No More CB Radios

By Kenton Andersen and Jim Swaine

For as long as we’ve been members, a CB radio has been a suggested accessory for club drives. Tour leaders and sweeps use them to keep track of progress, and members with CBs help out when the group gets split (or when they spot a barn quilt).

But CBs are old technology, and those of us who own them find we have no other use for them. Most other car clubs have abandoned CBs in favor of the newer tech: FRS and GMRS. Starting in 2024, all leads and sweeps on WCMC tours will use a FRS or GMRS radio.

What are they? FRS radios are small handheld walkie-talkies, with enough power for about ½ mile range. Our autocross events have relied on FRS for about 20 years. Basic models cost as little as $10. GMRS is FRS’s big sibling, with more range and more radio and antenna styles. They share the same channels.

What should I consider when buying a radio? First, think about the energy source. The simplest radios take replaceable batteries (AA or AAA) and should be fine for a day of listening with a few transmissions. Many handhelds have rechargeable batteries. They are usually good for a day if you remember to charge them the night before. Some can “top up” from a USB car charger. Radios designed for car mounting will take power from a cigar lighter, ensuring they are always ready for use.

Secondly, consider the form factor. A handheld radio is great for autocross and will be fine when you participate in our tours. But a car-mounted GMRS radio and antenna is the best way for leaders, sweeps, and other cars to stay in range on a tour. A GMRS handheld can go both ways: stubby antenna for walkie-talkie; switch to a car-mounted antenna for tours.

Finally, consider “wattage” and “gain”. Wattage ratings only apply to transmitting – more wattage lets you be heard by people further away. Gain comes from antenna design – and it applies to both transmitting and receiving. More gain = more range. With an FRS-only radio, wattage and gain are tightly limited by the FCC – 2 watts, 0dB gain. GMRS radios can advertise 50 watts, but we’ll be using channels 1-7, which are limited to 5 watts. Adding an antenna with 3dB gain will roughly double the range, and 6dB will quadruple it.

What about licensing? FRS is completely unlicensed. Anyone can buy one and use it right away. GMRS is licensed. You can buy a radio and listen to it without any license. But only licensed users can legally transmit on GMRS. A license costs $35 for 10 years and covers your whole family. Here’s a summary: quality2wayradios.com/store/GMRS-FCC-License.

What next? Watch the Miata Garage newsletter and this Website for radio and antenna reviews, as well as tips for installation and usage on club events. Ask Santa Claus for that “special” gift this year. And don’t be surprised if you find new radios and antennas as door prizes at our annual banquet.