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The Rise of FM CB Radio

Industry Trends
  • October 27 2023
  • Kathy Anderson
The Rise of FM CB Radio

How 2 Major CB Manufacturers Successfully Petitioned the FCC to Approve FM CB Radios

While CB radio service for personal communications has been around since after World War II, FM CB radios are newcomers.

According to Cobra Electronics, initially CB radios were popular with…

“…farmers, drivers, and radio hobbyists. It wasn’t until the 1970s that technology advanced and the CB market caught on as a method of communication between drivers.”

At that time, it also required an FCC license to operate.

The earliest designated frequencies — 460-470 MHz — were hard to access. In 1958, the FCC designated 23 channels centering around the 27 MHz range.

In the early 1970s, the fuel crisis combined with 55 mile-per-hour speed limits caused commercial truckers to use the CB to find fuel and avoid speed traps. And after Hollywood started popularizing its use, an official license was no longer required. And in 1977, the FCC expanded the number of channels to 40.

There things stayed, until 2016. That’s when Cobra Electronics petitioned the FCC to revise its Part 95 to enable an FM mode on CB radios in the US. Cobra relates:

“During the petitioning process, Cobra turned to input from its customers, sources from multiple online CB radio forums, off-road vehicle clubs, and distributors for support behind the change.”

Despite the support and Cobra’s foundational history with CB radios (Dynascan, the company’s original name, developed the world’s first CB radio), the petition was initially denied.

What’s the Big Deal About FM on CB Radios?

Although the idea of an FM mode on a CB radio is new to the US, it’s old news in Europe where FM has been in use for decades. So, we reached out to President Electronics for more information. Why President?

The President brand was originally developed in the US. It then went overseas in 1976 and a new parent company, Groupe President Electronics, was formed in France. It soon established itself as a leading CB brand in Europe. President returned stateside with a US office in 2016.

This gives President a unique perspective on both modes.

Kavi Sharma, General Manager/COO of President Electronics, USA, explains they’ve learned the two modes are complementary, providing the user with a situation-based choice:

  • FM works primarily with direct line of sight and provides sharp, clear communication while in range. However, when the range is at its limit, the communication drops to zero. So, the advantage is superior audio quality as distant signals do not interfere, but range is slightly limited.
  • AM works with atmospheric skip allowing for longer range communication. As the stations communicating become more distant the signals become fainter gradually. Therefore, the advantage is more range, but reception is noisier as distant signals interfere so audio quality is less.

He provided 3 case examples:

  • A quarry with dump trucks and diggers working together would work best with FM on their CBs as they are in communication within their group within a limited range
  • A solo off-roader lost in a park would send out a distress communication on AM to maximize the probability of another CBer picking up the signal
  • A pilot car with an oversize load truck would use FM for communication between themselves and at the same time monitor highway road conditions on the traditional trucker AM Channel 19

Cobra’s Take on FM and AM Modes

Cobra’s list of advantages for dual-mode CBs include:

  • FM for superior sound quality at close range
  • AM for longer range
  • Having both lets the user find the best signal for communication based on need
  • The FM mode works with existing antennas

And for those of you trying to figure out how dual modes work, Cobra offers this explanation:

“A CB radio’s frequency range is 26.965 – 27.405MHz and is broken up into 40 channels, with 10kHz steps. AM and FM signals can both occupy this same frequency band, traditionally used for AM and Single Side Band (SSB) modes.

“CB radio allows for the use of several different types of modulation methods or ‘modes.’ Single Side Band or SSB modulation is a type of amplitude modulation that uses less than half the bandwidth of a traditional AM signal. SBB is divided into Upper Side Band and Lower Side Band. SSB allows for communication over longer distances, including international.

“While SSB uses less bandwidth, FM mode occupies the widest frequency band and offers much richer sound quality. SSB has a longer effective range than FM, but as an AM mode, it is still subject to background noise and interference.”

They conclude:

“FM mode offers better audio quality for CB users and is easy to use. It offers clear, noise-free, and more intelligible two-way communications versus AM, which is why FM is popular with CB users in other countries and in other radio bands. FM mode also greatly reduces background noise and interference.

“You may also want to use FM mode to communicate with other users, as traditional AM-only units will not be able join the conversation on FM frequencies.”

