The UK CBers guide to Australian CB radio

 

This page is for any British CB radio enthusiast who is visiting or relocating to Australia. It will give you an idea what to expect in Australian CB radio. 

 

Aussie CB is very similar to UK CB, but as you would expect, it has its own idiosyncrasies. For a start, CB users are not called Breakers. There is no specific name for a CB user. Freebanding is not as commonplace or as acceptable as it is in the UK. Even those who have radios which are capable of working 555 will tend to use them only on the legal 40 channels. Freebanding is considered a serious breach of the law and the radio inspectors will hang you out to dry if they catch you. This is quite a different attitude to the UK.

 

This reflects in the callsigns used. The common 11m DX format, i.e. 43AB123, does not tend to be used on legal channels and is taken by some to indicate that you are a freebander. Aussie CBers tend to use a three digit unit number. i.e. ď123 do you copy the 456?Ē This is because Aussie CBers were legally obliged to use government issued callsigns up until 1994. The callsigns were three letters and three numbers, i.e. ABC123. After the compulsory callsign requirement was removed CBers continued to use the number part but dropped the letters. Of course many CBers didnít have a license so just made up a callsign which sounded official. After 1994 CB clubs issued three digit member numbers to continue the commonly used system. American style handles are not used. They were in the early days, mainly on 27MHz AM, but you never hear them anymore and even back then they were considered a little childish.

 

In 1977 two CB bands were legalised. 27MHz AM/SSB and 477MHz FM. The number of channels has changed on both since legalisation. There are two other public access radio systems on 27MHz similar to CB. The Handphone band, which is for hand held radios only. It has seven channels unevenly spaced between 27.550 to 27.760MHz. AM and SSB is allowed at 4 and 12watts. As far as I am aware there are no type approved radios available for this band. It has possibly been recalled. There is also marine CB, which is not really a CB band and is only called that because the channels are on 27MHz and the radios are cheap and license free. It has ten channels unevenly spaced between 27.680 and 27.980MHz and uses AM at 4 watts. 27.880MHz is the calling channel. (Thatís UKFM ch29). This band is exactly like the VHF marine band and is for safety related traffic only. Not CB type chat. Every town which has a harbour or marina has a volunteer marine rescue service, equivalent to the UKs coast guard who monitor VHF and 27MHz marine channels. 27MHz marine band is well used by weekend fishermen. Interference to these channels is likely to be a capital offense.

 

The two CB bands can really be considered as three bands since the AM and SSB services were used so differently so Iíll describe each one in turn. Just as the UK has its confusing names for its two CB bands, ď27/81, muppets, UKFM, cept, mids, euĒ etc, Australia has similarly nonsensical shorthand descriptions. 27MHz and 477MHz are often called ďCB and UHFĒ. As the first band to become popular was 27MHz and UHF came later. Some call the two bands ďAM and FMĒ. Some ďHF and UHFĒ. Or ď27 and 477Ē. These days most people call UHF CB ďCBĒ or ďUHFĒ as every non-enthusiast CB user is on UHF and they probably donít know 27MHz exists.

 

27MHz AM

Originally 18 channels were legalised on 27MHz. But there were many 23 channel sets in the country at this time and many CBers used 23 channels sets legally under amnesty. But in 1982, the world standard 26.965 to 27.405MHz 40 channels were legalised. So if you are buying a 27MHz set, make sure it has 40 channels, as there are still 18 and 23 channel rigs popping up on eBay all the time. Prices for a straight 40 AM vary from bugger-all up to about $40. And most are worth bugger-all.

 

Channels 1 to 14 are for AM use. Channel 8 is the road channel. Channel 9 is for emergencies and 11 is for calling. Nobody uses 27MHz AM any more. It is dead. It is a has-been band. There are the very occasional truck company or group of 4x4 drivers who use it as a cheap means of inter-convoy communications, but these guys usually run as a closed group and are not interested in talking to anyone else. 27MHz AM is good for this type of use as the cost involved is almost nothing and you wonít be interrupted by anyone. The only people you are likely to hear are infuriatingly fast talking Asians or the occasional Hawaiian who are usually friendly if conversationally uninspiring.

 

But what Iím really saying is, donít buy one.

 

27MHz SSB

If you want to try 27MHz, get an AM/SSB rig. Making sure it is a 40 channel set. These radios are not as common as you would think. They started making Australian type approved 40 channel sets in 1982 and stopped making them in the mid 1990s. They come up for sale for about $50 to $200 depending on model and condition. But most CBers are using American 40 channel imports, multi-band ďexportĒ sets or modified HF amateur radios. This is illegal but as they stick to the legal channels nobody seems to notice.

