We’ve touched already on the biggest advantages of the CB and HAM radios: the first is ubiquitous, everybody has one, while the later has (the potential) of a much, much wider range. So one would think that the battle is over: both radios win. While this might be true, which particular unit is right for you depends on the features you want and the price you afford.
Last Channel Memory:
This seems like a no brainer, but it’s one of my biggest complaint regarding the otherwise fine Cobra 75 ST WX CB Radio:
Imagine being on the trail, taking a break and turning your ignition off. You get back in the Jeep and start chatting on the CB some very smart and funny comments for the next 30 mins. You get quite upset for your fellow jeepers’ lack of humor. What a bunch of stiffs!!! … but then you realize that your damn CB reverted back on Channel 9 (you know, the Emergency one), while all your group was chatting (perhaps about you?) on Channel 14.
While one of our awesome mounts will keep your mic within easy reach, and if you opt for a combo mount, your handheld radio will be also sitting pretty next to it, we can’t help with complex menus or multi button combination commands. We favor big buttons, lighted if possible.
Auxiliary Mic / Speaker
This applies to handhelds: the built in speaker might not be loud enough for off-roading. Look for a model that allows use of an external speaker and mic. Again, one of our fabulous CB HAM mic or combo mic and radio holder will keep it secure and within easy reach.
A button hook found on Mobile Mics A belt-clip type found on portable mic
A note about CB and HAM Microphones: portable (handheld) radios have a belt-clip for both the radios and the external mic, as shown in the picture below. The mobile radios are hard mounted to your Jeep, and their mics use a button-type attachment to be hanged into a holder. We have mount for both.
This feature allows the radio to use up to 14 watts transmission power for a much increased range. But it only works if the other radios in the group have SSB capability as well… and most don’t. So while this is a nice feature, we recommend a mobile HAM radio instead which is (a) even more powerful, and more pervasive than the SSB.
Police Radio Scanner
There are few mobile CB that provide this function, but are very expensive.
Some mobile radios permit use of your CB act as a PA. Some might find this useful.
Surprisingly, beside transmit power, both mobile (vehicle mounted) and portable (handheld) HAM units have similar features. Many jeepers find the BaoFeng portable radios ideal due to their relative low cost; $35 for a portable radio was unheard of few years back. However, two of the biggest problems using a portable handheld in a jeep are:
Difficulty in hearing due to a small built in speaker, and difficulty in speaking since that requires holding the unit in one hand and pressing tiny buttons. Using an External Speaker and Mic combo solves this quite well, while preserving the portability of the radio
Difficulty of mounting the radio such that its antenna is properly pointed, the speaker can be heard, and the mic can be easily accessed. This is where our awesome Combo mounts come in play, custom made for your JK.
Automatic Position Reporting System APRS
This is a very nice feature that transforms your HAM into a GPS tracking device. Some radios even allows for saving the trail of GPS beacons to a SD card. When it comes to tracking, APRS uses GPS for positioning, and HAM radio towers to beacon the position. Sites such as aprs.fi allow for free tracking of your Jeep. This can be very helpful if you want to share your trip with the world. However, unlike Personal Emergency Beacons (such as Garmin inReach or Spot), it does NOT provide for a SOS function and relies on being able to be within the range of a HAM repeater! Will explore more the PEB options available on the market today.
All HAM radios support analog transmit and receive. Digital support allows for better quality and much more advanced functions. Unfortunately digital protocols are proprietary, and require same-brand of equipment to take advantage of all those features: Yaesu has one protocol, Kenwood and Icom another. So if all your jeepers agree to standardize on a brand, this is a very cool feature, else you won’t use it.
Most HAMs have two radios built in. This means that you can chat on one while scanning for other chats on another. However, an even more useful feature is the ability to use one radio to connect to a repeater, and the other one for local chat that can be also bridged via the repeater.
2m/70cm (144/430MHz) Bands
Most HAMs support 2m or both, but for jeeping the 2m (144MHz) is most useful since its wave is large enough to have a wide range, and narrow enough to go around boulders and vegetation.
For portable units, there is little difference between 5 watts and 8 watts. To double the range of a 5W radio, with a similar antenna and amplifier quality one would need 100 watts! For increased range, use an external (outside the vehicle) antenna - this, besides buying, will be best bang for the buck.