Category Archives: CB

Guest Post: Citizens Band FM mode is long overdue

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Peter Laws, who shares the following guest post:


Adding FM as an allowable mode on CB seems long overdue

by Peter Laws

The FCC’s recent action to add FM as an allowable mode on CB seems long overdue.  See the final rule as published in the Federal Register on September 28, 2021: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/09/28/2021-19399/review-of-the-commissions-personal-radio-services-rules

Looking through old CB and amateur radio magazines from the 1970s it appears that the FCC considered allowing FM around the time that the service expanded to 40 channels.  The FCC being the FCC took their usual “what’s the least we can do to make this issue go away?” path and just added 17 new channels starting at the beginning of 1977.  Other than that expansion, they didn’t really change anything.  There were incumbents on the spectrum re-allocated to CB, too, and licensees were given a 2-year grace period to vacate what was to become channels 24, 25, and 26 and up.

Personally, your humble reporter is happy that the Commission has finally allowed FM on CB.  This should be a big improvement for people who are actually trying to communicate.  The reduction of static alone will be welcome.  There are claims that AM has better range than FM at the same power levels.  I suspect that people who make that claim are confusing AM broadcast (on MF) to FM broadcast (on VHF) but the proof will be in the pudding once we start to see new FM CBs hit the market.

And what about that?  When will we see new radios?  It should happen pretty quickly, almost certainly by the end of the year “Christmas” rush assuming no supply chain delays.  If you are unfamiliar with CB outside of North America, you may be surprised to find that radios that will meet the new FCC rules already exist.  I don’t mean those quasi-legal “Export” radios that many are fond of, but main-stream consumer radios from vendors like Midland, Cobra (the petitioner that got FM approved), Uniden, and President.

If you are an amateur licensee, you may be familiar with CEPT, the Conférence européenne des administrations des postes et des télécommunications.  That’s an association of the various FCC equivalents (and USPS equivalents) in each of the European nations.  In the amateur world, CEPT has a simple reciprocal licensing regime that allows US amateurs to operate in CEPT countries and amateurs from CEPT countries to operate in the US without any extra paperwork.  CEPT also works to harmonize radio and other telecommunication rules regimes between the different nations to make it easier for vendors to build equipment acceptable to all and making the market bigger.

For the most part — there are exceptions — CEPT nations have all adopted the same CB radio band plan and rules.  Here’s the surprise: they are nearly identical to the FCC rules!  Same 40 channels, even with the weirdness between channels 22 and 25 and the skipped channels for radio control, the 4 W power output, etc.  The only big difference is that CEPT allows FM in addition to AM and SSB.

So a CEPT-spec radio will meet the new FCC rules today.  A vendor will simply need to make certain that their product’s firmware and other components really do match US requirements, get it tested by a contract certification facility (those facilities will also need to update their FCC CB test procedures for the addition of FM), and file the paperwork with the Commission.  This is far simpler than actually having to engineer the addition of FM to an existing AM-only product.

One jurisdiction that has their own rules, in addition to allowing CEPT rules, is the United Kingdom.  When CB was legalized in the UK in 1981, the government allowed FM (only) on 40 channels that start at 27.60125 MHz and go up every 10 kHz to 27.99125 MHz.  A decade or two after that, the UK also made operation of CEPT-spec CB radios legal with the result being the UK CBers have 80 legal channels available – 40 CEPT channels with all three modes and an additional 40 with FM only.

Don’t expect to see “multi-norm” radios in the US like those marketed in Europe.  Multi-norm units allow for switching between CEPT, UK, and other national channel/power/mode layouts, often with only a few simple button presses.  Historically, the FCC has been reluctant to allow radios that have user-adjustable operating parameters outside of the Amateur Radio Service so watch for firmware on US versions to be locked down.

