Getting the most BANG for your buck.
Getting the most bang for your buck with a CB radio is one thing that most first time operators have on their minds when trying to figure out which radio is the right one for them. CB radios in the United States are ALL type accepted by the F.C.C to certain specifications. That means that they ALL put out the same amount of power and signal. Doesn’t matter whether you spend $30 on a basic radio like the Uniden Pro505XL or one of the top of the line Galaxy radios. So how can you get the most bang for your buck with a CB radio.
Can you hear me NOW?
Keep in mind that no matter what the manufacturer may claim, CB radios are only allowed to put out a maximum of 5 watts. Unless you start looking at modified Ham radio equipment which has more frequency coverage and power output, you are not going to see or hear much difference between radios. Keep in mind that modified Ham radio (export 10M radios) are illegal for use on the CB and require a license. You can and WILL be caught and fined, and possibly lose your equipment to the men in the White van that have been sitting outside your house for the last few days!
One way around this limitation is to use what is called an amplified microphone. Remember, it is also illegal to modify your CB radio internally in any way, but there is NO limitation on microphones.
An amplified mic, or power mic will amplify the audio input of the radio you are using. As long as you don’t crank the amplification up full bore and start causing RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) and scrambling TV’s in the neighborhood you should be fine. Another thing to remember is that when a power microphone is turned up to high, the voice transmission starts to distort and sound very poor. Sure, the audio IS louder, but what good does that do if no one can understand what you are saying. The best way to avoid this without an oscilloscope is to have a friend on the radio help you adjust the amplified microphone until you are loud without distorting. This will go a LONG way in improving your signal while reducing interference.
Antenna antenna antenna.
One thing that is interesting is that no matter how much you spend on the CB radio, it is only going to perform as well as the antenna system that you use. I often find that a $5 Garage sale throwaway bargain basement radio will perform just as well as a top of the line radio when connected to my 3 element beam. No noticeable difference in stock radios. You are better off purchasing a inexpensive radio and spending most of your money on a decent antenna and ham radio coax, which has minimal loss per 100ft.
One of the simplest antennas that can be erected is a simple ¼ vertical on the roof. With good height and tuned properly this will give good performance.
Vertical antennas like the Antron-99 have a love/hate relationship with most radio operators. They either LOVE them or absolutely HATE them. I have found that in most circumstances the Antron99 will be a decent performer as well.
If you have the money and real estate then a directional beam is the way to go. These can be purchased under $200 bucks and will concentrate your power in the direction you want it. The only drawback to a beam is that it constantly needs to be turned in the direction you want to talk. A beam antenna will also require a little more maintenance than a vertical. The trade-off is much stronger signals and receive. I find that my beam is quieter than a vertical as well, so I can hear the station I want without all the static.
RF Gain and AF Gain/Volume Control.
One thing that CAN be said for a little more expensive radio is the RF Gain and AF Gain. When the CB bands are REALLY noisy it helps to have an RF gain control. This reduces the incoming noise. When you hear a weaker station you can adjust the RF gain down as the person talks, to a point where the background noise is reduced. This allows you to hear the weaker station. Just don’t turn it down TOO far or the signal you are trying to hear will disappear. Te AF Gain/Volume control can then b turned up just a little to bring up the receive audio. It will take a little adjusting to familiarize yourself with this process but once you find comfortable settings it will become second nature to you.
In the older days of radio it was a common practice to turn the AF Gain/Volume all the way up and then adjust the RF gain slowly until the station could be heard. On older Tube gear you will often find these controls.
What the heck is SQUELCH?
Most modern day radios like the Uniden pro505xl 40 channel cb have squelch control. What this does is block out the static and noise coming from your speaker. The drawback to using squelch is that as signal strength decreases on the incoming signal, it will also block some of the audio.
The receive signals coming into your radio are very minute voltages that are filtered and amplified until they produce the sound you hear in your speaker. The squelch control can be set to only allow certain voltage to continue. The stronger the incoming signal is, the higher the voltage.
It is best to use the squelch control on stronger signals. The best way to adjust the squelch is to turn the knob to the right until you do not hear any noise, and then turn it to the left just a bit. You may have to play around with it a bit to get it adjusted correctly, but once you do the static and noise will not come through your speaker.
A bit more about Ham Radio Coax.
Amateur Radio operators usually run more power than a CB will put out. This can be up to 1500 watts legal limit. They also have longer runs of Coax that they use for then antenna systems. Because of this, Ham radio coax loss is a big concern. In average RG8 type coax on the Citizens Band (CB) you have loss of about 1.707DB per 100 ft. This means that if your radio puts out 5W, you are getting 3.375 watts out the antenna. At 50ft this loss is reduced to 0.853DB of loss, or about 4.1 Watts output. That is a tremendous loss of power.
Some of the more expensive Ham Radio Coax like LMR400 and will allow 4.32 Watts out at 100 ft. Just remember that it is better to spend more on the antenna and ham radio coax than to spend your entire paycheck on a CB radio that has been modified and illegal for use.
OK, I have babbled now for several minutes about radios, antennas and COAX, so I hope that you get the message. It is better to spend you money on the antenna and Ham Radio Coax than to blow all your money on the radio itself and hope for decent results. So what were the ways you could improve your signal again?
- Purchase a decent antenna that will improve your output signal.
- Look for RF Gain and AF Gain with your radio
- Use high quality Ham Radio Coax.
- Purchase an amplified Microphone.
OK, I hope this help you get a good signal on the airwaves. Remember that you will have a better signal with a GOOD antenna that with an exotic CB radio.