By David - K3DAV (1/17/2013)
CB radio is no different than Ham Radio. RIGHT? They both transmit RF signals through the air that allow conversations between 2 or more people. They are both considered 2-Way radio communications. You pick up the microphone, press the PTT button, and speak into the mic. Then you release the PTT button and listen to the reply. This makes them the same thing, doesn't it? Sounds pretty simple. But if this is your way of thinking, then you are greatly misinformed.
There are such opposing viewpoints between these 2 radio services and their operators. CB'ers look at ham operators as stuffy by the book snobby elitest who think they are better because they have a license and more privileges.
Some Ham operators look at many CB'ers as renegades who have no regard for rules and the proper use of radio. They are seen as far less educated in the field of radio and electronics, even though they think they know everything about it. Therefore they do not understand how to tune radios and often set them to abuse the limits to which their radios can't operate without harming the operations of other users.
In many cases, both have a lot of truth to them. Not all CB'ers are bad guys. There are a lot of good guys on CB too. I still get on CB and talk to my friends. But too many of today's CB operators really have no education about radio and communications protocols. They think they do, but they are just fooling themselves and those who are less educated in radio than they are. They do tune their radios improperly so they operate illegally beyond their limits and harm other operators. They have no regard for the rules of their service and have no remorse for their actions. They take these actions blatantly and arrogantly, and they do not care who they hurt. There are actually CB'ers who when they start using a channel regularly, they believe they own the channel and outsiders need their permission to use it.
On the other foot, there are many snobs and stuffy old farts on ham radio bands. There are many hams that think they are above everyone else because they have the biggest and most expensive radios with monster towers and monster antennas. They think that makes them gods and rulers of the ham radio universe. And there are hams that abuse the rules using profanity, and do not identify their stations. But thank goodness that is just a fraction of ham operators. Most hams are good guys with a real knowledge of radio. They are always ready to help other hams and share their knowledge with everyone. They are the first in line to help during disasters in their communities and around the world with communications when emergency communications are down.
First: Ham Radio
Ham radio has been around longer than CB. Ham radio is governed by the FCC as the Amateur Radio Service and assigned specific frequencies and bands throughout the entire frequency spectrum. It's purpose has many aspects, but it is mainly made up of individuals who have studied the proper text books and lessons on radio, then have passed a written test to prove that they have a certain amount of knowledge of how radio works, and why it works. If they pass the test, they are issued a License with a unique call sign they use when transmitting that identifies them to all others who may be listening.
It is called the "Amateur" Radio Service for a good reason. We operators are known as Amateurs, or "Hams" for short. The term "Amateur" refers to us being equal in rules and abilities to commercial broadcasters, but we can not get paid for it. Ham Radio is always a "not for profit" service and can not broadcast advertisements or one way transmissions. We are also experimenters in electronics. The FCC allows hams to build and repair their own equipment. We are also allowed to make modifications to our radios to improve performance, or just to experiment and see what it does. The experimentation of ham radio operators have brought forth many of the modern electronics and technologies that everyone uses today. We have changed how computers, TV's, Radio's, and even cell phones operate. Cell phone technology is based in part on how ham radio repeaters were designed. Just about all 2-Way radio technology got it's start in ham radio.
Many have called us, Ambassadors to the world, because we can contact and talk to other ham operators from dozens of countries around the world. And many of those people in other countries will judge us and our nation, by what we say and how we conduct ourselves on the air. So we have to use a little common sense and act like human beings. Control what we say and how we say it to other nations and cultures. And for the most part, we have learned to be cordial and keep our personal opinions on different forms of governments and religious beliefs to ourselves, and just have nice friendly conversations. Usually we end up talking about our radio equipment and give reports of how we hear each other.
The FCC has a set of rules and regulations called "Part 97". This is the governing ideals that we have to follow to be given the privilege of using the Amateur frequencies. Mostly, the FCC allows ham operators to police themselves and our assigned frequency bands. There are a few idiots who sometimes like to break the rules, but very few. And sooner or later, they are dealt with by the FCC and pay the price for their stupidity.
