Legal Mumbo Jumbo
As export radios become more and more popular in the CB world, the amount of incorrect legal information on the internet has grown by leaps and bounds. The popularity of CB and ham radio forums has made the spread of this information worse and surprisingly some of the ham radio forums actually are the worst culprits of misinformation.
I think it’s time we lay out some simple facts for new ham radio operators and CB operators in regards to the purchase, sale, and use of CB radios, export radios, and ham radios. The following information is specifically in regards to “individual users/operators”. In this article we will not go into the legal aspects of manufacturing, distributing or end sale of radios as all of that information could fill a book.
All “CB” (Citizen Band) radios sold in the U.S. are required to be type accepted by the FCC. This means that before a CB manufacturer can begin selling a radio to distributors/CB shops within the United States the manufacturer first has to send their unit (along with a lot of paperwork) to the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology. If the radio meets their standards for operations then the radio will be type certified and can be marketed and sold. Every radio must be labeled with a special FCC ID # which shows that it is a legal CB radio.
Legal CB radios can be operated by anyone as long as the operator follows all of the FCC rules set out for the Citizen Band.
Now let’s talk about things that are legal to do to your CB radio and things that are illegal to do to your radio.
You legally can service your CB radio as long as you service the radio according the rules set forth by the FCC for modulation, power, bandwidth, etc. Servicing your radio means you can adjust for frequency, 100% modulation, fix light bulbs, replace broken parts (only with parts meeting the same original specifications), etc.
If you adjust your CB radio for modulation that exceeds 100% your radio is now illegal to use to transmit. If you adjust your radio for power output that exceed the FCC rules your radio is now illegal to use to transmit. Output levels for CB radios are well defined in Part 95.410 Rule 10 of the FCC rules for Personal Radio Services. http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_10/47cfr95_10.html .
It’s fairly common for radios that come from the manufacturers to arrive in the United States with levels set lower than the FCC levels (70% modulation, 2.5 watts output, etc) and this is done on purpose to make sure that if the FCC decides to test any of these radios that they will meet the required standards.
If you modify your radio for extra “channels” or freeband operation the radio is now illegal to use to transmit. If you modify your radio’s clarifier to adjust TX frequency your radio is now illegal to use to transmit.
If a CB shop (any CB shop) does a “peak and tune” to your CB radio and it increases the modulation or output power over FCC levels the radio is now illegal to use to transmit. It doesn’t matter that it’s a CB shop with a business license that did the work on your radio, it still becomes an illegal CB radio to use for transmitting.
It’s simply illegal to make any modifications to your CB radio. What does this mean? You cannot legally change anything inside the radio and then use the radio for transmitting. This means you cannot legally add an echo board, you cannot add a roger beep, you cannot remove the modulation limiter, you cannot change out the final transistor. You legally cannot modify anything inside the radio as this invalidates the FCC certification.
As we talk about these facts let’s discuss an important point regarding “illegal to own” and “illegal to use for transmitting.” While the FCC rules specifically state you must not make any modifications to your CB transmitter this is a bit of a gray area in some respects. If you modified a CB radio and never used it to transmit on the air (you used it for testing purposes only into a dummy load) you technically are experimenting and as long as you don’t break any other FCC rules (interference, etc) it’s legal to do so. Another example is that a licensed ham radio operator may modify a CB radio to operate on a ham radio band as long as the transmitting radio meets all the rules and requirements for a transmitter on that particular band.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of a legal CB radio and an illegal CB radio. If the FCC comes to your house and inspects your station and your CB is transmitting even half a watt more output or is exceeding 100% modulation by 1% they can take legal action against you.
It’s a known fact that millions of radios have been illegally modified and are in use daily in the United States and in 99% of those cases the operators will never ever be bothered by the FCC for operation of an illegal radio. The FCC doesn’t have the manpower to go after every person using echo, or roger beeps, or extra frequencies, exceeding 100% modulation, and truthfully even if they did it wouldn’t be an effective use of government resources. The FCC focuses on catching troublemakers, people broadcasting recordings for hours on end, people transmitting with large amounts of illegal wattage who cause interference, and operators who are interfering with other bands.
