This week we’re going to wind up our very brief look at the CB radio as a prepper tool. But first I want to apologize for the breakneck speed I’m using to cover an intricate subject. Any one of the classes of radios I’m reviewing in this series deserves a great deal more time and space than I’m prepared to give them. Although I might disagree with many of the licensed amateur radio aficionados concerning how difficult it is to get on a radio and talk to someone else, they have a very valid point: if you take up ham radio as a vocation, the learning never has to stop.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of CB utility, I received an interesting post in last week’s mailbox that I am delighted to share. The poster said, in part:
Criminals that build, import, and sell radio amplifiers that are meant to operate at high power and outside allocated frequency bands by untrained people should be aggressively punished to the fullest extent of the law.
People who write articles like this one that encourage breaking the law are just as guilty and should be treated the same way.”
Wow! This is the first time (on my columns here at WND, at any rate) I’ve actually been classified as a criminal for writing something a reader finds objectionable. Kind of makes me proud.
Now let’s get to some of the legal specifics of that CB radio you’re thinking about getting. As I mentioned in last week’s column, each and every CB radio must be approved by the FCC, and each radio must have an FCC “type acceptance” label placed on it by the manufacturer.
The maximum legal CB power output level in the U.S. is 4 watts on the 40 legal AM channels and 12 watts for SSB (single sideband; we’ll get to what this is in a bit), as measured at the transmitter antenna connection. But don’t be thinking about putting a power amplifier between the radio and the antenna to get around these restrictions – that’s illegal.
Is prepping the right thing for to do for Christians? Or should we just be trusting in the Lord? Learn about that balance in “Be Thou Prepared” by Carl Gallups – “Equipping the Church for Persecution and Times of Trouble.”
The FCC-assigned CB radio band is often referred to as the 11-meter band. That’s because the wavelengths for the frequencies in the assigned band range are around11 meters long. This is an important number because, as a lot of hams will tell you, the right antenna will make a so-so radio work well and the wrong antenna will turn a great radio into a paperweight. Antenna efficiency is largely based on a length relationship to the frequencies you’re interested in interacting with. Theoretically, that best antenna will be a full wavelength long. However, most of us aren’t equipped to stand a 36-foot-long antenna into the air, so frequently CBers will use a quarter-wave whip antenna roughly 108 inches long.
There are a lot of variations and different types of antennas on the market. You should do your own research, and pay particular attention to the term ground plane. A quick primer can be found here.
Purchasing a CB radio today is easy and cheap. The market is flooded with good used units, both vehicle-mount/home-base station radios as well as handhelds. You can get a decent model for a song. I recently purchased a couple of working late-model handhelds from Goodwill for $5 each. If you’re going to get a CB, I highly recommend looking for one with SSB (single sideband) capability. A good explanation of why you want this option can be found below (warning: his pointer drives me crazy):
In short, using SSB, you can get greater power and range. This is applicable for a lot of ham radio transmission and reception that use amplitude modulation. If you want more info on SSB, try reading this link.
With four (or 12) watts of transmission power, your range and transmission clarity is much better with a CB than those of FRS radios. Because the 11-meter band falls in the high frequency category, it’s possible, with the right solar conditions, to expand that range by “skipping” your transmissions off a portion of the ionosphere. But if you’re playing within the regulations, you’ve got to watch this capability carefully so you don’t exceed the 155.3 mile regulatory limit.
None of the regulatory limitations listed above (except those portions that deal with physics) concerns those CBers who walk the dark path: the scofflaws and electromagnetic Ned Kellys who desecrate the purity and sanctity of amateur radio by modifying or buying import radios that can transmit outside the CB band, or over longer distances than are allowed by the FCC.
There are a ton of those people. I was aware of those CBers who “shoot skip,” meaning bouncing their signal off the ionosphere to get ranges far in excess of FCC regs; but while I was doing some research for the CB portion of this column, well … I apparently fell down the rabbit hole. There are whole clubs, websites and organizations out there dedicated to reaching out and touching someone long distance with CB radios. These folks have their own language, call signs, and techniques.
While they all vaguely acknowledge they are playing outside the “competent legal authority” zone (thanks Al Gore), they don’t appear to be too bothered by it. And from the “getting caught” side of things, there’s no reason they should be. It appears you’d have to be a complete dufus to get in the crosshairs of the FCC.
A really detailed page on CB radios and shoot skipping, with a great “Don’t be stupid” section at the bottom of the page, can be found here.
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Finally for this week, I’d like to point out a matter of importance for all those radio folk who are also anti-government nut-job preppers (like me), found in Section 303(n) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended:
(Act) gives the Federal Communications Commission the “authority to inspect all radio installations associated with stations required to be licensed by any Act, or which the Commission by rule has authorized to operate without a license under section 307(e)(1), or which are subject to the provisions of any Act, treaty, or convention binding on the United States.
In a nutshell, this means licensed or even unlicensed operators of any radio transmitters can get a knock at the door, at essentially any time, by an FCC employee who’s there to inspect your equipment and associated paperwork without a search warrant. There’s nothing you can do about it but say, “Come on in.”
If you’re a licensed ham operator, it’s part of the requirements for the “privilege” of being granted a license. And if you’re a CB radio owner … well, it’s also a part of the FCC “license by rule” you didn’t agree to, but are bound by anyway. Failure to comply “… may lead to revocation of a license, maximum monetary forfeiture, or other Commission sanctions.”
Read the above fact sheet thoroughly and with a mind to what it doesn’t say as well. Then think about establishing your personal radio shack in a building separated from your home, or at least in a room with an exterior door (and a locking interior door) so a government agent doesn’t get to tromp through your house, muddying the carpets, and – by the way – scoping out everything else you have along the way to your radio. That suspicious rifle in the corner might not be covered under his regulatory fiefdom, but it might be of interest to the agency down the hall from his office. (Then think about how fortunate it is we don’t currently have a federal gun licensing system in place, because the ATF would love to have the same regulatory inspection authority.)
I’m already out of room, so that’s all for now. Next week we’ll look at the powerhouses of local emergency and business radio – the two-meter and 70-centimeter bands – and see how these radio systems can serve preppers.
Until then, get your ears on … and get prepared.