Undoubtedly, some will claim that this is all being done so that Cobra (the petitioner in this case) can sell more radios.  What is the problem with this?  The new rules do not change anything with regard to the current rules.  If you have a legal AM or AM/SSB radio now, you will still have a legal AM or AM/SSB radio after October 28, 2021.  And after that, it will be legal to sell an FCC-approved radio that includes FM in addition to AM or AM and SSB.  That’s right – radios may include FM but must have AM.

Generally speaking, I am one that is not in favor of deregulation.  But if you look through old FCC regulations, either in Part 97 (Amateur) or Part 95 (CB, GMRS, et al), there really were a lot of silly regulations.  But only silly by the time they went away; at the time they were created they were, or were at least thought to be, vital.  Time showed that some of those rules really weren’t vital and many have been removed.  One of those rules was the 250-km limit on CB communications.  It’s likely that at the time the rule was promulgated it was intended to reinforce that Class D CB (as it was known then) was intended as a short-range communications system.  The ionosphere made sure that the “DX rule” was nearly impossible to enforce as even regular, law-abiding citizens could and did answer a “breaker” who ended up being 1000 miles away!  In Cobra’s initial 2017 petition to the FCC, they requested abolition of the distance limit and the Commission agreed but in that same Report and Order, they declined to add FM.  Cobra petitioned for reconsideration of that point (FM) and here we are.

While there are still allocations for other services between channel 40 and the start of the 10-m amateur band, and while there are still licensees there, it is hard to imagine that those licensees are actually using that spectrum.  Free-banders, yes, licensed stations, unlikely.  A quick tour of the Commission’s Universal Licensing System shows a number of licensees in the spectrum between channel 40 (27.405 MHz) and the start of the amateur allocation at 28.0 MHz.  Most, however, appear to be dealers, consultants, and manufacturers in the communications business that are required to have blanket licenses for any band that they intend to use.  As a result, there are many licenses that cover 25-50 MHz (and many other bands) inclusive for demonstration purposes.

So where is this story going?  Why not petition the FCC to allow UK-spec radios to be used in the US?  Literally, almost no one is using this spectrum aside from freebanders that may already be there.  The reason that the Congress reserved to itself the ability to regulate the radio spectrum, later delegated to the FCC, was to ensure that the spectrum was used in the most efficient manner possible and to prevent interference.  Since almost no one uses this patch of spectrum at 27 MHz, why not let it become an expanded “national park” for hobbyists?

If you are thinking, “well, if the FCC does that for 27 MHz, why not new bands in other, largely-abandoned spectrum?”  This reporter’s answer is “sure, why not?”  This is, after all, how amateurs got bands at 630 and 2200 meters – the spectrum was largely abandoned.  WL2XUP is an Part 5 experimental station that is transmitting various digital modes between 40.66 and 40.7 MHz.  This roughly aligns with 8-meter amateur allocations that are popping up in other jurisdictions.  Maybe this 8-meter experiment, too, will pave the way to a new allocation like the Part 5 operations did on the new MF and LF bands mentioned above.

It’s a brave new world in CB.

Peter Laws has been licensed as a ham since 1991 (after a false start c.1978), has listened to scanners since 1982, was on CB in the late 1970s, and started DXing on MW and SW in the mid-1970s.  He edits columns in both LWCA’s Lowdown and IRCA’s DX Monitor.  He lives in Norman, Oklahoma, with his wife, several small doggoes, and many radios and antennas.

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FCC approves FM for CB Radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ron who shares the following news via the Southgate ARC:

FCC signals FM CB will be permitted on 27 MHz

63 years after the introduction of Class D 27 MHz AM CB Radio the FCC has agreed to permit FM to be used

From FCC Memorandum Opinion and Order on Reconsideration WT Docket No. 10-119, issued July 15, 2021:

What the Memorandum Opinion and Order on Reconsideration Would Do:

• Grant Cobra’s Petition requesting that the Commission allow FM as an optional modulation scheme for all existing 40 CB Radio Service channels (with AM remaining mandatory).

• Grant Motorola’s Petition requesting that the Commission allow automatic or periodic location and data transmissions in the GMRS and FRS. The Commission’s rules currently permit the transmission of location information and brief text messages initiated by a manual action and automatic responses of location information.

