There has always been a long-fought feud between CB radio vs. Ham radio users and even though the technology used is considered ancient compared to modern standards, their user base remains passionate about the hobby. They are even more than willing to get physical in defense of their choice of system.
If you ask CB users why they don’t like the Ham radio users, you will get dozens of different answers. If you ask the same question to the other group, you will get dozens more. This article will somewhat shed light into this feud between these two groups of radio operators.
What is the Citizens’ Band Radio?
If you are not familiar with the intricacies of CB radio, the information you will learn from now on will not only be new but can also be useful down the road. The Citizens’ Band (CB) radio gained its popularity in the 1970s. Since then, people all over the world have used it as a cheap yet excellent form of communication.
Until now, the CB radio is most likely to be the most common radio that amateurs and hobbyists use. There are a couple of reasons why the CB radio endures to this day. Most CB radio models do not have any form of memory storage. This means it will not go back to the last channel used when it is turned off and on again.
In other words, when you turn it on, it will automatically be on the emergency channel. This will allow you to have immediate access to emergency services without fiddling with the device. On the other hand, this also means that you have to set it back to your favorite radio channel every time you turn the radio on.
It might seem like a hassle but it is for your safety that the CB radio defaults to the other channels. Another reason is that CB radio units are ergonomic. You do not need to hold the radio mic in your hands. You can just hang it on the panel where it is within easy reach.
CB radios are also compact, which is why you can easily install it in your car without worrying about it taking that much room. Furthermore, CB radios have convenient LED backlights, huge buttons, and more. To use a CB radio properly, you will need an external powered speaker and an auxiliary microphone.
You can also use external headsets. Most CB radios available these days come with a side-band (SSB) feature. This is convenient because it will allow the radio to use more power (up to 14w) to provide you with a wider range.
If you want and can afford it, you can get a CB radio that has a police scanner function. In some states, it is illegal to own a police scanner but this law is rarely enforced nowadays.
How About Ham Radio?
Ham radios have been around longer than the CB radios. They became popular since the end of the 19th century and they even saw action during the First World War. Before 2005, getting a ham radio operator license is quite hard. You had to know about ham lingo and Q-code before you can get your license.
However, after 2005, it is no longer a requirement to know Morse code to get a license. Speaking of the license, it is now easier to get one than ever. Ham radio still has a lot of fans nowadays. It is mainly because this is the most convenient way to connect with other people.
This is true regardless if you are on the road or not, in bad weather, when the power lines are all knocked down, and if you cannot contact emergency services. If you are a prepper, having a ham radio will give you the upper hand when the SHTF.
Ham radio is very portable. However, regardless of their forms, you will find that they all have similar characteristics. Many people have the misconception that ham radio is much more expensive than CB radio, especially the portable models.
Ham radios have very small built-in speakers (CB radios also have this problem) that are not nearly loud enough for daily use. This might require you to use an external headset or something like that to use the radio properly.
Ham radio has a couple of useful features that are lacking in CB radios and one of them is the automatic packet reporting system (APRS). This is a nifty feature because it turns the Ham radio into a GPS navigation system. Many ham radio models even have a GPS tracking feature that can also save travel logs on an SD card.
This is like having a GPRS tracking device on your car. If someone tries to steal your car, you can find its location easily. Another modern addition to ham radios these days is that newer models now have digital support. This makes transmission and reception much clearer than ever before.
Unlike CB radios, ham radios have 2 radio modules built-in, but what does this mean for you, the user? When you use a CB radio, you can only communicate in one channel at a time. With ham radio, you can chat on one channel and still eavesdrop on other channels.
Finally, ham radio has a longer radio spectrum and is more powerful. It requires a government-issued license to legally operate, repair, and build.
CB vs. Ham Radio
If you have made it this far, then you might have formed some opinions on the differences between these two forms of radio but you have barely scratched the surface. The differences between CB and ham radio are quite significant. With the CB radio, you can only use one band at a time but it is possible to do so without a license.
On the other hand, with ham radio, you can get the full experience of using a 2-way radio but you will need a license to do so. Here are some of the things that you need to take into consideration:
The simple explanation is that CB radio does not require the user to have a government-issued license. However, having a license just proves that you know more about radio operation and you can also do more.
The Citizens’ band radio can only access one band at a time while ham radio has several to choose from. This does not mean that CB radios are not as useful because you can switch between 20 different bands.
The differences will become more significant here. What will help you decide is the specific purpose you intend it to do. This means that you will decide on the radio to buy depending on what you will be using it for.
CB radios are great ways of making local calls. You can also use one to monitor the local traffic situation while driving. Ham radio is different because it can transmit and receive signals from far and wide, so you are not just limited to local communications.
Most people do not know that ham radio does not use channels. What does it use? Just frequency ranges. CB radio wins this round because out of the bag, you already have access to 20 to 40 channels depending on your radio’s make and model.
You can kick this number up a notch by using a CB SSB to your radio. This will increase the number of channels to 120.
CB and ham radios have different modulation methods. CB radio only has AM and SSB modulation. On the other hand, ham radio uses AM, SSB, FM, and RTTY modulation.
The government regulates the use of ham radio because of its power. With most models having a power range of up 1500 watts, ham radios are around 400 times more powerful than the most powerful CB radio.
Honestly speaking though, even though there are 1500 watt ham radios, most hobbyists only use ham radio kits that have a power of 50 watts and nothing more. Yes, CB radio consumes less energy and ham radios are quite powerful.
However, if you consider the fact that CB radios are for general use and need to be portable, the fact that it is not that powerful is a boon. Furthermore, ham radios need more power because they can transmit to a wider range, which is why they are also called amateur radios.
There are no clear winners when it comes to the CB radio vs. ham radio debacle. One thing is for sure, you need to first determine what you are planning to use the radio for. The CB radio is great for outdoor use, for quick updating on what is going on currently.
If you want to operate your small radio station, you can make use of the ham radio. Just remember that you need to procure a license to operate a ham radio but you do not need such when you want to use a CB radio.
Richard Pennington is the one to consult when you need professional insight into electronics. With over a decade of experience in the field of electronics and communication engineering, he now serves as our chief content editor.
He is an advisor for multiple articles and videos with topics revolving around ham radios, electronics devices, and communication.