One of your top priorities when preparing for any SHTF scenario must be to communicate with your loved ones. And unfortunately, you may not be able to do that through methods you’re used to such as social media, emailing, phone calls, or texting.
Granted, those methods will still work in a number of different disasters. But in a number of others, they won’t, such as disasters that would cause the power grid to go down or anything else that disrupts cell or internet service.
This is why you need to have backup emergency communication devices in addition to your traditional communication devices, and one backup device you should consider investing in is a CB radio.
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What Is a CB Radio?
CB radios have been around since 1948. They were developed originally when the FCC decided to create a new radio service to allow citizens to communicate with one another.
In essence, CB radios became the first two-way radio system that everyday Americans could use, though the range was incredibly limited. But at the very least, it allowed people to communicate with one another, for example, on job sites–so it had some convenience.
Today, CB radios have a much-improved range and should be good for around a five-mile vicinity (some models can reach up to ten miles, while others will only reach as little as one mile). In general, don’t expect your CB radio to communicate with anyone outside of city limits.
If that range isn’t enough for you, keep in mind that it would be a good range if you and other people are caravaning during a bug out, if one or more members of your group go out in search of supplies and might need to call for help, or if you just have neighbors you’d like to stay in touch with without having to go out too often.
Types of CB Radios
CB radios are also available in two different types: mobile and handheld.
Mobile CB radios look more like traditional vehicle radios and are designed to mount to the inside of a truck, while handheld CB radios look very similar to walkie-talkies. However, the operations for both are virtually identical.
A CB radio will cost you anywhere from $40 for a lower end model to $200 or more for a higher-end model. As we will talk about later, the higher-end models are often worth the extra money.
Modes and Channels for CB Radios
CB radios are available in two different modes: AM and SSB, or Single Side Band.
Only higher priced CB radios will come with SSB mode, and that’s because SSB provides a much-improved range over AM mode. Why are they so much more powerful? Twelve watts versus just four watts for AM mode.
That being said, AM mode has the ability to communicate with recipients who are using either SSB or AM mode. In contrast to this, those using SSB mode can only communicate with those who are also using SSB mode.
In addition to the two modes, CB radios have forty different channels that are unique by their frequencies.
2 – 26.967 MHz
3 – 26.985 MHz
4 – 27.005 MHz
5 – 27.015 MHz
6 – 27.025 MHz
7 – 27.035 MHz
8 – 27.055 MHz
9 – 27.065 MHz (emergency channel)
10 – 27.075 MHz
11 – 27.085 MHz
12 – 27.105 Hz
13 – 27.115 MHz (used by truckers)
14 – 27.125 MHz
15 – 27.135 MHz
16 – 27.115 MHz
17 – 27.165 MHz
18 – 27.175 MHz
19 – 27.185 MHz
20 – 27.205 MHz
22 – 27.225 MHz
23 – 27.255 MHz
24 – 27.235 MHz
25 – 27.245 MHz
26 – 27.265 MHz
27 – 27.275 MHz
28 – 27.285 MHz
29 – 27.295 MHz
30 – 27.305 MHz
31 – 27.315 MHz
32 – 27.325 MHz
33 – 27.335 MHz
34 – 27.345 MHz
35 – 27.355 MHz
36 – 27.365 MHz
37 – 27.375 MHz
38 – 27.385 MHz
39 – 27.395 MHz
40 – 27.405 MHz
Codes and Slang
When you communicate with other people using CB radios, chances are very good that they are going to communicate with you using CB codes and slang.
CB codes are also referred to as ’10 code’ or ’10 codes’ because the number ten is always put before them.
For example, the code 10-1 refers to poor reception. The code 10-2 refers to good reception.
Other examples of ten codes include:
- 10-4: Affirmed/Affirmative
- 10-9: Repeat
- 10-11: Talking Too Fast, Please Repeat
- 10-13: Advise Weather Conditions
- 10-19: Return to Home/Return to Base
- 10-23: Standby
Here’s a complete list of 10 codes.
In addition to the ’10 codes,’ slang is often used in CB communication as well. Here are some examples of CB slang that you are likely to encounter:
- Break: Indicates that a new person is on the line (more on this later)
- Evil Knievel: Officer On A Motorcycle
- Miss Piggy: Policewoman
- Gum Ball: Police Vehicle
- Panda: State Trooper
- Hundred Mile Coffee: Strong Coffee
- Bear Trap: Law Enforcement Checkpoint
- Fighter Pilot: Aggressive Driver
How to Use a CB Radio
CB radios are easier to use than you think. Unlike HAM radios, which are much more difficult and actually require you to take a class and pass an exam, CB radios are comparatively simple.