• Grant Medtronic’s Petition requesting the correction of typographical errors and rule changes in the Part 95 Personal Radio Services Rules Report and Order that inadvertently altered the substance of the Medical Device Radiocommunications Service (MedRadio) rules

The FCC say:

After considering this additional information, we conclude that allowing manufacturers to add FM as an optional modulation scheme will not substantially change the fundamental nature of the CB Radio Service and will improve the user experience, as described by Cobra and President. How people use the service will not materially change or be expanded. Further, Cobra states that AM is a “well established” operating mode that is unlikely to disappear, even if we permit operations in FM mode.

Continuing to mandate AM capability while permitting dual modulation will provide benefits to CB radio users who will have an additional modulation option, while maintaining the basic character of the service.

The addition of FM as a permitted mode will not result in additional interference because users who hear unintelligible audio on a particular channel can simply select another channel or switch modes.

Read FCC Memorandum Opinion and Order on Reconsideration WT Docket No. 10-119
https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-374114A1.pdf

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The Halcyon Days of CB Radio

This morning, I read a message from a ham radio operator who was just awarded a vanity call sign in honor of his father’s 1970s era CB radio call sign. He was obviously very proud of the role CB played in his “formative” radio years.

Although I often only think of the impact my first transistor radio and first shortwave radio had on my life, CB radio also played a major role.

My father entered the CB radio scene in its early days here in the US. His FCC-issued call sign was KJD1166–it’s laser-etched in my memory from hearing him call it so many times when I was a kid.

Dad had a number of radios, but his favorite was a yellow Robyn T-240D (above). As a kid, I really admired this radio; not only was it stylish, but it also had a digital channel display, amazing audio, and that “Range Expand” toggle switch!

In the 1970s, the CB radio scene in my hometown was dynamic and rather well-organized. Every evening, my dad would turn on the radio and connect with a vast network of radio friends. Not only did they have call signs–and used them–but they also had the best CB handles (like “Tombstone Pete,” “Lady J,” and “Robby Rocket”).

The local CB radio scene also had in-person social meet-ups–a place where you could put a call sign and handle to a face. And let me tell you: you’d see a wide array of folks from all walks of life there. A proper melting pot.

Dad also took me to the CB radio repair shop where he’d buy supplies and occasionally get something fixed. I loved looking at the workbench full of half-disassembled radios. At one point in my childhood, all I really wanted to do was have a workbench like that and dig into radios. Even at a young age, I knew how to use a screwdriver and could void pretty much any warranty.

After the FCC did away with call signs, much of the local CB community fell apart. My dad would still check-in with friends on the air the years following, but much less frequently.

CB: A Ham Radio Gateway Drug

No doubt about it: CB radio eventually lead me down the path to ham radio.

While I never participated in the 70s CB radio scene like my dad, my best friend and I used CBs to communicate with each other across the neighborhood in the 1980s.

My buddy grew up in a multi-generation household and telephone time was restricted to grown-up use (and his teenage sister).

CB radio bridged that communication gap for us. At one point, we both used Realistic 5 Watt 40 channel walkie-talkies–it was incredibly fun and effective.

CB radio, and my dad, taught me about the components of a radio transmitting system–the radio, coaxial feed line, antenna and grounding, etc.–and also concepts like power output, standing-wave ration (SWR), and skip.

I still own my 40 channel CB walkie-talkie (a Realistic TRC-217) and my dad still has his Robyn T-240D, although neither have been on the air for decades. Still, I feel very nostalgic about the 1970s radio scene and should certainly give it credit for paving the path to my ham radio ticket.

Did CB radio play a role in your life? Please comment!


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The story of a 1970s CB Radio QSL card print house

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ulis (K3LU), who shares the following story of a popular CB Radio QSL Card design and print house:

73s and 88s :: The Ballad of Runnin Bare and Lil White Dove

We set a custom screensaver on Our AppleTV. Told it to pull images from Flickr tagged with “British Columbia.” After my wife and kids and I spent a few weeks in Vancouver and in various places on Vancouver Island, it had become one of our favorite places. We missed it.

