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Question Of The Week

CB and Ham Radios For Truck Camping

With the help of TCM readers with CBs and Ham Radios, we tune in to the advantages these technologies offer for traditional RVing and off-grid travel.  Even in the age of advanced smartphones and nationwide cellular networks, CBs and Ham Radios are still relevant, and could save your bacon.

This week’s Question of the Week was, “Do you have a CB radio in your truck camping truck?”  Thanks again to Paul Currier for inspiring this week’s question.

“I do have a CB.  It is a Motorola that was intended for emergency use.  It’s a 40 channel CB that has a 12-volt cigar lighter plug and a magnetic antenna.  It stays in the back tray behind the seat.  If I ever need it, I have it.” – Jeff Hagberg, 2002 Ford F250, 2006 Travel Lite 800 SBX

Midland portable CB radio

“I have a Midland portable CB connected to a four-foot Firestik antenna with Dodge fender mount.  This set-up works very well!” – Jim Hunter, 2004 Dodge 3500, 2005 Arctic Fox 1150

Firestik CB antenna truck campers

“Yes I have a CB radio, for traveling with others and for emergencies.  I have a Galaxy CB and Wilson 1000 magnet mount, for now.” – Chip Fraser, 2013 Chevy 2500 HD, 2015 Arctic Fox 865

Uniden 520XL CB radio

“I used to run a Uniden 520XL, which is a great small CB radio.  I used it with a Everhardt TSM4 four-foot Tiger SuperFlex antenna.  It’s a great antenna, but no one ever uses CBs around here anymore.

ICOM 5100 amateur Ham Radio

I became an amateur radio operator (ham) in 2010 and now run ham radios in all my rigs.  I use the Icom 5100 in the cab of the truck for two meters and 440.

I made my own antenna mount coming out of the hood of the truck and use the SF Hustler 2 meter antenna.  It isn’t a dual band but I never transmit on 440, so no matter.  It receives well and it is a nice low price antenna.

I have the 5100 programmed for the police and emergency frequencies as well as the airplane and marine frequencies.  It is a great scanner, as well as a great transceiver.

Icom 7100 Ham Radio

I have the Icom 7100 in the camper with a duel band vertical antenna.  I can slide it up when parked and down when traveling.  The 7100 is a multi band HF and has two meter and 440 as well.  My Icom 7100 can do CB as well.

For HF I have wire dipoles.  I can set up in a short time when camping to talk around the world when propagation is good.

I am not sure if your friends are hams, but it is pretty easy to get your license and become one.  They are much more popular around here than CBs.  If you have more questions about ham radio, check my website at w7mcm.com.” – Mike Mauk, 1998 Chevy 3500, 2014 Palomino Maverick 8801

“We were required to have a CB radio for an organized tour we took along the Applegate Trail in northern Nevada.  The tour leaders used the radio to keep our group of twelve vehicles organized and informed.

On the advice of our leader, I mounted the radio and microphone bracket on a plastic cutting board equipped with soft rubber weather-stripping on the bottom.  When we need the radio, it sits securely on the dashboard and plugs into a cigarette-lighter socket.

The antenna is about four-feet long and has a magnet that holds it to the driver’s side fender. The antenna wire runs out the door jamb.  This lash-up has worked well for us, but we do not use it much.; only when traveling with another vehicle(s) similarly equipped.  I keep the radio and antenna in the cab of the truck under the seat when it’s not in use.” – Kurt Herzog, 1997 Chevrolet K1500, 1997 Flip-Pac

Uniden 980 CB Radio

“Yes, for traffic and other vehicle comms and weather reports.  I have a Uniden SSB 980 with dual whip antennas.  The CB and ham radio are mounted in a Jotto console that replaced the factory cup holder.” – Lynn Van Note, 2016 Ford F350, 2014 CampLite TC11

“We have a CB installed in our truck because it is handy to communicate with the folks we are traveling with.  We also use it for receiving and sharing real time information with other travelers and truckers when there is a traffic problem.

Our CB is a Galaxy DX979, SSB Transceiver.  The CB is mounted in the cab to the underside of the dash panel and is centered between the driver and passenger seats.

