CB Radio: 21st century

A Midland Alan 48 Pro CB radio currently produced in Italy and sold on the European market.

The purpose of this weblog post is to provide some insights into how citizen’s band radio, and its descendants, have changed in this millennium.

Personal Radio Services

A Personal Radio Service (PRS) is any system that allows individual to operate radio transmitters and receivers for personal purposes with minimal or no special license or individual authorization. These services exist around the world where power output, antenna size, and technical characteristics of the equipment are set by regulations in each country. However, most are very similar. They offer low power operation in the UHF (or upper VHF) band using frequency modulation (FM), with simplified or no end-user licenses.

Technical information

In terms of PRS, the new millennium began in 1987 when USA’s Citizen’s band Class A became the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Because of channel congestion in larger metropolitan areas licensing of business users was discontinued, and Business Radio Service (BRS) channels developed. Citizen’s band Class B ultimately became the Family Radio Service (FRS).

In 2019-09, it became unlawful in the USA to provide hybrid radio equipment capable of operating under both GMRS and FRS. They had to be separate radios.


In the USA, a person may apply for a GMRS license if they are 18 years or older and not a representative of a foreign government. If they receive a license, any family member, regardless of age, can operate GMRS stations and units within the licensed system.

Personal Radio Service is any system that allows individual to operate radio transmitters and receivers for personal purposes with minimal or no special license or individual authorization. These services exist around the world where power output, antenna size, and technical characteristics of the equipment are set by regulations in each country. Many regions, such as the European Union, have standardized regulations to allow travelers to use their equipment throughout the region.

Examples of standardized services include PMR446 and FM Citizens Band Radio (CB) in the EU and several other countries/regions.

GMRS and FRS both use narrow-band frequency modulation (NBFM) with a maximum deviation of 2.5 kilohertz. The channels are spaced at 12.5 kilohertz intervals. There are 30 channels, 16 main and 14 interstitial (read: inferior channels located between the main channels) divided equally around 462 and 467 MHz in the ultra high frequency (UHF) band. The eight main 462 MHz channels can be used for simplex communication (read: a communications channel that operates in one direction at a time, but that may be reversible) or repeater outputs. A repeater is an electronic device that receives a signal and then immediately re-transmits it. Repeaters are used to extend transmissions so that the signal can cover longer distances or be received on the other side of an obstruction. The eight main 467 MHz channels may only be used as repeater inputs, with 462 MHz channels as outputs. As with other UHF radio services, reliable range is considered to be line-of-sight and the distance to the radio horizon can be estimated based on antenna height. A hand-held units is about 1.5 – 3 km. Mobile units have higher antennas and a longer range (around 8 km). A repeater can extend the range to 30 km. Obstructions usually reduce range. Increased power may not give a proportional increase in range, but improve reliability at the edge.

Transmitter power output is restricted to 50 W, on the 16 main channels, but 1 to 5 W is more common. The 462 MHz interstitial frequencies have a 5 W power limit. The 467 MHz interstitial frequencies have a 500 mW limit. Only hand-held portable units may transmit on these channels.

Canadian residents may use GMRS equipment, but do not need a license. Mobile units permanently mounted in vehicles, base stations and repeaters are not currently permitted on the GMRS channels in Canada.

In 2017, The FCC changed GMRS rules to allow short data messaging applications including text messaging and GPS location information, added channels in the 467 MHz band, revised the definition of the FRS service and permitted 2 W on the shared FRS/GMRS channels.

Family Radio Service

The Family Radio Service (FRS) was first proposed by RadioShack in 1994. It was authorized in the United States in 1996. It uses the same channels as GMRS. One reason for this, was that these channels do not suffer from interference found on citizens’ band (CB) at 27 MHz. FRS uses frequency modulation (FM) instead of amplitude modulation (AM). Initially, the FRS radios were limited to 500 mW across all channels. However, after 2017-05-18, the limit was increased to 2 W on channels 1-7 and 15–22.

