The 5 Best Handheld CB Radios
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in October of 2016. Although communications technology has advanced considerably, there are still plenty of people who value CB radios for both entertainment and vital information. These handheld models are ideal for truckers and those who travel by car frequently, and can provide access to NOAA weather channels for emergency updates. We've ranked them here by their range, clarity, and special features. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 12, 2020:
We sent the Cobra HH 38 WX packing, as the company has stopped its manufacture, likely related to the consistent problems it had with transmission range. We replaced that with the Uniden Pro501HH Professional Series, which offers the ability to charge any rechargeable Ni-MH batteries without having to remove them from the radio, so you can keep it up and running while you're on the road with its included car adapter.
Ultimately, few models in this category are going to be able to support a significant amount of range, simply because their maximum wattage is regulated. But there are ways around that, as with the use of external antennas or, if you find yourself more stationary, a more powerful and less portable CB radio. The Cobra HHRT50 Road Trip is a smart choice in the former instance, as its antenna is actually designed with a magnetic mount, making it particularly useful for anyone taking their radio on the road, as it can easily be mounted on most cars and trucks, and will help your radio reach farther more clearly.
May 10, 2019:
While there are a few new additions to the marketplace that flirt with CB frequencies, most of these couldn't be classified purely as CB radios, and were not included in our list, hence the relatively small number of options. We even went so far as to include the Cobra C75 at number five, even though some might argue that it doesn't quite fit the strictest definition of a handheld unit. Some might argue that a handheld radio should be portable, while this is more of a console-style radio with the bulk of its electronics built in, and if you try to take it with you when you leave your car, it simply won't function. It's our opinion, however, that since all of those electronic components fit in your hand, the handheld classification still holds up, regardless of portability.
We do have one newcomer to the list, a very nice model from Cobra that's actually taken our top spot. It boasts a highly legible backlit display, and comes with an easy-to-mount antenna to amplify its signal in your car or truck.
A Brief History Of CB Radios
Many boaters also used CBs instead of the pricier VHF-Maritime radios, and the Coast Guard generated some controversy by listening in with CBs of their own.
If you've ever spent any time around truckers, then you're already familiar with the wonder that is CB radio. Short for citizen's band, the CB is the perfect way to keep your finger on the the pulse of the freeway, as well as give you a heads-up on important bulletins like emergency updates.
Invented in 1945 by walkie-talkie creator Al Gross, the CB radio was intended to give blue collar workers the ability to communicate with one another while on the job site. Advancements in electronics quickly made owning a CB feasible for the average American, but it wasn't until the 1970s that the medium would hit its stride.
When the oil crisis hit in 1973, the entire nation took action to preserve fuel. This included the creation of the 55-mph speed limit, as well as fuel rationing. Naturally, this had a huge impact on the trucking industry, as drivers were paid on their ability to cover lots of ground and do so quickly.
Furious, truckers took it upon themselves to fight back, using their CBs to organize blockades and convoys. They also used their radios to warn others of speed traps, as well as to alert them of the best places on the road to rest and refuel. This spawned an entire outlaw subculture, with movies like Smokey and the Bandit and TV shows like The Dukes of Hazzard capitalizing on the CB craze.
Celebrities like Mel Blanc and political figures like Betty Ford even got in on the action. While they publicized their involvement with the airwaves, many others used the anonymity afforded them by the radio to indulge their baser impulses.
Many boaters also used CBs instead of the pricier VHF-Maritime radios, and the Coast Guard generated some controversy by listening in with CBs of their own. They eventually stopped doing so in the 1980s, but CBs were already losing popularity by that time.
Today, due to the popularity of cell phones and mobile devices with internet access, the CB has largely fallen out of favor outside with the trucking industry. Still, when you're on a long road trip, there's no better way to find out where the smokies are hiding — and you never know what kind of people you might meet along the way.
Benefits Of Owning A CB Radio
While many of the traditional uses for CBs have been usurped by other technologies, it's still reassuring to have a one on your dash or tucked away in your home. Smartphones, tablets, and other devices are great, but they've also caused many of us to become over-reliant on them. Many people would be unprepared for an emergency situation in remote areas where cell service isn't available, or after a disaster in which networks were down.
Plus, you won't have to worry about getting pulled over and having to pay an expensive ticket for talking on a CB.
What's more, CBs can also give you information that's even more up-to-date than you'll find on the internet. No one knows the current status of the road you're on more than a fellow motorist who has already traveled it, and truckers can be excellent sources of intel about hazards and weather conditions.
If you spend a lot of time behind the wheel, using a one-touch radio is also significantly safer than looking down at a phone to get information. Plus, you won't have to worry about getting pulled over and having to pay an expensive ticket for talking on a CB.
These radios aren't just for car use, either. If you live in an area that's prone to natural disasters, a CB can be your only connection to first responders in the aftermath. It also has the benefit of putting you in contact with those who are in the closest proximity to your position, ensuring that you get matched up with someone who is able to offer immediate help.
Ultimately, CBs are like jumper cables: you'll be extremely glad you have them when you need them, and you should be extremely cautious around anyone who breaks them out on a first date.
Tips For Using Your CB Like A Pro
If you've never used a CB before, it can be a little intimidating at first. After all, users have their own lingo, which sounds like English, but is nearly indecipherable to newcomers. Once you get the hang of it, however, you'll quickly find that you can meet some very interesting people over the airwaves. The guide below can help get you up to speed in a hurry.
Most channels are open to all communication, but do your research before you jump in and start chattering away.
The first thing you need to realize is that only one person can talk at a time. That's why you'll hear users end statements with "over," in order to signify that their transmission is complete and it's the other person's turn to talk. Be sure you wait until the other party lets you know they're done talking before you butt in, as interrupting is as rude over the airwaves as it is in person.
Also, understand that there are 40 channels you can use, and many of them have particular designations. For example, channel 9 is reserved for emergency broadcasts, while others are limited to north/south or east/west traffic. Most channels are open to all communication, but do your research before you jump in and start chattering away.
If you get confused by the vernacular, you can look around on the internet for CB glossaries. There's quite a bit to digest, but with practice, you'll pick it up quickly. You'll also want to come up with your own handle, which is the name you'll use to communicate over the airwaves.