Idiot’s guide to shooting skip – CB radio 11 Meters Skip Conditions
If you have an elderly dog named Skip dont worry, this isnt a story on how to euthanize your pet. Were talking about a phenomenon called skip that happens on the CB radio band. For most operators their first experience with skip went something like this.
Youre cruising down the highway talking to your buddy who is in another vehicle a couple car lengths behind you when all of a sudden you start hearing other CBers in the background talking. But what they are saying sounds funny and they are using numbers and phrases you havent heard on the radio before. You hear a couple of people mention that they are in states on the other side of the country. How can this be that your $40 Radio Shack CB radio is picking up people talking 1,000 miles away? 10 minutes later they are gone and its just you and your buddy on the radio again. What happened?
Welcome to the world of CB skip (also known as DX).
Skip (or DX) is a name we use to describe atmospheric conditions that allow for radio transmissions to travel long distances. These conditions can bounce signals from state to state or even from country to country. While most people have the impression that only Ham Radio operators can talk long distances on the ham frequencies, they couldnt be more wrong. The CB radio frequency spectrum is located very close to one of the popular Ham Frequencies used for DX and so even CBers can enjoy the same sort of amazing distance transmissions.
I wont go into the technical details of how or why skip occurs as there is already plenty of information on the web regarding solar cycles and causes and effects of atmospheric conditions. What I do want to share with new operators is how to get involved in talking skip and offer some insight and details into the best way to do so.
First of all lets talk about all those people out there you hear when the skip starts to roll in.
Skip is a big part of the CB radio hobby and there are tens of thousands of operators across the U.S. who enjoy talking long distances when conditions allow them to do so. These operators will often turn on their radio daily to listen and see if conditions are allowing skip to occur. If skip is happening they will jump on the radio and try to make contacts with other stations far away. Talking to stations in other states or other countries is exciting (imagine talking from your car in Colorado to a station in Australia how cool is that?). Operators who talk skip are all excited about this phenomenon and so they are happy and willing to make contact with multiple stations on the air. If they are able to hear you, then they most likely will say hello to you.
Now that you know that there are other people out there who want to talk long distances to you, how do you make contact?
First off youll need to know on which channels youll be most likely to be able to talk skip. Because operators who talk skip are trying to make contact with each other its easier if they all try to do so only on certain channels. This makes the likelihood of finding someone else to talk to much higher. If you are trying to make a contact on AM some popular channels for skip talking are channel 6, 11, 14, 17, 19, 26, 28 and 30. Of these channels the most popular by far are channel 6 (also referred to as The Superbowl), 17 and 19. So if you are flipping through the channels and looking for long distance transmissions its always best to listen on these frequencies first.
Now if you have a SSB radio youll find that the majority of skip within the U.S., Canada, and Australia will occur on lower sideband (LSB) on the following channels 35, 36, 37, 38, & 40 with the majority of people running on 36 and 38. Channel 38 is pretty much the nationwide call channel for SSB skip.
So now you know where people are talking skip, how do you make contact with them?
On AM youll find the skip talking is often very informal and disorganized. Youll hear multiple stations talking at the same time, strange noises as hundreds of simultaneous signals mix, and stations calling out with weird CB lingo. Dont let any of this discourage you, it’s part of the skip talking culture on AM. When you decide you want to try to talk to one of those far-off stations on AM youll first want to come up with a CB Handle to use. A handle is a nickname youd like to use on the air.
Once you decide on that youll want to listen until you hear a strong station that identifies themselves with a handle and their location. It might sound something like this
How bout it out there DX land, Big Red down here in Alabama looking for conditions
Now it might sound a little like a foreign language at first but lets break it down
- How bout it out there DX land
The station is asking if there are other stations at long distances away available on the frequency
- Big Red down here in Alabama
The station is telling you that his/her handle (nickname) is Big Red and they are in the State of Alabama
- Looking for conditions
The station is looking for someone to call back to them to make a skip contact
So how do you answer this call? You might try something like this
Big Red in Alabama, this is Daffy Duck up here in Colorado you got a copy on me?
Youve now called back to them using their information to make sure they know that you are calling them, and then followed with your information so they know who you are and your location for the contact.