We choose a five-foot Firestick antenna (has a tune-able tip) mounted near the driver side front fender with a quick disconnect mount.  The quick disconnect mount is convenient for taking the antenna off for daily driving or when you do not want to advertise that there is a radio in the truck.  We also keep a couple of handheld CBs and magnet mount antennas to loan to friends and family.

I highly recommend Bells CB located in Oakland Park, Florida and on the web at www.bellscb.com.  They offer some really cool and useful mods and the customer service is unparalleled.” – Norm Cushard, 2005 Chevrolet Silverado 3500, 2016 Palomino HS8801

“Yes, we have a Radio Shack TRC520 and Solarcon three-foot tunable CB antenna.  We use it primarily for the weather radio portion (NWS weather and alerts), and for monitoring road conditions via the truckers as we travel.

We have the CB installed against the driver’s side of the center console and the antenna is installed on the opposite side of the cab to mirror the AM/FM Ford antenna.” – Stan Smelser, 2013 Ford F350, 2014 Lance 992

Eagle Cap Camper CB Antenna

“I have a GME 40 channel CB with a fiberglass 40-inch GME antenna, which I installed myself.

I am in The BiTone WestCoast Caravan Club of western Australia and we use our CBs while we’re on the roads to and from club rallies and upon arriving at our camp locations.  I also listen to the Truckers 28 Channel for road alerts.

I find our CB very useful and have had one in every camper and four-wheel drive vehicle that I’ve owned over the last 36 years.

My US camper, a 2008 Ford Sportsmobile 6.0 V8 diesel 4×4, has a GME 40 channel CB radio and a K40 56-inch whip antenna, installed by Sportsmobile West in Fresno, California.” – Douglas Packer, 2012 Ram 3500, 2014 Eagle Cap 1160

“No, I suggest getting a real radio for communicating.  Ham radio licenses are an easy 35 question test offered in most cities across the country.  Many amateur radios cost very close to the same as CB radios with far superior communications capabilities.

A traveling ham radio operator can and will be happy to help you become a ham.  And you’ll soon be radio active.

I currently use an ICOM IC-7000 100 watts HF and 45 watts VHF/UHF GARY W7FSI.  I have been a ham radio operator since 1964.” – Gary and Laurii Gadwa, 2012 Ford F350, 2011 Eagle Cap 950

“No, but I used to have one in my car 30 years ago, or was it 40 years now?  Some fad came along called a cell phone and I guess that is why CBs disappeared.  But, I would get one again if there was anybody out there to talk to.  It would be great if we truck campers started the trend again.” – Fred Patterson, 2013 Ford F350, 2002 Lance 1161

“I don’t have a CB rig in my RV.  I have been a Ham since 1958, and I carry a hand held 2 meter transceiver with me when I am out and about.  So far, I have not had to use it for an emergency.” – Jerry Smith, 2013 Silverado 3500HD, 2013 Arctic Fox 992

“I haven’t owned a CB since sometime in the 1980s.  I seldom heard anything worthwhile, but I heard lots of garbage not suitable for our kids back then.  Aren’t cellphones distractive enough?” – Philip Tron, 2009 Chevy 3500, 2012 Lance 1050

“No, I don’t travel with a CB radio, but I am a licensed Ham radio operator and always travel with a VHF/UHF ham radio.  Ham radio has both advantages and disadvantages compared to CB radios . I think the best thing is the welcoming attitude of the local Ham radio operators if I need directions or assistance while traveling.  In a few rare cases, I have actually met another ham radio operator that I have previously talked to on my high frequency radio from home, or had them show me around the local area.

I have been a ham radio operator for over 40 years.  Getting an entry level ham radio license is fairly easy these days.  The Morse Code requirement was dropped several years ago.” – Mike Borrego, 2005 Ram 3500, 2008 Host Yellowstone

“I drove to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska last year.  A CB is a necessity to help avoid any issues with the large, fast, and heavily loaded 18 wheelers hauling supplies.

