Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Peter Laws, who shares the following guest post:
Thomas – Still Famous
by Peter Laws
We’re getting closer to the first legal FM CB on the market in the USA. President Electronics USA has announced that the President Thomas FCC CB radio will hit dealers in early 2022.
When first reporting on this, the assumption was that the Thomas FCC was going to be an FCC-spec Thomas ASC, a somewhat long in the tooth European multi-norm set. As the release date has approached, and President has released marketing collateral, it’s apparent that this new product is, in fact, a rebranded President Barry II, a current-production state-of-the-CB-art AM/FM European multi-norm model.
Richard, G0OJF, a pipe organ restoration and two-way radio expert from Lincolnshire, England, runs a wonderful YouTube channel “UK FM CB radio servicing”, where he restores old UK-spec CBs and then tests them on air. He also tunes up newly-released UK-spec CBs … and occasionally demonstrates restoration of 150-year-old pipe organs. He recently covered the Barry II so if you are curious about the Thomas FCC you are strongly encouraged to watch his video about its European counterpart.
Your humble reporter, who, perhaps surprisingly, has not followed the CB radio market since, (checks notes), 1977 or so, was amazed to see that the MSRP will be $109. In 1976 terms, that’s just under 25 bucks and had CBs been that price then, your reporter would have bought three because he’d been saving his pennies and that was the amount he’d saved!
Undoubtedly, the reduction in cost is from using components that are readily assembled by robots. If you watch G0OJF’s video above, you’ll note that the unit is almost completely made of surface-mount components. Remarkable.
Watch for dealers to begin offering these in the next few weeks. Your reporter plans to buy one and will be hanging out on Channel 31 FM once it’s installed in his radio room. Presumably, President (and other vendors) will be watching to see how these units sell in order to make plans for releasing other CBs that include FM. An AM/FM/SSB CB would be quite versatile!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Peter Laws, who shares the following guest post:
Thomas is Famous!
by Peter Laws
A few weeks ago, a summary of the recent change to Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 95, Subpart D — better known as the rules for the CB Radio Service — was published here. That change, following a successful petition for reconsideration of a previous petition allowed FM as an additional mode in the CB Radio Service. The original petition was the one that caused the FCC to do away with the nearly-impossible-to-enforce “DX Rule” that prohibited communications of more than 250 km. For one, the ionosphere had a long history of ignoring the rule entirely, at least for part of the Sun’s eleven-year cycle.
In that article, the author speculated that it may not be too long before manufacturers brought radios that were capable of FM to market, since they already existed in other markets, namely countries that were members of CEPT.
That author has been watching the FCC OET site to see who will be the first out of the gate to get an FM CB approved. The Office of Engineering and Technology is the FCC’s line office that handles, among other things, Equipment Authorization. They also handle Experimental Licensing, i.e., “Part 5”, like the recent 630- and 2200-m band projects that resulted in new Amateur Radio allocations and the ongoing 8-m band experiments under WL2XUP (see that license’s details at https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/els/reports/CallsignSearch.cfm).
OET also provides a public database of equipment authorizations. If you know a radio device’s “FCC ID” (usually an alpha-numeric string found on the label of a device or in the device’s documentation), you can look up the details in the database. A manufacturer’s ID — the first 3 to 5 characters of a product’s ID — will show all the devices that have been authorized. Fortunately, you can limit the search by date as by frequency range. https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/eas/reports/GenericSearch.cfm Authorizations available online go back into the 1990s but the further back the results go, the less detailed they become.
So who won the race to bring the first FM-capable CB radio to the US market or at least to get a product authorized? Our benefactor, Mr Witherspoon, will be thrilled to hear that the first radio to gain FCC authorization is the President Thomas FCC!
The President Thomas ASC model in Europe.
As soon as President Electronics can get stock to distributors, the radio should be available. This writer has no information about when that may happen.
The President Thomas FCC is an older design (c.2013), meaning that whatever R&D costs President Electronics had for the bulk of the design will have been amortized years ago. As noted in the previous article, changes for conformity with the FCC Part 95 rules are expected to be minimal and likely have to do with locking out the “multi-norm” ability in the new model’s European counterpart. Following FCC rules, this is an AM radio that has FM as well. The new Part 95 regulations require AM in every radio with FM as a possible option.
Several websites have details on the existing President Thomas ASC (ASC is automatic squelch control). [See photos above.] It’s a multi-norm radio as is common in the European market and offers CEPT channels, UK channels, and Polish channels among others. CEPT channels are identical to the FCC allocations, UK channels are completely different though still between 27 and 28 MHz, and Polish channels are exactly like the FCC channels except that they are all 5 kHz lower (i.e., our Channel 19 is 27.185 while their Channel 19 is 27.180). Here is an example of a site with data on the European version: http://www.cbradio.nl/president/thomas.htm
FCC authorization was long ago turned over to contract labs. Here is the Equipment Authorization for the President Thomas FCC:
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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