A General Overview of CB's the Terms and FAQ

© Copyright 2000 - 2007 Chuck Kopelson 05/18/1999
Updated April 17, 2007

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I have a 98 Hummer Wagon with the Monsoon stereo. I set out wanting to get a very good quality stand alone CB with a little more power then the average units and Single Side Band (SSB). By law CB's are only allowed a maximum of 4 watts peak envelope power (PEP) on the AM band (this is the regular band). The radio had to have a good service record and be able to take banging around off road. I also wanted a unit that had the microphone jack on the front because I was going to mount the radio in the overhead console. Having had an inexpensive CB before, I learned that the antenna and it's mounting position is as important as the quality of the radio. I wanted to get the best antenna and find the best spot to mount it on my Hummer.

I figured the best place to start was with the CB radio news group. After joining I found that it was made up of a real melting pot of personalities. You had kids, truckers, red necks, ham radio operators and bunches of dealers. They were full of 'old wives tales' and had their own language. I never heard so much made up science as I did reading through that group. Every so often someone did popup who knew what he was talking about. I was basically reading the posts to pickup trends on what the better radios were and what features the die hard Cber's were using. The following is a synopsis of about 3 months listening in and a definition of the lingo.

Just remember, when reading below that much of this is just gimmicks. Using or modifying a radio like these posts suggest unless otherwise disclosed, are not recommended and aren't legal although everyone does it. Additionally, explanations of the radio terms have been kept non-technical and will seem watered down to those knowledgeable in electronics.

Note that the prices and models mentioned on this page are now very old so do your own research.

What is CB radio?

CB means citizen band. There is no license requirement to transmit on this band. It was created for two-way communications only. The citizens band lies between the short-wave broadcast and the 10 meter Amateur radio bands. It's frequencies fall in the 11 meter band. There are channels 1 through 40 starting from 26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz. in 10 kHz steps.

What are Megahertz MHz, Kilohertz kHz and meters?

Hertz is a measurement of the frequency per second of the radio waves emitted from a transmitter. MHz means how many millions of cycles per second. kHz is thousands of cycles per second. Meters is a measurement of the wavelength at a given frequency. Higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths then lower frequencies. You can determine the wavelength in meters by dividing 300 by the frequency in MHz. For instance, 300/27MHz is about 11 meters.

What are "Bird" watts?

One of the big subjects on CB is how much power does your radio put out. It's kind of like bragging about how much horsepower your car has. Just like horsepower there are many ways to measure watts. Wattage meters come in all different price ranges and are affected by the frequency of the transmission. There is a company called Bird that makes very accurate watt meters. If a person claims their radio has 5 Bird watts he is implying that the number is honest.

What is Amplitude Modulation or AM?

A method of combining an information signal with a radio frequency carrier. In a normal AM voice transmission the voice information varies or modulates the amplitude of the RF carrier. This is the form of almost all of CB communications.

What is Frequency Modulation or FM?

A method of combining an information signal with a radio frequency carrier. In a normal FM voice transmission the voice information varies or modulates the frequency of the carrier. There is hardly any FM on the CB bands.

What is Single Side Band or SSB?

SSB is a common mode of voice operation and is a form of AM that uses half the wave to transmit the same information that can be transmitted by full wave AM. That's why the effective power of SSB is more then twice that of standard AM. By it's nature it allows more power output and range then regular AM. Some CB'ers use this mode.

What is a PLL?

PLL means Phase Locked Loop. In CB lingo it is referring to the main control chip in a computer controlled radio.

What's the modulator module and what do people do to modify it?

The modulator module is the circuitry in the radio that combines the information signal with the radio frequency carrier. The modifications to this part of the radio boost the audio signal which is the microphone input. The idea of a radio is to modulate the carrier. If you modulate the carrier over 100% you will begin to distort the carrier/ RF output. It will cause the transmitter to become 'dirty' and transmit on frequencies all over the band. Your signal will be distorted and weak and limit your range. You can also ruin the radio.Why waste your money and possibly ruin the radio - period. Excessive audio can cause the final (transmitter power section) to burn out, or the audio amp that powers both the PA/Transmitter and Speaker.