 

Channels 15 to 40 are for SSB. LSB is used by convention, but you can use USB if you like. Channel 16 LSB is the calling channel but itís very unlikely youíll hear anyone on it any more. For many years 16 was officially the intra-Australia calling channel, while 35 LSB was the unofficial DX calling channel. In reality 16 was the calling channel for normal decent people who would make contact and move to another channel to chat, and 35 was the channel to play music and manically rant abusive filth at anyone who would listen. As CB has slowly lost numbers, 16 has fallen out of use and now everyone uses 35. Subsequently 35 has become a little less of a bear pit, but itís not uncommon to tune around the band to hear 39 empty channels and a dozen S9 signals all shouting over the top of each other on 35. Many people who bought 0-30MHz HF rigs never tune them off 27.355MHz. Radio hams check the propagation on channel 35 before tuning around 28MHz. If the band is open, an idiot will be audible on 35.

 

But, with a little perseverance 35 can be fun. If you live in a city area there will be some local CBers who listen on 35. And if you are lucky a few of them may be able to hold a normal adult conversation. If the atmospherics are agreeable and the signals start arriving from other states you might get a few good contacts. You can always call CQ and announce you are listening on another channel and even if 35 is full of conflicting maniacal signals you might get a chat on a clear channel.

 

There are some groups who hold regular club or friendly group nets on other channels and donít bother with 35. Most of these groups are old time CBers and would welcome a call in from a fellow enthusiast.

 

A few old time CBers believe the foundation amateur radio license has adversely affected 27MHz CB. All the wannabe hams are now real hams and no longer bother with CB. So the band has been left to the less desirable operators. Muppets is probably what you'd call them in the UK. I donít know if thatís a bad thing, I never liked wannabe hams.

 

CB radio is like so many things in Australia. Itís a fantastic country and Iím glad I had the opportunity to experience it, but I have found it to be a country of extremes. Things are either way better than I was used to in the UK, or way worse. And CB is a microcosm of this phenomenon. Youíll either meet some good nice people, or some total planks. But whichever you encounter, itís never boring.

 

UHF CB

This is the band that will be of most interest to UK CBers. Imagine an FM CB band which is better quality than UKFM and no skip interference at all. Your dreams have come true.

 

First the technical stuff. In 1977 the spec was 40 channels on 476.425 to 477.400MHz at 25KHz channel spacing, using FM at 5 watts output. In the early 1980s repeaters were allowed. This is why the radios have a DUP or duplex button. In about 2001 CTCSS was controversially introduced after a survey stated 94% of CBers didnít want subtones. But as the industry had been making CBs with CTCSS for some time, I donít think the CBers views were going to make much difference. At the same time, and also controversially, two channels were removed from voice use and allocated for telemetry and telecommand. This allows farmers to control irrigation systems in remote locations and others to use simple low cost digital control. In 2011 the channel spacing was reduced to 12.5KHz to allow 80 channel CBs.

 

Every CB system has certain channels for certain uses, even if itís just one channel for calling. Aussie UHF CB has lots of channels for lots of uses.

 

Channels 1 to 8 are repeater outputs. If you are on 1 to 8 and press the DUP button, the radio will receive on 1 to 8, but transmit on 31 to 38. The radio has a repeater shift which makes the transmit shift 30 channels higher. i.e. Receiving on 4 will transmit on 34.

 

Channel 5 and its corresponding repeater input channel 35, are both allocated for emergency use only. As per UKFM ch9. There are some volunteer societies who monitor 5. If there is a repeater within range or not. So itís best to respect this as an emergency service.

 

Channel 10 is a regular chat channel but is often used by four wheel drive enthusiasts when out together.

 

Channel 11 is for calling. Its equivalent to UKFMs 14. But just as with UKFMs 14, it is not really used anymore and itís very unlikely youíll ever get a reply.

 

Channel 18 is a regular chat channel but is often used by caravanners while travelling in convoy.

 

Channel 22 and 23 are the telemetry and telecommand channels. Recent radios have transmit disabled on these two. Older radios donít.

 

Channels 31 to 38 are repeater inputs as mentioned above.