As a CB operator if you choose to use an illegal CB radio, be smart and responsible in your operation so that you don’t cause problems or draw undue attention to yourself. If you can operate responsibly (even with an illegal radio) you’ll most likely live your life without ever hearing from the FCC.
“Export” radios are given this name because they were originally defined as transmitters that could be sold in the United States if the intent was to export. This means that the manufacturers are not allowed to sell the radios to end users where they could end up being used inside the United States. The manufacturers generally get around this by selling to distributors and in turn the distributors then sell to the individual shops who sell to the end user.
Export radios generally are transmitters that can be modified to transmit on multiple bands (10/11 meters and in some cases 10/11/12 meters). Since these radios are not FCC type accepted transmitters they are illegal to use on 11 meters (CB Band) by anyone. If you are a CB operator it is illegal to use any export radio. There is no gray area in this respect; if you use an export radio on the CB band frequencies you are in violation of the FCC rules. To clarify this further – unless you are a licensed ham radio operator it is illegal to transmit with one of these radios period.
Now let’s answer some of the common misconceptions about export radios:
It is not illegal for an individual to own an export radio. Anyone can legally own one of these radios.
It is not illegal for an individual to buy or sell an export radio if it is done as a single private transaction. eBay has a lot to learn as far as this rule is concerned. eBay legally can determine what products people buy and sell on their service so there is no use in whining about how they deal with sellers of export radios (or other devices).
Now keep in mind, if you buy twenty export radios and then try to start selling them you all of sudden start to fall into a new class of seller (someone with the intent to distribute) and distribution of export radios to end users is illegal. While the rules aren’t perfectly clear it can be assumed if you are trying to make money selling multiple export radios you probably are breaking the law and the FCC may try to nail you.
As a regular Joe you can own an export radio, you can modify an export radio and you can sell that same export radio to your buddy or at a garage sale, or at a hamfest, etc. but once again unless you are a licensed ham radio operator you cannot “use” that export radio.
Let’s talk about use of export radios by licensed ham radio operators. It is illegal for a licensed ham radio operator to use an export radio on the 11 meter band, no exceptions. It’s illegal for any non-type accepted radio to operate on 11 meters no matter who is the operator.
A licensed operator may use an export radio on one of the bands they are licensed to transmit on if that export radio meets all of the guidelines for a transmitter on that band. Since export radios commonly will transmit on the 10 meter band, many licensed operators will use them for that purpose since they are often much less expensive than typical ham radios. It is up to the licensed operator to ensure that if they use an export radio that it meets all of the FCC guidelines for the band they transmit on.
Ham radios are illegal to use on the 11 meter CB radio band because they are not type accepted for that purpose. While it is possible to convert a ham radio to transmit on 11 meter CB frequencies it’s illegal for anyone to actually use it for that purpose. It’s legal for anyone to own a ham radio (modified or otherwise). It’s legal for anyone to buy or sell a ham radio (modified or otherwise).
There are lots of FCC rules regarding CB radio, export Radio, and ham radio and there is no way we can cover all of them here. Additionally the rules are constantly changing so please do not use this article as any type of legal advice regarding these radios. We are simply listing out information here that is widely available on the web. Everyone should visit the FCC website to verify the rules and regulations for themselves.
After reading the article everyone should take away that it’s basically legal to own any one of these types of radios but how the radio is used is where legal and illegal issues come into play. If you intend to own or transmit with any radio it is very important that you are completely aware of all rules. Of course, how you follow the rules is up to you.
NOTE: Legal Information Is Not Legal Advice
This article provides second hand information about the FCC rules and is intended for information purposes only and not the purpose of providing legal advice. This information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. We recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurances regarding the FCC rules or the information listed here.