted one bad, but the budget wold not stretch that far. So, it cost me $199.00 plus postage from the USA 30 years later. What habit? It's called 11 meters.

By anon293935 — On Sep 28, 2012

I live in St. Petersburg, Florida. I have been into CB radio since 1975 and I still am. I started with a Realistic TRC 11 six-channel mobile and a Navaho base TRC-431 and now my collection has grown to 40 mobile radios and 40 base stations, eight power mikes, seven desk mikes, four base antennas and eight SWR meters, two power supplies, nine liners and 30 mobile antennas, and I have fun.

By anon265192 — On May 01, 2012

I got my first 4 watt CB in 1979 and had a great time. I loved working skip on the lower side of 35 to 40. Now I just use my 100 watt Yaesu 100D in that area, but no one else is on.

Now with many states and provinces in North America having distracted driver laws with fines running from $150 to $1000 just for using one while mobile, it isn't worth it anymore.

At least Ham Radio has two powerful lobby groups, (ARRL and RAC) that have been fighting the laws to allow the hams to use the radios while mobile.

CB radio has no more use at all and it killed itself.

Yes the sun spot cycle killed it but also the fowl language and the people that ran un-clean power and splattered the entire band. Now with many city's putting bylaws in against antennas and the distracted driver laws CB radio will be no more.

By anon140888 — On Jan 08, 2011

I am a cb/general radio service operator from barrie, ontario, canada. I used to own a realistic cb radio when i first started. And then several midland cb radios(40 ch) i own a midland 1001z 40 channel cb radio and my cb handle is: big bird. i am a part of the canwarn storm spotter program at environment canada in ontario.

By anon138448 — On Jan 01, 2011

Here in Australia i have had uhf cb and i got into uhf very early and back then uhf cb was quite because a radio would set you back around $600.00

In those days it was great on uhf and 27 mhz was going strong and the band was busy and i also had a am ssb 27 mhz cb radio as well my 4wd had a uhf and 27 mhz cb radios and i used to have both running at once.

When i was out camping, someone would ask me to relay a message on the 27 mhz cb to someone on a uhf cb.

Nowadays, a 27mhz cb is very quite and uhf is very busy and here in australia they're going to extend the uhf band from 40 ch to 80 ch and some radios can be upgraded by a tech and when the radios come out they are going to cost about $500.00 for a 80 ch and here in australia we use 477 mhz band on uhf cb.

By anon136522 — On Dec 22, 2010

My name is Bob and I'm from Maine. My first CB radio was a hundred milliwatt hand held unit. It was 1962 and I was a freshman at Mexico High School. Most of the friends I hung out with were also getting into CBing. I moved into a full sided base station about six months later. It was an eight-channel crystal controlled mustang I bought at the local Lafette electronic store on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, Maine.

I remember waiting patiently for my FCC license to arrive. It took six weeks, and that was the longest six weeks of my life. My call sigh was KOA 1465. I made a 1/4 vertical dipole from two nine foot lengths of 12 gauge wire and some RG 58 coax. About six months later, I took that radio back to the Laffette electronics store and traded up to a Johnson Messenger 11 that I could use in a car.

Life was great in the 60s. We made so many friends with the help of the CB radio, guys and girls. When I turned 16, I got my drivers license and my dad seldom saw his car. Cruising around town, listening to all the great songs from the sixties and talking with all my friends on the CB radio was great.

When I started dating my now wife of 41 years, we would go to the drive-in movies and talk on the radio to our other friends located somewhere else at the drive in or parking (Did I say that?). Most of my friends were all going steady and most of them married that person. Anyone who didn't grow up during the 60s missed out on the best social network and music ever recorded (Just my opinion). Life was simple back then until Uncle Sam sent me a draft notice and I ended up in Vietnam.

When I exited the military in 71, CB radio had changed so much. People stopped using their call signs, their language came out of the toilet and most families who used to leave their CB radios on almost 24/7 were too embarrassed to let their young children hear the stuff so they turned them off and CBing has never been the same since.

