A Tale of Two UHF CB Systems

Remember 934 MHz? What happened in other countries? We look to Australia for the answers.

Way back in the mists of time, there was another CB frequency apart from 27MHz. The equipment was so expensive that few people had suitable radios and it was not used much at all. Many CBers may not even have been aware that 934MHz CB existed. You’ll notice I use the past tense, as 934 is now extinct. Killed off by, well, greed I suppose. Let me tell you all about it.

Way back in 1980 and 81, the use of United States specification 27MHz AM CB had become very popular. Only problem was, it was illegal to use them in Britain. So a number of organisations grew to campaign for this CB system to be legalised. I won’t bore you with the governments thoughts about CB radio at that time, other than to quote one phrase. The culprit shall remain nameless, only because I’ve forgotten who said it and not due to any desire to protect the idiot. one high ranking politician said, “We must consider the dangers of allowing the public to communicate with each other”. He must have been panicking when mobile phones became popular. Around the time all this was being argued about, there was a general election, Labour got the boot and Maggies army took the reigns. The new government seemed more amenable to CB, so some proposals for legal CB were released to the CB press in April of 1981.

The government wanted to give us an allocation on or around 928MHz. This part of the spectrum was not used and was considered fairly worthless. Britains CBers didn’t think this was a good idea, they had spent money on 27 MHz gear and wanted 27 MHz to be legal. Some argued very strongly for an allocation in the “Lancaster band” at 220MHz, so called as Lancaster bombers used these frequencies during the Second World War. And 220 MHz was an amateur band in the United States, so equipment would be available. The government then suggested a spot between 40 and 50 MHz as the old 405 line band one TV was closing down and making this frequency available. But the CBers wanted 27 MHz because that’s the frequency they were already using. To this day I can’t understand why we didn’t push for a 40 MHz CB service, it would have been the envy of the world. We would have made contacts twice the distance we can now, with no SSB skip interference. Since then I have used the 50MHz amateur band while mobile and have proved my thoughts to have been correct. But 40MHz was swept under the carpet in the push to have 27 MHz legalised. Talk about kicking a gift horse up the behind!

The authorities caved and announced that 27 MHz would be legalised. on the 2nd of November 1981, two separate CB bands were legalised. Forty channels on 27 MHz FM, on different frequencies to the AM rigs we were all using. And 20 channels using FM on 934 MHz. FM?? What use was that? Maybe we hadn’t been specific enough in our requests for 27 MHz CB. We got what we asked for, but nobody wanted it. Oh well, at least our antenna would do for the new legal channels. 27 MHz FM CB became hugely popular over the next few years, as I’m sure many of you reading are well aware.

Cybernet Delta 1 UHF CB Radio
Above: The ubiquitous Cybernet Delta 1 934 MHz CB Radio. This picture was recently found on an auction site. A very rare sight these days though!

But what about 934 Mhz? UHF frequencies so high up the spectrum were considered pioneering territory back then. There were no commercial mobile radios around that frequency from which cheap parts could be borrowed to manufacture CB sets. 27 MHz CBs were available in abundance at reasonable prices as 27 MHz was used all over the world for CB. It just meant changing a few components and values to make a set for the odd “UK only” channels. But nobody had made any suitable radios for anywhere near 934 MHz. But credit where its due, a British company called Reftec got a set into production pretty much straight away. You could be on the air on 934 MHz with a basic “knob” set for about £400. Compare this with a cost of under £100 for a similar 27 MHz set up and you’ll see why hardly anyone went for 934.

To add to this, 934 was very much a line-of-site frequency. You were allowed to use 8 watts and beams and base to base signals were very good, but for mobile use it was a little unpredictable and definitely an enthusiasts choice rather than for the non-technically minded. But despite this, 934 developed a dedicated, if sparse following. Japanese manufacturers soon jumped aboard the bandwagon and more models of radios became available. Uniace, Grandstand and the ubiquitous Cybernet Delta one, which became the standard choice of the UHF’er.

Due to the high cost of equipment 934 didn’t attract the brain dead element that 27MHz did. on air conduct was exemplary and made even the amateur bands appear unruly. Some UHFers were licensed radio amateurs who found the laid back but polite approach, without the need for callsigns or log keeping most agreeable. Most did use call signs though. The UK934 club was very successful and at one time most 934 operators were members of the club and used the UK1234 style call sign. The club had a QSL bureau and ran contests and activity days. By the mid 1980s all the major population centres had regular on air group nets.

The future of 934 was looking bright. The 20 channels were 50KHz spaced, but the maximum deviation was more in keeping with a 25KHz spaced system. It was very noticeable that 934 had been designed to be easily expanded. 934 could easily become a 40 channel service. Some technically minded folks noticed that the radios circuitry was designed with this in mind. Everyone thought it was only a question of time until 934 grew an extra 20 channels.