FRS radios frequently have sub-audible tone squelch codes to filter out unwanted chatter/ noise from other users on the same frequency. Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) adding a low frequency audio tone to the voice. Where more than one group of users is on the same radio frequency (called co-channel users), CTCSS circuitry mutes those users who are using a different CTCSS tone or no CTCSS. Digital-Coded Squelch (DCS), was designed as the digital replacement for CTCSS. While these are often referred to as privacy or private line (PL) codes, they offer no privacy protection. All FRS equipment must be certified according to FCC regulations. This includes the use of permanently attached antennas. This restricts range, allowing optimal use of the available channels. The use of duplex radio repeaters and telephone network interconnects are also prohibited.

FRS range varies, but is less than that using GMRS radios, normally from about 0.5 to 1.5 km.

All 22 Family Radio Service (FRS) frequencies are shared with GMRS, and users of the two services may communicate with each other. With the exception of FRS channels 8 through 14, GMRS licensees may use higher power radios with detachable or external antennas.


In 1997-04 the European Radio Communications Committee (ERC) decided on a 446 MHz frequency band for Private Mobile Radio, 446 MHz (PMR446), a license-exempt service in the UHF radio frequency band available for business and personal use throughout the European Economic Area and beyond.

In 1998-11, ERC allocated frequency band 446.0–446.1 MHz for analogue PMR446, established licence exemption and free circulation of the PMR446 equipment. In addition to analogue FM voice mode a digital voice mode is available with digital private mobile radio (dPMR446) and digital mobile radio (DMR Tier 1) standards designed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). Originally 8 analogue channels were available.

In 2005-10, ECC added unlicensed band 446.1–446.2 MHz for use by digital DMR/dPMR equipment. In 2015-07, ECC doubled the number of analog channels to 16 by extending analog operation onto the 446.1–446.2 MHz band previously used by digital DMR/dPMR equipment. From 2018-01, the number of digital channels was doubled by extending onto the 446.0–446.1 MHz band used by analog FM.

PMR446 specifies 12.5 kHz channel separation, 500 mW maximum power, CTCSS, DCS and/or fixed-carrier voice inversion = an analog method of obscuring the content of a transmission, use of handheld transceivers with fixed antennas, but with some exceptions in Germany and the Netherlands, In response to this exception, from 2015-11 Midland Radio has been producing the GB1 mobile PMR446 radio for vehicular use.

There is no provision for use of repeaters on the European network.

FM Citizens Band Radio

The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) adopted the FM 26–27 MHz North American channel assignments, except channels 23 to 25. CB equipment sold legally in Europe follows the North American channel designations. Some member countries permit additional modes and frequencies.

While CB radio is less popular due to the availability of other personal radio services that offer shorter antennas and better protection from noise and interference, it is the oldest and, arguably, most common personal radio service. It is used in nearly every country worldwide, who also copy the United States 40-channel frequency plan.


This post, and two prior posts = Dick Tracy wristware & CB Radio: 20th century, have been written to find convincing arguments to support the acquisition of a CB radio. For the past several years, and especially after the acquisition of Buzz on 2023-02-13, I have wanted to return to those controversial years of my youth in the late 1960s and 1970s. In terms of economics, I could probably convince myself that such a radio is affordable. The mathematical equation is: 1 Midland Alan 48 Pro CB radio = 1/4 Asus Zenfone 9 (my smartphone). The main challenge is psychological. Why do I have an obsession for outdated, prehistoric tech? I can ask the same question about Drake.

Drake was my preferred brand of amateur radio equipment. It started manufacturing tube transceivers in 1943 in Springboro, Ohio. I prefer modern solid state units, with transistors and digital frequency synthesis, as found in the TR-7, first made in 1978! After that, Drake was just rebadged Japanese equipment. Currently, any attempt to reach Drake digitally results in a a redirection to Blonder Tongue Laboratories, in Old Shore, New Jersey. Should I ever do anything serious, I think I will follow my son’s example and acquire a transceiver from Elecraft founded in 1998 in Watsonville, California, a place I have even visited!

Seconds after writing the previous paragraph, on 2024-04-15, an email from the Norwegian world wide fund for nature tells me in translation: Today is Norway’s Overshot = Overconsumption Day. It is the day when we, as one of the first countries in the world, have used up our share of the earth’s renewable natural resources for 2024. This is shown by the calculations from the international think tank Global Footprint Network, which every year calculates a date for the so-called Overshot day. Norway is at the very top of the world when it comes to consumption of natural resources. Our overshot day comes a full 16 weeks before the global average. So, choose carefully what you buy, Brock! Maybe you don’t need a CB radio!

