TMCnet Feature
October 19, 2021

Ham, CB, Amateur Radios - What is The Difference?

Radio is a broadcast medium that we take for granted. In the home or the car, we tune in to our favorite station and enjoy the show. But that's professional radio. In this article, we're looking at amateur radio, ham radio, and CB radio. We'll talk about the distinction between them, what they are used for and why you might want to get an amateur radio license. Let's start with a look at ham radio.

What is Ham Radio?

So, what is ham radio? The title of this article names three types, but it is fair to say that ham radio and amateur radio are the same things. Ham is often preferred because amateur implies a low level of competence when a great deal of skill and understanding is necessary to become a ham radio operator. If you want to know how to get a ham radio license, we'll cover that in brief later on, but that link should give you a comprehensive outline.

Ham radio describes a type of amateur radio that requires a license to operate. It is usually used by people who want to communicate long-distance with other ham operators. It is often a method of communication in emergencies and is generally for use between individuals. It is not permitted to use ham radio commercially. Broadcasting to a group would be considered against the rules of the license. 

Ham radio equipment can be very powerful. It uses short wave frequencies that can travel long distances. This is enabled by a fascinating discovery made in the early 20th century that showed short wave radio waves bounce back off the ionosphere. By using this method, the ham operator can reach anywhere on the planet. Now let's talk about CB radio and how it differs from amateur radio.

What is CB Radio?

The history of radio is littered with interesting discoveries and developments, and it is worth reading about the many different wavelengths and frequencies within the radio frequency spectrum. We mentioned above that ham radio uses short wavelengths. CB does the opposite and uses a longer wavelength. 

CB stands for 'Citizen's Band.' CB radio has been around since the 1940s but shot to prominence in the 1970s. It is used to communicate over short distances via low-powered radio transmitters and receivers. There is no license required to use a CB radio. Famously associated with truckers, this type of radio equipment can be useful in getting vital information across to members of a group or community. 

CB is used by people driving in off-road groups or by groups of hikers following a trail. It enables those within a short distance to keep in touch with one another. In a local area, several CB sets may use the same frequency. However, only one can broadcast at a time. There is no restriction on using CB commercially.

CB radio users cannot exceed the maximum power limit of 4 watts. This is just about the only regulatory limitation to the use of the system. So, now we know the difference between the two, let's have a recap of the pros and cons of each.

Pros and Cons of Ham and CB Radio

Ham Radio


  • Can broadcast very long distances. 
  • Uses powerful equipment.
  • Easy to learn the skills.
  • Useful in emergencies.


  • License needed to operate.
  • Not for commercial use.

CB Radio


  • No license is needed.
  • Cheaper equipment.
  • It can be used on the move.
  • It can be used commercially.


  • Limited to 4W power.
  • Short distances only.
  • Upgrading is illegal.

Before we finish, we'll outline how to go about getting your ham radio license.

How to Get Your Licence

There is no doubt that a world of interest is out there for anyone who wants to get a ham radio license. However, getting your license is not the work of a moment. There are, in fact, three levels of a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission, each of which requires you to display your knowledge of the technical side and the etiquette required via a test.

The first level is the Technician Class Licence which is the entry point. The test involves 35 questions on the technical and regulatory side of ham radio. There is no requirement for knowledge of morse code at this point.

Next is the General Class, which requires a difficult 35 questions to be answered and allows the holder access to 80% of the bandwidth. To access all of the bandwidth, one needs to answer a 50-question test in addition to the above two to be granted the Amateur Extra Class Licence. The ham operator's license is valid for ten years. 

» More TMCnet Feature Articles


» More TMCnet Feature Articles