Help familiarize me with the CB Radio

I’m considering buying my first CB Radio for my car and I understand that a lot of motorists still use them in the current era for interesting reasons. These devices were of course far more common up until about the early 1990s but apparently they do have certain benefits that make them stand out from the mobile devices that are now mainstream. I understand that these two way radios make it simpler for listeners to access weather, emergency and information stations as opposed to the one way radio that is installed in and comes with every vehicle. Now one thing I’d like to know is how helpful are these two way radios when it comes to general information and mental stimulation as opposed to weather or traffic advisory? In order to decide on whether I’ll get one of these CB radios I need input from anyone out there who has had much experience with them. Oh and hey my name is Kenneth!

Kenneth - what age range are you in? Your posting style is somewhat old, but some content younger, and your categorisations are a bit well, quaint?

CB radio is, thanks to the US, a rather ‘cult’ communication system. I wouldn’t dream to try to educate you on the niceties, especially as being in the UK, much of my info on your practices is third hand - but I think you’ve perhaps got a bit lost?

One-way radio (never ever heard it called that) is broadcasting. It is a complex subject and the process is stratified into genres and age groups. On top of this you have coverage issues - National, regional and local variations. Public service broadcasting seeks to inform and educate as well as entertain. CB radio from it’s introduction was designed as a short-range service. Ignore for the moment the international side of the hobby/leisure end of the CB phenomenon.

The idea, as opposed to broadcasting is that two-way comms enables you to ask for information. Broadcasters, even in local radio services have real problems with alienation - if your town suffers from traffic issues, then it can really help, but if your service area covers your neighbouring town ten miles away, their traffic problems might annoy you. Instant 50% success rate and perhaps the spark to tune away, and commercial stations hate tune away.

CB has short range - and this can often be just a few miles, so the system has evolved to have a calling and listening channel. You leave the radio on this one, and if somebody answers your call, or you answer theirs, you then move away to an empty channel. In rural areas all channels may be quite empty. In urban areas channels may well be very busy. If you are heading North towards an area, you can call and ask for the weather, traffic info and anything you like - is there a MacDonalds on a certain road, for example. The system works.

Now the bad points. If people don;t like your voice, your terminology or your accent, they may not answer. CB is a community and you fit in, or not. There is always correct (or common) radio procedure. Fail to follow it and your success rate drops enormously. It’s all about first impressions and in a single area, how you fit in. Passing through and asking for weather or road info might get you answers, while just wanting to chat might not.

CB is a community and unpoliced. There are genuinely nice people and there are total idiots.

As far as mental stimulation, I fear you might get more from an app on your phone. CB is an inefficient, unreliable communications medium. For emergencies, 911 on your cell phone is always better. If you are out of cell coverage, then the chances are you won’t get a reply on CB either, or if you do, it will be from somebody also local on maybe the same road, with no cell coverage either. The fact that a cell phone offers far more as an information device means CB is firmly a hobby or a niche comms product nowadays, same as ham radio, and the various short range license free systems that are common. I fear that from your post you perhaps are expecting CB to be something ‘special’.

Let’s be honest, they’re cheap enough to just buy one with a magmount, and have a go. You can always sell it again if you hate it.

England, with it’s historic class structure still has CB, but it’s not popular with the higher classes (socio-economic groups is the modern term). I first used CB in the early 80s, and this class thing was there then too, and as radio was a new thing for the masses, it caught on - but fairly soon after, the difference between classes helped it fade away. It sounds awful, but speaking to people on a radio I would never speak to socially meant I personally gave up on it. Nowadays the same underground beliefs and opinions are still the same here. I don’t think the US had this social split, did they? (do they?)

Try it and be prepared to love it or hate it!

After reading your post and hoping i understand what it is you want to be able to do with a radio, I would suggest your getting in touch with an amateur radio club in your area. Get them to point you to help in getting a tech license and go with a “dual bander” and work the repeaters. Your local hams can give you much more information on the VHF/UHF repeaters, IRLP, Echolink and the like than we can type here.

Obed: Thanks and I’ll look into finding such a club in my area. Paul: As for you on the other hand I am somewhat offended by your insults and inconsiderate statements in response to my inquiry. My age for one thing does not make a difference in the matter and as should be clear from what I said I originally I am totally new to the two way radio lifestyle so I am not aware of nearly as much as a lot of members on this site. Even if what I posted does not make sense to you in it’s entirety it was absolutely unnecessary for you to slander it with those insults. If that is how you treat other users on this site then I’ll ask that you not respond to a posting of mine again.

