SandLizrd loves his readers. What a good bunch the baja fanatics are!
It's endless fun exchanging mail, ideas, and especially knowledge with the baja people out there. Periodically, someone will pose a question, or present an idea, that just can't be dealt with in any other way than a complete article. Even better, sometimes said someone will clearly be a knowledgable person in the field, and a guest article is the only way to go!
If you're a prospective writer, make sure to email the SandLizrd and we'll hash out some ideas.
In the meantime, let me say thanks to Fish for the time and trouble and the knowledge because he knows his stuff!
Here's a breakdown of the article:
What Good is One of These Things?
What Kind Should I Get?
How Far Can I Talk?
Where Can I Get My Radio Worked On?
So Why Should I get One?
What's All This Gonna Cost Me?
What About Two-Way Radios?
Have you ever been riding along with a buddy or group, and wanted to tell them something? Probably! Then you know you have to stop over somewhere and get out and tell everybody. Or, sometimes you want them to follow you somewhere, you're up there hanging your arm out the window, waving at 'em, hoping they will follow. Do you know what would be a lot easier? If you had CBs you could pick up the mike and say, "Hey guys follow me, I found this kickin' new trail last week!" Or, you might be out in front of everybody, leading the way around a corner wide open and almost fall off a durn cliff! Now, all you gotta do is pick up the mike and say, "Uh, you guys might want to slow down around this curve unless you want to fall off a cliff!" Then again, you might have taken off and left everybody in the dust and they don't know which way you went. They're thinking, "Where the @#$% did you go, did you take a left or right at that big old mudhole?" You may say, "Left or right hell, I went through the doggone thing!!!" Somebody at the back of the pack could tear up and nobody would notice for a while, leaving 'em for a long wait. If they had a radio they could tell you they were running so hard to catch up that they hit a jump and came down and blew a ball joint (dumn ball joints!) and you need to help 'em out.. Think about this one, you're out riding by yourself and you blow a trans or don't have a spare for something. What are you gonna do now? WALK!! Unless of course you have a CB, then you can find somebody to give you a hand.
If you go off-road as much as me then you should really consider getting a CB. CB stands for "citizen's band". All new radios (CBs) have access to 40 channels, and are limited to a maximum output of 4 watts by the FCC. Older radios can only acess 23 channels. If you find an old radio with only 23 channels it's no big deal and you will probably have more power than the new ones because they were made before the FCC regs were placed on the output. I'll talk more about power later.
CBs are easy to hook up. There is a red wire and a black wire. Your basic positive negative hookup.
Whenever you get a radio new it will have a fuse in the positive lead. If you find one where some yahoo has cut the fuse off don't worry about it, go to the parts store and get a 20-amp fuse holder and attach it in-line. You can get the old glass- or new spade-type fuse, it doesn't matter.
I highly recommend soldering and heat shrinking for any electrical connections! The connections will be a lot stronger than if you use crimp-type connectors. Crimp-type connectors can come loose if not properly installed. You are probably thinking, "I know how to work a pair of crimping pliers!" I am sure you do, but carless mistakes can still be made. If not crimped properly the wire can work loose and then BY GOD your power is gone! Yea, this is fixed easy enough while you're out in the woods, but why not take a few extra minutes ahead of time and save yourself some aggravation? BEFORE you solder make sure you put a piece of heat shrink on the wire, near the connection. When you are done soldering, slide the heat shrink over the soldered area and use your gun/iron or a lighter to shrink it.
You can hook your radio to a constant- or switched-power source. Mine are all constant, you just need to remember not to leave it on if you are going to be gone for a long time. I have never had any battery go dead due to a radio being left on. I have left them on for a couple of days at a time in some cases! I like constant power because you can leave your radio on after you shut the car off. This lets you listen so you can see what's going on and if anybody needs any help. External speakers can be left on while you're outside the car, too.
Coax is basically like your tv's cable wire, but has different ends. It goes from your antenna and screws into the back of your radio.
Coax comes in a lot of different lengths. A lot of people say you need to have 18' for your radio to work properly. I have used a wide variety of lengths and haven't found any differences in performance from size to size. So the best thing to do is get the length that best fits your application. In other words, why buy 18' when you only need 6', you don't need 12' of coax coiled up laying on the floor!! You can get coax from Radio Shack, Wal-Mart or K-Mart but I would get it from a CB shop. They are usually better quality, thicker and stronger, and are usually made with good braided copper and see-through sheathing.
