Breaker, Breaker: CBs and Ham Radios

I am looking to get a CB or ham radio for my Jeep. What do I need to know?

A: Many Jeepers ask me about citizen band (CB) and ham (a.k.a. “amateur”) radios, and I always answer them with this question: What do you need to communicate to those listening, and do you want them to hear you?

Let’s be real: You can probably shout to fellow off-roaders and they’ll have a better chance of hearing you than they would over all the noise on the CB bands. It’s not regulated or monitored by anyone. It’s a free-for-all, and only those with the most illegal power are heard.

CBs are the dinosaurs of the communication industry. They’re cheap, and no license is required, so anyone can have one. But they are not as popular as they were in the ’70s, when “Smokey and the Bandit” came out and every high school student received a CB radio as a graduation gift. Today, even truck drivers are using cell phones more often. The CB is most useful when you’re outside a coverage area or in an electrical power outage or some other emergency in which cell phones don’t work.

As far as I’m concerned, if I’m installing communication equipment on my vehicle, I want to be heard, period. If I need help in an emergency or want to warn someone about a dangerous situation, I want to be heard. Even if I’m chit-chatting with anyone over the airwaves, I want to be clearly understood.

Nuts and Bolts

Joseph Ruiz is the founder and commander of Florida Wilderness Search & Rescue C.E.R.T. and an experience off-roader. He advises Jeepers seeking an emergency radio to look for mobile units that connect with CB and ham (or “amateur”) radio bands, noting that an FCC license is required to operate a ham radio.

For that reason, I’m partial to ham radios. You get more power and the capacity to connect with repeaters, amplifying your signal up to an 80-mile radius. In some cases, repeaters are linked with each other, giving you statewide coverage. Most importantly, if you seriously need help, you’re more likely to get it there than on a CB. Look for a mobile unit than can connect you with CB and ham radio bands for the most comprehensive coverage.

The only catch is that you must have an FCC technician license to operate a ham radio. Quite honestly, it’s not difficult at all to get. Visit or ask any Jeeper who has been through the process.