Truckers know a CB radio helps them avoid traffic jams, bad weather and tickets, but not enough know how to get the maximum performance out of their equipment.
“Everyone considers them to be plug and play, but they’re really not,” said Matthew Brehm, a quality assurance manager for DAS Products, which manufactures RoadKing CB radios. “A little attention can boost their performance drastically.”
What kind of performance can a driver expect from a CB? In optimal conditions (flat terrain, no tall buildings, low humidity and a well-tuned setup), signals might travel seven to eight miles, Brehm said. Four miles is more typical, and that might shrink to a few blocks on a humid day in downtown Chicago. While location and weather are beyond your control, there are simple things you can do to improve your CB’s performance.
Here’s a component-by-component guide to getting the most out of your setup.
The antenna is the most critical part. It’s where signals are received and transmitted, and the type, location and tuning of the antenna are crucial to performance.
Antennae come in a variety of types and designs by materials, length and location of the coil. The antenna coils can be base-mounted, mid-mounted or top-loaded. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Whichever type you use, make sure the coil is above the top of the truck for optimal performance (but low enough to clear underpasses and trees). RoadPro brands Francis, K40 and Wilson offer a variety of high-performing antennae in different models and mounts.
Radios and antennae need to be tuned to each other. RoadKing and other brands have built-in standing wave ratio meters, which make this easy. Brehm said drivers should tune before every trip and certainly when getting into a different truck.
The SWR measures the amount of power being transmitted through the antenna, which determines how far the signal travels. Using the SWR meter as a gauge, incrementally lengthen or shorten the antenna until it is performing at maximum efficiency. (Detailed instructions can be found in the manual).
Unlike the radio itself, antennae, even the best ones, don’t last forever and should be replaced every few years. Keep them clean of dirt and oil and check the sheathing for any nicks or holes.
Taken care of properly, these can last for decades. Brehm said the most common performance problems are caused by a lack of grounding. Grounding was easier when more components in the cab were made of metal, but that has changed with addition of more plastic parts. He recommends running a grounding wire from the back of the unit to a metal part in the cab that’s connected to the chassis, such as a seat post bolt.
CB radios typically come with a basic dynamic mic, which most drivers discard in favor of superior, noise-canceling mics, like those made by Astatic and RoadKing. Soft-spoken drivers or those who work in particularly noisy conditions might prefer amplified mics.
It’s easy to overlook the cables, but they tie the whole system together, and a poor-performing cable can hurt. Make sure to get a cable with the proper connectors and one that is shielded from interference, like those made by Wilson.
“The more shielding you have, the better signal you’re going to get,” Brehm said.
And there’s one more thing Brehm would like to add to those upgrading or installing a CB radio: “Read the directions. I never used to until I started writing them, and now I know how much good information is in there.”