And so, at night, after a show or movie ended and the AppleTV sat idle for a few minutes, a slideshow would automatically begin. The Parliamentary Buildings in Victoria, the Inner Harbor, the wild, rocky, tidepool-rich shores of Tofino, the murals of Chemainus.

Then, every once in a while, an illustration of some sort. I couldn’t tell what. A one-panel comic? Some kind of advertisement or flyer? It would be gone from the screen before I could really get a good look. Weeks would go by and I wouldn’t see it until, once again, there it was. It looked old, like something from the 60s or 70s. And it had numbers on it, like a code or a message: 73s and 88s.

It was the numbers that got me. Like the park rangers in The Shining calling for Wendy Torrance on the radio: “This is KDK-1 calling KDK-12. KDK-1 calling KDK-12. Are you receiving me?” They seemed to be saying something. But what? I had to find out. So, I took to Google, and began my search.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article.

FYI: Although the CB Radio landscape is quite different than it was in the 70s, most modern shortwave radio receivers can tune to CB channels. Here’s a quick tutorial from our archives.

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CB radio manufacturer Cedar Electronics (Cobra) struggles with new tariffs

(Source: The Washington Post via Jeff McMahan)

CHICAGO — Cedar Electronics has been selling CB radios to American truckers since the 1960s, helping connect the workers who keep the U.S. economy rolling. But these days Cedar’s business isn’t exactly trucking along.

The Chicago-headquartered company is racing around Asia looking for other countries to host its manufacturing, after the radios Cedar makes in China and brings to the United States were hit with one of the Trump administration’s 25 percent tariffs this summer, making them more expensive to import.

The White House’s decision to extend its tariff campaign to an even broader range of Chinese imports starting Monday is putting similar pressure on more U.S. companies to uproot their Chinese manufacturing, and to consider layoffs, price hikes and investment cuts.

[…]Cedar Electronics’ predecessor company was the first to introduce CB radios to the market decades ago. “We like to joke it was the first social media device,” Karnes said. The radios, made famous by movies like “Smokey and the Bandit,” are still used by many truckers, despite the advent of cellphones.

Steven Fields, a trucker based in Kansas City, Mo., said he uses a CB to warn other drivers about bad weather and accidents. “Being prepared can make a big difference between a miserable trip and a safe trip,” he said.

About 15 years ago, Cedar moved its manufacturing to China to save money on parts and labor, Karnes said.

Cedar imports almost all of its Cobra-brand CBs to North America, where it holds almost 80 percent of the market. The radios are mostly sold at large truck stops, for $99 to $199, depending on the model.

When Cedar learned its CBs would be included on the initial tariff list targeting $50 billion in imports, it applied for an exemption and imported additional inventory by costly airfreight to have stock on hand before the tariffs took effect. That gave the company enough CBs to meet demand through September without having to raise prices, Karnes said.

Click here to read the full story and comment at The Washington Post.

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FCC to legalize CB DXing and boost FRS power

(Source: Southgate ARC)

FCC to modernize Part 95 Regs – GMRS, FRS, CB

The FCC is to legalize 27 MHz CB DXing and boost power of license exempt UHF FM Family Radio Service (equivalent of UK PMR 446)

Under its new Chair Ajit Pai, the FCC is seeking to modernize radio regulations and is scrapping pointless rules like the 250 km (155.3 mile) restriction on Citizen Band Radio contacts.

As yet there is no word on the FCC taking action on the archaic Part 97 amateur radio regulations. Over 40 years ago the FCC considered these regulations were in need of a major overhaul and in 1976 introduced the “Regulation by Bandwidth” Docket 20777. The FCC eventually abandoned the modernization attempt after a a long campaign against it waged by the ARRL.