 

Channel 40 is the road channel. Itís where youíll find all the lorry drivers. Or truckies as they are known. It is equivalent to UKFMs 19. But for some unfathomable reason, this does not apply to about 400 miles of the Pacific Highway between Newcastle and Tweed Heads. The truckies all switch to 29 for that section. Why? Iíll be stuffed if I know.

 

Truck drivers in Australia are just like truck drivers in the UK. And probably truck drivers are the same all over the world. They talk a lot, swear a lot, and refuse to move off the calling channel while they are doing it. They donít know or care about the finer points of radio operation but tend to leave others alone and do their own thing. On Australian CB truck drivers are treated with much hatred and contempt. This is mainly as they tend to stray onto repeater input channels to chat to each other which results in jamming the repeater for some time. The drivers donít mean any harm but they donít know what repeaters are and donít understand that these channels have a purpose. This results in much foul mouthed ranting abuse between repeater users and truck drivers. It serves no purpose but to make each party even more angry than they were before and confirms to each that everything is the other parties fault.

 

I find this hatred of truck drivers very sad. I drove artics myself for a while so understand the lifestyle. And I remember the early days of CB in the UK when truckers were respected and respectful. This may be in part because most of the CBs in the country pre-1981 were smuggled in by truck drivers, so these guys were really responsible for CB happening in the UK. Also I think a lot of it was the Rubber Duck / BJ and the Bear American TV image that stuck to drivers in the UK. Whatever went wrong, I am sad that lorry driving is no longer the respected profession it once was.

 

Channels 41 to 48 are repeater outputs, with corresponding inputs on 71 to 78. There are no repeaters on these channels yet. The repeaters on 1 to 8 will have to narrow their deviation to the new 80 channel specification before the 41 to 48 repeaters will start to be licensed. The new interleaved channels of 41 to 48 are in-between 1 to 8 and if all repeaters are not on narrow deviation, they may cause interference to the adjacent channel. It could take another five years to get this organised.

 

61, 62 and 63 have not been allocated to CB use. They will become telecommand and telemetry channels in the future.

 

71 to 78 are repeater inputs as mentioned above.

 

As channels 22 and 23 are no longer usable some manufacturers have been describing their 40 channel radios as 38 channels. Also since 61, 62 and 63 are available as receive only channels on some radios but not others, some manufacturers describe their radios as 80 channels, while others 77. Because of the confusion with these channels, a UHF CB can be described as being 38, 40, 75, 77 or 80 channels. But most people call them either 40 or 80.

 

As 80 channel sets have been available for a couple of years there is now a mixture of 40 and 80 channel sets in use. This isnít a problem as the first 40 of the 80 channel sets are the same as the 40 channel sets. The only difference is the transmit deviation is wider on the older sets. Again this hasnít turned out to be a problem as the two manufacturers which have the huge majority of the new CB market have made the first 40 channels of their 80 channel sets with either manually or automatically switching receive filter widths to allow them to receive older 40 channel sets without clipping the wider signal. So at the moment both co-exist quite amicably. In future when all repeaters are narrow width and people with wider deviation radios try to use them, there may be some issues. I have a feeling the major issue will be CBers who refuse to learn what deviation width is and refuse to admit that their set is the one causing the problem, but thatís the fun of CB I guess.

 

There is something like 600 CB repeaters around Australia. They are carrier access. So all you do is switch to duplex and talk. Most have a tail so you can check you are accessing successfully. Some donít. There are a very small number that have CTCSS access. I have heard only one. And that was put in place to stop one nuisance operator.

 

Repeaters identify with a beacon every 15 minutes. Sometimes in morse code, which is odd as CBers generally donít know morse code. And sometimes with a recorded voice announcement. Repeaters are where the CB enthusiasts gather. Calling channels are not used any more. In populated areas where there are a few operators around you will hear the repeater active at any time of day or night. In fact there seems to be a pathological need for repeaters. If the repeater goes off air, due to a fault or more likely the owner has taken the huff with someone and switched it off, the band goes silent. Everyone waits for the repeater to come back on air before they start talking again. Even though all the stations are quite close and can all talk to each other on a simplex channel. It often seems that transmitting through the repeater is more important than the radio contact itself. Some CBers donít have omnidirectional antennas, but instead have a stack of phased yagis. They have no rotator as they only need to work one station, the repeater. Often these yagi equipped stations are only a few miles from the repeater and could easily work it S9 with a hand held, but they need to have the strongest signal so they will be heard over the top of everyone else. These are called ďpower stationsĒ and to some it is worth spending a lot of money on beams and amplifiers to become a power station.

