CB radio in the United Kingdom

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Citizens Band radio (often shortened to CB radio) is a system of short-distance radio communications between individuals on a selection of 40 channels within the 27-MHz (11 m) band. In the United Kingdom, C.B. radio was first legally introduced in 1981, but had been used illegally for some years prior.

In December 2006, C.B. radio was deregulated by Ofcom and it is now licence free. Although the use of C.B. radios in the UK has declined from its peak,[1] it is still popular, especially with the farming community, Land Rover owners and Mini-Cab services. It is also fitted as standard to 'Street Glide' and 'Electra Glide' models of Harley Davidson touring motorcycles sold in the UK.[2]


C.B. Radio was first introduced into the United Kingdom around 1972. Early use was known around the airports in the UK, particularly Stansted in 1973. As citizens band radio has been advertised in the US since before 1962,[3] it is possible that a number of these radios were brought into the UK and used illegally.[4] In the period 1976–1978, C.B. radio in Britain was much popularised by novelty hit songs[5] and its use in the film Convoy and the usage of illegal C.B. radio peaked in 1980. Companies in Britain sold US equipment quite openly, and equipment was readily available in car accessory shops. During this time, a great many C.B. clubs emerged in the UK and they became centres of protest in the march towards legalisation, in the hope that existing equipment could be used legally. In response to this, the government commissioned a white paper proposing a C.B. service called "Open Channel" around 860 MHz.

The big problem for the UK was that the 27Mhz band was already licensed legally to radio control model aircraft users. They were paying for a license to use the band, and interference resulted in loss of control of the aircraft. Many expensive models were written off, and the safety implications were obvious, but there was no practical way to police a separation, and the government did not rate the protection of model flying as an important issue.

The UK Government eventually legalised C.B. Radio, and on 2 November 1981 a C.B. service was introduced on a frequency band and offset that is incompatible with the imported American radios. At the same time the ownership of non-UK approved 27 MHz transceivers was made illegal except for those obtained by UK radio amateurs holding a UK "A" (HF) licence, for conversion to the 28 MHz (10-metre) amateur allocation. Given that virtually all illegal C.B. radios were contraband, this concession required the licensed amateur to pay outstanding import duty and VAT. A licence to operate these new radios became compulsory, and this could be purchased from most Post Office counters for £15. Unlike that required to qualify for a radio amateur licence, no proof of technical competence was needed. As of 8 December 2006, a licence is no longer required to own or operate a C.B. Radio providing it complies with one of the 3 type approval conditions currently permitted by Ofcom:[6] FM only, 4 watts power output and operating on either or both UK and CEPT (EU) 27 MHz bands only.

In the early stages of the run up to the final legislation, most of the pro-C.B. lobby wanted the government to legislate around the US standard C.B. system, primarily due to the large user base that already existed. The UK government made it clear from the outset that legislation for use of this equipment would be unlikely. Interference problems associated with badly calibrated amplitude modulated (AM) or Single Side Band (SSB) equipment were cited as the main factor,[7] and it was made clear that if any system was legalised it would be frequency modulated (FM). The C.B. lobby argued that interference from AM was unlikely to occur from the use of original unmodifed AM radio equipment, a view initially rejected but later accepted by the Ministry of Defence.[8] Many active and potential users continued in their insistence on a 27 MHz system, although for a locally available Citizen's Band system, the 27 MHz concept was not universally endorsed.

The government initially proposed a FM system on a 928 MHz band with an RF Input power not exceeding 500 mW. This was unacceptable to the C.B. lobby partly because the low power would give a short range but mainly because the cost of equipment to operate in this band would be prohibitive.

The more knowledgeable C.B. enthusiasts made a counter proposal to use a frequency around 220 MHz. This was immediately dismissed by the government who pointed out that it was a reserved military frequency band.[9] It was subsequently discovered that the frequency had been unused since the Second World War. The government initially refused to relent and continued their insistence on legalising the 928 MHz band. The C.B. lobby continued to insist that any C.B. system had to use the 27 MHz band, be AM and a maximum output power of 4 watts (i.e. the US system).

Ultimately, the government hinted that they were going to give in to the C.B. lobby but, as it turned out, only up to a point. C.B. was eventually legalised on a 27 MHz band but not the band used in the US. Whereas the US used a band occupying the range 26.965 to 27.405 MHz, the UK system was to operate on 27.60125 to 27.99125 MHz. These awkward frequencies would prevent illegal US sets from being modified outside of the type approval system, though it was possible to have existing A.M. radios modified to comply with the new F.M. standard.[10] The choice of frequency would also give the UK electronics industry a head start in the production of unique UK only radios. The system was FM as expected, but one initial surprise was that the power limit was set at 4 watts. The surprise was short lived when it was realised that antenna restrictions would limit the real radiated power to little more than a 500 mW system. A further restriction on power applied if the antenna was elevated by more than 7 metres from the ground. The antenna restrictions were largely ignored and, in the main, unpoliced.