There was a desire by some radio amateurs in the late 1970’s to restrict the bandwidth of digital data transmissions but any form of “Regulation by Bandwidth” was considered anathema. This resulted in the introduction in 1980 of a Symbol Rate restriction on digital transmissions (avoiding the dreaded words “Bandwidth Restriction”). This has crippled amateur radio data communications ever since, preventing amateurs using modern modes.

It may well be that before too long the FCC will make another attempt at reforming Part 97.

Regarding the Part 95 changes the ARRL says:

In a lengthy Report and Order (R&O) in a proceeding (WT Docket No. 10-119) dating back 7 years, the FCC has announced rule changes affecting the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), the Family Radio Service (FRS), the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS or “CB”), as well as other applications that fall under the FCC’s Part 95 Personal Radio Services (PRS) rules and regulations. Part 95 devices typically are low-power units that communicate over shared spectrum and, with some exceptions, do not require an individual user license from the FCC. As the R&O explains, common examples of PRS devices include “walkie-talkies;” radio-control cars, boats, and planes; hearing assistance devices; CB radios; medical implant devices; and Personal Locator Beacons.

“This draft Report and Order completes a thorough review of the PRS rules in order to modernize them, remove outdated requirements, and reorganize them to make it easier to find information,” the FCC said in a summary attached to the R&O. “As a result of this effort, the rules will become consistent, clear, and concise.”

GMRS and FRS devices are used for personal communication over several miles; compact FRS handhelds, often sold in pairs, are widely available. While GMRS and FRS share spectrum, GMRS provides for greater communications range and requires an FCC license; FRS does not.

“The rules will increase the number of communications channels for both GMRS and FRS, expand digital capabilities to GMRS (currently allowed for FRS), and increase the power/range for certain FRS channels to meet consumer demands for longer range communications (while maintaining higher power capabilities for licensed GMRS),” the FCC explained.

The amended rules eventually will eliminate combination FRS/GMRS radios for the most part, but allow up to 2 W PEP output for FRS transceivers.

Read the full ARRL story at
http://www.arrl.org/news/fcc-personal-radio-service-revisions-will-affect-gmrs-frs-cb-other-part-95-devices

FCC Report and Order
https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-344617A1.pdf

The irony here is that CB DXing (regardless of power) has been in wide practice since the begging of the Citizen’s Band service! I suppose I never realized (at legal power) DXing was illegal. 🙂

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Stuart Sizer: Heathkit designer, dad, and “bon vivant”

Heathkit-Drawings-2Two weeks ago, through a radio preservation group, I met the son of Heathkit product designer of the 1950s-70s, Stu Sizer––”stylist, artist, maker of models, bon vivant.” His son described the discovery of a few vintage Heathkit brochures, photos, and illustrations his father kept in his family’s basement shop, many of which had been scanned at some point.

Stu Sizer––”stylist, artist, maker of models, bon vivant”––was tasked with crafting Heathkit’s user-friendly and attractive exterior designs. For many years Sizer was Heathkit’s only product designer, and was therefore often busy. “He was a great dad,” his son told me, “but he spent a lot of time in the basement proof-building kits.”  He adds wryly, “Let that be a lesson to the hams of this world.”

Sizer’s son kindly shared with us the following scans and photos of his dad’s work, many of which are original drawings; the series concludes with some clippings featuring Sizer.

PC241116 PC241108 PC241107 PC241106 PC241099 Heathkit-Drawings-16 Heathkit-Drawings-15 Heathkit-Drawings-13 Heathkit-Drawings-12 Heathkit-Drawings-11 Heathkit-Drawings-10 Heathkit-Drawings-9 Heathkit-Drawings-8 Heathkit-Drawings-7 Heathkit-Drawings-6 Heathkit-Drawings-5 Heathkit-Drawings-4 Heathkit-Drawings-3 Heathkit-Drawings Heathkit-Advertisement

On Stuart Sizer

Heathkit-Stu Walter SizerHeathkit-Stu Walter Sizer-3Heathkit-Stu Walter Sizer-2

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