Now On To CB Radio
There is only one requirement to becoming a CB radio operator. You must have the cash to purchase the radio, antenna, and coax. That's about it. There aint no mo to know. The FCC requires them to read and follow the Part 95 Rules. But they never do either. They plunk down the cash, put up the antenna, connect it to the radio, turn it on and abuse the rules day and night. To be fair, not all CB'ers are abusers of the rules. I can't stress this enough. CB has a lot of good guys too. I am not bashing CB, I am just telling it like it is. But the good guys are falling in numbers and the abusers are taking over.
CB is governed by the FCC under the "Citizens Band Radio Service". CB also has rules and regulations that are found in a document called "Part 95". At one time in a land here on Earth in a time long long ago, CB radio operators actually followed those FCC rules. It was a well run band back then. Actually, I am referring to the 1960's and early 1970's, when a license was still required. There was no test to study for, and nothing that you were required to learn, except for the part 95 rules. You just had to fill out an application form to request a license to operate. Every one received a license with their own call sign to identify themselves on the air. CB was a real family band for everyone. And it was fun for everyone. We had CB clubs, and Coffee Breaks which are like mini hamfest for CB'ers. There were only a few truckers with radios nationwide, but they were always nice and friendly. And we usually followed most of the rules, at least the ones that mattered. And the FCC used to police the CB band very tightly. It was not unusual to see white vans around town with the FCC logo on the door in small print, with US Government license plates and a little direction finding antenna on the roof. That's when CB was at it's best.
Then there was the trucker strike nation wide in the late 1970's. Truckers started buying CB radios for their trucks to avoid police speed traps, and organize traffic jams to help their strike. The problem is, none of those truckers ever sent for a license to operate those radios. They just installed and used them at-will. The illegal use of CB was then glamorized in movies such as "Convoy" and "Smokey And The Bandit". There was an NBC TV series called "Movin' On" about 2 truckers, and they used their CB radio illegally without a license. And don't forget the Duke boys running moonshine around Hazzard County avoiding the local smokies with their CB radio that they all used without licenses. This glamorization of the illegal use of CB radio caught the eyes and ears of millions of fans, and they all started buying CB radios and using them illegally without licenses. Before you knew it, almost everybody and their brother had a CB radio without a license. You could hear profanity being used like Sailors in a bar on a Friday night shore leave. Nobody followed any of the FCC rules. The FCC tried to contain this outbreak and blatant misuse of the CB band, but they lost the battle.
The FCC finally changed the license rules and dropped the licensing completely. The FCC still has a slightly revised set of rules for CB radio, but the public ignores them all and operates CB radio like pirates. Mostly what you hear today are truckers talking to help make their long rides go faster. And when the atmospheric conditions are good, you can tune to almost any channel and hear DX stations for long distances trying to talk around the country. This form of communications is usually called "skip" on CB as it refers to signals skipping off the ionosphere and bouncing back to earth hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
But it's not like ham radio DX. Much of what these skip stations are doing is loosely called, a "Pissing Contest". In other words, these skip stations are not actually trying to have conversations with each other. They are actually trying to see who is the better and stronger station on the channel. These stations buy the biggest antennas and highest power illegal linear amplifiers, sometimes ranging up to 10,000 watts, to try and be the most powerful station on the channel. The result is tons of noise from several stations transmitting at the same time. But the station that is strong enough to be heard over the noise of the other stations, is the big winner, (so to speak). Hence the term "Pissing Contest"
There are still a few nice guys on the CB channels, but they have become hard to find as more often than not, a lot of CB'ers are just renegades there to break every FCC rule they can with no remorse or regard to others who want to use the band for real communications.
A Few Words Concerning The CB Freebands
One of the grave misuses of CB are the freeband users. The frequencies below channel 1, and above channel 40 have been nicknamed the freebands. They are illegal to use by CB'ers, but they do use them everyday. And it is not just in America. CB operators from around the world make contacts on the freebands whenever the skip conditions are good.
The freeband frequencies are in 2 different bands on each side of the CB legal Channels. The legal 40 CB channels are sandwiched in between them. The low freeband ranges from 25.000MHz through 26.955MHz. That last frequency of 26.955MHz is actually one channel below CB channel 1 which is 26.965MHz. The first number of 25.000MHz is just above the 12 meter ham radio band which ends at 24.990MHz. This band is usually for stations using AM, but there are some sideband users on the lower end of this band. You will find a few locals just talking to each other, but when the skip conditions are good, this band is loaded with typical AM skip stations from around the country, and a few SSB stations from around the world.