The government of the day had hoped that UK based manufacturers would be able to compete on a level playing field with foreign (notably Japanese) manufacturers for a share of the potential market. As it happened: the awkward choice of frequencies conspired against this ideal. The frequencies were such that, initially, only one manufacturer in Japan had the capability of producing the frequency synthesiser chips capable of producing the transmission frequencies and the local oscillator signals for use in receive mode. This manufacturer, not surprisingly, refused to supply any UK based manufacturer while it was attempting to keep Japanese manufacturers supplied. In the event, the UK market saturated within a few months and many Japanese manufacturers and UK importers were left with vast amounts of unwanted stock. Within a year of the introduction of C.B. to the UK, C.B. radio sets were being given away free with some purchase or other by many of the major retailers.

In addition 20 channels in the 934 MHz band were also legalised, but equipment was considerably more expensive than the well established 27 MHz sets. At first the range was limited, but as antenna restrictions were lifted and better equipment started to appear, the number of UHF C.B. operators grew. In 1988, it was announced that the manufacture of 934 MHz equipment would be prohibited, though the use of existing equipment would remain legal. Its use largely confined to enthusiasts and amateur radio operators, the type approval specification for this band was finally withdrawn on 1 January 1999 and it is now illegal to use this equipment in the UK.

An additional frequency band was introduced on 1 September 1987 giving a further 40 channels in the CEPT Band,(26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz) also some antenna restrictions were lifted, over the past few years all antenna restrictions have been removed and planning constraints now restrict antenna size rather than regulatory compliance. It is not permitted to add the CEPT channels to existing 27/81 equipment, the only radios permitted to operate on this band are purpose made 80 channel or CEPT only sets.

Associations and groups[edit]

Countless C.B. related clubs and groups have existed over the years, including some more notable organisations:

  • NATCOLCIBAR (NATional COmmittee for the Legalisation of CItizens BAnd Radio)
  • REACT UK (Radio Emergency Associate Communications Team – later changed to Radio Emergency And Citizens Teams)
  • MSGB (Monitoring Services of Great Britain)
  • THAMES (Traffic Help And Monitoring Emergency Service)
  • REVCOM (Radio Emergency Volunteer Communications)


The National Committee for the Legalisation Of Citizens' Band Radio was a pro C.B. lobby consisting of interested parties and (at one point) up to 60 members of Parliament.[11]


REACT UK was formed in 1982,[12] under licence from REACT INTERNATIONAL in the United States, its teams were located across the UK. It was noted for its members signing on and off monitoring on Channel 9. REACT UK also provided members equipped with mobiles and handheld to provide radio coverage for marathons, fun runs, county shows – it also obtained a Private Mobile Radio (PMR) licence so its members had a secure private radio channel.

The national committee of REACT UK was beset by scandals and arguments from about 1986, and the National Communications secretary was arrested and charged with financial irregularities with regards to receipts from PMR licences. REACT UK members decided to split following much in-fighting in the national committee, and in 1986 many became affiliated directly with REACT International.[12] Some REACT units provided search volunteers to assist the police with searching for missing persons (something that still occurs today with ALSAR and RAYNET albeit without C.B. radios).

From 2007 there was only one REACT International team based in Britain, operating under the name of REACT UK Dundee.[13] Some teams became overseas members of REACT International whilst others chose to join splinter group REVCOM (Radio Emergency Volunteer Communications).


MSGB Although the name suggested operating in Great Britain, but it actually operated throughout the United Kingdom, incorporating the region of Northern Ireland. Also there was members but not teams in the Channel Islands


THAMES mainly operated in the south of England, especially around east and north London, and provided similar services to REACT.

A perceived heavy-handed attitude by the bigger organisations caused a number of smaller groups to be formed in response. In 1983 the majority of THAMES in Greater London was reformed into the Association of Independent Monitors (AIM).


Another group originally formed with the use of C.B. radio in mind are REVCOM, though this group no longer uses the C.B. service.[14]

Methods of transmission[edit]

The originally imported equipment used AM amplitude modulation and SSB single sideband modulation modes of transmission.

The UK channels that were legalised on 2 November 1981 were on two blocks of frequencies: 40 channels on the 27 MHz band and 20 channels on the 934 MHz band, both of which used FM (frequency modulation) and both unique to the UK. The 27 MHz band frequency allocation and related information is shown here. In 1987 40 additional frequencies were added, which were ironically the same as the US allocation – but again using FM. This additional band is often referred to as the CEPT or EU band. As with the original 40 channels, this band is affected by the same atmospheric characteristics, especially towards the maxima of the 11-year sunspot cycle.

