The Australian CBers guide to UK CB radio
A while ago I shared a link to an article I wrote called “The UK CBers guide to Australian CB.” At the time I said I may write “The Australian CBers guide to UK CB”. Here it is. This is kinda off topic for an Aussie UHF CB group, but it does make a lot of comparisons with Aussie CB and talks about several UHF CB systems. So its not that off topic. I hope it will be of interest.
This page is for any Australian CB radio enthusiast who is visiting or relocating to the UK. It will give you an idea what to expect in British CB radio.
British CB radio is much the same as Aussie CB radio in many ways, but there are some hidden pitfalls which I will detail here so the newcomer can buy and use a radio with confidence. The main confusion is recognising the many different types and frequencies of CB radio available.
CBers are called Breakers. I don’t know why this peculiarly British name was adopted. But it has been used since the 1970s. In the 1970s and early 80s CB lingo was commonly used. Everyone had a handle and the 10 codes were used a lot. There was a lot of “10-4 Good Buddy” and “smokey in a plain wrapper” and “Kojak with a kodak” and all sorts of Americanised slang which I am quite embarrassed to admit that as a teenager I really enjoyed. But into the 1990s this slang faded away and everyone just started speaking normally. Handles were still used but they became regular nick names and were used on and off air. I gave up using a handle in the late 80s and was known by my name or occasionally by a DX club callsign.
A license was required to own and operate a CB. The cost started at UKP10 and became UKP15. There were no compulsory callsigns. In the late 90s an official government issued voluntary callsign system was started. The callsigns were the number 2, followed by a letter, then a number then two letters. ie 2A1BC. The reason these callsigns were issued was because the British Citizens Band Confederation, who were CB radios representative society told the government authority that UKs CBers wanted official compulsory callsigns just like radio hams had. This was a blatant lie as the UKs CBers wanted nothing of the sort. The BCBC were a small committee of self important egos who thought they were the gods of CB. I was a BCBC member and area rep, but I fell out with them spectacularly when I discovered they were lying to the government. The BCBC died out, literally, in the early 2000s. Callsigns and licenses were scrapped in 2006 as part of the move to bring UK CB more in line with the rest of Europe. CB is now license free. I have met very few people who ever had a license. Nobody bothered getting one. I never had one. And nobody, government authority or otherwise, cared. Most CBers didn’t know you needed one and they wouldn’t believe me if I told them.
Usage of CB has dropped off a lot. Much more than in Australia. CB is rarely used by businesses or closed groups such as campers or event organisers etc. All usage is enthusiast hobby use. Once there was a CB in almost every truck, just like it is today in Australia, but now the truckies, or lorry drivers, have given up with CB. In the 1970s and 80s there were many millions of CBers in the UK. Nobody can be sure how many but 5 million seems a low estimate. A quick scan around any car park would show CB antennas in every row of cars. Now CB contacts are often pre-arranged by email. Or left until organised weekly net nights. CBers seem to have split into two groups. 1- the real enthusiasts who are also interested in ham radio. And may also hold a ham radio license. And 2- abusive swearing people who use CB to spread their filth as far as they can. Fortunately the enthusiasts outnumber the sweary people by a very large margin. But, just as in Australia, the people who are least capable of maintaining emotional stability always have the most to say. In cities the CB will have a few people on air most of the time but in less populated areas contacts may seem rare at first. The newcomer is best to visit the Charlie Tango DX website and read the copythat CB forum, or visit the transmission1.net forum to find other groups of CBers and find out where and when the evening nets are, and where clubs and groups meet.
Let’s look at the different types of CB and how they all came about.
There are heaps of multi-channel SSB radios around. In fact so many that some people don’t even know they are not legal. You can buy them in any CB shop or on line supplier. Freebanding is so commonplace that nobody bothers hiding it. Illegal radios are on youtube, ebay and pictured on legitimate ham radio websites. 26 to 28MHz has pretty much been abandoned to the pirates and so long as you stay in that zone and don’t stray outside it you can do what you like. On the web forums the advice always given to newcomers to CB is “get a multimode rig, SSB is where everyone is”. The gap between the two bands of 40 FM channels, 27.415 to 27.590MHz has always been the unofficial SSB CB segment. 27.555MHz USB (ch12 or 52 high band) is the calling channel. There is another calling channel on 26.285MHz USB (ch19 super low band), but I’m not sure if it’s used much these days.