What's a swing kit? What does it mean to let your radio swing?

A means to gain "extra" modulation. It over modulates so the carrier power varies (swings) with audio rate. Makes the receivers "S/RF" meter jump around. Not recommended, it can hurt the transmitter finals when not properly done and excessive TVI (TV interference) and Phone line interference can also occur. Basically: Waste of money, and accomplishes little.  This is the same as above.

Why do you need a power mic? What does it do that's different than a standard mic?

Power microphones, amplify audio BEFORE it goes into the radio. The radio has an internal audio amplifier for the stock microphone which is not enough for some people. Once again the only use for a power mic is if you are talking in an area where there was either a lot of background noise or you have a soft voice and you need to be heard. The power mics have a built in preamp with an adjustable volume level. Some are easy to adjust, while others require some disassembly to get to the controls. If you have a radio with a Mic Gain, or Dynamike, control, you really don't need a power mic unless the gain on the control isn't enough.

What is a Clarifier, RIT and Voicelock and what do they do?

Clarifier, RIT (receiver incremental tuning) or Voicelock for Cobra radios, is for SSB and some AM use. It adjusts the receive frequency without changing the transmitter frequency. In CB it is used mostly for SSB, and allows the user to "center in" on the other stations transmit frequency allowing better reception by the receiver. A clarifier in an SSB radio, allows the user some selectivity to pick out the signal they want to hear by tuning into that stations carrier frequency.

What is Slide and what does it mean to unlock it?

Unlocking the Clarifier, is perhaps one of the better mods to do to a SSB - capable CB radio. It allows you not only to tune in the receiver, but also allows you to adjust your transmit frequency or "slide" in-between channels. A must for SSB use when more than two stations are using the frequency, or having a "roundtable" discussion. Recommended only if you are serious into CB, and enjoy and understand the SSB mode. You have to be careful with this mod. Sometimes a mod done to the radio, makes the radio unstable, and can cause the radio to "cut out" on you, or worse, you can find yourself transmitting on some random frequency and interfering with an innocent station.

What's bleep or Roger bleep mean?

It's use to "confirm" the end of a transmission. It's the same as saying "Roger" after transmitting. It's used in SSB because when you stop transmitting there is no carrier so the person receiving may not know they should talk. Some radios come with this feature or it can be added. It is also used to annoy others and are not appreciated by everyone.

What's a 10khz switch?

Another means to confuse the issue of what channel you're on. It's like an incremental slide. Some channels have "gaps" of 20Kc [2 channel spacing] so someone wanting to "get away" can use the quieter channel found in the "gap". Some radios come with this built in. Not recommended. Why? Because people that own cheaper car alarms, Baby Monitors, and little kids with R/C toys, get pissed at you. Other reasons are under "Slide". Another: It would be awfully embarrassing if you called "Break channel 25, when you're really on 23. Others may think that you've lost your marbles.

What are dual finals and how do they effect the operation?

"Dual" finals, are the use of two output transistors in the final transmitter stage of the radio. This design feature will make a radio more durable. When you use a poor-performing, untuned, or broken antenna, a high SWR can damage the single final found in most CB radios while a dual final will be much more forgiving. This is one of the features you might use to help make a choice when selecting a radio. People seem to perform more output mods on radios with dual finals.

How much extra power do you really get when you take a standard 4 watt CB and change a couple of resistors and tune it up?

Of course this varies with the radio. The mods on a typical CB will get 6-10 watts instead of 4-5 watts. Some are easy to do and fun projects but are not recommended because it shortens the life of the final, less tolerable to a high-SWR [can burn out], generates Bleed over and in some cases, "pinched" or poor audio. Many of these types of mods are more trouble than they are worth.

What are the pro's and con's related to using a separate linear power amp?