The High freeband ranges from 27.415MHz through 27.999MHz. The first number of 27.415MHz is one channel above CB channel 40 at 27.405. The second number of 27.999 is the borderline start of the 10 meter ham band at 28.000MHz. This band is mostly use by operators using both upper and lower sideband transmissions. They are usually only heard during good skip conditions, and operators are from around the world. But this freeband usually sound more like ham bands with serious operators just trying to make contacts. It is normally a well run band for good DX fun. It more or less reflects the type of operators found on the Legal SSB channels of 36 through 40.
The main issue is that the freeband frequencies are illegal for CB operations. Many CB groups and supporters have argued that these freebands should be opened for legal use by all CB operators. They are already there and have taken control of these bands anyway, so why not make them legal to use? The problem is that both freebands border 2 different licensed and controlled ham bands, and as many CB'ers love to tune their own radios to high power distortion and splattering audio levels, they tend to splatter into both ham bands causing interference to both legally licensed bands. It might not be such a bad idea if the CB operators would observe a few rules about power and audio limitations, plus a small portion of frequencies separating them from the 2 ham bands. But the renegade mentality of CB'ers will not adhere to those kinds of rules. So the FCC keeps these bands off limits legally. Besides, the frebands are already assigned to other services legally like TV and Radio remotes, and services like the U.S. Forestry, and petrolium industries. So these bands are not technically open for grabs.
The hope of many ham operators is that the CB band will someday die off and the FCC will give the band back to ham operators. The 11 meter CB band was originally part of the Amateur radio service and used by ham operators. But when the FCC decided to open a new band of frequencies for the Citizens Band Radio Service, they took the 11 meter band away from hams and gave it to CB radio. But with the thousands of illegal users on the CB and freeband frequencies, it would be difficult at best to ban them from these bands so licensed ham operators could once again take control back and use them properly.
But I have one question for the FCC. Why in hell would you decide to open a frequency band for short range public communications, on a part of the frequency spectrum that is known best for it's long range propagation of signals? You put people on a band where communications can travel around the world, then tell them they can't talk beyond 150 miles. Who's head was up inside a dark and brown place that day when they came up with that genius thought? Wouldn't VHF or UHF have been a far better choice for short range communications? DUH!!!!!
Let's Do Some Comparisons
The equipment used for CB and Ham radio are very similar indeed. Both can transmit in the AM, USB, and LSB modes. The method of broadcasting a signal and then receiving it are are also similar in both services. But there are differences in the regulations of how the radios are designed to operate.
CB RADIO has 40 fixed channel frequencies of 10KHz each. The radios must not be able to change the fixed center frequency of any channel. For example.... CB channel 1 is centered on 26.965MHz. But the full channel width is 10KHz from 26.960 to 26.970. The transmitter must (by law) be fixed to the center frequency of 26.965MHz. This is the same for all 40 CB channels. The entire CB band has 40 specific channels located in one band from 26.965 to 27.405MHz.
HAM RADIO has several bands of frequencies located throughout the entire frequency spectrum from the Medium Wave band at 1.8MHz., through HF, VHF, UHF, and bands way up into the high Gigahertz frequencies. Each band is specifically laid out and assigned a frequency range. For example.... the 10 meter ham band is assigned the frequency range from 28.000 to 29.700MHz. There are no fixed channels or frequencies, so hams are allowed to tune to any frequency within the assigned band, and transmit.
CB RADIO has a control on the front of all radios that aids with SSB capabilities. It is called a clarifier. The clarifier can raise or lower the frequency of the received signal only, but by only a few Kilohertz. This control aids in fine tuning an SSB transmission. But this control must (by law) be locked to the center frequency of the channel being used during transmit. As stated before, the transmit signal can not deviate from it's assigned center frequency of each channel.
HAM RADIOS are not channelized and can use any frequency within it's assigned frequency band. The transmit and receive signals can move together or separately to any frequency.
CB RADIO is allowed by law to transmit a maximum power of 5 watts on AM, and 12 watts PEP on SSB.
HAM RADIO is allowed by law to operate up to 1,500 watts on any frequency or mode. There are a few power restrictions for the Technician license class of 200 watts on specific frequencies in the HF Ham bands.