SSB operators tend to be a little more reserved than FM operators. Contacts can be a little less boisterous and hilarious, and you have to be more cautious calling in on an ongoing contact. The Q code is very much the lingo used here and QSK is the SSB equivalent to saying “breaker on the side”. Incidentally, do not use QSK on ham radio, they don’t like it. It’s for CB only. There are no handles used on SSB. Everyone uses an AB123 style club callsign along with the Alpha Tango international prefix system. Division 26 for England, 108 for Scotland etc. If you don’t want to make up a call and would prefer to have a recognised club callsign, go to the Charlie Tango DX website and ask to become a member. Its free and they will give you a callsign. They have thousands of members and the CT callsign gains instant credibility and is recognised country wide. I am 43CT006, when I visit my family in Scotland I’m 108/43CT006.
The primary purpose of this unofficial SSB section is working DX on the skip. Local chat always gives way to DX. In the 80s and 90s I remember local chat contacts being considered as interference. Some SSB DX chasers would be annoyed at local chat which they thought should have been happening on FM. Local nets only happened when everyone on that channel knew everyone else already. Strangers were not made to feel welcome. A general call would never be answered. But as operator numbers have diminished things have changed. Now local nets are common and the band is much more friendly. A CQ call will get a local reply if there is someone else listening, especially if the caller has a CT, AT or other known club callsign. And with the current drop in sunspot activity local chat may be all you can get some days. SSB has become an extension to FM CB.
Unlike Australia the UK is too small to fit inside the usual skip distance. In other words, skip contacts will be from another country. A good knowledge of Q codes is essential as sometimes that’s the only common language between the two ends of a contact. At one time all SSB operators had access to a post office box so they could collect QSL cards without having to give their address on air. Now there are electronic means of confirming contact a PO box is less important. On very rare occassions during high pressure weather events there can be very short skip distances or ducting. This results in CBers in the north of the country hearing CBers in the south. The SSB guys know what’s going on and use it to their advantage. But due to the rarity of this event FM CBers sometimes don’t initially realise what’s happening. This results in contacts which go like – “Where are you????…… No you’re not!”. The conditions sometimes last for just minutes. And some summers pass without it happening at all. All good fun though.
If you enjoy elaborate equipment, the best buy recently seems to be the Anytone AT5555, AT6666 or any of the similar Chinese programmable radios. The beauty of these radios is that with the computer lead you can add in the UKFM odd offset channels. So you can have the legal 80 FM channels and all the pirate SSB channels in one radio. Cobra 148GTL-DX are still very popular as they can be expanded to 240 channels with an additional eeprom board, which includes UKFM. There are a lot of more modern multi-band multi-mode 27MHz radios easily available. If you want to do more than just FM, there are a few good options to go for. Most serious SSB operators use wide banded ham radio gear. Owning stuff like this when you don’t have a ham license is not illegal like it is in Australia. It’s just an offence when you use it. And as long as you use it sensibly on 27MHz, nobody will care. In fact the authorities probably prefer 100 watts from a Kenwood than they do from a CB with a cheap Italian unfiltered amplifier.
One law that is stricter than Australia is for scanners. You can buy and own them, but you can’t listen to anything that isn’t a radio ham, a legal CB operator or a music station. All scanners supplied to the UK have a fast memory wipe feature. Remember which buttons to press and wipe the memories if you get pulled over.
27MHz legal SSB
In 2014 the UK aligned itself with Europe even further and legalised AM and SSB on the CEPT channels. Now you can buy a legal AM,FM,SSB radio which works on the CEPT 40 channels, and also has FM only on UKFM.
They finally legalised AM CB like we all wanted in 1981. 33 years too late. But they did it.
There is now regular SSB nets on legal CEPT channels, even though most people are using their Anytone or Yaesu to join in. Some groups are trying to establish calling channels for the new modes. 14 for AM and 27 for USB if memory serves me well. But I don’t know how well these are being adopted.