Selecting a CB Radio

The EOTB, like many other off-road clubs uses CB radios as the primary means of communication between vehicles on the trail.

Most CB radios are very similar. They usually support 40 channels, transmit at up to 4 Watts which is all you really need. You can get some extras like built-in SWR meters, weather radio, channel memories among others. As long as you stick with a reputable brand, you should be fine. It’s generally advisable to stick to one of the three major brands, Uniden, Midland or Cobra.

You will see some shops advertise radios by Galaxy or Ranger with higher power outputs (10 Watts, 45 Watts and even 75 Watts). These are not CB radios, they are HAM (amateur) radios, often referred to as 11m radios, that can or have been modified to operate in the CB band. These are legal to use as HAM radios if you have a license but are not legal to use in the CB band, even if you do have a license.

Common Features

40 channels Most CB radios support 40 channels, which represents the complete band for citizen band radio
4 watt transmitter This is the maximum transmission power allowed in the citizen band. It is rare to find a radio that isn’t capable of transmitting 4 watts.
Noise cancelling microphone Face it, most off-road vehicles are not quiet. A noise cancelling microphone will help reduce the background noise allowing you to be heard more clearly
SWR meter An SWR meter is used to tune the antenna. Usually an external SWR meter is used, but some radios have them built-in.
Weather Radio Weather radio, as the name suggests allows you to listen to regional weather forecasts. Some radios will also give you automatic weather alerts when a special signal is received.
Memory Channels Allows you to mark a number of channels as your favorites so that you can quickly jump to commonly used channels.
Scan Scans all of the channels to search for activity. When a signal is heard on channel, the radio pauses on that channel to let you hear the transmission
Dual watch This is similar to scan, but monitors two channels instead of scanning through all of them.
RF Gain RF gain allows you to control how much an incoming signal is amplified. If your gain is set to high, you can pick up too much background noise, causing spurious signals to break squelch. If it is set to low, you might not be able to hear a station farther away.
Microphone Gain Controls the volume of your voice when transmitting. Since CB is AM radio, this also impacts your signal strength. Too high, and your voice will sound distorted. Too low, and nobody will hear you.

Recommendations

Here are a few radios to consider. These recommendations are based on the assumption that you’re only using the CB for the trail and are just looking for a good sounding reliable radio.

Uniden Bearcat 880

This unit includes most of the features you would need. It offers a more modern interface than most CB on the market, but it is physically quite large compared with the other recommendations.

  • Modern looking interface
  • Noise cancelling microphone
  • Built-in SWR and Antenna diagnostics
  • Channel Memories (you can store channels in memory and scan those channels)
  • Weather Radio

Cobra 75 WXST

For applications with limited space, such as the JK, this is a great little unit. All of the controls are integrated into the microphone and the transmitter is a small box that can be mounted under the dash or under a seat. The microphone gain on this unit is not great though, so it does tend to come in a little quieter than other CB.

  • 4 Memory Channels
  • Weather Radio
  • Fits in the palm of your hand

Midland 75-822

This is another compact radio which can be used as a fixed install unit (like the Cobra 75 WXST) or by detaching the base, attaching a battery and the flexible antenna, it can be used as a handheld for extra-vehicular activity.

  • Compact
  • Versatile (can be used in vehicle or as a handheld)
  • 5 Memory Channels
  • Weather Radio

Cobra 19 DX IV

This unit is small. It can be installed with very little space. It’s a full 4 Watt unit. Even with its small size, it has quite a few features, but if you’re just looking for a basic, robust CB, this will do the job.

  • RF Gain Control
  • PA function