The (formerly) illegal SSB mode has its enthusiasts and adopted a different style of call-sign (instead of a 'handle') in the manner of radio amateurs.

CB clubs may issue call signs for their members. One scheme uses a numerical country or region prefix, two letters, and a membership number. For example, a prefix of "26" for England, club initials CT and a membship number 100 would be "Twenty Six Charlie Tango One Zero Zero" when used on air, using phonetic alphabet to clarify the sound of the letters.[15]

UK C.B. Radio Channels (Ofcom)
Channel Frequency Channel Frequency Channel Frequency Channel Frequency
1 27.60125 MHz 11 27.70125 MHz 21 27.80125 MHz 31 27.90125 MHz
2 27.61125 MHz 12 27.71125 MHz 22 27.81125 MHz 32 27.91125 MHz
3 27.62125 MHz 13 27.72125 MHz 23 27.82125 MHz 33 27.92125 MHz
4 27.63125 MHz 14 27.73125 MHz 24 27.83125 MHz 34 27.93125 MHz
5 27.64125 MHz 15 27.74125 MHz 25 27.84125 MHz 35 27.94125 MHz
6 27.65125 MHz 16 27.75125 MHz 26 27.85125 MHz 36 27.95125 MHz
7 27.66125 MHz 17 27.76125 MHz 27 27.86125 MHz 37 27.96125 MHz
8 27.67125 MHz 18 27.77125 MHz 28 27.87125 MHz 38 27.97125 MHz
9 27.68125 MHz 19 27.78125 MHz 29 27.88125 MHz 39 27.98125 MHz
10 27.69125 MHz 20 27.79125 MHz 30 27.89125 MHz 40 27.99125 MHz

Three channels have been unofficially recognised for specific uses within the UK, though the arrangement has no legal standing:

  • Channel 9: The emergency calling channel. There is no 24 hour monitoring service in the UK, but local CB users may be listening.
  • Channel 14: Calling channel
  • Channel 19: Truckers' channel and secondary calling channel

C.B. users may use the phonetic alphabet and ten-codes.

UHF CB[edit]

The first steps towards creating UHF CB a licence-free short range radio communications were taken in April 1997 when the European Radio Communications Committee decided on a 446 MHz frequency band to be used for the new radios. In November 1998, ERC Decision (98)25 allocated frequency band 446.0-446.1 MHz for analogue PMR446; another two decisions established licence exemption for PMR446 equipment and free circulation of the PMR446 equipment. The first country which introduced these frequencies for licence-free use was Ireland on 1 April 1998. The United Kingdom introduced PMR446 service in April 1999; since 2003, it has replaced the former short-range business radio (SRBR) service. Although not officially named as Citizens Band radio, users in the United Kingdom have considered it as low power UHF CB radio

In October 2005, ECC Decision (05)02 added unlicensed band 446.1–446.2 MHz for use by digital DMR/dPMR equipment.

In July 2015, ECC Decision (15)05 doubled the number of analog channels to 16 by extending analog operation onto the 446.1–446.2 MHz band previously used by digital DMR/dPMR equipment, effective January 2016; from January 2018, the number of digital channels will also be doubled by extending onto the 446.0–446.1 MHz band used by analog FM.

The C.B. craze and legalisation[edit]

The new system was taken up enthusiastically by all those who had held back using an illegal system, and it was one of the biggest selling gifts for Christmas in 1981. The system suffered from many nuisance users who denied the use of the recognised calling channels to other users by transmitting a blank carrier and/or music. With the fight won, albeit with a considerable compromise and particularly with the many nuisance users, interest rapidly waned, the C.B. clubs gradually dwindled in membership, many disappearing altogether within a year or so.[1]


There are some notable anti-social aspects to the hobby. It is possible to increase power output to very high levels using power amplifiers, and in some cases this can cause interference to and affect the operation of other equipment such as television and radio, and also to other CB radio users.[8]

The band used for C.B. was already allocated in the UK to radio controlled models. While this was usually little more than a frustrating and expensive nuisance for boat and car modellers, it did pose a genuine danger for aircraft models, which can kill[16] or seriously injure. As a result of the C.B. craze, an alternative band of 35 MHz.[17] was offered to modellers, to use which they would have to buy new equipment. Their old equipment could still be used if they wished to risk it, and 27Mhz remains legal for remote control to this day. Many cheap toys and household remote control equipment also use the frequency, adding to the interference and lack of reliability which is still a feature of this band.

C.B. Terminology[edit]

There is a diverse vocabulary associated with the hobby, many words and phrases having been copied from the original American service. Few of these words are used in general conversation in the UK, and they serve equally as a reminder of the hobbies' American origins. An extensive list of such words and their associated definitions can be found here.