Once youve made the contact you might ask how the weather is, or discuss how your radio transmission sounds or what kind of equipment youre running. Most skip contacts on the CB band will last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes depending on if the other station is interested in having a conversation or just making contacts in lots of different states.
Although having a conversation with someone in another state is pretty cool. A big part of the allure of talking skip is trying to talk to lots of different states while the atmospheric conditions allow it. This often keeps conversations very short and as soon as youve made contact with a station they might just say thanks for the contact and start calling for another contact again.
One of the difficulties you might run into when trying to talk skip is that no one is answering your calls. Dont be discouraged; sometimes you might have to call out 50 times before you can get one of the skip talking stations to respond. At other times the atmospheric conditions may allow you to hear 100s of other far off stations but try as you may you wont be able to make contact with any of them.
Something else to consider is that most of the stations talking AM skip are running power in excess of the legal limits. Many of the stations that talk on channel 6 run thousands of watts which is well in excess of the 4 watt legal limit that your CB is putting out. This means that you might be able to hear them, but its highly unlikely that they can hear you. This is one of the reasons that many new operators who want to talk skip will either purchase a small illegal amplifier OR will try out the other modes available with SSB.
On SSB it is much easier to make a skip contact in most cases and doesnt require large amounts of power to do so. In fact many of the operators talking skip on SSB are doing so on stock sideband CB radios putting out 12 watts. Talking skip on SSB is different than AM though so lets talk about what youll need to make it happen.
Most operators on SSB have chosen a number for themselves for identification purposes rather than a handle. Usually the numbers are 2, 3, or 4 digits long and can be whatever you prefer. Some people belong to skip talking clubs where members are assigned numbers and those people usually use a combination of the club initials and their assigned number. Heres an example of what you might hear on channel 38 LSB.
CQ DX CQ DX this RT443 San Diego
Sounds like a foreign language again doesnt it?
CQ is a radio term used for over a 100 years now that historically meant General Call or All Stations. In todays world we often think of the term CQ as meaning Seeking you. DX is another radio term that historically referred to a distance exchange but is commonly used these days to mean distance transmission. So the combo of CQ and DX together means that the station is seeking a long distance contact with someone. Repeating the call CQ DX is not absolutely necessary its just common practice in case the stations on the other end didnt hear the first couple of words.
- RT443 San Diego
This station is giving you his identification information. RT stands for the Romeo Tango DX club (there are multiple clubs out there so youll hear RF707, World Radio 981, MT476, etc.). The 443 is the number hes chosen for himself or the one his club assigned him. San Diego of course is the location from which hes transmitting.
So if youd like to reply to his call it would go something like this
RT443 San Diego this is station 622 Boise, Idaho calling, do you copy?
Youve identified who you are calling and also given your call sign and information for that station for their response. The station will often call back repeating your numbers again to verify they have the information correct and also so you can verify that youve made an actual long distance (DX) contact. Many stations like to log this information in books or on wall maps to keep track of all the places around the world that theyve talked to, so dont be offended if they ask for your first name (or your first personal), they just like to put a name down for future reference.
The other reason for using your numbers and location when making your call is that there is a high possibility that the station you are calling may not hear you, but some other station listening might. In that case you might call out for RT433 in San Diego but to your surprise station RF 707 from New York responds to your call. This is quite common and as an operator even though you might really want to talk to the San Diego operator, if San Diego doesnt respond its always good courtesy to respond to the other station calling you since you now know you can make contact with them.
On SSB many stations will use what are called Q codes which are abbreviation codes but this isnt necessary for most people. Just relax and carry on with a normal conversation once you make a contact. Remember that for many people making as many contacts in different places as possible is what they are interested in so dont be upset if they respond to you and then move right on to the next station.
How do you know when skip is happening?
If you live in a busy area with lots of people on the radio it might sometimes be difficult to tell when stations are calling from a distance and skip is occurring. Obvious signs are stations calling from locations in other states etc, but also youll often be able to tell that skip is happening by the way the multiple stations sound on the other end and the types of conversations you hear. For instance if you talk locally on channel 38 LSB you wont normally hear multiple stations calling CQ DX repeatedly. This is a good sign that skip is happening. Stations that are far away often may sound a little different through your radio too, their signals might move your needle more sporadically as they talk and pause, and the transmission might sound softer or sometimes may fade in and out as they are talking. These are all signs that its someone far away talking to you. To monitor for skip the best places to hang out are channel 6, channel 19 and channel 38 LSB. While I dont regularly talk skip on channel 6 I do monitor that channel quite often as its a very highly used channel for skip talking. By monitoring that channel Im more likely to be able to hear when skip conditions start to occur.
