Back when I had my first seven slat vehicle, cell phones/mobile phones, were not as ubiquitous as they are today and Very High Frequency (VHF) radios did not exist within the civilian marketplace.
The citizens band (CB) radio however DID!!! However, that was 20+ years ago…
Now that every human above the age of eight has a mobile phone glued to their hand, social media is flooded with posts about what type of trail comms do people use/need? And posts about where to mount said comms unit?
And since VHF has penetrated the civilian market, from the Police/Fire and Marine realm, many folks are asking what they should use?
Within this post, I will answer these questions…
Following is a definition of the aforementioned CB radio from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_band_radio):
Citizens band radio (also known as CB radio) is, in many countries, a system of short-distance radio communications between individuals typically on a selection of 40 channels within the 27 MHz (11 m) band. Citizens band is distinct from other personal radio service allocations such as FRS, GMRS, MURS, UHF CB and the Amateur Radio Service (“ham” radio). In many countries, CB operation does not require a license, and (unlike amateur radio) it may be used for business or personal communications. Like many other two-way radio services, citizens band channels are shared by many users. Only one station may transmit at a time; other stations must listen and wait for the shared channel to be available. It is customary for stations waiting to use a shared channel to broadcast the single word “Break” followed by the channel number, during a lull in the conversation. This informs people using the channel that others are waiting.
A number of countries have created similar radio services, with varying technical standards and requirements for licensing. While they may be known by other names, such as the General Radio Service in Canada, they often use similar frequencies (26 to 28 MHz) and have similar uses, and similar technical standards. Although licenses may be required, eligibility is generally simple. Some countries also have personal radio services in the UHF band, such as the European PMR446 and the Australian UHF CB.
Ok, so the CB is a free, less the cost of equipment, method to communicate over shorter distances, 4 – 7 miles, dependant on the type of antenna being used.
Here is the Wikipedia definition of the VHF radio (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_VHF_radio):
Marine VHF radio refers to the radio frequency range between 156 and 174 MHz, inclusive. The “VHF” signifies the very high frequency of the range. In the official language of the International Telecommunication Union the band is called the VHF maritime mobile band. In some countries additional channels are used, such as the L and F channels for leisure and fishing vessels in the Nordic countries (at 155.5–155.825 MHz).
Marine VHF radio equipment is installed on all large ships and most seagoing small craft. It is also used, with slightly different regulation, on rivers and lakes. It is used for a wide variety of purposes, including summoning rescue services and communicating with harbours, locks, bridges and marinas.
A marine VHF set is a combined transmitter and receiver and only operates on standard, international frequencies known as channels. Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) is the international calling and distress channel. Transmission power ranges between 1 and 25 watts, giving a maximum range of up to about 60 nautical miles (111 km) between aerials mounted on tall ships and hills, and 5 nautical miles (9 km; 6 mi) between aerials mounted on small boats at sea level. Frequency modulation (FM) is used, with vertical polarization, meaning that antennas have to be vertical in order to have good reception.
Modern-day marine VHF radios offer not only basic transmit and receive capabilities. Permanently mounted marine VHF radios on seagoing vessels are required to have certification of some level of “Digital Selective Calling” (DSC) capability, to allow a distress signal to be sent with a single button press.
Sidebar…remember the Nextel phone, and the Push-to-Talk feature? Now, if that service still existed…and if it does, there can’t be more than two people that still have it…it would be the perfect trail comms solution. However, since we’ll assume it doesn’t my vote is for the CB radio.
I vote for the CB radio based on wheelin mostly within the midwest where it is relatively flat, with little elevation change. With that said, I understand that a VHF or other radio technology may work better than the CB, in different terrain and I welcome your feedback on these other radio technologies.
The CB allows for instant communication, between multiple vehicles/locations, over several miles in most conditions, with minimal investment. As far as I understand the technology, all CB radios are equal in strength, according to FCC Rules, so I would not advocate for a large CB unit to mount within your Jeep/HMMWV/HUMMER.
Considering that the use of CB radios is not what is was back when Burt Reynolds and Jerry Lee were trucking Coors Light back from the west coast, I chose a “semi-permanent” CB install, which I have outlined below:
As previously mentioned, I wanted to have a CB in my seven slat vehicle that did not take up a lot of room, and be semi-permanent, meaning I could easily remove it from my vehicle, yet quickly install it and have the use of a full sized CB antenna.
I initially considered the Cobra 75WXST 40-Channel CB Radio, however because this unit has to be hard-wired in for power, it would be permanently on the dash, and I wanted to be able to stow my CB when not in use, especially when the top and doors are off!
After further research, I went with the Midland Radio 75-822 Portable Mobile CB Radio, Large LCD Display, Keypad Lock, Plug and Play, Rugged Construction, Up To 40 Channels. The Midland unit is very similar in size to the Cobra, however uses the cigarette lighter(who remembers when there was a coil in that spot for lighting a cigarette?!) outlet for power, so it can be easily stowed when not in use.
The Midland also has a removable battery pack, and antenna, so it can function as a hand-held CB when/if necessary,
I installed a CoolTech VersaMount2 (http://www.cooltechllc.com) to my dash/grab-handle to mount my CB when in use.
I did have to add a mic clip to the VersaMount,
as well as a mic button to the belt clip on the back of the Midland CB, in order to have a good one handed grab of the CB when needed.
This set up, paired with a tailgate mounted/spare tire mount gives me a very functional, CB solution, that is easily removable when not in use.
And when not in use, and especially with the top/doors removed, is the bare Versamount 2, and the end of the coax cable back to the antenna mount.
For an antenna, I chose the Quadratec JK-ANTMK-L Extreme Duty Stainless CB Radio Antenna Rear Tailgate Mount with 48″ Antenna for 07-18 Jeep Wrangler JK
I added the Firestik SS-3H Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Antenna Spring to my antenna mount for what little flex I can get between the tailgate and tire, however more for the couple of extra inches to reach above the top for better reception.
I also recommend investing in an SWR meter, to properly tune your CB antenna for optimal radio performance, as well as preventing damage to your radio over time. I recommend the ASTATIC PDC1 100 Watt SWR/RF TEST METER W/ Workman 3 foot jumper CX-3-PL-PL as it is simple to use, and comes with the needed jumper wire.
I have found this set up to work well for me, and believe that it would work well in your seven slat. Another reason that I like the “semi-permanent” install is I have found that there is very little CB radio traffic off trail. I spend a lot of time on the highways around the mid-west and Ontario, Canada, and the only time I have heard even a small bit of radio chatter is during a long delayed traffic stop, in the event of a bad accident, or bad weather.
As always, I welcome your input and feedback, and would enjoy hearing from you on your trail comms set-up?