Now granted, CB radios don’t have anywhere near the range of a HAM radio, and a CB radio should never be considered a viable substitute for a HAM radio. If anything, you should learn how to use a HAM radio as well (just read this first) and take the time to get your license. CB radios are just a good alternative to a HAM radio in scenarios where you’re talking to people only a few miles away.
That being said, let’s go over the process you will need to follow to use a CB radio.
1. Connect the Antenna
The first thing you will need to do is turn on the CB radio and connect the antenna if it isn’t already. The antenna in particular is very important because when you go to buy a CB radio, at least a mobile model, it most likely won’t come with an antenna. As a result, you’ll have to buy the antenna separately, and you should be very selective about which one you get.
It’s not really the radio that will determine how well you can communicate, but the antenna. You can buy the nicest CB radio in the store, but if you get a crappy antenna, it’s going to turn that nice radio into an entry level model that only has AM mode and limited frequencies. That’s not a mistake you’ll want to make if you end up needing your CB radio during a disaster scenario.
2. Tune Into a Channel
Once your CB radio is on and the antenna is connected, the next thing you will need to do is tune into a channel.
As was noted previously, channel 9 is reserved for emergencies, and channel 13 is most often used by truckers. You can change the channel by turning the knob on the device, or in newer models, you may be able to push a button to change channels up and down like you can in a car.
3. Start Talking
Next, press the transmitter button and say “Break.”
You can now listen in to the conversation going on over the radio. Wait for the conversation to end, or for a brief pause, before you enter in yourself.
The transmitter button must be depressed in order for people to hear you speak, similar to a normal two-way walkie talkie like you might be used to.
The reason you say “break” is because it will alert other users of CB radios in the vicinity that a new person is listening and is likely waiting to speak. When the word “break” is uttered, the other speakers will often bring their conversation to a halt so you can speak.
It doesn’t always happen (depending on who you are speaking with), but sometimes other people on the line will acknowledge you verbally.
If no one acknowledges you within around ten seconds of the previous conversation ending, it should be safe to speak. The last thing you want to do is directly interrupt a conversation as it can easily lead to great confusion.
At that point, you can talk into the radio just like you would a phone. Try to keep your sentences to a minimum, and you can further shorten your speaking time by using slang and codes. This is why, if you’re not very familiar with CB codes and slang already, you should have a booklet on hand that tells you.
If your CB radio is a more expensive, higher end model, it should come with a signal meter that tells you how strong and weak your signal is. The really nice CB radios will also tell you how close or far you are from the other radios you are in contact with, so if you don’t feel your signal is getting through or if reception from the other users is poor, the signal meter will indicate if you are really having trouble because of weak signal strength.
Last but not least, you can also use the ANL button to limit the amount of background noise, which can really get loud and noisy in the cities.
3 Examples of CB Radios You Can Buy
Here are three examples of makes and models of CB radios that you can find on Amazon:
Cobra 29LX Professional CB Radio
The Cobra 29LX Professional CB radio is a mobile CB radio that has a four-color LCD display (blue, green, red, amber) that makes using it at nighttime or in dark conditions very easy. It also comes installed with a 24 hour NOAA weather channel service, a clock, and a frequency display and radio check so you can see how strong your signal is.
Midland 75-822 40 Channel CB-Way Radio
The Midland 75-822 40 Channel CB Way radio is a handheld CB radio that offers ten NOAA weather channels and all forty CB radio channels. It is powered by six AA batteries and provides four watts of output power. It also comes installed with an automatic noise limiter and a one year warranty from the manufacturer.
Uniden PRO505XL 40-Channel CB Radio
The Uniden PRO505XL is a mobile CB radio that is unique because it has a button that allows you to instantly switch to the emergency channel 9. It also comes installed with an external speaker jack so you can plug into another external speaker for improved sound, a squelch control device, channel display, mounting hardware, and a large display.
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Keep in mind, even if you don’t have the fifty bucks or so lying around to buy a new low end CB radio, you can still find old ones in good working condition in surplus stories or even in thrift stores for just a few bucks.
A CB radio is definitely something handy to have in a collection of emergency communication devices. By no means should you treat it as your only emergency communication device due to its limited range, but for getting in touch with others within a city or another relatively small vicinity, it remains a viable option.