CB Radio in The United Kingdom - History


CB Radio was first introduced into the United Kingdom around 1972. Early use was known around the airports in the UK, particularly Stansted in 1973. Some claim that a few illegal CBs were in use in the 1960s. Monitoring the radio control band revealed occasional business/leisure traffic using amplitude modulation (AM). These early adopters used CB radios imported from the United States, which although legal to own could not be used. The usage of illegal CB radio peaked in 1980 and the UK Government was forced to legalise CB Radio. CB became legal in the United Kingdom on 2 November 1981 using unique frequencies incompatible with the N. American CB bands, hence the logo stamped on all type approved radios of this era CB27/81 or CB934/81. At the same time the ownership of non-UK approved 27 MHz transceivers was made illegal except for those obtained by UK radio amateurs holding a UK "A" (HF) license, for conversion to the 28 MHz (10 metre) amateur allocation. Given that virtually all illegal CB radios were contraband, this concession required the licensed amateur to pay outstanding import duty and VAT. Upon legalisation a £15 licence, bought over the Post Office counter, was required to operate CB equipment. Unlike that required to qualify for a radio amateur licence no proof of technical competence was needed. As of 8 December 2006, a licence is no longer required to own or operate a CB Radio providing it meets the original legal specifications for UK usage or is CE stamped: FM only, 4 watts power output and operating on either or both UK and CEPT (EU) 27 MHz bands. Ironically it is technically illegal to use the "old" UK CB frequencies on the European mainland.

In 1978, CB radio in Britain was much popularized by its use in the film Convoy.

In the early stages of the run up to the final legislation, most of the pro-CB lobby wanted the government to legislate around the US standard CB system, primarily because they wanted to use their illegally imported and obtained US CB sets. The UK government made it clear from the outset that they would never legalise the US system in this country citing interference problems with amplitude modulated (AM) or Single Side Band (SSB) equipment. It was made clear that if any system was legalised it would be frequency modulated (FM). The CB lobby argued that interference from AM or SSB equipment was a myth, but anyone who lived anywhere near the old Band 1 VHF television transmitters knew otherwise.

The majority of the unlawful users continued in their insistence on a 27 MHz system, although for a locally available Citizen's Band system, 27 MHz is actually a very poor choice of frequency.

The government initially proposed a FM system on a 928 MHz band with an RF Input power not exceeding 500 mW. This was unacceptable to the CB lobby partly because the low power would give a short range but mainly because the cost of equipment to operate in this band would be prohibitive.

The more knowledgeable CB enthusiasts made a counter proposal to use a frequency around 220 MHz. This was immediately dismissed by the government who pointed out that it was a reserved military frequency band. It was subsequently discovered that the frequency was, in fact, reserved for Lancaster bombers returning from bombing raids over Germany and that the frequency band had, not unsurprisingly, been unused since the Second World War. The government initially refused to relent and continued their insistence on legalising the 928 MHz band. The CB lobby continued to insist that any CB system had to use the (US) 27 MHz band, be AM and a maximum output power of 4 watts (i.e. the US system).

Ultimately, the government hinted that they were going to give in to the CB lobby but, as it turned out, only up to a point. CB was eventually legalised on a 27 MHz band but not the band used in the US. Whereas the US used a band occupying the range 26.965 to 27.405 MHz, the UK system was to operate on 27.60125 to 27.99125 MHz the awkward frequencies being deliberately chosen to prevent illegal US sets from being modified outside of the type approval system. The system was FM as expected, but one initial surprise was that the power limit was set at 4 watts. The surprise was short lived when it was realised that antenna restrictions would limit the real radiated power to little more than a 500 mW system. A further restriction on power applied if the antenna was elevated by more than 7 metres from the ground. In the event: the antenna restrictions were (and still are) largely ignored and, in the main, unpoliced.

The government of the day had hoped that UK based manufacturers would be able to compete on a level playing field with foreign (notably Japanese) manufacturers for a share of the potential market. As it happened: the awkward choice of frequencies conspired against this ideal. The frequencies were such that, initially, only one manufacturer in Japan had the capability of producing the frequency synthesiser chips capable of producing the transmission frequencies and the local oscillator signals for use in receive mode. This manufacturer, not unsurprisingly, refused to supply any UK based manufacturer while it was attempting to keep Japanese manufacturers supplied. In the event, the UK market saturated within a few months and many Japanese manufacturers and UK importers were left with vast amounts of unwanted stock. Within a year of the introduction of CB to the UK, CB radio sets were being given away free with some purchase or other by many of the major retailers.

In addition 20 channels in the 934 MHz band were also legalised but, as predicted, equipment to use this band proved to be too expensive for all but the real enthusiasts to use. Underused, this band has now been abandoned and it is no longer legal to use equipment that transmits on it.

An additional block of frequencies in the 27 MHz band were allocated on 1 September 1987 giving a further 40 channels in the CEPT Band,(26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz) also some antenna restrictions were lifted, over the past few years all antenna restrictions have been removed and planning constraints now restrict antenna size rather than regulatory compliance.

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