Not to be confused with fox hunting

A fox hunt is a direction finding activity using cars and vans fitted with C.B. radios. The objective of this activity is to use a signal strength meter to triangulate or otherwise locate a hidden transmitter, or "fox".


QSL'ing is the exchange of contact confirmation reports, adapted from Q codes used by the military and amateur radio. Amateur radio operators would often follow up contacts around the world by sending specially printed qsl cards. This was adapted by C.B.'ers and colourful cards featuring 'handles', pictures and so on appeared.

Fall from popularity[edit]

From the inception of legalised C.B. radio, there has been much abuse of the system, with frequent complaints that C.B. radio was not policed properly in spite of the licence revenues.

C.B. channels still remained busy in many areas, despite mobile phones becoming increasingly common and feature rich. Many of the original advantages of mobile C.B. have been surpassed by the development of mobile internet access, satellite navigation systems, and the proliferation of other instant communication technologies such as text messaging.

The introduction of a new licence free handheld PMR 446 radio service has provided much of the features of traditional C.B., in a small handheld format. This service is not directly comparable with C.B, as PMR446 was intended to provide a short range service.[18]

Changes to the U.K's amateur radio licensing system mean that it is now possible for people under the age of 14, and anyone else, to gain legal access to most of the UK amateur frequency allocation with only basic technical knowledge.[19]

Licence free C.B. brings rise in popularity[edit]

As of 8 December 2006, C.B. Radio now joins PMR446, LPD433 and SRD860 under the category of licence-free personal communications.

In June 2011, the EU announced another change in technical specifications for C.B. use which, if implemented, would introduce a type approval for both AM and SSB operation. The introduction was originally delayed by the 2012 Olympics, and was scheduled to take effect in 2014.[20]

SSB and AM legalisation[edit]

Following most other European countries, Ofcom proposed to adopt European Communication Committee Decision (11)031 in October 2013.[21] This would permit the use of Single Sideband and AM operation on the CEPT CB radio band,[22] and Ofcom proceeded with legislation to this effect on 27 June 2014.[23]

The new AM/SSB legislation only permits the use of new and approved sets, not 'legacy' multimode sets.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Finlo Rohrer (14 August 2006), Over and out?, BBC News Magazine, retrieved 28 December 2011 
  2. ^ Touring Street Glide® | Motorcycle Touring | Harley-Davidson UK
  3. ^ American Radio Relay League, QST, Volume XLV, 1961, February, p111.
  4. ^ Norman McLeod MPs put a final-twenty on CB, New Scientist, 12 July 1979 pages 92–95
  5. ^ Novelty songs praising CB in 1975/1976 were:
  6. ^ Citizen's Band Radio Information Sheet Ofcom website. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  7. ^ Chippindale, P. (1981, p74) The British CB Book, London: Kona Publications. ISBN 0907684009
  8. ^ a b Town, R. (September 1981) Strike Command Condemns CB. CB World. Volume 1. Number 7. p6.
  9. ^ Nichols, R. (1995, p20): The Complete CB Radio, London: W.H. Allen & Co. ISBN 0352310146
  10. ^ Town, R. (September 1981) Medics Need Their Ears On. CB World. Volume 1. Number 7. p23.
  11. ^ Nichols, R. (1995, p25): The Complete CB Radio, London: W.H. Allen & Co. ISBN 0352310146
  12. ^ a b O'Mayes, R. (July 1987). 25 Years of REACT History. the REACTer. Volume 21. Issue 4. p5.
  13. ^ REACT UK Water Rescue Team REACT UK Water Rescue Team website. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  14. ^ Introduction To REVCOM REVCOM website. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  15. ^ A full list of CB club country prefix numbers can be found here http://www.cbradiouk.com/division-codes/
  16. ^ BBC News | UK | Model Plane Death 'an accident' BBC News website. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  17. ^ UK Radio Control Council -UKRCC- 35 Mhz Frequencies United Kingdom Radio Control Council website. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  18. ^ RA357 – PMR 446 Information Sheet Ofcom website. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  19. ^ The Foundation Licence – Radio Society of Great Britain Radio Society of Great Britain Ltd website. Retrieved 4 September 2015
  20. ^ Ofcom | ECC Decision on AM SSB Apparatus Ofcom website. Retrieved 10 April 2013
  21. ^ European Communications Office | ECC Decision Document European Radio Office website. Retrieved 28 April 2015
  22. ^ http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/citizens-band-radio/summary/citizen-band-radio.pdf
  23. ^ Confirmation of Ofcom's decision (PDF). Accessed 30 June 2016

External links[edit]