This is a complicated subject with two schools of thought. One school says get a good quality CB, don't modify it for any power increases and simply hook a linear amplifier up to boost the final output power. The other school says that linears introduce more variables which have more to go wrong, more to hook up and can cause all kinds of RF interference. In my opinion if you found a very good linear and installed it correctly it should be fine. In my case I wasn't looking to run high output anyway and I wanted to keep my setup simple.

From watching the newsgroups I split the radios into 4 classes.

1. Straight CB's of varying features and quality. You have the largest collection in the 40 to 200 dollar range.

2. Intermediate level which are classified as low end amateur radios. Radios in this class are the President Lincoln, RCI 2950 the Galaxy Dx99v and the Cobra 148GTL. These radios sell for 250 to 400 range.

3. Finally there are the higher power 100w? Ranger Mirage RCI 2970 which sell in the 400 range.

4. Real amateur radios like the ICOM 706, Yaesu 101 and 102. These units sell in the 700 and up range.

It seems that many of the CB radios are made by one company and sold under another name. Who really makes what is a study in itself. Uniden supposedly makes radios for a bunch of companies. RCI and Ranger are the same. Most of all the radios are produced in Asia.

It seems that some of these radios come setup for 10 and 11 meter usage under the guise of amateur export units. Are these export units actually factory made or are they modified by the dealers?

The dealers legally can't touch them but they all do. The issue is about warranty. The radios can be sold "stock" with no problems. Modifyinig a radio voids the warranty in most cases. They can be sold under the premise of free trade, and are radios that can only be used with the proper license [Amateur/Ham] out of the box. The reality is that all the 10 meter amateur radios that I have seen can be modified to cover 11 meter CB by opening up the radio and changing a wire jumper. The radios were designed to be used on CB but can't be legally sold in the USA.

What do you think about the RCI Radios?

An RCI (also Ranger) 2950 is a low-power radio, while the RCI 2970 is the Hi-Power one. These are very popular radios used here and in Europe. The 2970 is the only 100 watt mobile that I know of. The other 10 meter/export radios are 25 watt radios. The RCIs come with seals now. That means opening them to do the 11 meter (CB) conversion voids the warranty.  The problem is that the quality of the RCIs is not premium, and, as soon as you open it to do the CB mod you void the warranty. Some of the "export" radios like Galaxy, Northstar, Texas Ranger, etc. are supposed to have warranties that aren't voided when you modify them. The problem there is that they cost alot more than a 2950 and are missing alot of the features that an up and coming ham can use. In other words, the "export" radios (as opposed to the 10 meter ham radios) are basically nothing more than souped-up CBs.

Since I don't have a radio yet what do you think of the RCI 2970?

I think it's a cobbled together compromise.

Why not just get a Ranger 2970 which is supposed to be 100 watts and be done with it?

That's an expensive approach if you already have a radio. The 2970 has it's problems as well. I also prefer the flexibility of the radio/amp combo. The Ranger is 100 watts SSB which means it's maybe 40 watts AM.

When you said "The 2950 is my favorite radio. The problem is that the quality of the RCIs is not premium" What are your choices for a good quality radio to mate up with one of your 4 device 100 watt RMS amps.

That will depend on what you want out of a radio. Personally, I like the 2950 because it's relatively cheap and it has features that are only found in radios that are CPU (central processing unit) con- trolled. The "souped-up" CBs like Galaxy, Northstar, etc. are not CPU controlled. On the other hand, the souped-up CBs have features that are not found on the 2950 that appeal to CBers. Some also have a 2 year warranty. The used market is a useful tool as well. Radios like the Uniden HR-2510 and the export versions like the President Lincoln are viable choices as well. It's a tough call. My philosophy is to have two radios with one being a backup. In my opinion, none of the current crop of radios is unconditionally reliable. That's why I stick with the 2950. They offer the best bang for the buck in my opinion. And, I'm not disappointed when one fails because I understand the pressure the manufacturer is under to keep the price competative.