Cobra Again Petitions for Changes to FCC Part 95 and President Adds Its Support

In 2017, Cobra filed a reconsideration petition, asking for a CB radio to have both AM and FM capability. This would allow the user to choose whichever mode worked best for their situation while keeping the new dual-mode radios still able to communicate with existing AM-only ones.

In 2018, President submitted their perspectives to the FCC on the addition of FM to CB radios.

The FCC Fact Sheet for Petitions for Reconsideration of Part 95 Personal Radio Services Rules Report and Order, published July 15, 2021, takes up the narrative.

It states the original thought back in 2016 was such a change that would “expand or substantially change the character of the service” and “the alternative modulation techniques would be incompatible with the existing equipment base.”

And that’s why it was denied.

In the reconsideration petition, Cobra stated that an optional dual modulation scheme “would allow users to enjoy the benefits of FM, if they so choose, while ensuring every new radio sold could communicate with all the existing radios in the field.”

The 2021 FCC decision also noted that a dual modulation approach has been used successfully in other countries for many years. And that Cobra and others suggest an FM option will benefit both professional and recreational CB users because it will provide better quality and clarity of communications.

The FCC also wrote:

“President Electronics USA (President), a subsidiary of Groupe President Electronics, which is a leading supplier of CB radios with AM and FM mode in Europe, concurs that AM and FM each have “unique advantages” and together provide “a better user experience” for CB radios.”

Victory! The FCC Grants the Addition of FM Mode

As no one else opposed adding the FM mode, the FCC concluded:

“…allowing manufacturers to add FM as an optional modulation scheme will not substantially change the fundamental nature of the CB Radio Service and will improve the user experience, as described by Cobra and President.

“How people use the service will not materially change or be expanded. Further, Cobra states that AM is a ‘well-established’ operating mode that is unlikely to disappear, even if we permit operations in FM mode.

“Continuing to mandate AM capability while permitting dual modulation will provide benefits to CB radio users who will have an additional modulation option, while maintaining the basic character of the service. The addition of FM as a permitted mode will not result in additional interference because users who hear unintelligible audio on a particular channel can simply select another channel or switch modes.”

The official ruling finally came down a few months later.

It took 5 years and two major CB manufacturers coming together to make AM FM CB radios in the US a reality.

AM FM CB Radios Finally Enter the US Marketplace

In February 2023, Cobra Electronics unveiled its new line of AM FM CB radios The first out of the gate were the 29 LTD Classic, 29 LTD Chrome, and 19 MINI AM/FM. More will follow.

President, incorporating what it had already learned in terms of technology from their European models, started launching their new AM FM products in 2022, not long after the FCC ruling. THOMAS debuted in January 2022, becoming the first FCC-approved AM FM CB radio in the US. RANDY II became the first handheld and BILL II became the first ultra-compact. Currently, there are 6 models with more to follow.

We asked President if they were able to simply rebadge their EU versions for use in the US. The answer was no.

There are other standards that are different between the US and the EU, so for the US/Canada we had to produce new models. The models between the 2 continents remain distinct and are not interchangeable as such.”

However, in terms of global branding:“The latest versions of the McKinley would be a similar style/featured AM/FM/SSB radio on both continents, but the versions are tailored and compliant to the appropriate FCC or EU standards.”

Who Uses CB Radios Today?

With the advent of the cell phone and popularity of FRS walkie-talkies and licensed GMRS radios, CBs are still in use.

According to CB World:

  • Truckers may use cell phones for personal conversations, but their CBs are for important road information
  • RVers and motorcyclists are subject to the same kinds of road problems as truckers and find them beneficial if they need to call for help when out of cell tower range; motorcyclists also use them to coordinate large rides
  • Hunters, fishermen, and hikers use them to keep in touch with others in their groups as well as in case of emergencies

Buy Your AM FM CBs Wholesale Through Petra

Here at Petra, we carry AM FM CB radios from Cobra and President. We also carry AM only from both brands as well as Uniden.

President also offers several CB radios with seamless 12/24 volt operation. All feature their patented Automatic Squelch Control technology.

And here are links to all of our available products from Cobra, President, and Uniden.

Not yet a Petra customer? Hammer down and step on it. Here’s where to get started.