Most, myself included, dismissed CB a long time back as little more than a relic of generations gone by. A fun throwback to the 70s and 80s, with more practical and capable equipment options coming into the market it quickly started looking obsolete. Older CB radios left much to be desired in terms of practicality for much else that being mounted on a dashboard. And, to be fair, they were built for their primary purpose.
The fact remains that CB radio itself actually has a ton of utility. From 26-27mHz, its nestled right in the upper end of the HF radio range, behaving much like VHF locally but having the capability of transmitting incredibly long distances with a little original thinking and application of antenna theory. It remains the strongest option, at least frequency wise, for rural applications due to its ability to cover long distances while experiencing lower signal loss due to vegetation. In a nutshell, the lower in frequency you go, the less signal strength you lose to vegetation according to the PRC-64 tests in Vietnam.Growing up on the tailend of the CB heyday, many of the handhelds we used in our hunting clubs left much to be desired and usually wouldn’t last more than one season. Truck mounted units were fine, but there was no real field worthy option and the handhelds were pricey to be an essentially one time use item. This led to the rise in popularity of the Motorola FRS Talkbouts, even though they were limited both in terms of range and capability. Once the Baofeng radios hit the market it really became a game changer for a lot of reasons and at least around here a revolution coupled with the utility of the license free MURS frequencies. CB became mostly viewed as obsolete. But one huge thing of note – it remains the option of choice for Spanish speakers to communicate off grid at least in rural NC. Do not let that data point be overlooked…it works for a reason for them and does for you as well.
That brings us to the intersection of two issues; a lack of decent equipment options for field applications and a social aversion due to the opinion of it being obsolete. Fortunately a solution is here and I think its a revolution to CB radio. The CB-58 caught my eye after the FCC made the use of FM legal on CB (previously it was limited to AM only). Having a rechargeable battery as well as a AA battery box is a massive tool in terms of utility in the field. And its build quality is reminiscent of the old Bendix King wild land firefighter radios if they had had an LCD screen, even featuring the rugged BNC antenna connector that is my personal choice in the field.
But the feature list, foregoing the elephant in the room in terms of ease of use, is the addition of the two-prong Kenwood K1 mic connector. That’s right. The same connector that we all know and love for microphones is a subtle feature on this unit. That means this rig can transmit data using the K1 cable we make heavy use of in the RTO and Recce Courses to send data bursts. You can find the instructions on how to do that in The Guerrilla’s Guide to the Baofeng Radio as well, and its even easier to set up with these.
In the last RTO Course I ran an experiment on the students during the final two days (Signals Intelligence) having two groups rig jungle antennas for the CB band and move to transmitter sites, while not informing the students tasked with SIGINT that another tool was in play. They were intercepting the signals on their spectrum analyzers and scanners, but ignoring them completely. “That’s just CB from the highway” I heard one of them say. And when I dropped a hint, they still couldn’t intercept the traffic on FM because their equipment would only tune AM. Not too shabby. The point here is there’s a huge advantage to the high end of HF where CB resides – its hiding in plain site. By the time the SIGINT team got a bearing, the transmissions were sent and there wasn’t anything to exploit. Kind reminds me of something Lawrence Myers covered using CB radio handhelds in his classic, SpyCom.