CB RADIO has no licensing structure of any kind.
HAM RADIO has currently 3 license classes that operators must study and test for to obtain. The Technician Class is an entry level license that gives full privileges to the operator on bands from 50 MHz and above. The tech class also allows a small portion of 10 meters in the HF band for USB voice at 200 watts, and use of only the CW portions of 80, 40, 15 and 10 meters.
The General class license is an upgrade that operators must study for and pass a second test to obtain. The General class license adds voice privileges in specific portions of all HF bands. And power is now allowed up to 1,500 watts on all of these bands.
The final and highest class is called Amateur Extra class. A third test must be studied for and passed to obtain this license. The Extra class license has no restrictions of frequency within any of the assigned ham bands. And full legal limit of power (1,500 watts) is allowed on all ham frequencies.
CB RADIO operators are prohibited by law from modifying or adjusting any part in their CB radios that changes the operating power, frequency, audio, or filtering design of the transmitter section. This is due to the fact that CB operators have not studied or passed any exam proving that they have the proper knowledge to make these changes properly and safely. All CB radios are designed and built to specific FCC rules and standards, and every CB radio must first be tested and inspected to be certain that the FCC rules have been followed by the manufacturer. No CB radio can be sold or purchased in the USA with out a certification plate installed on the back of the radio ensuring the radio is FCC approved.
HAM RADIO operators are allowed to repair, adjust, and modify their radios in any way as long as they fall within the FCC rules and guidelines. This is allowed by the FCC because ham operators have studied enough about radio electronics to have a working knowledge to make these adjustments and modifications properly and safely.
CB RADIOS by law can only transmit using the AM, Upper SideBand, and Lower SideBand modes.
HAM RADIOS and operators are allowed the modes of AM, FM, LSB, USB, CW, RTTY, and several digital modes. Hams can also communicate via satellites and repeater stations.
CB RADIOS are designed with very little to almost no filtering in many of the transmit stages. So when those CB Voo Doo Technicians get their hands into their CB and rip out the audio limiters and crank the power to it's maximum, the radios begin to splatter beyond the channel it is tuned to. The splatter effect is when you over modulate the AM carrier beyond 100%, the bandwidth expands way beyond what the radio can handle. The result is distortion and splatter of the RF signal over in to adjacent channels with added harmonics, because the radios circuitry is not designed to go that wide.
HAM RADIOS are well filtered and regulated within their circuits. When changing the bandwidth setting, you are also changing the passband setting of the filters to allow the new expanded bandwidth to pass on to the RF signal without distortion or splatter. Yes a ham radio can over modulate too, but the operators are smart enough to know how to set the audio properly to avoid this problem.
I wanted to add this little tidbit for those who own high power export radios.
CB RADIO high power Export radios. Many CB'ers get a radio, then run it into a small mobile linear with poor or usually no filtering so it runs dirty, (Distorted and splattering everywhere). RCI does the same thing with every high power radio they make. Except they put the cheap dirty linear inside the box. The main board of the radio still has regular dual medium power finals to 20 or 40 watts. They connect the antenna output of the board to the dirty linear input, then the linear output goes to the antenna jack on the back.
HAM RADIOS have high power finals too, but they are not add-on linear boards. Ham radios put high power MOSFET transistors on a heat sink. These finals get their signal directly form the driver transistor circuits. The drivers and MOSFET finals are highly filtered and regulated so they never run dirty and last a lot longer.
Here Comes The Illegal Export CB Radios
One of the problems that have faced the FCC for many years now, is the new invasion of illegal CB radios flooding the American market. These radios are often referred to as Export radios. They are radios built like CB radios but they have all of the illegal features that many CB'ers are itching to have. These Export radios have clarifiers that are unlocked so they can alter the transmit and receive frequency together the way ham radios do. They have a circuit that lets the operator switch to illegal frequency bands above and below the legal CB channels. Many of these radios can transmit on frequencies up into the 10 meter ham band, and down into the 12 meter ham band, and every illegal frequency in between. They also have dual finals or higher power finals to transmit from 25 to 100 watts. And they add the modes of FM and CW. But all of these features are very illegal on the CB radio service.
Question: If a radio can transmit on 10 meters,
does that make it a ham radio?
Answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT!
The manufacturers of these radios set them from the factory to only transmit on 10 meter ham frequencies. This is so they can sell them legally as ham radios. But they are not ham radios. They are all designed and built to the same specifications and standards as CB radios. They are not even in the same class as real ham radios. These Export radios have a 40 channel, channel selector, and many have built in echo boards to make you sound like you are in a big empty stadium. Plus they have the FM and CW modes. When was the last time you saw a real ham radio with a 40 channel, channel selector and a built in echo board? After you purchase any of these Export radios, you only need to open the radio and move a wire or cut a resistor or diode to alter the radio so it will now transmit on the 40 CB channels with it's illegal power and features. These are not 10 meter ham radios. They are CB radios built with illegal features and aimed towards the American market that has the money and wants to get illegal radios.
But one of the main differences in the technical side between CB and ham radios is how the transmit bandwidth standards are set. I am going to show you 2 graphic charts to illustrate this big difference.
Notice in the chart above that both Legal CB and illegal Export CB radios have the same CB standard of transmit bandwidth. The CB standard bandwidth of AM is about 4 KHz wide. This means that the transmission uses 2 KHz on each side of the center frequency within the 10KHz channel space. This can vary slightly by the amount of modulation inserted onto the carrier. And likewise, the USB and LSB bandwidth is only 1.9KHz wide. And you will notice that the design for SSB just removes the carrier and opposite sideband, and leaves the selected sideband off of center frequency. This is why when switching to sideband on any CB and Export radio, you must tune the clarifier away from center to tune the SSB voice correctly. The FM bar was added to the graph above for showing the same 4KHz bandwidth as the AM for Export radios. The FM on these radios do not sound much better than their AM audio quality because of the same bandwidth on both modes. It is just a little clearer on FM due to reduced noise.
The chart above shows the standard bandwidth that real ham radios are designed and built to. First, keep in mind that the bandwidths shown on this chart are only typical of how most manufacturers build their radios for the general consumers. But the FCC does not have a set limit to the bandwidth hams can actually use. Hams generally stay within the bandwidths shown above as a courtesy to other hams that share the frequencies so not to interfere with them.
But notice that ham radios are usually fixed at 6 KHz bandwidth on AM, even though there are experimenters that have used up to 15KHz bandwidth to achieve a Hi-Fi or commercial broadcaster quality of audio. Also notice that both sidebands are set up to offer up to a nice 2.8KHz bandwidth which produces a fuller richer audio that can almost equal the AM sound on CB radio, but much cleaner. But the part I like is that the manufacturers have set the sidebands to center frequency of the AM transmission. Switching to the SSB modes from AM does not need retuning of the frequency.
You will also notice that the FM mode built into most ham radios can be adjusted from 6KHz wide up to as wide as 15KHz. This is fantastic when talking FM simplex, (communications directly between 2 or more radios). The high fidelity quality of the audio is superb and very clean.
When a ham buys a 10 meter Export radio, and uses it on the 10 meter ham band, they sound okay but a little narrow. Meaning there is little to no lower tones, and just a little high tones. This is because they are transmitting SSB on a radio with only 1.9KHz of bandwidth, and they are being listened to on real ham radios with 2.9KHz capability. Something is lost in the translation, and the loss is tone quality of the audio.
Some Legal CB's And Some Illegal Export CB Radios
Most of the legal and illegal exports used to be made by a company called UNIDEN. They built the Cobra's, President's, and many of the exports like Galaxy, Superstar, and many others. A few years ago, Uniden's contract with these radio manufacturers was dropped in favor of a company called RCI which stands for Ranger Communications Incorporated. RCI started making the CB radios for everyone else including a line of radios under their own name. Uniden built solid and good designs for the radio companies. They were top quality and lasted forever with good treatment. But when RCI took over making the radios, they went cheap to save money. RCI copied many of the old Uniden designs to make new radios just like the old ones. But RCI uses thinner PC boards, and lower grade semiconductors. They may look the same inside, but they are not the same quality. RCI seems to be only in it for the money.
But no matter what you think of the illegal radios or legal CB radios, you have to admire their design and looks. Some of them look very professional and stylish. Here are a few examples. The descriptions are below each photo.