If you decide to get a new 2950 here's a tip: Run it for a week or two before you break the seals to modify it. If you can, obtain a dummy load and a frequency counter so you can transmit while monitoring the output frequency. Some of the 2950s tend to drift. If you put say 100 hours of combined transmit and receive time on the radio without any problems, and the radio's frequency is reasonably stable, you probably have a good one. To test for frequency stability you have to leave the radio off for several hours or over night. Then, set up the frequency counter and measure the transmit frequency the second you turn the radio on. That will give you the cold frequency. Then, let the radio run and re-check the transmit frequency every 5 minutes until the frequency doesn't change anymore. That should happen in somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour. The frequency drift should be minimal. 100 cycles or less is good. If the radio drifts alot more than 100 cycles, or it continues to drift after it's been on for over an hour, or if any other problems crop up during that 100 or more hours of burn-in time, you'll still be able to send it back under warranty.

What about the Galaxy Radios?

Galaxy DX99 is a very popular trucker radio. It has all the bells and whistles like echo and roger bleep.

What about the Yaesu and ICOM Radios?

Yaesu and ICOM have a very good reputation in the ham arena and are both the top of the line. A bit pricey though for casual CB'er use. The ICOM 706 and Yaesu FT101 both output about 40 watts AM and 100 watts SSB. Are you sure you want to spend some big bucks before you find out that some of the "Cb'ers" are not the best in eloquence? You may have problems finding a dealer that will mod a ham radio for CB, so you will have to do it yourself. There are internet sites that have all the mod information.

Of course antennas are very very important. My truck has a large flat steel roof which makes a perfect ground plane. I'll be mounting the antenna right in the middle of the roof.

When you install your radio make sure that it's grounded well. The bracket you use for the radio is often the ground. If it is make sure it's bolted to the metal of the vehicle.

What Antenna are you using?

I use different antennas, depending on my mood, or how I want to communicate. For long distance, I like a Wilson 1000 or use a 7' [foot] Firestik. For highway, I use either a 5' Firestik, or the Francis 5 1/2' Hot-Rod. I have a 'lil' Wil Wilson mag mount antenna that works great. The Firestik, is heavier, and the Francis is less wind-resistance. Something to think about when you buy a mount. I'm limited by the gauge of sheet metal on my Ford, it's pretty thin, so I have a weight and wind-drag limit on the mount.

Since I don't have a Garage, I can't help you there on selecting a short antenna, only the use of a "Quik-Disconnect" is the better way to do it for parking and stowing in a high-crime, or questionable area. This way, you can use a longer, better or more efficient antenna, for your needs.

What about Amps? What does "Pill" mean?

Pill is slang for output transistor. I guess they look like big pills to Cbers'. I recommend the radio/amp combo over the all- in-one arrangement. I also recommend using a straight 4 device (output transistor) amp rather than a 2 device amp. The 2 device amps are overdriven by the 10M/export radios that have 2 final transistors in them. 2 device amps are better used with standard, single final transistor CB radios. One of the reasons I don't like the 2970 is that they remove one of the radio's final transistors in order to prevent amplifier overdrive. Then, the DC supply wiring starves the amp which limits it's performance. They also remove the standard-sized speaker and replace it with an undersized unit in order to make room for the amp. In a nutshell, in order to add an amp to the radio both the radio and the amp are compromised. A 10 meter ham or export radio and a 4 transistor amp is what it takes to have a true 100 watt system. In other words, it takes 4 RF power transistors to get a true 100 RMS watts on AM. A dual final radio won't drive a 4 transistor amp deep into saturation where it overheats, becomes unstable, and has compromised reliability.

Buying a RCI 2950 or other 10M/export radio and a good 4 device amp will cost more and be more of a problem to install and operate, but it's the right way to go in my opinion.

Can you tell me the details on (size, mounting, current draw etc.) and prices of your amps?