Antennas come in 2 basic styles, steel or fiberglass. They range from 10' in length to little bitty cell-phone types. The better your antenna is, the better your radio will work. I have used both steel and fiberglass antennas, and for me, both worked about the same. On my car I have a fiberglass that's about 3'. It's made by Shakespear. On my Baja I have a 10' steel whip. I have various others too. The higher your antenna is, the bettter it will work (talk farther and receive more clearly). I don't recommend the little cell phone types, unless you only want to be able to talk about a couple hundred yards! Some antennas have their windings along the upper part of the antenna. This must be over the top of the baja or you won't transmit in that direction! This doesn't apply to steel whips.
With height comes a price, you need to remember to watch out for overhead stuff, because antennas will get snagged. Steel whips are the worst about getting snagged. They are so thin they can slide between things and the little tip on the end will get snagged! If this happens, I hope you have a strong mount, because then all this will do is rip off the little tip and no harm done, but if you don't have a strong mount then you will more than likely be putting it in reverse to go back and grab your antenna. The tip is on there to help with clarity. When removed you will be able to talk a little further without much clarity loss, if you can notice any at all. This is a main concern of guys going through the drive-through. I have never got mine hung up on anything in the woods, but I am not saying that it can't happen. You will probably find stuff wrapped around your antenna once in a while. This is not really a big deal, you just have to pull the crap off.
For off-road use I recommend a steel whip all the way. They are very flexible and strong! A fiberglass antenna WILL BREAK before it bends like a steel whip can bend! The only thing is, they are pretty durn high off the ground. If you are gonna be haulin' through the woods or anywhere where there are overhead obstacles I would recommend you tie your antenna off with some bailing twine to you front bumper or something. A steel whip will bend permanently if they hit something overhead when your haulin' and they look really goofy when they do. When you tie it off it will obviously hurt your range but it will help keep you from tearing up your antenna.
If you go off-road a lot you probably aren't obsesed with scratches and little dents, if you are you're not having enough fun. Depending on where your antenna is mounted it will probably be able to hit your vehicle in at least one spot. If you are really worried about this you can take and put a tennis ball or one of those plastic Macdonald's balls on there so that will hit the vehicle instead of the antenna. Or, you can get some clear plastic tubing and slide that over your antenna. If you don't care about looks you can go for the old garden hose. I wouldn't recommend this because it really looks like crud, and you might get in some hot water depending on whose hose you decide to "borrow"!
There are a lot of mounts available. There are corner, toolbox, bumper, mirror, magnetic, trunk, etc. There are brackets available that are drilled and pre-formed to fit pipe, so all you have to do is weld them to your bumper. You can put it just about anywhere that suits you. If you own a baja then you are probably used to fixing and making things out of metal, so you might have to make your own mount. Decide where you want to mount your antenna, then decide shape and size of mount. Your mount can be as simple as a piece of steel made into an "L" bracket with a couple of holes drilled in it.
When you have your mount set up where you want it you are ready to attach your antenna. Before you do you need to remeber one thing, your mount is now grounded through your vehicle. Your antenna CANNOT be grounded! You will need some plastic or rubber washers to put between your antenna and mount to keep it from grounding out (available from the CB shop). Trust me, your radio will work a hell of a lot better when your antenna is not grounded out!!
There are a lot of different brands of CB radio out there. I have had Johnsons, Cobras, Midlands, and a lot more. Johnsons are old radios and they work darn good. Cobras and Midlands are basically the same radio except for some slight differences in appearance. These are great radios too. I have Cobras for my stuff. That is just my preference. I would get a Cobra or Midland, very reliable. They never tear up! Unless, of course, you sink your ride and they get water logged.
Actually, I have seen a Midland go underwater and come out just fine. My friend and I were in his Jeep and were going around a pond. The Jeep lost traction and slid sideways down into the pond, we were half way up the windshield in water!! Before we went under I reached over and shut off the radio, I don't really know why but I did. It drowned out the motor, and the whole electrical system. When we went and got pulled out we dried everything out so we could crank it to get all the water out. We changed the oil and turned it over and water shot out the tailpipes about 6 feet. We got it all worked out and when we took it down the road I automatically reached an turned on the radio out of habit. Then I thought, "Oh yea it just went under water it's not gonna work". But I'll be darned if it didn't come on just like it always did!! I don't know why it still worked, but I woudn't recommend throwing your radio in the water to see if it will still work.
