Guest Post: An Unusual Night for CB

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following guest post:

An Unusual Night for CB

by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)

December 2nd was an unusual night for CB (Citizen’s Band) radio, as the band was open late (0030 GMT) when I turned on the President Washington CB radio just to see who was on. First stop was Channel 19 (27.185 MHz), the trucker’s channel, where the QRM was high, due to the skip from the many truckers on the channel. Earlier in the day this channel was very quiet as was the rest of the band. The fact that Channel 19 was pinning the S meter after dark was a big hint that the band might be open. And it certainly was!

Uniden President Washington AM/SSB Base Station

Being a CB’er from back in the 70’s (call sign KBN-8387), this band was my first serious introduction to two-way radio communication, and after 40+ years it’s still an enjoyable experience to listen in to the local, and sometimes DX chatter. For the most part the CB band mimics 10 meters, basically open during the day (except when sunspot numbers are low) and closed at night. That’s the usual drill, but Mother Nature doesn’t always go by the playbook and sometimes the band is opened at the darnedest times, sometimes even after midnight!

So this evening around 8:30 EST the President Washington CB base station was fired up and CB operators were heard in Maine, Illinois, and as far as Wisconsin, definitely what would be considered out of the ordinary range of CB, which is generally several miles. Now FCC rules still state that it’s illegal to communicate over 155 miles but it’s a non-issue when the band’s open. For the most part, AM is used on most of the channels but you’ll find LSB activity on Channel 36 (27.365 MHz). And when the band gets busy and crowded, you’ll hear LSB QSOs from Channels 36 – 39 (27.365 – 27.395 MHz) as sidebanders spread out among the channels so that they can work each other through the QRM.

To get a better idea of what the CB band “looks” like during a band opening, a spectral scan of the band (26.965 – 27.405 MHz) would be useful. This can be achieved using an SDR dongle, such as the version which is a diminutive broadband receiver with an analog to digital converter and covers from about 26 – 1670 MHz. Used in conjunction with an up-converter (from Nooelec), software such as SDR# (SDR Sharp) and a computer (Smartphone apps are available also) you’ll be able to put up a spectral scan of the band as well as hear what’s happening. dongle – a small broadband receiver covering all modes

Nooelec’s Ham It Up RF Upconverter expands dongle’s receiving range to the entire HF and MW band

As the old adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so tonight the SDR dongle, along with SDR# software was fired up to get an idea of how many stations were on during the opening. The antenna used was an S9 43 foot vertical, the same one I use for HF. Using the dongle, it’s an easy feat to visualize the entire CB band on the spectral scan, which is a plot of frequency (X axis) versus signal strength (Y axis). The top half of the screen is the spectral scan and the lower half is the “waterfall” which is a time lapse recording of the spectral scan.

Screenshot of CB Band (wide red stripe) during tonight’s opening.

Normally at this time of night a spectral scan of the CB band would be flat-lining, but as you can see there are plenty of stations conducting QSOs, with the stronger stations having higher peaks and more intense tracings on the waterfall. Seeing the entire CB band visually gives one lots of information such as what channels are active, how many stations are on, what stations might be running higher power (limit is 4 W AM, 12W PEP SSB output), whether outbanders are active or whether DX stations outside the US are partaking of the opening.

Over the years I’ve heard the CB band open beyond midnight and on a winter’s night during a snowstorm. Some openings have lasted for hours. Last year, using the mobile CB, operators from Europe, the Caribbean, and as far away as Australia were heard during my commute to work. At the opposite extreme some days all you’ll hear is ignition noise, hihi. It’s a lot like 10 meters and even a bit like 6 meters; you never know what surprises Mother Nature has in store. Spin the tuning dial over to the CB band and take a listen one of these days.

Thank you so much, Mario!

Only a few weeks ago, I noticed on my SDR’s wideband spectrum display that the 11 meter band was very active.  I started listening around and was absolutely amazed at how organized some of the nets were and how reliable skip was. Signals were blanketing all of the eastern US and even into the west. Sometimes I think there are openings on the 10 meter band, for example, but there are so few users there in comparison, no one notices. The CB frequencies are pretty much always active, when conditions are favorable for DX, everyone instantly notices!

Many might not realize that even their portable shortwave radio can tune the CB frequencies. Thank you again!

Spread the radio love

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: An Unusual Night for CB

  1. Tha Dood

    Yep! 27MHz is very sensitive to Sporadic E propagation, more so than amateur band 10M. And, we are just coming into the Sporadic E winter season. Although it’s a much shorter season for this propagation, the few days, or couple of weeks, that it is open brings some nice contacts from 25MHz to 60MHz. What was unusual was the Sporadic E during Thanksgiving this year. Although very welcomed, very unusual. If you hear it, enjoy it!

    1. Jeff

      I was always into C.B. radio as a hobby, etc… etc. For me and so many out there It was always a cool hobby especially in the 70’s, 80’s, and in the 90’s. I’ve met many locals – all types of people – Honestly I miss it, which is why I’m responding here. It’s SO Nice that I still have all of my radio equip, I’ve moved and moved- yet my collection is still the same. Lately I’ve been getting my old radios back to shape -you know- the PC boards, caps, relays, and alignments+++I’ll be back on very soon. Enjoy your electronics from the past and think before you sell the stuff you’ve always loved in CB and Electronics.

  2. Chuck Ermatinger

    Yes, I’ve witnessed a few 11-meter openings on snowy winter nights. There’s something almost surreal about it. It’s been a long time since I’ve caught a nighttime CB skip opening…I’ll make sure to try this winter.

  3. John leonardelli

    What a great radio the Washington was and still is. The CB band is still active with activity and can still be a lot of fun making contacts with “the Preacher” and “609 Alabama”.

    The dongle can help spot activity in the upper freeband as well.

    I am replacing the battery on my power microphone and adjusting the Nasa beep and yep the swr is still good on my 5/8 vertical….see you on 385

  4. Robert Gulley

    Thanks once again, Mario, for an interesting looking into the bands. I think one of the most under-utilized features of SDRs is the ability to check out band conditions to look for unexpected openings.
    Oddly enough I was just last night reading old posts from you through this blog and first thing this morning there is a new post!
    Between 10-meter beacons and 11-meter CB, there are many ways to check for propagation in these upper frequencies, that’s for sure. Cheers!

  5. DanH

    Yes, I have noticed a few good nights for CB during the last few weeks. I must admit that it was the influx of CB’ers into to the ham community that caused me to quit amateur radio during the 1980’s. I could not hack the lack of civility. I turned to talking to audiences on 50 KW FM stations instead. Hey, two-way isn’t everything. Especially when it comes to earning a paycheck. LOL.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.