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The Best CB Antenna
What is the best CB antenna? This topic is a little more tricky than picking out the best CB radio. CB radio antennas, mounts, and cables are really three separate components, each with their own set of obstacles. The three are often grouped together in kits or one-piece apparatuses, so we're going to tackle them all at the same time. Really, this is the best way to go about it, since most compatibility issues that come up will be between these components. Just keep in mind that the most important component to any CB setup is the antenna. If you're going to save money on anything, this is NOT the part to do so on. You want the best and tallest antenna you can put on your vehicle practically.
The first thing to consider when picking out an antenna is where to install it on the vehicle. For many people, the main concern with this is appearance. That is more of a matter of personal opinion. As for performance, what matters is the ground plane. The ground plane is the flat, metal surface needed to reflect your antenna's signal out. This is not referring to an electrical ground. Essentially, the antenna transmits the signal downward, it strikes the ground plane, and is reflected out. The bigger your ground plane is, the better. Consequentially, the best place for your antenna is the center of the roof of your vehicle, IF it is metal and there is no sun roof. Some newer vehicles have fiberglass bodies that will not reflect the signal as metal would. The front or back fenders will give you good results as well. You must remember, though, that the signal will be weaker in the direction with no ground plane. For instance, if you mount your antenna on the front drivers side fender, you will have a weaker signal to the front-left of the vehicle.
You also want the antenna as high up on the vehicle as possible. This will both reduce the angle of radiation and keep parts of the vehicle from blocking the signal. The angel of radiation is the angle at which the signal leaves the CB antenna. If your antenna is higher up, the angle is lower, allowing the CB signal to remain close enough to the ground to be picked up for a longer distance. When the antenna is mounted lower, like on your bumper, some or all of the antenna will be below the vehicles roof line. This will block the signal in that direction, and can even cause a high SWR when too much of the signal is reflected back into the antenna.
- You want as much metal as evenly spaced around the base of the antenna as possible
- You want the CB antenna as high up on the vehicle as possible.
- You want the antenna vertical (straight up and down)
- You don't want the antenna mounted where is will break off too easily
Basically, the taller your antenna it, the better it will transmit and receive. This is an over simplification, of course, but true in most cases. Mike Nelke, a man that forgot more about CB antennas in his lifetime than most people will ever know, used to tell me a good rule of thumb is 1-2 miles for each foot. I have found that to be a fairly accurate estimation.
CB antennas can be broken down into three types; Fiberglass, whip and base. A fiberglass CB antenna is a fiberglass pole wrapped with a copper wire that is coated with a protective material. Most antennas you see on vehicles today are this type. A whip antenna is a base or center loaded antenna with a long steal whip attached to the top. This is a common configuration for professional drivers and magnetic antennas. Base antennas are extremely tall fiberglass or aluminum antennas (often 12-18 feet tall) used for base station CB Radios.
- Lower power handling (not important unless you are modifying your radio)
- Can be mounted lower (coil usually at top. See "Load Position" below)
- Most popular antenna type
- Base and center loaded whip antennas can handle more power
- Need to be mounted higher on the vehicle
- Base and center loaded whip antenna aren't as efficient as top loaded
- For fixed position base station CB radios
- Very tall (typically 12 - 18 feet)
- Need to be mounted very high
- High power handling
The ideal length for a CB antenna is 102". This is much too tall to be practical in many cases. To get around this, antenna manufacturers create a coil with the antenna wire. This way, they can make an antenna that matches the electrical length ideally. The electrical length of a CB antenna is all the cable, coil and whip from the back of the CB radio to the tip of the antenna. Where the coil is placed in the antenna is the "load position". There are three location for the load, bottom, center, and top. When deciding on a load position, keep in mind that the coil needs to be above the roof line of the vehicle.
- Bottom, or base, loaded antennas have a coil at the base of the antenna with a steel whip extending up.
- Must be mounted higher up on the vehicle to keep the coil from being obstructed
- Have a higher power handling capability than other load types
- Are less likely to be damaged when struck than other load types
- Coil is often mounted on a thick mast with a steel whip extending up
- Offer higher power capabilities than top load and more mounting options than bottom load
- Can be thought of as a compromise between top loaded and bottom loaded CB antennas
- Most often in the form of a fiberglass antenna.