But in 1988 things turned sour. The authorities had a rethink. The old FCC 27 MHz channels were legalised on FM as the new CEPT channels and 934 was restricted. No more 934 sets were allowed to be manufactured or imported although existing radios could still be used. There was only around two thousand 934 radios in the country at this point and its 20 channels which occupied a whole one megahertz, was taking a lot of spectrum away from the new mobile phone network. So despite the government originally wanting 900+MHz to be the only CB band, they decided 934 would have to go. Its limited use did not justify the amount of spectrum used, and this spectrum could be used for mobile phones, which was fast becoming a big bucks industry. The mighty dollar wins over the hobbyist every time. UHF CB was condemned to death.

A lot of the 934 crew gave up in disgust and many returned to 27 or 144MHz. Some still soldiered on knowing the band would only have less and less use. The UK934 club kept on going for as long as it could until lack of interest and eventually the total recall of 934MHz forced its closure. The 31st December 1998 was the last day for 934. The nationwide usage during those final months was thought to have been in single figures. A sad story indeed.

But Britain is not alone in its use of UHF CB. Australia has a very similar story of CB radio development, with one big difference. It was 27MHz the government wanted to scrap, not UHF. This story gives an insight into what Britains 934MHz band could have become had it not been restricted in 1988.

During the 1970s illegal use of US spec 27 MHz CB became widespread in Australia, just as it had in Britain. And just as in the UK, various societies campaigned for 27 MHz CB to be legalised. After much debate, on 1st of July 1977 two CB systems were legalised. The first had eighteen channels on 27MHz using AM and SSB. These channels were not the first 18 of the US FCC channels, they ran from 27.015 to 27.225MHz. The second band was 40 channels using FM on 476 and 477 MHz. In 1977 there were no UHF CBs, no manufacturers had started making any yet and users weren’t to concerned as they had 27 MHz gear and were happy with it. Most were illegally using US spec 23 channel rigs, as when the US announced they would expand their spec to 40 channels in 1976, Australia was flooded with cheap 23 channel sets. Unlike the UK, it was legal to import CBs then, you only broke the law when you used them.

Just like the UK government, the guys in charge wanted the UHF band to be the main CB band. And right from the off in 1977, made it clear that the eighteen 27MHz channels were temporary. They were to be phased out by 1982, by which time UHF sets would be available and everyone was to give up 27MHz and move to UHF. Not surprisingly the Aussies didn’t like this plan at all and didn’t waste any time telling the lawmakers what they thought. Much shouting, demonstrating and complaining ensued and by 1980 the government announced that 27MHz would remain until it was re-assessed in 1990, then may be closed after that. But after continued protest the authorities gave up in 1982 and not only made 27 MHz CB a permanent fixture, but increased the spec to 40 channels so it was legal to use imported US spec 40 channel rigs. CBers one – government nil.

But how was UHF developing? The answer is, it wasn’t. No manufacturer wanted to take the chance and put a lot of money into developing a radio for this new CB band, which had very little interest from Australias CBers who were happily using 27MHz. After a few years Philips decided to dive in at the deep end and produced a radio. Their new rig was fairly revolutionary for its time, it was small, all plastic and we now know that’s its receive sensitivity was a bit duff. But at the time there was nothing to compare it with so people bought them and were happy with them. After a while other manufacturers saw the band starting to develop and produced radios. The PMR manufacturer Sawtron produced superbly sensitive radios, which immediately earned the owner much respect, especially as UHF rigs were not cheap, and Sawtrons were 3 times the price of anything else. But at least the Sawtrons forced Philips to get their act together and improve their receive sensitivity.

By the eighties UHF CB use was slowly growing. Due to the relatively expensive equipment, 477MHz lacked the brain dead users to start with, just as 934MHz did. Initially conduct was friendly and polite. Some 27MHz users had moved to UHF as they liked the audio quality of FM, others because they didn’t want to work the skip and wanted a quiet channel to chat locally. 477MHz was quite line-of-sight in the same way 934 was, but not as bad. 477 was quite practical for mobile use, even though the fading and reflections seemed very noticeable to ex-27MHz users. Though these users soon developed the skills of using reflections to their advantage. In comparison to the amount of users on 27MHz, 477MHz was very quiet. It was thought of as a good local short range band, but a little expensive for most.

Now lets pause for a moment to look at our British CB development and compare it to our colonial cousins down under. We both had a huge following for illegal 27MHz, we both wanted 27MHz to be legalised. 27MHz was legalised and was very popular. We also both had a UHF band legalised which slowly gained followers. These stories are separated by 4 years and 10,000 miles and it’s a bit spooky to see how similar they are. But this is where the stories take different routes. As you already know, seven years after Britain had UHF CB legalised, it was stopped in its tracks. They didn’t ban it in 1988 but many say they might as well have, 934 died a slow death from then on. In Australia however, the authorities gave in to the demands from interested parties and gave UHF a boost. In 1982, almost five years after legalisation, the use of repeaters was allowed on UHF CB.

Philips were first to act again, they applied for licenses and installed many repeaters covering all the major cities. Due to many starting on Philips rigs and seeing the Philips repeaters make a huge difference to the band, Philips Electronics will forever be credited with kicking UHF CB into life. Repeaters made an enormous difference to UHF CB. Now mobile stations had ten times the range they used to. There are more than 600 repeaters operating in Australia now, some owned by CB clubs, some by commercial companies and some by people who just provide them for the good of the community.

