Disclaimer: This is a beginner’s guide and not a comprehensive radio communications manual. Read the instruction manual for your radio. Talk to serious radio operators if you have in-depth questions. This is for the person leading a convoy or a club event.
Many of us use CB’s (Citizen’s Band) to conduct our events and convoys in the off-road world. Nowadays, many folks are adding race radio like a Rugged Radio to their inventory. But for sure we can tell you that radio communication is probably the most ignored and ill-tended part of any convoy or event out there!
We suspect most ModernJeeepers have had more bad than good experiences with radios. However, there are some secrets and tips that will help you be the best you can be on the microphone.
Type of radios…
CB stands for Citizens Band (no rules) radio and is a low frequency short-distance, mostly line-of-sight radio operating over 40 channels (in the 27-MHz band for you techies). HAM on the other hand is a real radio, with real rules, and even the addition of long-distance repeaters.
Race radios are VHF/UHF, in between the CB and HAM, meaning very high or ultra-high frequency. VHF is low band while UHF operates in higher bands with a shorter wave length meaning shorter antennas are available. What that means to us is that these bands are certainly better operating bands than CB.
We will tell you that a lot of our trail friends say dump the CB and get a HAM (amateur radio) license, or at least a Race-type Radio. And it is critical to point out that many UHF/VHF frequencies require a HAM license to use.
If you are using a Race-type Radio, you should be on a permitted commercial channel that is usually licensed to a business or racing operation. Examples include channels like Weatherman, Rugged Relay, and KOH 1.
Also, from our thousands of hours in trail rides, the ModernJeeper can attest to the fact that most folks think a good trail experience is one that includes someone who narrates and talks about the trail – the flowers, the geology, the history, the landscape and the club behind the trail staying open. The narrator does not have to be the Trail Boss, but someone in the convoy who has done some homework and has a GOOD RADIO!!!
Secondly, we believe all rigs in an organized club run or event convoy should have a good working radio of similar type and programming to everyone else. If the group is on CB, then everyone has a CB. If the group is taking it up a level and has Race-Type Radios, then get it on so that everyone has one, equally programable. That is the only way to keep a bunch of rigs headed in the same direction with folks coming away with good memories (and hopefully useful information). Here are the rest of the tips to make your convoy a great one.
1. TUNE IT: If you run CB, get your CB tuned up (SWR meter and Field Strength) once in a while (at least once a year). Make sure your antenna is set up correctly for your rig and CB. The SWR meter shows us when our CB antenna and cable impedance are mis-matched. You can fix that with adjustment screws and different antennas if needed. But a CB that is not tuned is a liability to a convoy/event. Pro tips from Rugged Radios on SWR meter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i42AJfKH04M
If you are running a race radio, get a few tips from the pro staff and their video assortment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9wZEIxEmU8
2. BUNCH UP BEFORE BLABBING: Bunch up your group before blabbing on the CB or race radio. If you are too spread out, or in a winding snake-like canyon, no one past the third vehicle behind you will hear what you have to say from the front. Remember, these radios are line of sight – they do not travel over tall mountains.
3. SCOUT IT FIRST: Pre-run or scout your trail so you KNOW where you are going, what you are about to see, and where you can BUNCH UP to talk about the cool stuff you are showing folks. Be prepared; know what’s coming and what to say about it.
4. STUDY IT: Get the background and cool info about your trail or area before you go and make up some 3 x 5 cards with that informative data, so you can share it. Use referecne and trail guide books that you can find online for your area. Get on the radio often (when bunched up) and describe to folks about what they are seeing. They will love it.
5. GET ORGANIZED: Use mid and tail gunners who relay your race or CB communications as needed and help you keep the convoy on track. Use landmarks or lathe stakes with numbers in the ground to give you mile markers to refer to. Have your extra gunners tell you where they are in relation to your mile posts (markers). Remember your radio (except HAM on repeater) is line of sight – so a 5-mile convoy in a canyon that looks like the tracks of a sidewinder rattlesnake in the sand dunes is NOT going to let you talk to everyone. BUNCH UP; use relays.
6. FIND THE LINE: Learn to set the squelch on your radio to avoid annoying noises and improve usage. CB radio transmits and receives best when TUNED and when you “find the line.” The “line” is the squelch line (that irritating scratchy noise we all like to tune out). Find that noise and drop your button back a tad to make the noise go away. You have then maximized the reception range of your radio range. Do this drill every time you change terrain, go over a big mountain, or find the chatter gone from your radio. It might be YOUR radio. If you are the convoy Trail Boss, tell your folks often to “find the line.” You’ll be much happier you did (and so will they).
Note again: Squelch affects reception, not transmission. If you are not transmitting well, it’s time to check your connections, cable and antenna.
A couple other miscellaneous things to keep in mind involve interacting with convoy participants. Try not to ask open-ended questions like, “how’s everyone doing?” This will only cause several people to “step” on each other with their answers. Instead, ask your mid-gunner how things look from his angle. Or ask your tail gunner the same question. Also, if you’re going to do introductions, rig by rig, wait until you are going slow and bunched up, so folks can hear.
If you have a large event with several different trail rides or groups, designate different radio channels for each group, and leave room between the channels so the frequencies don’t step all over each other. Also, we suggest having an admin channel or one channel set up for just the event staff so there is a clear place to communicate in case of event disasters, emergencies or mix-ups.
Race and CB radios are handy tools to have when used properly and kept in their place. It is essential to a good memorable trail ride in our book. So, take these tips, share them, mention them during driver’s meetings, and make ALL your convoys and trail rides memorable.