I don't have a list on file that has all that info. If you can be more specific I can send details on specific amps that might more closely fit your needs. Here's a brief rundown of the amps I sell. The name, transistor compliment, peak output with 25 watts in at about 13 volts, and price are included.

(Note: Blue Face may be out of business now)

Blue Face (Palomar) 225, 2 X MRF455, 190, $120 Blue Face (Cobra) 350, 2 X 2SC2879, 300, $200 Blue Face (Magnum) 450, 4 X MRF454, 400, $300 Pirate 500HD, 4 X SD1446, 400, $300 Pirate 1000, 1 driving 8 X SD1446, 800, $500 Pirate PB-500 (Base station (AC) amp), 4 X SD1446, 475, $450

The Blue Face 450 and the Pirate 450 are probably the best overall choices for use with a 2950. Here are the other specs you requested for those two amps:

Size: Blue Face 450: 7.25" W X 2.5" H X 11.5 D Pirate 500HD: 6" W X 3.75" H X 8" D The Pirate is forced-air cooled and the Blue Face is convection cooled; that's why there are significant differences in their dimensions.

Mounting: There are no specific mounting techniques recommended for either amp. No brackets are included with either amp. The use of Radio Shack's universal mounting bracket kit is what I usually recommend to my customers. A local sheet metal shop could whip up a couple of wrap-around brackets for a reasonable price as well. It's difficult to include any typical brackets because every mounting situation is unique.

Current draw: The maximum current draw will be on SSB and will depend on the supply voltage and drive power to the amp. The Pirate is more efficient than the Blue Face since it uses smaller transistors. In a typical situation the peak current draw for the Pirate will be around 40 amps, and about 45 for the Blue Face. On AM and FM the average current draw will be approximately 20 amps per 100 watts of carrier power.

Where is the action on amateur radio?

On 10-Meters, most people shun local communication, and go for DX (long distance). Ten Meters is the most effected by Sun Spots. We are on the way back up in the cycle, so we will find more and more DX. This is usually better in the morning. I found that 17 and 20 meters are probably the most used HF frequencies for General and above hams. This is all of course upper SSB.

There are only three FM repeater channel pairs, and one FM simplex channel on 10-Meters, so there is not a great deal of repeater activity. There is a good 10-Meter repeater in the Bahamas, and people love to use it when the band is open. It is kind of fun to talk through a Bahaman repeater whether you are talking from Virginia to North Carolina, or Virginia to Mexico City. By the way, a 10-Meter repeater is much more difficult to build than a 2-Meter repeater.

Most 10-Meter operation is SSB or CW, with a little bit of AM thrown in. AM is kind of worthless since it just wastes power and bandwidth, at least using today's rigs. At one time, AM sounded very good, but those days seem to be over. I could go on, but I won't.

On repeater operation, 2-Meters is the most popular band. It tends to be the lowest common denominator, and if someone is set up for mobile operation, their first band is 2-Meters.

The second band is 70-CM. There are many more channel pairs in the 440 MHz band, so while one repeater may be quieter, there is a bunch of activity in the band.

The next most popular bands are 6-Meters or 1-1/4 Meters. Mobile antennas are reasonable on 222 MHz and the band does not suffer from man made interference as much as 50-54 MHz. Six-Meters is a bunch more fun though, and simples goes a long way on six.

Then least most popular of the "popular" FM bands is 23 CM. I love it, though it strange. The band is 1.240 GHz to 1.300 GHz. The band is 60 MHz wide, more spectrum than all the bands below it combined! We use it in Dayton every year, and never hear anyone with whom we don't wish to talk. Heck, we never hear anyone we don't know! People using the other bands not only share channels, but also have to put up with interference from people on OTHER channels, and all the mixing products produced by 30,000+ hams in the same place all talking at the same time.

There is also the 902-928 MHz, or 33-CM band. I have some links in that band, but it is also an ISM band, and a Part 15 band. So, the ISM folks are drying plywood, and the Part 15 users are running cordless phones and other JUNK in the band. There is a repeater in the band in the DC area, but I have never worked it. It would be a good band to use to stay hidden, since there is no HAM gear built for the band. One must modify equipment to work there, and actually soldering is beyond many hams.

