When it comes to a CB radios, it is important to not get too hung up on brand. Just like any other product, marketing gets the best of people when they should be focusing on the principals of how it works. Yes, the more expensive brands will have better filtering, noise reduction, sound quality etc, but if you're just looking for something to keep in touch with a buddy on the trail you can definitely get away with something cheaper. A bit of consideration to some of the basic radio principals will go along way and will have better range and intelligibility then the most expensive radio on the market that is poorly installed.
A few things to consider when buying/installing:
- You don't need a 200 foot tall antenna to get your signal out. A simple 1/4 wavelength antenna will do just fine. Be very careful of marketing here. CB manufacturers love to put great big fancy looking coils on their antennas that can resemble something mounted to a space shuttle. Yes, the antenna you choose will probably have a coil (usually at the bottom) used to tune the antenna's wavelength to the CB band, but.. BIGGER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER!!!!! Sometimes you can cut one apart and find a normal sized coil in a huge plastic casing to make it look more bad ***. You can also have a 5/8ths wavelength antenna that is very common as well but one of the trade offs is that it will be taller . Just remember when buying an antenna, any radio transmitter will work with any ol' piece of wire provided it's tuned to the proper wavelength. There is no magic here, just marketing vs science!
- If you buy a magemount style antenna (magnetic base sits on the roof to support the antenna) you will likely knock it off while offroading. Tree branches, bumps etc could have you constantly jumping out of your rig to stick it back on. Not to mention it would likely scratch the hell out of the roof!
- Mount high on your vehicle, and if you can, provide a good ground right at the antenna's base. Your vehicle acts as a ground plane for your antenna and will reflect and guide the radio waves it radiates. If you can't get a good ground, don't sweat! A radio can still work perfectly fine in less than ideal mounting arrangements, so just try to do everything as best you can without being too invasive to your vehicle.
- It may be best to find an antenna with a coil spring included in its length (at the bottom). This will let the antenna flop over in any direction when it comes in contact with trees etc.
Coax (antenna wire)
The antenna feed coax is a very important piece of the puzzle. Don't skimp out on this! Think about it as the fuel line feeding your engine. if it's dirty, clogged or undersized, engine performance will suffer. That being said, don't feel you need to replace the coax on the antenna you purchase just because..... but if you do, buy quality RG58 (50 ohm) coax. Although it looks identical to TV cable, it's not the same. I found the best source for this is fishing/boating supply stores. They sell it by the foot along with the connectors you'll need. It is better quality and is soooo much cheaper than radio shack etc. (try to avoid screw on coax connectors. Use soldered connectors and save the headaches.
Two reasons you may need to buy coax are:
1. you bought a used antenna in great shape but the coax is old, cracked, deteriorating, too short, cut, shorted out or any other reason to make is less than perfect.
2. Trying to fish antenna coax with a connector on the end is much harder (less options) than feeding coax without one. The coax is typically about 1/4" OD and can be fished through some pretty tight spots if you're creative.
When you get your radio home, the first thing you're going to want to do is plug it in and try it out!! Just plug it in to your power outlet screw on the antenna connection, stick the antenna somewhere outside and close the door on the wire (this generally doesn't damage the wire if common sense is used). There is nothing wrong with this, let's face it, you're a man with a brand new toy! It's actually a good idea to do this so you can see if it actually works ok before spending a few hours tucking everything away neatly only to have to tear it all out again. It doesn't hurt to run it in this configuration for the first little while so you can figure out where your favorite location to mount it will be.
A few more things:
-Check that ALL electrical connections are clean and tight. This means battery terminals, alternator terminals, CB radio power connections, engine and body grounds, etc. A dirty connection can introduce you to a whole new world of nightmares and make you want to return your crappy sounding radio the same day you bought it. Common indication of a dirty or loose connection or missing ground will be a wine in your radio that varies in pitch with engine RPM. A very small amount can be acceptable and may be easier to live with than get rid of. The amount may depend on the quality of the radio and the filtering used. A quick google search will show you how to make a simple external filter for your radio if you do run into this problem. It can really help reduce noise if not eliminate it totally.
-"Squelch" - On a simple CB radio there are usually 3 knobs. Channel, volume and squelch. The first two are pretty self explanatory, but what is that knob called squelch?? The squelch knob is used to "gate" the noise you'll hear which resembles a TV station off the air or white noise. This will drive you crazy so setting your squelch will make your radio silent until someone transmits and breaks the squelch barrier. The way to set this up is to turn it all the way off (counter clockwise) and slowly turn it up until the radio becomes silent. If it is set too high, someone trying to speak to you may not have a strong enough signal to break the squelch barrier and wont be able to make contact. Keeping it set as low as possible without hearing background noise is best. If you're buddies get too far away or they're cutting in and out while speaking, just turn it all the way down (off) until they're back in a better signal range.
- As a general rule, if you can hear someone they can usually hear you. You'll be working "line of sight" when talking to the people around you on the road and trails. This basically means anything between you and the horizon. The odd time you'll hear signals from elsewhere, maybe in the next state or province, or another country. This radio wave propagation is referred to as "skip" and can either be very interesting or very annoying. It may come in very strong or just fade in and out of the background during a conversation. If you want, you can try to make contact with them. If it's interrupting you and your wheelin' buddies, just choose another channel.
- Have manners while using any radio. Be courteous to anyone using the same frequency. Listen to the channel before using it to make sure there isn't a conversation already in progress. Avoid Channel 1 for offroad jibber jabber because the truckers generally use it and you'll probably drive them nuts and vise versa. Channel 9 is usually reserved as an emergency channel. There are some other channel designations and a quick google search will fill you in.
-Remember, the vehicle belongs to you.... for now! Be mindful of the resale value when you have the cordless drill in your hand ready to drive screws or bore holes in your dash. It'll be functional for you, but when you take your radio out and sell your rig, many people will not have the same appreciation for the interior add on's as you do.
This should be more than enough to get you or anyone else going. CB's are pretty much "plug and play" units but keeping just a few of these things in mind will help you avoid problems and give you better range and clarity. Good luck!