How to Talk Long Distance on a CB Radio


While Citizen’s Band radios are intended for communications over short distances, from time to time, the band will “open." Instead of talking with a fellow CB’er over a few miles, communications over a much farther distance are possible when conditions and propagation are right. This is called "skip," which means a portion of the atmosphere called the ionosphere is reflecting signals back to earth -- sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Things You'll Need

  • CB Radio
  • Antenna
  • SWR Meter
  • Coaxial Cable

Tuning Your Antenna

  • Disconnect the coaxial cable from the back of your CB radio, and attach that coaxial cable to the "Antenna" connector on the SWR meter. Connect the extra coaxial cable line from the other connector on the SWR meter to the back of the radio.

  • Power the radio on, and tune to Channel 1. On the SWR meter, ensure the switch is set to the 'FWD' position, and that the switch for mode is set to SWR. Press in the key on your microphone and turn the calibration dial until the meter has reached the 'set' position.

  • Flip the switch from 'FWD' to 'REF.' Key the microphone once again and watch the meter. Any reading below 1.5 is acceptable for using your CB radio. Proceed to the next step.

  • Switch to Channel 40, and repeat Steps 2 and 3. Compare the readings between the two channels. If the reading is higher on Channel 1, you need a longer antenna. If it is the opposite, you need to shorten your antenna. If both readings are below 1.5, do not alter the antenna, and continue.

  • Disconnect the SWR meter by disconnecting the extra coaxial cable from both the radio and the meter, and placing the cable connected to the "Antenna" connector of the SWR meter back on your radio.

Checking Conditions and Communicating

  • Turn on your CB radio. Scan through the channels and listen to communications. Long distance signals will fade in and out as it bounces off a layer of the atmosphere known as the ionosphere.

  • Assess whether or not the band is “open.” If you hear only stations close by and little activity, it is likely “closed,” meaning no skip is happening. Communications are limited in these conditions to a few miles when operating legally.

  • Find the strongest signal. When the channel is free, start your communication. Remember that FCC rules state a communication can last no longer than five minutes with any one station, and you must allow for one minute between the end of your last conversation before starting a new one.

Tips & Warnings

  • You must tune your antenna to ensure that the maximum amount of power is transmitted instead of fed back into your radio. Failure to do so will inhibit your ability to transmit over long distances.
  • Use of an amplifier is illegal. If you are caught doing so, the FCC has the right to confiscate the amplifier and/or issue you a hefty monetary fine.

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