Now, is that more than you wanted to know?

What about Radio Quality?

The RCI-2950/2970 are very nice radios, but will not hold up to a ruff ride. Most truckers have found this to be true, and although they like the features, will not get long term performance from them. Almost all the amateur radios like Icom, Yasau, Alinco and Kenwood are a big, big step up from any of the CB's.

Do you recommend any other radios that may be higher quality?

What features are you looking for?

What is the warranty situation once the radios are modified?

A good rule of thumb is that there is NO WARRANTY on any radio Once Modified.

Are there overheating problems with the 2970?

Yes there are over heating problems with the 2970 because of the Power it creates. Power=Heat. I would suggest getting a RCI 2950 and a 100 watt linear. The RCI 2950 is $279 and a good 100 watt linear is around $125 so it is about the same. The mods are the same for the 2950 as the 2970. Is the radio you get going to take a lot of abuse. Bumping road etc. I personally favor the Galaxy series of radios. You will here good and bad about all radios if you look long a hard enough. The Galaxy Radios have a 2 year warranty and the RCI have a 1 year warranty. Even if a Galaxy Radio has been modified it will usually NOT void the warranty unless you have really butchered the radio or shorted something out in the process. I have had no experience with Ranger. Channel mods for the Galaxy usually consist of just cutting a wire and plugging something in that is already there but not connected. If you need any further assistance please do not hesitate to let us know and we will do everything possible to get the info for you if we don't have it. Howard-The House of CB http://www.transport.com/~bll/thehouseofcb

Hey dude- I just saw your post on the cb newsgroup about the george vs. lincoln I would just like to say that I have had several (100s) of radios, including a 2510 (same as a lincoln) and a george. I bought my 2510 used and my george new and I would have to say that I FAR prefer the 2510 in most respects. First off, the 2510 is far more modifiable than the george. I currently have my 2510 chipswitched (Chipswitch looks like it's gone) - you can't use this on a george, I have a turbo board in the radio( far superior for both modulation and echo to the george's built in echo), and I have a simple power mod that involves removing one capacitor, enabling my 2510 to swing 50 watts with the stock mrf477 pill. The most wattage I ever got out of my george was 35. The only thing that I thought was "cute" about the george was the built in security code, but I didn't really see the purpose of it and it got annoying after a while. Like I said, I have had many different radios(a 2950, a 2990, a Galaxy Pluto, a Galaxy 99, and many others), and by far my favorite has been my 2510, which has never been in the shop in 7 years, except for mods. It is one of the most highly modifiable radios on the market. The Linclon is just an updated version of this radio which replaces the rf gain and mic gain from a button to a knob. The HR2600 is also a very similar radio, but it requires a chipswitch to gain 11 meter capability, while the Lincoln and the HR2510 can use a simple mod (I suggest the chipswitch, anyway. Read their web page and you'll see why). I hope this helps you out; I know I probably sound like a 2510 activist or something, but I haven't found a better radio out there. Have fun

What's the difference between the President Lincoln and the George? Are they any different then a Uniden (who I believe makes them).

Ok first off Uniden does not make the George. Uniden made the 2510 10 meter radio. President makes the Lincoln. You will get stories from some guys that claim they are the same and that all President radios are made by uniden. This is complete bull. Get the real deal from president like I did. Now for the differences.

All in all I like both radios. As you can see I like the George better. In fact I have not turned the 2510 on in months. I like that fact that you can program the george right from the front panel. I also like the Security feature. I can lock it out so nobody can use it while the car is being serviced. I once caught a mechanic keying my radio with no antenna. I will also say that the George is a Surface mount radio. Meaning that you cant solder on its board like you can most Radios. The second you touch the iron to the board you will split the traces. Don't open it up. Send it to president and have it fixed by a factory tech. Then you will end up with a Fantastic radio.