Even with the rise of cell phones, a good CB radio is a quality investment for times you’re out of cell phone service. They provide a reliable mode of communication for truck drivers and groups road-tripping or off-roading through rural areas.
First created in 1945 by the FCC, CB radio stands for Citizens Band radio. They are powerful, reliable, cost-effective, and don’t require any special training or licenses to operate. These radios use 40 channels, with some channels used for specific purposes. For example, truckers use Channel 19 for general communication. CB radios have more power than an FRS radio, but they’re still only meant for short-distance communication.
Looking at all the options on the market can be quite confusing if you don’t understand radios. If you’ve been dreaming of getting involved in some of the conversations, we’ll help you find the best CB radio with our top ten choices.
How to Use a CB Radio
These radios work through radio waves, just like the VHF radios, televisions, and AM/FM radios. Each one comes with a long antenna, usually ranging from 2 to 7 feet, which should be mounted as tall as possible (without whacking overhead obstacles like trees and overpasses) with the most ground plane coverage possible. This antenna catches the signals and then broadcasts them through your CB speakers.
The CB itself is a transceiver. That means it’s used to transmit and receive messages. If you want to talk, you’ll hold the microphone up, press the button, and talk. That message is converted to an electric signal and transmitted through your antenna. As it travels through the air via radio waves, other CB antennas in the area pick up the signal and hear your message.
Uses of a CB Radio
People use a CB radio for many purposes when a regular cell phone just won’t do. Here are the most common reasons to own a radio like this:
Get weather, travel, and traffic updates while on the road.
Report an emergency.
Talking with other friends traveling in other vehicles nearby.
Communicating in areas without cell phone service.
CB radios are very useful for communicating in areas without cell phone service. This can come in especially handy when off-roading with your buddies. Since a CB radio doesn’t require any cell phone signals, you’ll still be free to communicate with your fellow off-roaders about your location, when you need a tow, and when it’s time to take a break for lunch.
Whether you’re a trucker looking for the best CB radio, or looking for a backcountry option for your overland rig, we’ve evaluated all the best CB radio options available and found ten of the best choices to consider.
If you’re a beginner CB user, the PRO505XL is a great place to start. While it doesn’t have a full list of features like some of the professional options, the price is good and it’s simple to install. This CB is a great tool to get your feet wet and see if you enjoy talking before investing in a higher dollar model.
In total, you’re looking at about 15 minutes to hook this up in the car. On top of that, the mic sends out clear, strong signals. With the minimalist design, you have very few knobs or buttons to figure out. The built-in speakers are great quality as well so they’ll be loud and clear, even if you have your window down.
There’s even an inline fuse that stops any electric damage to your car if the radio short circuits for some reason. Unlike some of the higher-priced models, this unit is made of plastic, so it isn’t as durable as others. There also isn’t an RF gain knob to control the noise. With that said, you won’t find much better in this price range.
If you want a handheld CB radio that fits ergonomically and comfortably in your hand, the Cobra 75WXST is right for you. It doesn’t have the large, bulky display of a typical unit, so it’s one of the most compact CB radios on the market today.
This radio features 40 channels, so you’ll get access to everything happening around you. There are also 10 NOAA channels so you can check the weather from anywhere. If you need to install this in tight spaces, you’ll like that the speaker faces to the front.
When it’s not in use, the small profile makes it easy to store in your glove compartment where people can’t see it. This Cobra also offers the company’s SoundTracker System which reduces 90% of your noise.
Access the channels you use most frequently with the programmable locations plus receive instant access to Channel 9 and 19. If you’re driving in a noisy vehicle, this radio might not work well for you because the speaker isn’t overly loud. This is easily remedied by purchasing an additional external speaker.
If you’re looking for a handheld, this model from Cobra is a great option. This radio comes complete with a removable belt clip, high-efficiency antenna, wrist strap, operating manual, and 12V cigarette lighter plug.
The radio has access to 40 CB channels plus an additional ten weather channels. The NOAA Weather & Emergency Radio helps you to remain prepared for emergencies and storms, no matter where you are.
This radio with digital scanner features both a dual-watch and a full-channel scan. You can run it through your DC power supplies or by the battery if you prefer. The best part about this option is that the scanner is lightweight at just 1.2 pounds. That makes it easy to hold without fatigue. You don’t have to install it, and you can use it outside of the vehicle, both of which are pluses. That mobility does come with a lower range, however. The smaller antenna mean’s you can expect a range of about a mile.
This CB range goes 13-miles and is one of the most innovative on the market. With all 40 channels available, active seeking is simple and helps you tune into the channels you want quickly. There are also ten NOAA weather channels so you can receive alerts about anything abnormal happening around you.
The multi-color display makes it easy to spot your battery power, transmission level, frequency level, and time. In addition, the top-of-the-line speaker delivers some of the clearest sounds in this category. There’s also an attached PA system; you just need to purchase the extra speaker.
If you prefer to utilize Bluetooth technology with your CB radio, this model also has that available. Keep in mind that all of these features do jack up the price slightly.
