You might be intrigued by the thought of tapping into the citizen’s band to see what fellow CBers are up to. Or you may want to use your Ham radio to talk to both the Hams and CBers and stay connected with both communities.
Since Ham and CB, both radios operate in the HF spectrum. You can use your Ham radio to talk to a CB radio. But the question you should be concerned with is, should you communicate with a CB radio using your Ham?
In this article, I will explore the idea of using a Ham to talk to a CB radio.
Read till the end to find out whether it is a good idea to talk to a CB with your Ham radio and if you can repurpose your CB antenna to use for your Ham radio communications.
What is a CB Radio?
For the novices here, I will start by discussing what a CB radio is.
CB – short for citizen band – radio is a short-range communication system. In other words, a CB radio is basically a device that transmits to and receives signals from the citizen band, a High-Frequency range that is dedicated to be used by CB radio users.
Are Ham Radios and CB Radios the Same?
It is easy to get confused between Ham and CB radios and think both are the same.
But before you go about asking a Ham enthusiast whether a Ham radio is the same as a CB radio (and get a soul-piercing stare), let me put your confusion to rest.
Ham radios are not the same as CB radios. In fact, there are many differences between the two.
The first and probably the most notable difference is that of frequency.
Ham radios, as we all know, transmit and receive on amateur radio bands, which fall mainly in the VHF and UHF frequency ranges. The CB radio, on the other hand, is restricted to the 11m band in the HF range and can only communicate on frequencies between 26.9650 to 27.4050 MHz.
Go out of these frequencies, and you will be breaking the law.
But the frequencies are not the only element CB radios are restricted in. Their power capacity is pretty limited as well.
The FCC has restricted CB radio’s maximum power output at 4w when transmitting via AM mode and 12 w PEP when transmitting via SSB mode. On the other hand, the Ham radio can go up to 1500 w in terms of power transmission.
The power restriction limits the coverage of the CB radio as well, which can be significantly lower than Ham radio’s reach. Additionally, there are no CB radio repeaters, unlike Ham radios that can use repeaters to boost their coverage area.
If, at this point, you are thinking of modifying your CB radio to increase its power output, let me tell you, the FCC does not permit power modifications in a CB radio.
You may be wondering about the reason behind the FCC being so stingy and imposing all these restrictions on the CB radio.
Well, the use of CB radio is unlicensed. That means, unlike a Ham radio that must be operated by licensed individuals only, literally anyone can use a CB radio without the hassle of licensure, hence the name “citizen’s band.”
The unlicensed nature of CB usage necessitates strict regulations to ensure a safe and healthy communications environment.
The two types of radios differ on the basis of their antennas as well. CB radios need a minimum of 102 inches of antenna to work well without tuning. On the other hand, Ham radios work perfectly with a small 19.5 inches antenna.
These radios also have a very small frequency range on which they can communicate, and in that range, too, they have 40 CB channels fixed on which they can transmit and receive. These CB channels are pre-set in the radio, and unlike in Ham radios, you don’t have the liberty to tune and set your own frequencies.
None of the 40 CB channels belong to a particular individual or organization. Unlike Ham radios that have fixed frequencies for, say, every county’s police department and the NOAA, CB radios have no such allocations. Anyone can communicate anything on any channel. I am sure the restrictions are starting to make sense now.
Can a Ham Radio Talk to a CB Radio?
The short and quick answer to whether you can talk to CB radio with your ham radio is: Yes, you can.
CB radios operate in the HF range on the 11m band. Ham radios can communicate in the HF range on the 10m and 12m band, both of which are pretty close to the citizen’s band. So, it is easy to see how you might be able to use your Ham radio to talk to a CB.
However, should you be transmitting to and receiving from the citizen’s band using a Ham is another story.
You see, there are no technical restrictions for a Ham wanting to communicate with a CB. But that’s not to say there are no legal restrictions either.
A licensed Ham is not allowed to talk to unlicensed stations. CB radio users being unlicensed qualify for the stations licensed Hams are not supposed to communicate with.
Having said that, attempting to talk to a CB radio using your Ham radio can get you heavily fined or in jail for violating FCC’s regulations.
Moreover, most commercial Ham radios sold today work on the VHF and UHF spectrum, in the 2m and 70cm ranges, both of which are miles away from the 11m citizen’s band.
So, unless you modify your store-bought Ham or build one yourself, you won’t be able to communicate with a CB.
Additionally, the Ham radio license you get from the FCC only allows you to operate on the amateur band. That means you violate the law as soon as you step out of your designated Ham radio frequencies.
So, in short, the restrictions on communicating with a CB radio using a Ham radio are legal rather than technical. If you don’t mind breaking the law, go ahead and do it. (I DO NOT recommend that. It’s a joke!)
Can You Use a CB Antenna for a Ham Radio?
If you have a CB antenna lying around your shack, or you are shifting from using a CB to a Ham radio, you may want to repurpose and use your CB antenna for your Ham radio communications. But the question is, can a CB antenna support your Ham radio communications?
Yes, it can. But how can you make a CB antenna for work Ham radio?
CB radio operates in the 11m band, which is very close to the 10m and 12m Ham radio bands. So, you can make your CB antenna resonate with these Ham radio bands if you modify its length.
However, you will need an SWR meter and an antenna tuner to minimize impedance mismatch, protect your transceiver, and enhance your communications.
But before you go about adjusting your CB antenna, know that anyone rarely ever uses the 10m or 12m Ham radio bands. Most of the communications go on the 2m and 70cm bands, which you may not be able to reach with a CB antenna.
So, reaching the 10m or 12m band may not do you much good.
Therefore, I would suggest that you think whether the effort of altering and modifying a CB antenna is worth it before going about doing it.
Can a Baofeng talk to a CB?
Baofeng radios are the most common type of Ham radios people use. And no, they cannot talk to CB radios.
All commercially-sold Baofengs operate in the VHF and UHF frequency spectrums. So, they can technically not transmit in the HF spectrum that all CB radios operate in.
So, if you are worried about your Baofeng accidentally transmitting to a CB radio, don’t be.
While using a Ham radio to talk to a CB radio is technically possible, legally, you are not supposed to do so.
CB radio users classify as unlicensed stations, and licensed Ham operators are not allowed to communicate with unlicensed individuals unless it is a life-threatening emergency. Moreover, Ham radio operators are only licensed to transmit on the Amateur radio bands, which means, you would be breaking the law by trying to talk to a CB radio.
So, even if your Ham radio can pick up signals from a CB radio, it is safer for you to stick to your amateur radio frequencies.