Key CB Radio Concepts
Welcome to Right Channel Radios' Key CB Radio Concepts guide. Why should you read/watch this? It will answer many common questions you may have if you're new to CB radios, will help you make informed shopping decisions, and should only take a few minutes.
CB radios require no license to operate in the United States. They have a 1- to 10-mile range depending on the antenna, terrain and weather, and they are primarily used in vehicles for mobile communications. For a complete CB radio setup you'll need a radio, an antenna to transmit and receive a signal, a mount to connect the antenna to the vehicle, and CB coax cable to connect the radio and antenna.
One of the most common questions we receive is which CB radio is best. It's important to understand that all CB radios transmit with 4 watts of output power, as they're limited by regulations put in place by the FCC. So, it's really an equal playing field when it comes to radio output power and transmission potential. For this reason, it's the CB antenna that typically determines the transmit and receive range/performance of an installation. And it's the unique features and quality of radios that differentiate them – NOT their output power.
One of the great things about CB radios is that all components across different brands are designed to work together seamlessly. The PL-259 (male) and SO-239 (female) connection is universally used to connect CB coax to ALL radios as well as to the vast majority of CB antenna mounting studs. There are two lesser-used coax/stud types: the terminal-style crimp-on coax and the ring-style coax end. Both are used for connections where space is limited, and both are compatible with a lug-style antenna stud. All Right Channel Radio product pages will indicate which type of connection is needed for a given product.
Similar to coax connections, all CB antennas use a universal 3/8” x 24 male thread on the bottom for mounting, which is matched by a similar female thread on all mounting studs. This is universal, allowing compatibility across different manufacturers.
All radios come with a universal "U" mounting bracket that allows the radio to be mounted on any flat surface. Mounting locations within vehicles vary greatly based on the vehicle type, installation requirements and personal preferences of the owner. While on-dash mounted radios are most common, radios can also be mounted on the floor or roof, or installed in the dash, similar to stock radios.
All CB radios have an unprocessed, fused hot line and ground lead coming out of the back of the radio. For those with experience, it's fairly simple to connect the CB to the car's power system. Otherwise, a number of user-friendly devices such as cigarette adapters and fuse tappers exist to make the process a bit easier.
At some point, you'll hear about "tuning," which can be a confusing concept for those new to CB radios. There are two types of tuning, and these can often be confused. The two types are "antenna tuning" and "radio tuning."
Antenna tuning is the process of adjusting a CB antenna for ideal performance after installation. As all vehicles are slightly different, each antenna needs to be adjusted to a unique length once installed. This is achieved by adjusting the length by small increments, usually via an adjustable or sliding tip. The antenna tuning process, also referred to as "adjusting the antenna's SWR," is an important step to ensure proper performance and requires an SWR meter to take readings from the antenna at different lengths. You can learn more about antenna tuning and SWR readings in our CB Resources Library.
The other type of tuning is radio tuning, sometimes called a "radio peak and tune." This refers to a process of increasing a radio's output power to achieve greater transmission range. It can only be done by a trained radio tech. We usually recommend investing in a high-quality antenna over a radio peak-and-tune for most customers. Right Channel Radios no longer provides peak-and-tune services, so any peak-and-tune would need to be done by a local technician.