How to Upgrade a CB Antennaby David Lipscomb
In any citizens band radio system, the antenna is arguably the most important individual item. The Federal Communications Commission restricts CB radio power, so upgrading the antenna is the fastest way to improve performance. Better units offer better range and reception that is more reliable. Antennas in the grand scheme of total system cost are on the lower end of the scale, so there's little reason not to upgrade one. Because the actual installation normally consists of unscrewing the old antenna and screwing in the new one, most of the work is in the selection process.
Consider Your Vehicle
If you plan to upgrade your antenna on a conventional vehicle with plenty of steel, you don't need to consider use of a NGP or no-ground plane unit. However, boats and RVs made chiefly of fiberglass do need one. CB antennas normally use the vehicle's chassis to provide fully one-half of the incoming and outgoing signals. NGP antennas feature the grounding elements inside the antenna itself, requiring nothing else but a solid and reliable mounting surface to get up and running. Although it may seem logical to always use an NGP antenna regardless of vehicle construction, traditional antennas usually have up to 20 percent more signal strength.
Copper wiring is the most common type used for antenna conductors. Radio frequencies travel on the outer skin of the metal, which is the key reason antennas are insulated. Silver plating on residential and mobile CB antennas offers increased conductivity -- which means better range and performance -- although these are up to 50 percent more expensive. If you plan to upgrade your antenna one time, a silver-plated option is a viable consideration to maximize performance long term.
More Height Means More Surface Area
Bigger CB antennas mean longer range. One axiom of CB antenna installation is that you mount it as high as possible on the vehicle -- preferably the rooftop. Even if you trunk-mount the aerial, it still must clear the roof for good results. Making the antenna as long as possible serves to increase range and performance. Doubling your antenna's height does not necessarily double performance, but it does offer reception in areas where you previously had none. Antennas in the 8- to 10-foot range can be looped over, a strategy used by the military to gain surface area without the antenna catching on foliage or structures.
A seemingly small but important aspect of CB antennas is the sheathing. Most antennas are plastic coated, but choosing one with a fiberglass outer shell makes performance less affected by inclement weather. It also reduces static charge buildup. Fiberglass-coated antennas tend to be more durable and weigh less than the plastic-coated antennas. If you're moving to a longer antenna, it's likely you can use the same mount without stressing it or the connecting surface.
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