If you want a quality radio at a budget-friendly price, the Uniden PRO510XL might be right for you. The plastic body and simple options make this a cheaper variety for the occasional user.
The front of this unit utilizes a digital LCD display while the radio offers 40 channel coverage. There’s an automatic noise limiter plus squelch control to reduce any background noise. The microphone provides good enough quality that it beats out numerous competitors, even those that cost more.
What’s most surprising about this model is that it comes with a 2-year warranty for additional peace of mind. Considering the low cost, you can’t really beat it.
If you want multiple power options and a quick setup, and a load of versatility, Midland’s 75-882 40 Channel CB-Way Radio is the way to go. This radio can be converted from a hand radio to an in-vehicle radio via the swappable components. These include a battery pack that holds 6 AA batteries for use outside the vehicle as well as a cigarette lighter adapter for use on the road.
There’s a backlit LCD so you can monitor the signal strength, channel selection, and power output even in the darkest conditions. You’ll have access to 40 channels and another ten NOAA weather channels.
The automatic noise limiter and squelch control allows you to tweak the settings, eliminate noise, and dial in the radio’s reception. It also gives you instant access to channels 9 and 19, with a dual watch feature that allows you to monitor channel 9 and one other channel of your choice.
Another mid-range option with a good balance of features and price is this mobile CB from Midland. Truckers appreciate the compact size, but the basic features make it easy enough for anyone to use. It comes with all 40 standard CB channels and four watts of power to provide five miles of range.
The channel locking system lets you stick to your choice channel plus the scanner finds emergency notifications and weather channels nearby. If you want to increase reception, you have control through the RF gain and an automatic noise limiter.
This radio comes with a PA system when you purchase a separate speaker. Plus, you can switch between the two functions easily.
This handheld CB radio makes it easy to talk with people even when you’re not near your vehicle. Of course, you will pay more for this type of functionality. For the money, you’re going to receive a nice long list of features to make it a great value.
It’s been a best-seller for quite some time, and for a good reason. It’s compact enough to fit on your belt and the batteries last up to ten hours on a single charge. Hook it up to your external radio antenna if you prefer. This radio also provides access to the NOAA weather channels, so you’ll be alerted in an emergency.
Because the shell is made of plastic, you’ll want to be careful carrying it around as it won’t survive a chance meeting with the pavement. With that said, most users like the walkie-talkie look this CB offers.
Best Premium Choice
9. Galaxy-DX-959 40 Channel AM/SSB Mobile CB Radio with Frequency Counter
While this is the most expensive on our list, it’s also worth every penny, especially if you spend a lot of time talking on the CB radio. You’re going to receive a durable unit that offers plenty of features. It uses both SSB and AM modes as well as a driver-friendly menu so you can make adjustments on the go. The high price is more than justified.
The LED back-lit display works great at night, but there’s also a dimming option if you don’t want the distraction. The primary screen shows you what channel you’re currently on while the second one adds a five-digit frequency counter. Galaxy’s Noise Filter increases your signal distance which just makes the clear audio even better. There’s also a variable talkback feature that gives you control over the volume of your voice.
If you want the best value compared to a list of features, this Uniden is your ideal option. Rounding out our list of the best CB radios, the Bearcat has everything you could want in a system. The included microphone has noise-canceling properties so you send out a clear transmission. If you’re going to use a different mic, it’s easy to add on a wireless microphone that you desire.
This CB has all 40 standard channels, adjustable backlights, seven available color options, base station options, RF gain control, automatic noise limited, plus a noise blanker. This CB radio with an SWR meter is a step above many others on the market.
You would be hard-pressed to find another unit with this many features at this price point. It even comes with a mounting bracket for use in a professional vehicle.
Buyer’s Guide: What to Look For
Mobile vs. Handheld CB Radios
There are base CB radios on the market that can be installed at home, but most people use them in their vehicles. Of this option, there are two choices available: the handheld or mobile CB radio. A mobile radio is compact and mounts under your dashboard. Some people also put it on their transmission hump in a truck. To reduce the static feedback, some people wire the unit directly into the car battery.
A more compact version is the handheld radio. This is a device that fits into your hand. It fits easily on the dash when it’s not in use. These aren’t as powerful as the mobile option, but they’re ideal for maximum portability.
The Range of CB Radios
Many people want to evaluate CB radios for sale by their range, only to find out that they all run on the same 4-watts of power. The simplest way to achieve a higher range is by increasing your antenna length (most range from 2 to 7 feet) and placing your antenna as high on the vehicle as you can. You can also get a radio with manual squelch control, which allows you to adjust your radio to receive signals from farther away by lowering your squelch level. The only downside is that the lower level with increase background noise.
The only exception to this rule is an SSB type radio. What is an SSB radio? They transmit at 12 watts instead of the typical four. It’s called a single sideband radio. Overall, you gain three times the range of transmission with this design. The only downside to this is that for others to hear you, they must also use an SSB CB radio. All SSB radios work on the standard channels if you can’t find people to talk to on the 3x range.
