Tag: radio antenna

Two-way radios: Walkie-talkie or CB?

Man standing in disaster setting, using two-way radio
Full disclosure: This image was made for me by the Artificial Intelligence program Dall-e! I asked for “disaster scene, man using hand-held radio with antenna.” Not sure how accurate the image is, but it sets the tone, doesn’t it?!

Let’s get clear about radios for emergency use.

The radios we refer to often, and describe in detail on our Emergency Radios Reviews page, are one-way radios. They can only receive messages. Today, we’re talking about CB radios and walkie-talkies, which are two-way radios. That is, with them you can both receive in-coming messages and send out your own messages. (In radio speak, that means you can receive and transmit. Combine both features into one word, and you get transceiver!)

Two-way radios are commonly used for emergency communications and, for that matter, for everyday communications in many settings. Joe and I have used two-way radios on a construction site, in a convention hall, and on road trips. Our grandchildren use them when they’re playing in the park. Nearly every day you can see news reports with first responders using two-way radios at some disaster setting.

And maybe you’ve seen the 1977 classic trucker movie, “Smokey and the Bandit,” with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field! That’s how we were all introduced to CB radios and trucker lingo. (See P.S. for some examples.)

What’s the big advantage to two-way radios?

As long as all parties are tuned to the same channel, and are within range, one person can push a button and send out a message and everyone else can hear it instantly. There’s no need to dial numbers, wait as the phone rings, repeat your message over and over again to every member of your group. Just push the transmit button, wait a second, then speak.

That’s the famous PTT or “Push to talk” feature that everyone who uses walkie-talkies is familiar with. (Some advanced models also have a voice-activated “talk” feature as well.)

So what’s the difference between CB radios and walkie-talkies?

Pretty much, it’s size and weight!

As the name suggests, a walkie talkie is compact enough to carry and use easily with one hand.  (Hence, “walk” and “talk.”) Small CB radios look and act pretty much like walkie-talkies. (Note that radio in the AI image above! It does the job of showing how convenient walkie-talkies can be.)

The classic CB radio isn’t a one-piece hand-held!

Most CB radios have two connected components – the rectangular box that is the “radio” plus the microphone, attached by a coiled cord. (Sometimes the faceplate of the radio can be removed from the actual radio itself, to make installation easier.) And there will also be an attached external antenna which would make carrying the unit even more awkward. So, a CB radio may be mobile – that is, you may be able to carry it – but it sure isn’t convenient!

Let’s look more closely at some of the differences.

Number of channels. Both CB radios and walkie-talkies have a number of channels to choose from, as assigned by the FCC. CB radios typically have 40 channels in the low frequency band. The walkie-talkie for public use has fewer channels (typically 22) in the ultra-high-frequency band.

Signal range. How far your radio will reach depends first on the amount of power of the model (.5 up to 4 watts), then on the environment through which the signal is passing. Because these radios operate on a line-of-sight, whatever interrupts that “sight” weakens the signal. Higher frequencies tend to work better when you’re transmitting in or around buildings, such as schools, hospitals, etc. Lower frequencies tend to have a wider range across countryside – sometimes carrying for miles. “It all depends.”

Power source. Both CB radios and walkie-talkies can be powered by direct current from batteries or by an AC to DC power converter. A CB radio installed in your car runs from the car battery, so it can have far more power than can be jammed into the batteries of hand-held radio. Note, however, that some walkie-talkies have a solar panel for charging batteries, making them particularly useful in off-grid or disaster scenarios.

Antenna. An antenna is important for both CB radios and walkie-talkies. Generally, the longer the antenna the better. Most walkie-talkies have stubby, built-in antennas. Only a few walkie-talkie models allow you to add an external antenna. A CB radio in your truck or car, though, can have a much longer antenna. Long whip antennas can become a hazard to garage doors and bushes!

License requirements. CB radios do not require a license. Some walkie-talkies operate on frequencies that do require a license. For more about the different levels of two-way radios and their licensing, check out this review from the Federal Communications Commission.

Cost. Both CB radios and walkie-talkies range widely in price depending on features. Simple walkie-talkies start as low as $30 for a pair; a simple CB radio set-up may cost as little as $50, but you’ll want to add an antenna, which might easily double that price.

Which two-way radio is best for emergency use?

There’s no one answer. Review your own likely needs – and your budget – to see which radio might work best for you and your group. Talk to other preppers or neighborhood emergency teams to get their input. As always, you may want to test before you make your final purchase.

For more details on walkie-talkies, check out our Walkie-Talkies Reviews page. Below, see an example of a well-regarded CB radio, available at sporting goods stores or on Amazon. As you know, we are Amazon Associates and may receive compensation if you purchase through our link.

Basic CB Radio from Uniden

This radio seems like just what you’d want for common family usage. Note that it has an instant switch for emergency channel 9. It weighs about 2 pounds, comes with mounting bracket and will need to be wired into your vehicle.  (We recommend having that done by a qualified professional, although it’s apparently not too difficult to do.) The feature that attracted me: an option for public address system. Click on the image to check for more details and pricing. (This radio was on sale when I added it to this Advisory!)

Basic antenna for CB radio

This antenna has a magnetic base, making it easy for you to mount effectively. It’s about 24 inches tall, comes with the coax cable that connects the antenna to the radio inside the vehicle.

The antenna arrives in pieces and has to be assembled. I found a helpful video on Amazon (from YouTube) to help you get it set up and installed!

Have you used a CB radio? Do you use one regularly? Have a story about how you’ve used a two-way radio in an emergency situation? Please pass along your experience!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I promised some CB trucker lingo. Recognize/remember these? Not exactly designed for emergencies, but great for listening in on!

  • Catch you on the flip flop!
  • Bear in the air!
  • Chicken truck heading your way!
  • What’s your 20?