 

To me, it seems ridiculous that someone would spend thousands of dollars building an impressive DX station only to ensure they can be heard while transmitting over the top of someone else on a repeater two miles away. But different people have different values. I have never understood why anyone would spend any money at all on CB gear just to key up over someone else. It seems a waste of your money and a waste of your life.

 

Due to this treatment of repeaters itís fair to say that in city areas they are a waste of time. The notion that repeaters are used to increase the range of mobile and weaker stations is lost on the power stations. Itís hardly worth paying the money to install repeaters. They are literally useless. This is the reason that Sydney had no repeaters at all for many years. It had three, but they were so abused, they all shut down. One has recently been re-installed and is occupied by the same power station most of the day. Power stations, apparently, lack the desire to have a life.

 

In city areas the simplex channels are all busy during working hours. Small businesses, road work crews, construction companies, taxis, in fact anyone who wants two way radio but doesnít want to spend the money buying a protected private frequency uses UHF CB. Often communications shops will sell a company CB equipment as a cheaper alternative and not tell the buyer they are CBs. Commercial users have no respect for local operating conventions or any other CB users. A lot of ďget off my radioĒ style exchanges are heard. Enthusiast users tend to stay off air until after 6pm. Just like on 27MHz SSB, there are a few enthusiast groups who meet for nets late in the evening. If you are lucky they might welcome a call in. Although some donít and prefer to remain in a closed group.

 

Outside city areas things are very different. In farming areas UHF gets much more respect. Where mobile phones donít work very well the local repeater can be a friendly communal service with messages passed between families or groups of friends. Locals, commercial operators and truck drivers can get along quite nicely and the CB is a pleasure to listen to. Sadly these areas are in the minority. In most rural parts there just arenít enough people to make the band worthwhile and often there is no repeater. In these areas its best to listen to channel 40 as most road users who travel a distance inland whether they be trucks or cars have UHF to keep them abreast of whatís ahead. In the bush even the police cars have UHF CB. In times of emergency or extreme weather events the emergency services and the public being on the same two way radio system is extremely valuable.

 

There is no PMR446 in Australia. Instead there are many 0.5 watt hand held CB radios available. Often they are sold in pairs and often appear like childrenís toys in the shape of Spiderman or similar tacky commercialism. These are a problem in the weeks after Christmas when the kids start to play with their ďtoyĒ walkie talkies. Fortunately they soon grow tired of baiting truckies and they get discarded.

 

These hand helds are also bought for non-commercial closed group PMR446 style use. Families, sports event organisers or campers can be heard chatting. But they are rarely interested in talking to anyone outside their own group.

 

Some baby monitors also work on UHF CB. I wonder how many people would buy these if they knew that every word spoken in their house was being received by passing truck drivers?

 

This sounds like Iím painting a black picture of UHF. It is a good CB service, very useful and very busy. Its possibly the best CB radio service in the world. But you have to know that well balanced CB enthusiasts who want to talk to other CB enthusiasts are outnumbered by socially incapable muppets, commercial operators and closed group operators by about 300:1. CB isnít the social medium it used to be, in Australia or anywhere else.

 

So if I havenít put you off too much and you want to buy a UHF CB, donít worry there are loads available. The two main manufacturers are Uniden and GME. Uniden is quite good, but GME are the best. And as you would expect, a little more expensive. New prices are $250 to $450 for a mobile set. Second hand prices are $50 to $150 for a 40 channel set, $150 upwards for an 80.

Uniden and GME cover about 80% of the market, but there are a few others. Icom and Vertex (Yaesu) make a couple of radios. They are more expensive but are much better than anything else on the market. The favourite of all CBers is the Icom IC400pro, which is not only a superior quality radio, but is also capable of being reprogrammed for 25 watts.

 

Oricom and Digitalk also make radios, but they are a poor effort. Avoid them.

 

Older radios can be simple three-knob rigs like you will have used on UKFM. With just volume, squelch, channels and a duplex button. But most modern radios have menu systems with scanning, subtones, selective calling and all manner of extras.

 

If you are a CBer visiting or relocating to Australia, try CB. Get a cheap UHF and a SSB 27MHz and give it a go. Youíll find it different to UK CB. The muppet element is quite a lot more aggressive than youíll be used to. But there are good people out there. And if you are driving through the country a UHF CB is almost essential.

 

Jack -8/6/13

If you read this article and found it interesting or informative, drop me a quick email. I'd like to hear my readers views.

 

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