Except, a day later I investigated the WWF claims and discovered that the opposite is true. Norway’s biocapacity exceeds its ecological footprint by 29%. This makes it 46th best in the world. Not as good as: Russia (45) at 30% or Sweden (34) at 58% or Canada (27) at 84% or Australia (24) at 87% or Finland (21) at 129% or French Guiana (1) at 4 900%. However, it is better than: Ireland (92) at -49%, World average -70%, Denmark (102) at -71%, USA (130) at -110%, UK (170) at -140%, Israel (202) at -1 600%, Singapore (205) at -6 100%, or Nauru (206 and last) at – 46 000%.

A lot of people wonder how mega fossil fuel producers like Norway or Russia or Canada or Australia can be ranked so high. That portion of fossil energy that is exported, gets added on to consumption values of the importing country, and subtracted from the producing country.

I then calculated Norway’s under-consumption day for 2023. It should be 2024-04-15 (or on that same date, in leap years) or on 04-16 a year later, in other years that have only 28 days in February.

This does not mean that consumption by Norwegians is acceptable. In a previous post title Immoral Consumption, written in 2018, I presented a table showing five countries with data about them:

Eco footprintBiocapacityDeficit (-) / reserve (+)
USA8.223.76– 4.46
Canada8.1716.01+ 7.83
Ireland5.573.73– 1.83
Norway4.988.18+ 3.19
Cuba1.950.76– 1.19

These used the global hectare (gha) as a measurement unit for the ecological footprint of people or activities and the biocapacity of the Earth or its regions. One global hectare is the world’s annual amount of biological production for human use and human waste assimilation, per hectare of biologically productive land and fisheries.

It measures production and consumption of different products. It starts with the total biological production and waste assimilation in the world. Global hectares per person refers to the amount of production and waste assimilation per person on the planet. In 2012 there were approximately 12.2 billion global hectares of production and waste assimilation, averaging 1.7 global hectares per person.

Yet, consumption was 20.1 billion global hectares or 2.8 global hectares per person. This means there was a 65% over-consumption, because of natural reserves that backup food, material and energy supplies, although this is possible only for a relatively short period of time. Due to rapid population growth, these reserves are being depleted at an ever increasing tempo. The term global hectare (gha) was introduced in the early 2000s based on a similar concept from the 1970s named ghost acreage.

Having concluded that my lifestyle is excessive, in terms of the planet’s capacity, I returned to the question of buying a CB radio. I wondered if it would be ecologically more acceptable to 1) buy one used, or 2) make one? Buying used would not create more waste, but redistribute what has already been created. Making one could be ecologically acceptable, especially if it were built from recycled components. Unfortunately, a self-made radio would also occupy a considerably larger volume/ space.

I have many radios suitable for amateur/ ham purposes, but no CB radios. These include a Tennessee Technology = Ten-Tec = TT 505 Argonaut low power (QRP) transceiver, s/n 388. It is solid state from 1973, operating on the 10 – 80 meter bands with 2 watts output on 80-15 meters and 1.8 watts on 10 meter. I inherited it from a silent key = deceased member, of the Inntrøndelag radio group. I will keep it. However, I have many other radios that I want to give away to people who want to use them. The bar is set at them earning an amateur radio licence. That said, anyone with a CB radio wanting to trade it for an amateur radio of varying capabilities is invited to take contact.

CB Radio: 20th century

Betty Ford’s QSL card. Because of mobility issues during Gerald Ford’s presidential campaign, Betty used CB radio to communicate with potential voters. Yes, that could actually work in 1976.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government that regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable across the United States.

Radio waves are often defined as electromagnetic radiation at frequencies below 300 GHz with wavelengths, greater than 1 mm. Yes, those two measurements are related to the speed of light in the equation c= λν = lambda multiplied by nu, where c = speed of light. λ = the wavelength in meters. ν = the frequency in Hertz. The fastest recorded speed of light is 299 792 458 m/s, almost 300 Mm/s = 3 x 108 m/s, which is the figure used in most calculations. Wavelength and frequency are inversely proportional: the shorter the wavelength, the higher the frequency, and vice versa. All electromagnetic radiation, regardless of wavelength or frequency, travels at the speed of light. Frequency refers to the number of full wavelengths that pass by a given point in space every second.