He answered your question honestly with no malice. I saw no insult at all in what he posted. I would consider not being so easily offended. This could result in you not receiving answers to your questions in the future, if people are afraid of answering you. Abusive comments (either way) won’t be tolerated here. I’ll give my answer to your question in my next reply. Don’t consider this an attack… just friendly suggestions. We are here to help :slight_smile:

I will assume you are in the USA, and will base my answers on my experience.

CB radio in and of itself will not give you weather info. Many CB radios DO have weather receivers built in. Be sure to get one that has weather frequencies.

For mental stimulation… Honestly… isn’t going to happen. Many CB users can be rude and totally disregard rules and regulations.

Traffic info… It depends on where you are. It used to be where truck drivers were always on Channel 19 and would give out info. On a recent vacation, I used a CB just as an additional radio. The CB was all but dead. Essentially useless. Nowadays phone apps give detailed traffic information and graphical displays of traffic jams and such. Many drivers no longer use CB radios.
Again… based on your area… your experiences may vary.

For emergencies, I would not count on a CB to help.

Let me give you a couple of instances of why CB is of no value any more. When the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) washed their hands of the the service and made it “license by rule” it unleashed a monster. The service is now a wasteland to the point where it’s nearly impossible to get assistance with a CB radio.

REACT International, an organization born of CB, has even forsaken it. REACT first moved over to GMRS and then to the business band and now most REACT chapters are comprised entirely of amateur radio license holders.

To be honest, I’m a bit shocked. I spent time and considered your post quite deeply, and there was absolutely no intention to offend you, and to be very honest I have re-read it and can’t see anything whatsoever I typed that was offensive, demeaning or negative.

Clearly, my suspicions were correct. I sincerely believe that you may have expectations that are just impossible to meet? You might well be shocked by the operating practices you will find, and to use any public radio system nowadays - amateur, CB, Marine, business you need to have endless patience to not get angry with the other users - who frequently are the kind of people you would NOT take home for tea with your aged parent. That’s the entire point of public service communications - it’s cross social community chat - and you may like it, but I suspect not.

Hams can be very often the worst comms users (and I include myself in this) The world is a small planet to radio users, yet extreme bias exists. People get ignored, and often the more desperate for a contact a user is, the more people ignore them. Sounds weird, but that’s how it is. On a long journey, down a motorway, I might hear somebody a few miles in front of me call and call and call, but get no answers, but then somebody else puts out one call, and somebody else immediately answers - they just didn’t want to talk to the other guy.

You mentioned that you understood that some people use them for weather info and emergency comms - but as other responders have said, it’s actually pretty random and unreliable.

Now one thing I’d like to know is how helpful are these two way radios when it comes to general information and mental stimulation as opposed to weather or traffic advisory?
I read this as meaning fun vs serious use? Is that wrong. CB is not designed for information or stimulation. It’s a CB. It’s purpose is kind of a radio form of Facebook. People you don’t know, people you do, and most importantly people who won’t behave as you prefer.

Kenneth - age is VERY important. Public communications has for many years focussed on groups. Ham radio, when I first started is a good example. The older people talked to each other, and were less comfortable talking to the young. The younger people, often found it difficult the other way - only a few were able to cross the borders. It happens on Marine band and Aircraft band too - which are primarily comms for safety systems. Not in as unpleasant ways because they tend to remain professional, but there is clear differences in operating practices and vocabulary. Kenneth - I’m 58 now, and have little in common with the 18-22yr olds I work with. It helps to know who you are talking to when you respond to try to help, as I did. I’d suggest that if you found offence in my comments, CB radio might not be the communications medium for you? It can be raw and rough. Did you ever watch the movie Convoy? CB conduct is far, far worse nowadays than that movie from the 70s portrayed.

CB was fun and a way to meet some nice people during the glory days…(kind of a Facebook for the 1970-80’s) but sadly, as others have posted there is almost no activity any more.

It depends on what part of the USA you are in… In California the CB is pretty dead, we’re clued to cell phones. But, I hear in the South and the Midwest CB is still as popular as it was back in the 70’s…

Best of luck…