Truckers took over channel 19 and the popularity of using them for chit chatting social networks faded away. I guess all things change over time and my memories of the CB hobby remain intact. More or less CB radios haven't changed much over time. The radios originally were all 23 channels then the FCC opened up the band for 40 channels but designated ch 9 for emergency use, ch 11 for calling only and channel 16 for the newer single sideband radios.

Adding the new sideband feature tripled the number of channels available to talk on and it increased the power out to 12 watts from 3 or 4 watts and this significantly increased the distance you could talk. Well, just thought I would share a little history of CBing from my prospective. My CB memories from the 60s are golden but I hope that this generation can continue to enjoy the hobby.

By anon112117 — On Sep 19, 2010

I've had cb since the mid 70's, many different mobile and base units. Made my own dipole antennas, modded my radios and a penetrator or three. Seems like not much activity on the freq as it used to be. These days the biggest use is when driving along the riverbed where it can be a matter of survival if you get stuck in your 4x4. Just call out on ch7 and someone out there will show up to help out. No way this can be done with a cell. Just my .02, cheers!

By anon96704 — On Jul 16, 2010

Good times indeed! The 70's seemed to be the time to use CBs, and I've owned and operated one since '72. But there are quite a few 'new gen' CBers out there today. I'm glad our old school hobby still intrigues the young folks! 73s Hawkeye

By anon90395 — On Jun 15, 2010

CB Radio is alive and kicking - it's now more of a hobby like ham radio. 1,000's of people on the radio nationwide every day. I got my latest radio online - a Galaxy 959 SSB radi oand they delivered it right away via UPS, it's awesome. I've talked all over the United States with this radio and a simple antenna.

By anon87256 — On May 29, 2010

I started with CB radio around 1977. I am now ham radio operator and a fully qualified engineer working in electronics R&D. Almost all the CB heroes from the 70's are now just technically challenged button pushing mobile phone users who know nothing about electronics and probably never will.

By anon82115 — On May 04, 2010

I just got in to cb-ing and I love it. I live in the sticks basically so with no cellular service I just pick up the mike and give a shout out to my buds all over the town!

By anon76517 — On Apr 10, 2010

I still got my cb radio use it most nights, its the oldest piece of kit i have got in the house and it outlives everything.

I like cb radio because it takes work and is sometimes rewarding.

Oh by the way triple 5 is becoming active.

73 from the uk.

By anon72008 — On Mar 21, 2010

555, Triple Nickel, Breaker- Breaker this is 5,55 the original Triple Nickel. Dr. Ed and Cascade 555. The 11 meter CB band is starting to open up again! Contacts are possible to many parts of the world on our weak, squeaky Cb's. This long distance communication is still not allowed by our government though. You are only allowed to talk to some one about 150 miles away.

Let's say your neighbor has a cheap fax machine and it is interfered with by your CB. There is a good chance she has reported you to the FCC. I had some spaced out neighbor even hear my radio through his toaster! If you really want some fun, get a SSB CB radio. The SSB units give you a legal power of 12watts SSB and 80 more channels. If you want to hear some really big radios running thousands of watts of power, listen to the Superbowl on channel 6. These guys even drive around in vans and tow trailers with generators and modified electrical systems. They have contests called Keydowns or shoot outs, with huge belts with wrestler style shinny buckles. Bottom line is if you do this type of CB operation, you had better be James Bond. I cannot afford to go outside the laws, but it is really fun to listen! Catch ya on the Flipside 555.

By anon67109 — On Feb 23, 2010

I have been using cb radio since 1976 when i was 9, and i still love the thrill of am skip and look forward to talking into the states again!

Our government gave us stupid fm frequencies which are useless when the band opens up. I have my amateur license but much prefer 11m noise. Cb radio over here is alive and enjoying a comeback! Keep the dream alive! This is the oscar 9 listenin out 73!

By anon61507 — On Jan 20, 2010

No matter where you live cb radio can be an invaluable communication tool in times of emergency. They require no cell tower (that is usually commanded by govt and rescue ops first). they are easy to use and set up and best of all they are free to use unlike land line phones or cell phones. It is a live chat room on any channel.