If you get a radio made outside the US the larger ones will have what are called sidebands. "Sidebanding" or "Freebanding" is illegal in the US, but the radios are not. "Sidebanding" is using a greater range of channels than the 40 base channels, in other words if there is a lot of radio traffic you could go to a sideband and then have a clear channel. If you acess any sidebands you will probably hear some people speaking strange languages on some and you don't know what the hell they are talking about. This is because these "side bands" are used for a lot of country-to-country communication.
Range can depend on a lot, kind of like car radio reception. You know, overcast, on a bridge, under power lines, or behind a big building or something blocking the signal. If you are in the mountains and everyone else is on the other side I wouldn't plan on getting them because your signal won't go through a mountain! With a radio with the legal 4 watts of power and a decent antenna you will have a pretty good range. When I got my new Cobra 25 I put it in my car with the 3' Shakespear and I talked to one of my friends that was about 15-20 miles out. He told me I was pushing 1 1/2 pounds on his radio. This means the meter on his radio said my signal still had a strength of 1 1/2 watts of power when it reached him. So I figure I could have talked about 3-4 more miles pretty clearly. But if you get your radio worked on you can talk a lot farther than that.
There are other ways to increase the power output of your radio. There are devices called "linears". I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO GO AND GET ONE, THEY ARE ILLEGAL!! They can boost incoming signals as well as output. You can also find your local radio shop and get your radio peaked and tuned or supertuned. Doing this means some circuits will need to be opened up, and some resistors may be put in. The "finals" will need to be worked on too. Finals are pretty much like your radio's brain. They can be worked on to a certain extent, but for a lot more power they can be replaced with a different set. All of these mods are just getting rid of the built in factory restraints required by the FCC to limit your power.
There is one instance where you might be able to talk for a thousand or more miles!! I bet you'd like that all the time wouldn't you?!! But, this comes with a price, you can't talk to any of your local CB buddies. It has something to do with the atmoshpere, your signal will bounce off the atmosphere just right and be sent hundreds or thousands of miles away as clear as if you were talking to somebody 2 miles away. This is called "skipping" or "signal skipping". This is neat, but when it happens you can't talk to your local buddies.
There will almost definitely be someone nearby to do the work for you. If you don't know of one, stop by your local truck stop and ask 'em. Or if you see somone with a radio ask them if they know of a shop, for they will, more than likely. If you order a radio, most companies will peak them out for free before they send it out. There are a lot of sites on the internet, check 'em out. You can learn a lot, too. If you're ambitious like me, and have some cash (about $20) you can get a mod book. These will give you a lot of info on how to turn up your radio and give detailed info about other good mods. To do this work you will need some good electrical working tools. Test meters, small screw drivers, soldering ability, and a basic understanding of electronic circuitry. They make a bunch of different books so you obviously want to look for the ones that include your radio. They will have others in them too. These not only give you mod info but they help you really understand how your radio works. Then you won't be like, "all I gotta do is push this button and talk then everbody can hear me, I must be magic!" They can give you some good basic knowledge.
You can't always find someone who wants to go riding so you go out in the woods, desert, or whatever alone. You get out there having fun and something tears up. Ok so what I'll fix it. That's fine, but what if you don't have a spare transmission in your backseat, or a new clutch? Well then, it looks like you're in for a long walk. But wait a minute, you remember, "Hey I took that guy's advice and bought a radio yesterday." You get on the radio and get one of your friends, then they're out there, and you're home in an hour, and ready to go out again tommorow!
The only thing you need to do is make sure somebody is watching the radio while you're gone. Let them know you're going out and if they don't hear from you later to get on the radio and see what's going on. I would set up a cheap base station in someone's shop or garage. You can get a mobile radio and use it inside as a base station with a power inverter, or buy a base station radio. Base station radios are more expensive than mobiles so if you find a deal get one, if not just use a cheap mobile. If you cannot reach one of your friends on the radio, you can probably get someone to call them and let them know to get on the radio.
