If you’ve invested in a CB radio for your truck, you most likely want to be sure you get the most out of it. That means doing more than turning it on.
“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.
The antenna is the most critical part. Antennas 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 antennas need to be tuned to each other. RoadKing and other brands have built-in standing wave ratio meters that 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. Detailed instructions can be found in the radio’s manual.
Unlike the radio itself, antennas, even the best ones, don’t last forever and should be replaced every few years.
Taken care of properly, these can last for decades. Brehm said the most common performance problems are caused by a lack of grounding. 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 better, 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.