Citizens Band Radio

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Copthorne Macdonald is the inventor of slow-scan television and is an authority on other forms of personally controlled (amateur or "ham") radio communication.

A lot’s happened on the Citizens’ Band (CB) radio scene since we took our first look at CB, and it now seems about time for an update.

No doubt the most important development in the field during the past two years has been the explosive growth in CB’s popularity. Statistics abound on this subject, but one set of numbers I came across not long ago really stuck in my mind: In the U.S. as a whole, one of every eleven families owns a CB radio … while among farm families, one in six has a set. It’s easy to imagine why this form of two-way communication has caught on so well among rural folks: In the back country, CB radio can serve as an area-wide “party line” for the exchange of recipes, gossip, and other information … it can serve as a way to alert the crew back in the woods that dinner is ready … or it can be a vital communications link in times of emergency. CB radio’s versatility makes it a “natural” for homesteaders (and others) who may live miles from the nearest neighbors, stores, medical help, etc.

Perhaps you’ve thought of getting started in CB radio yourself. If so, you should know — first of all — that CB is strictly a short-range (up to 20 miles or so) radio communications system designed for personal or institutional use. You should also know that before you can operate your CB station (or any radio station, for that matter), you must obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission. Fortunately, this isn’t difficult to do, because — in contrast to the procedure for obtaining an amateur radio operator’s license — you’re not required to take a test in Morse code or radio theory in order to receive your CB station license. All you have to do is fill out FCC Form 505 (“Application for a Class C or D Station License in the Citizen’s Radio Service”) and send it in to the Federal Communications Commission. (It used to be that you had to include a one-time $4.00 fee with your application, but — as of January 1, 1977 — this requirement was dropped.)

In addition to filing Form 505 with the FCC, you must — before you can legally go on the air — order (or already have on hand) Part 95 of the FCC’s rules governing the use of CB radio. You don’t have to read the rules … you just have to have them in your possession. 

Thanks to a recent improvement in the licensing procedure, it’s no longer necessary to wait an interminable two to three months for your permanent license to arrive before you can begin “modulating”. Nowadays, you can write out your own Temporary Permit (on FCC Form 555-B) at the same time you fill out your license application (Form 505) and begin transmitting immediately. (Note: The Temporary Permit is, unfortunately, good for only 60 days.)

Frequently, Forms 505 and 555-B are packed right in the box with new CB equipment or can be obtained from CB dealers. 

In Canada, licensing requirements aren’t quite as liberal as they are in the U.S.: Canadian citizens can’t legally buy a transmitter until they’ve obtained a station license. Thus, a Canadian CB enthusiast’s first step is to contact an office of the Department of Communications. 

As you may already know, the FCC (and the DOC) recently upped the number of available CB channels from 23 to 40. This will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect in urban and suburban areas, where channel overcrowding has been a nightmare for some time. As a side benefit, we can expect to see an increase in the number of 23-channel sets on the used market as people trade their old rigs in for the newer 40-channel units.

The newsstands, of course, are chock-full of CB books and magazines these days. (With more than 16 million CBers now on the air, the market for CB publications is  –to say the least — huge.) Out of all the dozens of manuals on the stands, however, the absolute bar-none best book on the subject — I think — has to be The Big Dummy’s Guide to C.B. Radio, a 128-page labor of love created by our good friends, the radio crew at The Farm in Tennessee.

The Guide is a thoughtfully organized, funny, and — above all — truly informative handbook … as well it should be, because the folks at The Farm really use CB: the midwives, the paramedics, the band, the farming and construction crews, everyone. Happily, this firsthand knowledge has led to the creation of a book that answers all the right questions … the questions beginners really want answered. The Guide shows you, for instance, how to install a CB radio in your car … how to rig a homemade antenna for your base station … how to troubleshoot an ailing transmitter … and much more. (There’s also a glossary of CB lingo, or “channel jive,” as the authors call it.)

So far, more than a quarter million copies of The Big Dummy’s Guide to C.B. Radio have been sold. Buy a copy for yourself and you’ll see why the book’s so popular.