I think anyone who goes off road should have one. Not only is it a good safety thing but they are a hell of a lot of fun. If you get a couple of guys out there riding you can talk back and forth and let each other know what's going on, and laugh at 'em when they do something stupid like get stuck!
You can go for a wide range of combinations and prices. If you go to the flea market you can probably find a whole setup from radio to antenna for less than $50. This is obviously the low end of the scale, but there isn't a durn thing wrong with a cheap radio. You can get a radio "turned up" for anywhere from $20-50. It depends on how much power you want and what kind of radio you have. Some are more involved than others. You can get a steel whip antenna for $15-20, or a 3' Shakspear for about $15. Make your own mount out of some scrap, or buy one for less than $10. Get some coax $10-15 depending on length. These are prices that I can get the stuff for. I would prefer to get all my stuff from a CB shop rather than a retail store. They really know what they are talking about and will have stuff they know works and works good! They specialize in this and this alone, Wal-Mart and them can't say that.
2 way radios come in FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Radio Mobile Services) varieties. These are just glorified walkie-talkies (but you can get mobile units like CBs too). Just like the things you played with when you were a kid, or what your kids are playing with now depending on your age.
These things operate on 14 channels. These channels are different frequencies from CB channels. Dealers advertise 532 channels, THIS IS BULL! What it really is, is each channel has a set of 38 tones that combine to create an encoded signal. Each signal can use a different set of tones to make that signal unique. All this means is you've got 14 channels, regardless!!
The FRS radios are very compact and handheld. They have a max output of 1/2 watt. This in conjunction with their little antenna pretty much means they suck for range! You have a range of about 2 miles max. You can get a set of FRS radios capable of talking on 2 channels for about $100. As you move up in features your price will more than double. You can get scanning, memory, and signal scrambling capabilitites, to name a few. The GMRS radios are basically the same except for power, and needing a license to operate. They are allowed 5 watts of power. So, they can probably get about 5 miles range. Again, because of a little antenna. GMRS radios are about double what FRS are.
Two-ways are just like what cops, ambulance, and fire departments use. Yea, these are good for certain applications, like if you have a good bit of acreage and you want to be able to talk to you mom, dad, brother, kids, or whoever might be out there, or if you have a small business where you go out on calls a lot around town. I'll let you make up your mind about these, but you know I'm gonna throw in my 2 cents! Ok my take on two-ways, THEY SUCK FOR OFF ROAD USE!! If you're only out 2-5 miles your not having enough fun to begin with so maybe you would like one of these. But, when you like to go way out there you want to be sure you can reach somebody in town if you have a problem. And they just aren't as much fun as a CB with a couple of good toys in it and a PA.
This has all just scratched the surface. You can check out some books or sites on the internet to get more details. There are a lot of mods that can be performed on radios to make them fit your needs. You can get "toys" (sound modules that play sound effects or say certain things when you let off the mic key) put in. You can get echo on them, some higher end radios come with it. You can mount a small neon light on your antenna and when you "key up" (push the mic button) it will light up, this is really neat at night when all your lights are off. People see that little light come on and they are like what the @#$%?! I would recommend that you get an external speaker, too. These are about $15-20 new. They will plug into the back of your radio and give you a lot better sound. This is because you are going from a little 2- or 3-inch speaker a half an inch deep to one twice as big. If you are like me and have a stinger pipe and make a lot of noise you will really appreciate one of these! If you really want to have fun and play like the COPS you can get an external speaker or a PA speaker. The PA speaker is better, they are usually all water proof and all that good stuff, but the external speaker will work. You plug this into the PA output in the back of your radio. You can mount them under your hood, on your roof, or wherever you want them. You can really have a lot of fun with these. You know you could like hide just around the bend or something and when your buddies stop you can holler out "this is the (whatever state you're in) off road destruction patrol, step away from your vehicles and put your hands in the air!" BE CREATIVE!! but don't get shot.
CBs are a lot of fun and can really help you out when you have a real problem. I am not a CB salesman, or a pro repairman. I'm just a guy like you who loves bajas, buggies, going off road, and belives in the CB!
Good luck, and keep off the beaten path as much as possible!!!!
Wanna talk about it?!
Or, if you want the source of the info,