How to Choose and Mount a CB Radio Antenna
The CB antenna is the most critical component of any CB installation. An improperly installed antenna will result in poor performance from even the most expensive radio. Consequently, it's important to understand the different types of antennas and available mounting options, as well as which one is best suited for your needs.
While there are a number of different CB antennas available, there are two types that are most commonly used with passenger vehicles: base-loaded antennas and fiberglass antennas.
Base-loaded CB antennas
Base-loaded CB antennas derive their name from the location of their coil. An antenna coil is a tightly wrapped section of wire that compensates for the short length of most vehicle-mounted antennas. As the ideal antenna length for use with CB frequencies is more than 8 feet, antenna coils allow for the use of shorter, more conveniently sized antennas.
Base-loaded antennas traditionally consist of a plastic antenna base which houses the antenna coil and also serves as the mounting platform. Several different mounting applications are common, including magnetic mounts, trunk-lip mounts and permanently installed roof-top mounts. Base-loaded antennas usually also include a stainless steel whip, which extends up from the base, as well as coaxial cable for attaching the antenna to the radio.
Base-loaded antennas are popular choices for passenger vehicles as they are easy to install and include all the necessary antenna components in one package. Additionally, entry-level antennas can be had for as little as $30. For a convenient, all-in-one antenna solution, base-mounted CB antennas can't be beat.
Fiberglass CB antennas
Fiberglass antennas are made from fiberglass rods. Unlike most base-loaded antennas, they don't include a mount or coaxial cable; rather, they utilize an industry-standard bottom thread and screw into separately available mounting devices. What fiberglass antennas lack in convenience, they make up in versatility. A wide variety of available mounts allow for antenna installation in significantly more places than base-loaded antennas, including hood channels, mirror arms, truck stake-holes and bumpers. While more versatile, fiberglass antennas tend to be less convenient to mount and often require drilling holes in the vehicle for a permanent installation.
Mounting and selection considerations
So which type of antenna is right for you? The answer depends on several variables including your vehicle, budget, willingness to drill holes, common driving habits and a number of other factors. While it's impossible to categorically recommend an antenna or mounting location, there are a number of guidelines that will help you pick the best antenna and mounting location for your needs:
Longer is better. Longer antennas work better than shorter ones, so pick the longest antenna you can comfortably put on your vehicle. You can purchase quick-release accessories that allow you to quickly remove your antenna without tools, so antenna inconvenience may not be as big an issue as you think.
Higher is better. The higher you can mount your antenna on your vehicle, the better. A vehicle's chassis can interfere with radio frequency signals reaching or emanating from your antenna, so you want to mount your antenna as high as possible on the vehicle for best performance.
Mount the coil above the roof. For best performance, it's important to get the antenna coil above the roofline. This is particularly important for fiberglass antennas - the top of the antenna needs to clear the vehicle's roof. While not as crucial for base-loaded antennas, roof mounts will provide better performance than lower mount locations.
Make sure it's grounded. The vehicle's frame acts as an extension of the antenna, so it's crucial that CB antennas be well grounded. Poorly grounded or non-grounded antennas are the biggest cause of poor radio performance, so make sure your antenna has a good and solid ground.
Get an easily "tunable" antenna. All antennas need to be "tuned" in an adjustment process that I'll discuss in more detail in my next article. Basically, tuning requires lengthening and shortening the antenna. Most modern antennas come with a "tunable tip" or a "tunable whip," which makes adjustment a simple process, but some older antennas must be physically cut to size instead. I recommend the easily tunable antennas, which are now widely available and not much more expensive than the older styles.
While there is no perfect antenna or mounting
locating, following these guidelines will help you get the
best performance out of the antenna you do choose. Antenna
type and mounting location are important, but the single
most crucial step you can take to ensure peak CB radio performance
is to tune your antenna. In my next article, I'll discuss
what CB antenna tuning entails, explain why it's important,
and provide step-by-step instructions.
|Andrew Youderian is the founder and manager of Right Channel CB Radios, an online store specializing in CB equipment for vehicles. Right Channel CB Radios carries a large selection of CB radios and antennas, and hosts a CB Radio Resources Library, containing numerous CB-related articles and guides. Youderian lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has traveled extensively throughout the American West. His most recent excursion was a 10,000-mile, five-week road trip across the United States.|