With more radio manufacturers gearing up for UHF CB production, cheaper equipment was becoming available. The number of repeaters was growing and UHF CB started to really take off. Before too much longer CBers were no longer simply CBers, they were now categorised into those that preferred 27MHz and those that preferred UHF. Although a lot of CBers had two CBs mounted side by side in their homes and car. Before to long the two bands had established their individual qualities, when you wanted to work the skip you used 27MHz, and when you wanted to chat with family or friends you used UHF. With numbers of users on the two bands starting to become more equal the aforementioned brain dead types started to infect UHF with their abuse. Repeaters not only allowed communication far beyond your normal range it allowed abuse far beyond normal range too. And repeaters attracted plenty of abuse. Sadly idiocy is global.

So that’s how it stands in Australia at the moment, two CB systems running in parallel. one perfect for skip free local chats, and another perfect for working the skip without to much local interference as all the locals are on UHF. one compliments the other.

So far this story is all factual. But I would like to break off into fantasy. What if 934MHz CB had not been restricted in 1988 and it had been allowed to develop its natural course? There was one big thing that kept people off 934, the cost of the gear. But as mobile phone technology surged ahead in leaps and bounds, equipment was becoming commercially available for the 900 to 1000MHz slot. These days mobile phones cost pennies to make. All this knowledge, technology and mass produced components would have allowed the production of cheap and compact 934 CBs. It is perfectly feasible to predict that if 934 CBs were mass produced now, that they would cost little more than a 27MHz set. In Australia a basic 477MHz CB is actually cheaper than a 27MHz SSB rig. That’s because 477MHz CBs are modified commercial transceivers. By the mid 1990s 934MHz CB would have become easily affordable. These days we can buy an 80 channel 27MHz rig for between 60 and 100 pounds. By comparison to Aussie UHF prices, I would guess a modern 934 rig would cost between 80 and 150 pounds depending on features available. It is realistic to predict that if 934 sets had been available for such prices that usage of the band would have become widespread. CBers in the UK are sick of continual SSB interference during sun spot maxima, and 934 would have been free of this. Just as in Australia, British CBers would have had two CBs mounted side by side.

Unfortunately, with cheaper sets and greater user numbers, the abuse would have moved to 934 and the polite reputation that 934 maintained throughout its seventeen year history would have been spoiled. But what would you rather have. No band, or a band with a few muppets? I know which I’d go for.

The one thing Australia had which would have been unlikely to occur in Britain was repeaters. 934 would have been the perfect band for repeaters, but with only 20 channels this would have taken many channels away from normal use. But if 40 channels had been allowed, repeaters would have been a realistic possibility. In Australia there are 8 input channels and 8 outputs. These 16 along with the 2 calling channels (local and mobiles) drops the number of chat channels down to 22. Would the UK authorities have allowed repeaters? Probably not, they would have shied away from the man-hours required for extra licensing and the potential interference to other services caused by mounting CB transmitters on hilltops used by other commercial repeaters. But we can dream.

934 MHz CB was scrapped mainly due to the low number of users it had. If there had been more users I am certain it would still be in existence today. If it had been allowed to remain a going concern until cheaper rigs had become available I am sure it would have become a very popular band, very possibly becoming the enthusiasts choice of main CB band. Unfortunately the mobile phone technology which could have made this happen grew so quickly it consumed the frequencies 934MHz CB needed to live.

Now lets take a quick look at PMR446. Its not CB, but its available for anyone to use. It has been around for a few years now and has surprised me with how popular it has become, considering it is restricted to hand held radios only and 0.5 watts ERP. Who is using PMR446? I know a few CB enthusiasts who have bought them and are enjoying using them as a short range CB style service, but the main usage seems to be by people with no interest in 27MHz CB. Think about that, a public access UHF radio service being used by people who wouldn’t have bothered with 27MHz CB. Why did they choose 446 and not CB? Maybe the skip interference, maybe the bad language, maybe just the bad reputation that CB has. But whatever the reason it sounds like Britain has a need for a decent UHF CB service. If PMR446 had a few more channels, a few more watts and mobile and base stations allowed 446 could become what UHF CB is to the Australians, it could become what 934 was destined to be. Does Australia have an equivalent to PMR446? No it doesn’t, no need for it, people use UHF CB hand helds. Then they get the option of 5 watts and using repeaters if low power simplex can’t manage.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I consider the scrapping of 934 to have been a bad move and very unfair to all those involved with the band. Not just because they had spent a considerable amount of money on equipment which is now worthless, but because I believe that 934 was a better CB service for non-DX use. Not many people were aware of the usefulness of 934 and because of this the injustice of its closure has never been adequately publicised. I hope I have been able to do a small amount to correct that and to make you think of UHF CB and what could have been.

I dedicate this story to all that used 934 MHz. I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to make contact with you all.

Jack Cook
30/11/2001

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About Transmission1 64 Articles
Simon is the founder and owner of the TM1 website. Since 1999 he has provided the online community with a place to meet up with like minded radio enthusiasts and discuss projects relating to the hobby and a large number of equipment reviews and resources totally free of charge.

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