It is a shame that we are evolving into a species that shies away from live contact. Internet, texting, and email have removed us from the most basic need to interact with each other. I have reconnected with cb radio and have integrated it in my family's life as a way to stay connected. My kids now find it fascinating as well! I believe that everything old becomes new again. How bout it! Anybody got a copy?

By anon61502 — On Jan 20, 2010

It was 1977. I was young and I was free. Flying down the highway with the windows down, sipping on a big old coke. With the sun setting on the horizon as I headed west in my trusty 1971 Nova Super Sport, I remember picking up the mic and making small talk with any trucker that responded. Conversations were short, and the friendships many, but the memories of an era gone by will be forever be ingrained (sp?) in my mind! Catcha on the flip side!

By anon57369 — On Dec 22, 2009

I remember my first introduction to cb radio. It was October 1978. My younger brother came home with a 40 channel Sharp mobile cb(I won't mention how he obtained it) and said hey take a look at his thing. You can talk to other people on it. You mean like a telephone? I asked.

My curiosity was piqued and I was hooked. I got an old trucker's center loaded mirror mount antenna and mounted to the fascia board of the garage, hooked the radio up to a car battery and made my first contact. From then on, every dollar I made shoveling snow, mowing lawns and delivering news papers went to Radio Shack! I built a shack in my dad's garage and eventually moved into the attic of our three-story home. And at the height of my infatuation, I was freebanding during some of the best times ever to be on the radio on a modified TRC 490 base with an Archer 3 element beam on the roof of the house and an Archer 5/8 wave omni on the house roof!

I don't know what surprised dad more, the amount of aluminum or how I got that antenna on the roof of our house at age of 15!

Those days are gone, but it still brings fond memories of chatting in a warm radio shack while the blizzard was blowing, or all the friends I made! 73's from the Zookeeper, Buffalo, N.Y.

By anon56959 — On Dec 18, 2009

I want to get a CB radio and I've been looking on ebay for one - if I get an old CB cab radio can I use it to broadcast from home?

By anon56704 — On Dec 16, 2009

Who's using this with success as a CB alternative? Oh and thanks for not being hypocrites, requiring registering and an email address to post this!

By anon53133 — On Nov 19, 2009

- anon14151, a.k.a. poster #10, your entire post is not surprising; your post is what typical ham operators say as they hate cb radio users, despite the fact most hams started out on cb yet they'll never admit it.

The real truth is there's more than just fights and CB DJ's on the air. You're making a blanket statement based off of what you might have heard as a rumor or at a truck stop. Truth is, while a bulk of CB operators are truck drivers, who will sometimes challenge each other to a parking lot brawl, there's still a lot of CB radio enthusiasts who enjoy it as a hobby. Especially when skip rolls in.

By anon41195 — On Aug 13, 2009

It's fun, it's cheap and there are no monthly cell phone bills. While it will never replace cell phones, they are great for niegborhood conversations and when a storm knocks out the cell towers and phone lines, as they do here in Florida, cb radio always comes through!

By anon24023 — On Jan 06, 2009

Me and my friend just purchased off of the internet a pair of used 40 channel CB Base station radios (JC penny and a General Electric) and 17 foot long rooftop antennas and coax cable.

We live 14 miles apart in the suburbs of a major city, and the radios work well ! (It sure beats holding a phone to your head and only being able to talk to one person at a time)

People we have talked to have all been decent, not like the stories of idiots playing music and being rude like some folks try to perpetuate. Unlike the cell phone, CB radio is fun !

By anon18928 — On Oct 02, 2008

hi from here in england! I've been running a cb for about 20 years even though we run on a different band than you guys and in the fm mode. its making a bit of a come back here was real big in the late 70`s and early 80`s i came on in the early 90`s and it was still very big then but same old story mobile phones and internet killed it but its been coming back last few years due to people realizing its free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i can tell ya ill be transmitting till my heart stops beating! all the best from the uk we down and clear!