Surprisingly, every time I approached a blind curve or an up hill climb, the commercial truckers would answer me when I called out “Small red Four Wheeler at mile marker XX”.  Basically they were telling me to get to the side of the road.  They were taking their half out of the middle and were not slowing down.  They were mostly true to their word, and gave you advanced notice every time you made a call.

I would not drive in Alaska without a CB.  Down in the Lower 48, it is nice to have one, but it’s not a safety item like in Alaska.” – Dan Griffin, 1998 Dodge 2500, 1994 Scamper Pop-up

CB Radio in Chevy truck

“I have been frustrated with my CB and antenna installation for two years, but may now have the solution.  My CB is a Cobra 75 WX ST from Camping World for $99.  I selected it because all the controls are in the mic.  There are very few places to cleanly install a traditional CB radio in my truck.  I have an enclosed auxiliary speaker that currently drifts around between or behind the front seats; I’ll likely find a more permanent mounting location this summer.  The mic hangs on the dash left of the truck’s center AC/radio stack.

Getting the right antenna has been frustrating.  I started with a magnetic mount that went on the hood.  This was marginal.  First, it could only reach out a half mile.  Second, after traveling with it all summer, the magnet caused rust to come thru the paint.

CB Antenna on driver's side truck

Next, I fabricated a mount that reached beneath the hood on the driver’s side.  I used the cable and cable connection from the magnetic mount.  This method, though clean, only got out about 200 yards.  I was moving in the wrong direction.

When in doubt, ask a expert.  I called a most helpful tech at Firestik.  We explored mounting the antenna on the camper (which he suggested would be the worst place to put the antenna because of proper antenna grounding problems).  Finally, we concluded the best solution would be a dual antenna system, with antennas mounted on adjustable balls on the truck’s front bumper.  Though this probably isn’t the best location from a propagation standpoint, it is the best location for my rig.

Hustler New-Tronics SSM-2 ball antenna mount

The antenna mount is a Hustler/New-Tronics stainless steel CB antenna ball mount SSM-2 (from Amazon).  Also, here is a link to an excellent article on selecting and mounting CB antennas: http://www.firestik.com/Meas-SWR.htm.

The antennas are Firestik FireFlies, which are top-loaded and four feet long.  A critical component to this installation is the type of coaxial cable to use.  A common mistake is to use RG-58 cable, which is available most everywhere.  However, it has the wrong impedance for this application.  You need factory assembled RG-59 cable built specially for dual antennas.

So far, so good.  The real test will be out on the road this summer.” – Jim Goodrich, 2006 Chevy 3500, 2008 Lance 1191

“We use a portable handheld model.” – Steve Wright, 2015 Dodge 3500, 2015 Lance 1172

“Yes, I have one.  I have only used a CB/11 meter radio once in 20 years.  On our last trip to Four Corners, it was sketchy weather on the mountain passes so I turned it on.  A semi driver that was behind me called me for road information.  He wanted to know if there was a place for him to pull off the roadway to get his chains off at lower elevations.

Cobra 75WXST CB Radio

The CB is a Cobra 75WXST, which was chosen only for it being small and out of the way.  It is not a very user friendly radio.

The antenna is a Hustler HQ-27 antenna sitting on top of Wilson 305311SS HD spring.  The antenna mount is a cowl mount, forward of the factory AM/FM antenna.

Being an Ham radio operator, I constantly use the installed 2m/70cm Amateur Radio that has APRS functionality with the hard wired GPS.  The antenna for this radio is on the driver’s side opposite the CB antenna.  If I were to set it up for only CB I would have put the antenna on the driver’s side.” – Les Brush, 2002 Dodge Ram 2500, 2007 S&S Montana Ponderosa 8.5FBSC

“I have a Cobra with Bluetooth.  The phone sounds better coming through the CB speaker.  It is mounted under the dash area with a standard CB antenna.  It comes in handy for traffic updates from truckers and is a good safety backup if needed.” – Jim Furubotten, 2006 Ford F350, 2014 Northern Lite 10.2

“I got my CB license in the mid 60s, retired from the Navy in 1982, and drove big rigs cross-country.  I almost always had a CB to be able to communicate with others.  I was an aviation electronics tech in the Navy and worked communications, navigation, and radar on many planes.