- Most efficient load location.
- Easier to mount, with the ability to mount the antenna lower on the vehicle
- Less power handling capability (does not matter unless you are modifying your radio)
There are many, many different kinds of CB antenna mounts to choose from. As I said before, the best place for your mount is in the center of the roof, if your vehicle is all metal. Not too many people want to drill a hole in the center of their roof, or anywhere else on their vehicle for that matter. There are several different kinds of cb antenna mounts made to install antennas without drilling noticeable holes. Magnet mounts are another solution to this problem. Magnet mounts are also a good idea if you are concerned about ease of installation and removal. Here are some tips to remember when choosing a mount:
- Pick a location you think would work best, then look for a mount for that location
- Make sure the structure holding the mount can handle the weight.
- There are usually options that require no drilling for every vehicle.
Another thing to consider is the cable. You have to be able to run the CB antenna coax from the antenna to the back of the radio. Installing an antenna on the trunk of a car, or mirror of a semi is going to require more cable than the fender of a pickup. You need to consider the path the cable must run to get from the CB antenna to the radio. It may need to pass through the vehicle's firewall, through a window, or through interior linings. A problem that comes up with this is the size of the terminator (or connector) on the cable. This isn't something you would worry about with lug connectors, but PL259 connectors are rather bulky. Firestik makes a type of cable with a mini connector to get around this. Firestik recommends a cable length of 18 ft. It is definitely best to stay in 3 foot segments. This is so the overall electrical length of the antenna (which includes the cable) matches the wavelength of the radio. Any excess cable should not be coiled up. It should be wrapped in a figure 8 and stowed securely that way.
- The recommended cable length for most CB antennas is 18 ft
- It is better to stow excess cable than to shorten the cable
- Excess cable should be stored in a figure 8, not a tight coil
- If you can't run the big PL259 connector through a firewall, get a cable with a removable connector
There are a couple issues with compatibility to cover between the antenna and the mount, and the cable and the mount. You will need to make sure the mount you are getting will support the antenna you want to use. Some mounts are only rated for antennas up to a certain length. If you are going for an antenna 4 ft or longer, be sure to get a heavy duty mount.
Also, make sure the antenna will be able to screw into the mount. This is just a matter of matching the threads. Most antennas we carry are either 3/8'' x 24 thread or NMO. There are two ways the cable will connect to the mount, plug connectors or lug connectors. Plug connectors are PL259 plugs that just screw on much like the cable TV plug that connects to your TV. Lug connectors are loops on the end of the wire that you have to run a lug through to bolt it on to the mount. These are handy when you don't have much space under the mount. Of course the easiest way to avoid compatibility issues is to get a kit.
CB Antenna Kit
CB antenna kits come in all sorts of combinations. Some are simply components that work together, while others are components that have been permanently connected to form a single product. This is often the case with magnet mount antenna kits. Ease of shopping, compatibility, and price are the main reasons you might choose to go this route. It's easier to pick out a single kit than it is to pick out each component. All the parts in a kit are going to be compatible. Buying a kit is usually cheaper than buying each component separately.
NGP (No Ground Plane) Kits
If you are installing a CB antenna on a vehicle with little or no metal, such as an RV or ATV, you will need what is known as a No Ground Plane CB antenna kit. These specialized kits contain a CB antenna and cable that are built to work without a large metal ground plane beneath them. Consequently, if you install one of these kits on a vehicle with a ground plane, they will not perform well.
- Best option for RV's, ATV's, motorcycles or any vehicle without a metal ground plane
- Use special cable and antenna. You cannot substitute traditional cables or antennas in these kits
- The mounts in these kits are completely normal, and can be swapped with any CB antenna mount.
- The cable in these kits cannot be shortened, but it can be lengthened in increments of 9 feet with regular CB antenna coax
CB Antenna Tuning
Once your antenna is mounted you need to tune it. We have prepared a page describing the steps to do this. Failing to tune the antenna is probably the most frequent mistake made on CB radio installations. Remember, even if an antenna says it is tuned at the factory, adjustments will most likely need to be made for your vehicle. Here are some instructions on how to tune your antenna.