Television also used radio waves, initially, but was called terrestrial = earth based (in Europe and Latin America) = over-the-air = broadcast (north America). This required both the TV station transmitter and receivers to be equipped with antennas.

Wire probably refer to POTS = Plain old/ ordinary telephone service/ system, but originally Post Office telephone system, a retronym for voice-grade telephone service employing analog signal transmission using copper wire, available in the U.S. from 1876 until 1988. Telegraphy initially also involves wire. Telex was originally associated with telegraphy, and is cryptically described as a switched network of teleprinters. The difference between wire and cable is probably related to bandwidth. Cable is exponentially greater, allowing it to carry multiple high-definition television channels, while telephone wires compressed the range of sound so that it was barely audible.

In 1945, the FCC developed a radio band for personal communication, that included radio-controlled model airplanes and family and business communications. By 1948, CB radios were developed for operation on the 460–470 MHz UHF band. There were two classes of CB radio. Class A had its transmitter power limited to 60 W. Initially tube based transceivers were used. At the time, it followed normal American radio usage with 50 kHz channel spacing, and frequency modulation (FM) with ±15 kHz transmitter deviation. Class B Citizens used a different set of 461 MHz channels and was limited to 5 watts output. Business users were restricted to Class B.

Some people want to name a single individual as the inventor of CB radio. They often point to Al Gross (1918 – 2000). Most CB radio characteristics had been developed separately for use in other types of radios. Thus, a CB radio incorporated a package of characteristics that initially met the frequency, modulation and power characteristics specified by the FCC. Gross patented a number of telecommunications related patents, but none of them should be described as inventing the CB radio. Sorry, Al!

In the 1960s, the UHF 450–470 MHz band was re-allocated to 25 kHz channels. This meant transmitter deviation was reduced to ±5 kHz. This doubled the number of channels available across the entire 450–470 MHz band. The previous Class B channels were re-allocated to other radio services.

Initially, CB users were required to be licensed. About 800 000 users were licensed from 1966 to 1973. It hit 12 250 000 by the end of 1977. Add an additional 10 % for unlicensed users.

The 1973 oil crisis caused by the OPEC oil embargo, followed by an American nationwide 55 mph speed limit, was designed to improve fuel consumption. CB radios were especially important to truckers, allowing them to find available fuel, and to avoid speed traps. Other people soon realized that CB radios provided economic benefits, before they were eclipsed by social benefits. CB slang soon reached new heights of popularity.

In popular culture, C. W. McCall = Billie Dale Fries (1928 – 2022), recorded Convoy, a 1975 hit song told about a group of rogue truckers. Before the release of this song, US CB sales volume was about 150 000 units a year. After its release, this increased to 7 million units a year. New companies including Cobra, Midland and Royce were formed, and rapidly increased production capacity. By 1976, General Motors was offering a factory installed CB-radio option that including an integrated tape deck. I hope anybody contemplating buying a new GMC product, will ask their dealers if that option is still available, and report their response in a comment.

In the 1970s, and later, there were many films that featured CB radios. Two of the most influential were: Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Convoy (1978) also encouraged CB usage. These were both action films populated with anti-establishment characters. My preferred CB film is Citizen Band/ Handle with Care (1977) that looked more at the people in front of the radios. Film critic John Simon (1925 – 2019) described it as: a lovely, hilarious, semisatirical folk comedy, only needing a better ending.

In the 1970s, Class B transmission power was increased to 50 W. However, most of the 460–470 MHz band was reassigned for business and public-safety use.

From the start, Afro-American CBers engaged in informal radio experiments. CB radio was seen as a way for these radio operators to achieve distinct social and economic benefits, using methods that flouted FCC regulations. By 1959 they were ready to form the Rooster Channel Jumpers, a national network of Afro-American CB users across the US, with chapters in major cities. It had a formal governance structure, and blue and gold uniforms for members. They regularly used their equipment to engage in shooting skip. This allowed the signal to go much further than the permitted 150 mile FCC limit.