The radio above is one of my old favorites. It is a Cobra 148GTL 40 channel mobile. I had one of the older versions by Uniden back in the 1980's. Cobra made the best CB radios back then. They all had fantastic audio with good receivers. Well worth the money. And HEY GUYS, this one is legal. When Uniden made this radio, the mic connector was on the left side panel. You can tell by the pic above that this one shown is made by RCI with the mic jack on the front.
I owned one of these too back in the mid 1970's to early 1980's. It is an old Royce 1-632 mobile with SSB. It was not one of the bigger names in CB, but they were nice dependable radios, with good quality designs and they sounded great.
Now for some of those evil illegal radios.
This is one of the old Galaxy Pluto radios from the early 1990's made by Uniden. They were built solid as a rock and sounded great for a CB. It had AM, FM, and USB, LSB, and kicked 40 watts out the back with dual finals. Unlocked coarse and fine tune clarifiers. It even has a 10kc button to jump up into the 5 RC channels within the CB channels.
This one was a unique radio made by Uniden and sold under 3 names. The Uniden HR-2510, the President HR-2510, and the President Lincoln. All 3 were the same exact radio with no differences. There was an updated version called the HR-2600 that would cover all of 12 and 10 meters. And with a little surgery, it would cover 11 meters too. These radios were added to the FCC list of illegal Export radios, but I do not understand why. The HR-2510 was a real 10 meter ham radio, and the HR-2600 was a real 10 and 12 meter ham radio. They were designed and built to meet FCC Part 97 standards. They even had the wider bandwidth that ham radios have. They had 99 memory channels but they had a VFO instead of a channel selector. And you could set the tuning steps of the VFO. But it didn't take a lot to convert them to transmit on 11 meters. So I guess that's why they went on the FCC most wanted list. Too bad too, it was a damn fine radio.
Above is one of RCI's own creations. The RCI-2950DX export CB. Poor menu layouts and it sounds like a typical CB with a cheap mic.
Above is the RCI-2985DX. It's the same as their crappy 2950 mobile in a bigger box to look like a base radio. But you have to admit it looks pretty snazzy.
Above is the RCI-3900HP export radio. Designed to look like the older legal CB radios. Notice the 40 channel, channel selector on what is sold as a 10 meter ham radio. And the 3rd control from the left is an echo control for the mic. WTF!
This is a SuperStar 2400MK-II, also made cheap today by RCI. I can't help laughing. They market this radio as a 10 meter ham radio. But not only does it have a 40 CB channel selector, but notice the switch in the top center marked as CB/PA. Yeah right, doesn't every ham radio have a CB/PA switch on it? Hahahahaha...
Looks like a basic Cobra radio doesn't it? Above is the newer crappier RCI version of an older fantastic classic Uniden radio called the SuperStar 3900. RCI even made the logo over the meter look like a cartoon. The old SS-3900 was a best seller back in it's day. The board design was the same as the Galaxy Pluto radios but without the frequency counter. Another 10 meter radio with a 40 CB channel selector and a 10KC switch.
Above is the 100 watt SuperStar 7000DX radio by RCI. Sold as a 10 meter ham radio, it's display is showing a frequency of 27.555 on channel 12. 27.555 USB has always been the official unofficial international calling channel on the CB freebands above CB channel 40.
And last but not least, above is the SuperStar 4900 base 10 meter ham radio with it's display showing CB channel 40 and the frequency of 27.405. Does this radio look like a knock-off of a Kenwood or Yaesu HF radio, or am I in a daze at it's beauty and charm? I can't help it, but I like the looks of it. It looks very stylish and professional for piece of crap from RCI. It has a number keypad for dircet entry of frequencies, 2 antenna ports with an antenna switch on the front, and you can change the stepping of the up?down frequency buttons. Don't forget to turn on the echo and roger beep.
There you have it folks. CB which was once a great family band, has now become a wasteland of truckers and poorly educated people in the field of radio. But the CB band is becoming less and less used these days. Even the once always busy traveler channel 19 is quiet lately.
The truth is, most ham operators got their start in CB radio like I did. And many of them can still be heard in the illegal CB frequencies calling DX. I still have a few friends on CB that I jump down and talk to from time to time. But it can never compare to the HF ham bands.
If you have any questions about this article, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org