Features To Look For
Before you purchase a radio, you’ll want to understand the various features available to you so you can buy exactly what you want. Some of the CB lingoes can be slightly confusing, so we’ll explain a few of the essential things to look for.
Automatic Noise Limiter (ANL)
This filters out any static, interference, and engine noises to improve your sound quality.
CB channel scanners work as your radio scanner does. You can scan all the channels for any communication. Once it spots talking, the scanner stops and allows you to listen. This is an ideal way to find people to talk to without manually going through all of the channels.
Instant Channel 9 & 19
Jump to two of the most popular channels easily with this feature. Channel 9 is used for emergency purposes, so you can quickly report an accident or other emergency. Channel 19 is geared toward truckers and highway travel, so you can share information about traffic, speed traps, and any other information.
High-priced models have a backlit display for safer operation in low-light situations, like nighttime. If the radio is used during the night, this is well worth the extra expense.
Public Address Capability
With this, you can utilize the radio as a PA system. You’ll need to purchase a PA horn because they aren’t generally included. Simply mount the horn to the top of your vehicle or under the hood and you have a way to get a lot of attention.
With this feature, you can filter out transmissions based on the strength of the signal. Many people find it’s useful to block out the more distant communications to reduce background noise while communicating with others that have a stronger signal. It’s also possible to use this when you want to pick up the weaker signals.
This standard feature keeps you from having to listen to static when no one is talking. The speaker is activated when transmissions are received. Otherwise, the sound is silent. Unless you’re a fan of white noise, this feature is essential for keeping your sanity on the road.
Some CB radios have the ability to tap into a local NOAA station and receive real-time weather updates and reports. This can be useful when you’re traveling in tornado country or any other area where the weather can turn on you in an instant. These radios also receive emergency reports from NOAA, so you won’t be caught unaware when the weather turns bad.
History of The CB Radio
In 1945, the FCC created the CB radio. Their goal was to empower small businesses and individuals to communicate in a manner that wasn’t hard to operate. They became most popular during the 1960s and 1970s.
During the oil crisis of 1963, the government imposed a speed limit of 55 mph nationwide. This sparked an increase in CB sales as drivers sought to warn one another about where the police cars were. They were also used to alert each other about which gas stations ran out of fuel.
As time went on, radio clubs were formed and people started to invent unique jargon to talk on the road. Many people think that this concept is how Internet chat rooms got their start because they both feature an anonymity factor. Once the Internet got bigger, the use of radios decreased. Note: they aren’t the same as HAM radio units!
When you’re ready to communicate with others on the road, it’s time to dive into the world of CB radios. The problem is, most people don’t know which one is the best CB radio. That’s why we’ve laid out the best choices and given you the complete rundown of features to expect. Whether you need a budget-friendly radio or a top-of-the-line model, you’re sure to find a solid contender in this list. The open road will never be lonely again.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is MHz choice?
Assuming you’re talking about CB radios and not the streaming video channel, MHz choice refers to the options between the 40 authorized CB radio channels between 26.965MHz and 27.405 MHz. According to the Federal Communications Commission, these channels are the ones available to the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS).
How many miles can a CB radio transmit?
CB radio range is usually between 3 and 20-miles, depending on your radio, antenna, and surrounding terrain. For instance, if you’re perched upon a peak, you’ll have a wider uninterrupted range than you will in a deep canyon.
What is the best CB Radio for 2021?
The best CB radio for 2021 is the one that will best serve your needs. If you are using it primarily to communicate with your friends in other cars on a road trip, look for one that’s easy to install and simple to use. We like the PRO505XL from Uniden for its 15-minute setup, clear signal, and easy-to-read LCD screen. And at around $40, this is one of the best CB radios you can get for the price.
If you’re looking for a daily use radio for long-distance driving, look for a radio like the Galaxy-DX-959 40 Channel. The noise filter allows you to hear audio from farther away and sports a menu that makes it easy to adjust on the fly. The LED display is backlit, so you can read it at night, and the variable talkback feature lets you control how loud your voice sounds as you transmit.
Is it worth getting a CB Radio?
If you generally stick to city driving and have solid cell phone coverage, you may not need a CB radio. However, if you tend to drive out of cell phone range or you tend to drive in places where the weather can turn on a dime, a CB radio is a great idea. While a cell phone requires service, a CB radio can communicate anywhere. Most CB radios also get the National Weather Radio frequencies, so you will have constant weather forecasts and emergency alerts.
CB radios are also useful for communicating with your friends while off-roading. Since many off-road areas are remote, they can be out of cell phone range. A CB radio will keep you in constant contact with your off-road buddies regardless of how far off the grid you go.
Brian Jones spent over 30-years at various dealerships as an ASE Certified Master Tech. These days he works with those dealerships to create quality automotive content while spending more time with his family near Dallas, TX. In his spare time, you'll still find him playing with tools, cars, and many other "manly" gadgets. Brian's passions include traveling, pickup trucks, and anything related to motorsports.