Skip can last for 1 minute, 5 hours, or go on for days. The phenomenon occurs because of sunspot activity which shoots rays of energy that effect our atmosphere. Since these occur at random no one can guarantee for sure when or where skip will occur or for how long. Often on CB forums there will be sections where people can post up information if skip starts to happen so other members can go jump on the radio quickly and enjoy the conditions.
Isnt transmitting farther than 155.3 miles illegal on the CB band?
According to the FCC, the CB radio service was original allocated for short range transmissions. They specify in the rules part 95 that knowingly transmitting farther than 155.3 miles is illegal and you can be punished by jail time or fines. The reality is that what the FCC is most concerned about are stations using high amounts of power that cause disruptions to other radio services. They could probably care less about CBers talking DX and in my experience I have never ever heard of anyone I know being in trouble for talking DX. There are even thousands of licensed ham radio operators who shoot skip all the time on the CB band even though they are quite aware its illegal. The ham operators will even use their 100 watt ham equipment to do so, which is also a big no no as far as the FCC is concerned.
The reality is that shooting skip on the CB band is fun and everyone does it. So while I dont endorse breaking the law, youll probably be able to enjoy shooting skip your whole life without ever hearing from the FCC.
How far can you talk when skip is working?
This all depends on mother nature, some days youll talk only 300 miles to a state relatively close by, on other days you might talk to Australia or Europe. On really good days you might talk to South Africa or into Russia and I know a station who has talked down to an operator in Antarctica on the ice shelf. Skip is an amazing thing and sometimes in the morning youll talk to one end of the U.S. and by the evening time youll be talking to the other side. Ive even talked to islanders in the South Pacific who lived on islands with no running water or power and were talking off of a generator.
Sometimes to talk to other countries you might have to try different modes such as FM or USB. Many people in other countries also run on frequencies that are just outside the normal CB range such as 27.455 (which would translate to channel 45 on your standard CB radio if it could go that far). Most export radios cover these extra frequencies and so that is one of the reasons export radios are so popular these days. These frequencies are often called the freeband and are frequencies that are typically unused even though they might be allocated by the FCC to a specific band plan. Freebanding is a very popular part of shooting CB skip although it also is illegal.
When skip is really strong sometimes I cant even talk to my buddy down the street, it sucks.
Not everyone likes skip. In some areas the local channel people talk on might be channel 17 (one of the most common skip talking channels) and when skip starts to happen it makes local conversations very difficult. Most operators jump at the chance to talk some skip but others only see it as a disruption to their local conversations. If possible in those cases the local stations will often turn up their RF gain so they can only hear each other, but there isnt really anything you can do about skip as mother nature is in control. As an operator in your local area its also good to have respect for the other stations who may not share your love of talking skip. If they are carrying on a conversation on channel 17 while skip is going on in the background, dont interrupt them trying to call out to DX stations. Youre better off just looking for another channel to try to shoot skip on rather than upsetting your locals, after all you have to talk to them everyday.
Share the excitement!
Most people in the year 2010 might look at you a little funny when you tell them you LOVE talking on the CB radio and talk on it daily to your CB friends you met on the air. While there are literally millions of people who still use CB radios we no longer are as cool as we were in 1979. BUT while being a CB radio superstar may not impress the ladies these days, telling someone that you just got done talking to a radio operator in the Hawaiian Islands will definitely generate some excitement (unless of course you already live in Hawaii).
I find that while most people think CBs arent as cool as their new IPhone, they are always surprised that I was able to talk from my car to another operator in his car in Australia without using the internet, phone lines or any other type of modern system. In fact quite a few people Ive told about these experiences have later gotten into the hobby themselves to enjoy talking DX. Its hard not to share your excitement when making contact with another state or country so make sure to tell people about our hobby and explain that its not just for talking to truck drivers on the interstate.