My last radio was a Galaxy Mirage 44 mounted on a 10×10 board set on the top of the dash for easy removal.  The antenna is a no name four-foot fiberglass top loaded.  It is mounted on the right side of brush guard on the front of the truck.” – Larry Preston, 2013 Ford F350, 2002 Sun Valley Apache 8.65se

“Yes, I installed out current unit when we were hauling our 37-foot fifth wheel trailer, as we traveled in a group for long distances.  It has come in handy to communicate with 10 to 15 other campers.  On long distance runs the CB system still is good for information.

The radio is a Realistic TRC483 by Radio Shack and the antenna is a mag base Little WII by Wilson Electronics.  The units are matched and are basically portable.  I use the 12-volt lighter socket adapter for power.

I fabricated a base which bolts to my hinge bracket under my hood and I snake the coax wire through the passenger’s door.  This clears the the camper’s bunk and gives fairly good forward reception.  The unit sits on a Teflon base on our console between the front buckets.  It works for us.  I just have to hope the users don’t use too much obnoxious language.” – Eric Devolin, 2007 GMC 3500, 2006 Adventurer 106DBS

“I have a CB in the vehicle.  I do this as most professional drivers do not have Ham licenses.  I chose the Cobra 148GTL as I enjoy the single side-band skip in the evening.

I have two antennas I can choose to put on the truck depending on the rig we take (camper or trailer).  One is a 102-inch whip mounted to the rear passenger’s side on a ball mount.  The other is a Wilson 1000 mounted on a permanent mount on the top of the cab.  We also have a mount on the camper for a fiberglass whip just in case.” – Daniel Anderson

Cobra 29 CB Radio

“I’m a 30 year truck driver.  I like Cobra CBs.  In the Ford I have a Cobra 29.  My advice is keep it simple.  Volume, squelch, and a channel changer are all you need.  I use it for hearing what’s up ahead when traffic is jammed up.  I mounted the antenna on the roof of the camper and run the coax down the outside and in through the truck door jamb.  I think it’s a Firestik antenna.” – Ron Williams, 1997 Ford F250, 2003 Lance 1010

“No, but in the past I have.  The first was a Sharp 23 channel with dual mirror mount antennas.  The range to the rear was about a mile and about four miles in the front.  The next was a Cobra, which was much better and had dual quarter-wave fender mounts.  I had that one until it was stolen.  I replaced it with a GE and K2 antenna.  It worked okay.

I live in Idaho, and the mountains create too many problems for CB radios.  The range is very short and line of sight.  They are fine for major roads if you want to listen to the truckers and get information about road conditions and weather.

I found that the little hand held FSR/GMRS radios work as well and are fine for group travel and around the camp site.  The solution that worked best for me was to get a technician Ham license and dual band Ham radio.  Idaho has repeaters scattered around the state, so I can be a long way from camp and still call home.  From a safety standpoint the Ham radio is far superior the either the CB or walkie-talkies.” – Dave Erickson, 2011 Ford F350, 2006 Arctic Fox 990

Cobra 25 LTD Radio CB

“I have had a CB in my trucks since the 1960s.  Currently I have a Cobra 25 LTD on the truck with a Firestik antenna.  When I mount the camper, I remove the Firestik and connect a modified center load gutter mount antenna that I happened to have.  I have screwed it to the side near the roof line.  Standing wave radio may not be the best, but I am mainly interested in listening to road conditions up ahead before I pass the last off ramp.” – John Hodan, 2006 Dodge Ram 3500, 2003 Lance 915

“I caravanned with two other rigs from New England to Florida and we all used CB radios.  It was wonderful; like having a passenger in the rig to talk with.  For that trip I used a borrowed, hand held, portable CB radio with a magnetic antenna on the roof.  I could hear everyone, but only the person in front of me could hear me!

I now have a permanent CB radio and antenna set-up and am excited to be using it for a Nova Scotia caravan trip I will be going on in September.  My antenna is permanently attached to my right front bumper.  Sorry I don’t have the brand name on hand because my rig is in storage.

