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What Is the Average CB Radio Range?

A CB radio's average range is between 1 and 5 miles, according to the FCC, but the terrain and the antenna might increase it.
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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2014
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A CB radio is a citizen’s band radio — a radio that features the 40 channels in the 27 MHz range that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set aside for unlicensed public use, whether personal or commercial. The use of CB radios is limited to areas where the FCC operates. Each radio must be certificated by the agency, a fact that is indicated by an identifying label. The CB radio range is the distance over which the radio can transmit and receive.

By FCC regulations, CB radios are limited to 4 watts of transmission power. The official FCC statement is that the average CB radio range is 1 to 5 miles (1.6 to 8 km), but the actual average range may be greater — around 3 to 6 miles (4.83 to 9.66 km), depending on several factors. Things like the terrain, the antenna size and type, the antenna mounting, and whether the antenna has been tuned can affect this distance. Using modifications known as “peak and tune” or using a high output amplifier are illegal ways that some people use to boost the average range.

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Since people don't usually have a choice about their surrounding terrain, there are not many ways of controlling for this factor. A large antenna is generally more effective, however, so many radio enthusiasts choose to get a larger sized antenna, whether it is an aerial to go with a CB base radio or a mobile antenna to mount on a pickup to increase the average range they get. Antenna quality is also a factor: a low-end antenna will not have the range of a well-built model. Mounting of the antenna — whether on a vehicle or on a building — should be as high as feasible. If it can be at the roof peak or on a tower, so much the better, while on a vehicle, it should be placed at the highest secure location.

Tuning an antenna is essential for obtaining the maximum CB radio range. Tuning is done with a standing wave ratio (SWR) meter or an antenna analyzer. The purpose of tuning is to get a low SWR reading, which means that power isn’t being reflected through the feedline back into the radio, which can both damage the radio and affect the signal from being output properly. The ideal SWR ratio is 1:1, and indicates that 100% of the radio’s signal is being transmitted, so the range of the CB radio is maximized.

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anon948119
Post 7

I hear so many different answers to this question, but thought I'd ask one more time. How does one see or get a rough guesstimate on how many watts you are pushing out by simply looking at the meter on your radio? I just had my radio tuned and with the antenna I'm using. The SWR is great, but I forgot to ask how to tell by looking at my radio meter in regards to wattage/output/transmit.

I realize this is a newbie question but many thanks in advance. Obviously still learning how to read my built-in meter. I'm getting there but need to know about watts. A particular setting? Thank you. Please excuse the newbie-ish wording.

anon329927
Post 5

I got my CB license in 1966 and still enjoy my CB today.

anon302825
Post 4

CB radios still have a great unique set of people on them from time to time. There are still regular locals in their homes in California, Texas, Nevada, Colorado, etc. And of course the many many truckers out there use them on a regular basis to stay informed about traffic, alt routes, complain about traffic, argue, etc.

There's also, of course, still trouble makers who think they are cool because they can step on people with their crazy illegal amps. Either way, I was shocked to find out recently that CB radio is still a popular form. There are a lot less people in the 18-30 range, of course, but still people around that age that are just fans of technology or maybe always watched their parents or grandparents use a radio.

A lot of younger people get into CBs thinking they saw someone on a HAM (every radio is a CB to someone who doesn't know right?) and just by seeing a HAM it got them to get a CB radio.

I started playing with radios when I was a kid playing with my Dad's in his car. Then by the time I was 18 (2006) I got one -- a Cobra (tweaked a little) -- in my first car. From CB, I went to learn more about GMRS. I never got my HAM but always thought about it it seems easier these days with the internet to pass a test.

MissMuffet
Post 3

I had no idea until recently that the reason CB radio range is so restricted is to avoid the signal interfering with TV, radio and emergency vehicles communication.

In one place I lived we often got random voices coming from the TV, which turned out to be messages broadcast over the fire stations radio channel. I can imagine how confusing that would be if CB radio frequencies interfered with fire or police message systems.

Bakersdozen
Post 2

@Potterspop - My father has a handheld CB radio which he uses a lot in his job as a truck driver. I imagine that's the biggest user group these days, which is fitting as I'm sure they were the original Cbers.

He tells me that there are several non truckers who listen in and communicate with them, mostly to share weather information or just pass the time of day.

Potterspop
Post 1

CB radios were all the rage when I was a teenager, long before cell phones were popular. Of course instant messaging and online networking wasn't even invented then either!

I remember having lots of fun chatting with locals, though I never actually met any of the people they became like friends. I have no idea if people still use them this way these days.

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