So, it's time for a CB radio. I wouldn't purchase one just yet, there are some other things I want to tell you, especially about 10 meter export radios. But, if your heart is set on a CB, then let's talk about a possible radio for your vehicle, which is referred to as mobile, or a base station which in many cases can be the same style of radio.
CB radios can go in cars, trucks, boats, four wheelers, farm tractors - anywhere that has a motor and some type of battery. We talked earlier about single side band, SSB. The type of radio you choose depends upon what type of mobile operation you want. If you want a basic CB radio, there are numerous types to choose from. But if want to include weather (NOAA) and/or SSB, then your selection choice drops sharply.
Examples: If you take your pick-up truck and go mudding, then you probably want a very basic CB radio. If you spend more time in your vehicle in a quiet world, then please consider an SSB CB radio. What activity you do will determine what type of radio you want and the type of antenna.
Some folks for mobile operation have a magnet mounted antenna. But again, if you are mudding or hill climbing, then you will want something permanently mounted. There are lip mounts which attach on the lip of a hood or a back door hatch.
Mirror mounts, are what you think of when you see the big rigs. Mirror mounts, in some cases, will also attach to luggage racks. What you get depends on your need.
The antennas themselves come from eight feet long to about two feet long. As a general rule, the longer the antenna, the farther you can transmit and the better your reception. There are all metal antennas, metal antennas with little spools of wire in the middle, fiberglass antennas with wire embedded in the fiberglass. Some are flexible, some are rigid.
So much for antennas, mounts and radios. Now you need to decide which type you want. Included in a previous post are some websites for CB radio dealers. I will include these sites again at the end of this post.
So, now you have picked a radio, you've picked the type of mount and antenna you want. The power supply is going to be the 12 volt system in the vehicle. It is best to connect the radio power cable directly to the battery. The positive side connected to the battery and the negative side to the battery or to any good solid metal attachment. You might have to buy a little extra cable to do this.
A cigar-type plug connected in the cigarette lighter outlet or any 12 volt accessory outlet will also power the radio. The problem with plugging into a cigarette lighter adapter is that sometimes there will be engine and computer noise from the vehicle on the radio.
In future posts, I will talk more about power supplies. The closer you connect the power cable to the battery, the less background noise there will be from the vehicle.
Whatever type of mount and antenna you choose, you will need to run coax cable to the antenna connector on the radio. Most mag mount antennas come with this cable already connected with a plug-in adapter on the end of the cable. Some mounts come as kits with cable and adapter provided, with others you will have to provide your own. Most people run the cable through a door opening and bring it into the vehicle. If you run it underneath seats, make sure it is not in an area where moving the seat forward or backward will damage the cable.
Now that just about covers it. You have the radio, a place to mount it inside your vehicle, and the antenna with a cable plugged into the radio. A slight warning here, NEVER key the microphone on the radio to transmit without an antenna connected. This is a very easy way to fry the radio.
You are ready to go - almost. There is this little thing called SWR, which means standing wave ratio. Somebody with an SWR meter needs to check and see if the SWR on your radio is low or high. Either the antenna or the coax cable will need to be adjusted to lower the SWR if it's high. This may sound extremely complicated, but if you are going to be successful with a CB radio, then the SWR needs to be low. You ask, "What is SWR?" To make it very simple, SWR is the radio frequency waves bouncing back from the antenna to the radio, restricting the ability of your transmitted signal to be transmitted successfully. This applies to any transmitted signal, whether it is mobile, base, CB, MURS, or ham radio. Any local CB shop should be able to help you tune your radio system so that the SWR is low and your enjoyment is maximized.
Many CB radios have a built in SWR meter. These meters are not known to be tremendously accurate, but they are a good start. Some antenna systems will say pre-tuned at the factory and that is probably true. They were pre-tuned at the factory for whatever piece of test equipment they were using. That does not mean it is pre-tuned for your vehicle and your radio. How you tune the radio's SWR can be affected by the location of the antenna on the vehicle, the length of the cable running from the antenna to the radio, or how the excess cable is gathered, normally under a front seat. So - being tuned at the factory - take that for what it is worth.
Firestik is a new website that I would like for you to check out. I have done business with these folks, as I have the others mentioned. They make good, quality, American made products. Their site also has a library of information. Besides looking at their products, go to their FAQ and technical help sections. This should answer the vast majority of CB technology questions and problems.
This may sound technical and complicated, but it's really not. Next time we will talk about specific radios for mobile use in a vehicle, because there is a big difference between vibrating down the highway at 65 MPH in the rain or snow, and a radio sitting stationary inside your house. As stated earlier, some radios will do both.
We've learned some new terms this time. Study some of the websites. Remember, some radios have weather, SWR, and even have alarm clocks - which could come in handy if you are sleeping in your car, for whatever reason. If you know of a reputable, local CB shop that installs radios, stop by and visit with them. You might pay a few extra bucks for this service, but if the people know what they are doing, they can teach you how to install a radio properly.
I would still recommend a CB radio with SSB. There are only a few on the market. One is made by Cobra, some are made by Galaxy and Uniden makes a new one. If you want to sit at home at night and talk to stations around the country, then your best bet is a single side band. If you want to talk to your neighbor down the street, SSB will also work for short distance line-of-sight communications. Again, remember, CB radio is line-of-sight communications unless you are using a radio with SSB. Yes, on rare occasions any CB radio will work long distance by bouncing off the ionosphere. But a radio with SSB, will bounce off the ionosphere more often and with more reliability.
We'll talk more later. 73, Frank