In the past, before I had a CB and when I traveled with other rigs, we communicated via cell phones.  It doesn’t really work well.  By the time I dialed a person, and they answered, we were already past the rest area or place I wanted to stop.  With the CB, you have instant, easy communication and can warn others in your group of road hazards, or request a stop for something necessary like Diary Queen!” – Cheryl Lane, 2006 Born Free 22-foot motorhome

Cobra 19DXIV Radio

“Yes, I have a CB for caravanning with four-wheeling friends when we’re traveling together.  I would highly recommend any CB radio with RF gain.  This feature works much better than just turning the squelch up and down.

I personally have a Cobra 19DXIV.  This radio is compact in size, but has RF gain feature.  I would recommend a no ground plane antenna, because these can be mounted on fiberglass if needed.  Firestik makes these in kit form because the coaxial cable is only for a no ground plane antenna mast.

Please contact me if you would like more in depth details.  We met you both in Ouray, Colorado a few years ago.” – Kevin Fox, 2011 Dodge 3500, 2005 Lance 981

“Sometimes I have a CB in the truck cab.  I always have a ham radio in there.  The CB uses a small magnetic mount antenna on the hood and the ham antenna is a fixed mount.  KC9WXR listening on 52.  The other hams will know what I mean.” – Don Norris, 2003 Chevy K2500HD, Travel Lite 800SB

“I have two; a CB in the cab, and one in the camper, along with a 2 meter.  As a long time scout leader, we used them to communicate among the other leaders in the caravan.  We got used to having it and communicating with others we travel with.  Now we travel with friends and family and don’t require a network or need to pay to communicate.

The 2 meter my son uses when he travels with us.  The antenna for the truck is on the left fender.  On the camper it’s on the top near the refrigerator vent.  Both are Firestik brand antennas. The Cobra hand-held all-in-one is in the truck.

The camper has a really nice Ranger Sideband.  The Jeeps have just the control box and we take the handheld out of the truck and use it in the Jeeps.  The Jeeps have K40 antennas.” – Loren Jones, 2013 Ram 3500, 2013 Lance 850

“I have a Midland hand held CB.  However, I have not found an antenna that works well with it, so the range is extremely limited.  200 to 300 yards is it.” – Bob Walsh, 2013 GMC Sierra 3500, 2003 Bigfoot C25 10.6E

“Cobra antenna off the radio.  Why?  To know before what can happen.” – Jean Favreau, 2002 Ford F350, 2005 Lance 821

“I have always had a CB in my truck until I got my 2013 Ram.  I cannot find a good place to mount it.  The antenna is mounted on left side of camper above the electric plug using a twist lock base that I got from Radio Shack years ago for quick removal.  I remember seeing all in one radios that were contained in the mic, but can’t find one now.  Any information would be helpful.” – Bill Hansen, 2013 Ram 3500, 2007 Arctic Fox 990

“I have modified Texas Ranger 121 unit with a Wilson 1000 antenna magnet base on the left side of my hood about half way down.  It is best for reception, and easy cleaning.  I have had many radios over the years.  I use them to talk with other drivers to get road updates and the occasional Smoky Report.  When traveling with multiple drivers everybody can hear the proposed statement and/or questions.  It’s really nice to know about traffic problems before you are stuck in it.” – C Lee, 2005 Ford F350, 2004 Arctic Fox

“No, but this is very timely!  I want to get one and am eager to hear the recommendations!” – Michele McLeod, 2013 Ford F150 HD, 2000 Travel Hawk 9.5

“I have a Uniden CB radio.  It is what most dump truck drivers use.  It is not a long distance unit, but good enough for use while traveling.

I would suggest that people interested in purchasing a CB radio go to a truck stop that has a CB shop and talk to the professionals that deal with radios every day.  That way you will not be buying a unit that you do not need.  I use a magnetic mount on the front edge of the hood on the driver’s side.  With only a steel antenna mast it becomes invisible while driving and has good reception.  It can be easily removed if I camp where I feel it may be liberated.

The one down side of a CB antenna is that many law enforcement people feel that with a CB you are trying to get something past them, like speeding.” – Gary Gade, 2011 Ford F350 SD, 2014 Lance 1181

 

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