By anon18533 — On Sep 24, 2008

There is a group of us commuters in New York State that use CB for old school communications on weekdays on the Taconic State Parkway. We are on Chan. 30, watching out for those smokey bears! The resurgence gas begun. Get a CB, give yourself a "handle" and get back on the air. Low tech will never fail you. CB is back!!!!!!We gone, bye bye!

By anon14151 — On Jun 11, 2008

I have been on CB radio since the 70s and a ham since the 80s. I can say that CB is dead. With most countries dropping the Morse code requirement for ham radio and really dumbing down the basic test you can now talk around the world on 1 watt with a 2 meter hand held using the IRLP system and if you are smart enough to read you can pass the test in 1 day. The only thing that goes on on CB now is fights and people playing music. If you live in the US just listen to Ch.6 if you don't believe me. What really killed CB was the high sun spot cycle in the early 80s that made the radio useless from sun up to sun down and you could not even talk to the car behind you. I have a Yeasu FT-100d with all the filters and I have all 40 CB frequency's programed in to it. In 6 years I have heard maybe about 10 people talk on it besides skip and I live in a large city. CB is so unreliable don't waste your time. One last note I have been to one of the government tracking centers and they can track any CB or any other radio to within 50 feet in 6 seconds. The computers also tell them how wide your signal is so they know if you are running power or not.

By anon10248 — On Mar 23, 2008

My friends son is in the boy scouts and the scout troop that he belongs was exposed to CB radio during a road trip they went on not too long ago with CB radios in each of the minivans.

To make a long story short, most the scout troop members liked the CB's so much that they now have CB's in their home (with their parents help) and now the scouts talk to each other when the troop is not together .

By anon10117 — On Mar 20, 2008

I have used a regular CB (not a vhf) in my boat for several years. I have been very happy with it. I talk to my family on shore when I'm out about 15 miles.

By anon9228 — On Mar 02, 2008

i love cb radios. i have one in the wife's car, a base at home, two in my semi truck the older one are the best radios i think. i also have one that has a linear on it and puts out 250 watts of output power, im looking for more older ones like the one from convoy, smokey and the bandit, and the dukes of hazard

By anon7700 — On Feb 01, 2008

Me and about 7 other students use cb's to talk from dorm to dorm.

By anon7337 — On Jan 24, 2008

We tried those little FRS radios that you see in the department stores and they could only get about 1/2 a mile of range. Less range from car to car. We tried 4 different brands with "range up to 5, 8, 12, 15 miles", they are all a disappointment.

Tried some cb radios with magnetic antennas for the cars and WOW ! the range is great !

We now have a cb base radio set up in the house, we got it from ebay with a 18 foot antenna on the roof and we regularly talk to folks in the next town about 27 miles away. Really cool !

By anon7256 — On Jan 22, 2008

CB radio is still a great and affordable way to stay in touch with one or a group of people on road trips or home to home! Why tie up the phone!

No minutes to worry about NO roaming charges NO license requirement. Talk to many people at once! (you can't do that with your cell phone)

CB is "low-tech", easy to use, reliable, and just plain fun!

Join the CB resurgence ! Google "CB radio" and get started today !

By Ironman — On Dec 07, 2007

Anything over 4 watts output power is "outlaw" for a CB Radio and trust me the fcc is still looking for them.

If you are going to go big do it mobile--It's just to easy for the fed to trianglulate a base unit.

Ironman out

By Ironman — On Dec 07, 2007

CB radios are being used by a lot of us older guys because it IS old school and still a good way to meet new people as well as stay up on what is going on.

A bunch of us on the Northside of Jacksonville,Florida are using it to keep the jiggerbug drug dealers out of our "hood" and it is working.

This is Ironman ch.4 on the the side

By anon4625 — On Oct 25, 2007

When I bought a radio controlled boat model, there was a form with the radio for application for the RC license. There was also a form for a CB license. They were free at that time so I sent in both. I never got a CB so I was one of the few non/CB owners who was Licensed. "I got a ticket but no ride" anmv

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