In 1978, about 10 000 Rooster Channel Jumpers met in Dallas for the club’s annual convention, to promote the use of CB channels specifically to help African-American communities benefit economically, and socially.

Hate groups, notably the Ku Klux Klan, also used CB radios to organize racial terror activities by keeping each other informed about the movement of law enforcement operatives, as well as the location of their targets, that included civil rights activists.

Afro-American CBers responded by setting up new community organizations. For example, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, in Jonesboro, Louisiana, used CBs to ensure a rapid response to any apparent or real community threat. This invisible, yet connected and mostly unsurveilled communications network created a community of voices that allowed them to respond to racist violence. They created an audible African-American geography where everything, including their slang, resulted in a shared technoculture.

Citizen’s band radio reached all levels of American society in the 1970s. It is fascinating because it was that era’s great equalizer. Gerald Ford (1913 – 2006) became vice president in 1973, when Spiro Agnew (1918 – 1996) pleaded no contest to tax evasion and resigned. Ford then became president when Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) resigned due to the Watergate scandal in 1974, but was defeated in the election of 1976. Ford is the only American president and vice president to serve without being elected to either office.

First Lady Betty Ford = originally, Elizabeth Anne Bloomer (1918 – 2011) was an active CB user, with license KUY9532. Her QSL card, shown above, uses the handle = radio nick name, First Mama. 88 = hugs and kisses. Most operators just stick to 73 = best wishes.

Betty Ford was outspoken, and more widely admired than her husband. In 1976, there were no women in the Senate, although there had been starting in 1921. There were 19 women in the House of Representatives.

CB radio provided a communications tool to reach people who were otherwise overlooked.

Enlightening questions, embarrassing answers and a note on Marine VHF radio

Have you ever owned a CB radio, Brock? Yes, one came with a sailboat I bought in the 1990s. People who could not afford a Marine VHS radio often installed a CB radio. Since I had a Marine VHF certificate, I expected to have a Marine VHS radio installed on board. That never happened. What was the fate of the CB radio? I gave it away, to a friend, a local farmer, who died soon after. What brand and model was it? I can’t remember.

To understand why people used CB radios, it is instructive to look at something similar, Marine VHF radio. On any waterway, emergencies can happen to any vessel, and it is important for affected operators to be able to communicate their distress, to everyone.

Wikipedia tells us: Marine VHF radio is a worldwide system of two way radio transceivers on ships and watercraft used for bidirectional voice communication from ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore (for example with harbormasters), and in certain circumstances ship-to-aircraft. It uses FM channels in the very high frequency (VHF) radio band in the frequency range between 156 and 174 MHz, inclusive, designated by the International Telecommunication Union as the VHF maritime mobile band.

Channel 16 is the International distress frequency. Monitoring it is essential. It is used all over the world to report emergencies and call for help. It can also be used by appropriate agencies to issue important information and weather warnings.

Channel 9 is specifically used for the hailing of non-commercial vessels. It is optional but useful to monitor this channel. When two vessels want to communicate, they agree on another channel, then then move over there to communicate. Monitoring of channel 9 is optional.

I see a similar value with CB radio. One can find out about traffic difficulties and, if necessary, plan an alternative route. One can find the status of energy stations.

A comment on race/ ethnicity

Many terms have been used to describe people of African-American origins. These include: Negro = black in Spanish and Portuguese, Colored and Black. This last one seems to be increasing in popularity, and is found in phrases like, Black lives matter. In 1989, Jesse Jackson (1941 – ), a civil rights activist, promoted African American. I am a product of my age, and have tried to follow Jackson’s advice. The first known use of African American was found in a sermon published in Philadelphia in 1782 that was written by an unknown person, described as: an African American. American in this context can refer to USA, North America or every part of the Americas (North, Central, Caribbean, Latin or South). This is an easy way to distinguish people of varying ethnicities, such as European Americans, Asian Americans or Native Americans, but only where referencing ethnicity is not prejudicial.


26–27 MHz CB radio is the oldest personal radio service and is used in nearly every country worldwide, with many countries and regions copying the United States 40-channel frequency plan. In many countries, CB radio is less popular due to the availability of other personal radio services that offer shorter antennas and better protection from noise and interference.