how to tune a cb radio without a swr meter

How to Tune a CB Radio Without an SWR Meter

Getting your first CB radio is a memorable moment that you will forever treasure. The joy you get from being able to communicate with other drivers while on the road is simply magical. 

However, before you can start fiddling with your radio and knowing its range, it is important that you properly tune your CB radio.

Many new CB radios come with an in-built SWR which is quite convenient. In-built SWR meters may not be as dependable as standalone SWR meters, but they are better than having no SWR.

What most people might not know is that it is possible to still tune a CB radio even if there is no SWR meter and even if your radio lacks an in-built SWR meter.

Why You Should Tune Your CB’s Antenna

Tuning your antenna will go a long way in ensuring your CB radio works flawlessly while giving you the best reception. Typically, a well-tuned antenna receives strong signals and will prevent your radio from getting damaged.

At all times, you should try and ensure that you have an SWR reading of lower than 1.5 since anything greater will cause your radio to perform poorly or damage it entirely.

What You Will Need

Since an SWR meter and an in-built SWR meter are out of the question, you will need the following if you are to tune your CB radio’s antenna:

  • A large open area (about 40 meters of clear open space)
  • A second CB radio (tag a friend to help you with this second radio)

We are also assuming that you already have other essentials such as the antenna and a source of power.

Tuning Procedure

We summarized the tuning procedure into four easy steps. However, we wish to emphasize that you should start transmitting on low power to prevent damaging your radio. This is because you will be working blindly without an SWR meter.

With that said, here are the steps you need to follow to tune your CB radio:

1. Go to the open area

First, you need to drive to an open area that has very little obstacles. This means that there should be few trees or buildings within a 40-meter radius. Open areas have less interference, and this allows signals to travel with ease. You will thus find it easier to tune your CB radio in an area with less interference.

To further increase your chances of tuning your CB radio the right way, ensure you close your vehicle’s doors and windows. Leaving them open could potentially disturb signals while tuning and you might end up getting wrong readings.

In the meantime, your friend should be powering up the second CB radio a few meters away from you. It is also worth mentioning that the second CB radio should be pre-tuned before this exercise.

2. Prepare the antenna

There are a few things you need to consider about the antenna before you begin the tuning process. The idea is that for the first run, you should setup the antenna in a way that your radio will transmit and receive at low power levels.

To achieve that, make sure the antenna has its plastic cap if it usually has one. High SWR readings are usually common whenever your antenna is too tall. 

As such, you need to adjust your antenna to a point you cannot shorten it anymore. After all, it is far better to start with a low SWR as it does not have a damaging effect.

3. Choose a specific channel on the second radio and establish a connection

The idea here is to have both CB radios on one channel so that you can try and establish a clear connection between the radios. Any channel is fine, but we would not recommend the instant channel 9 or 19 since they can have a lot of activities.

Once your friend has tuned to a specific channel, you can proceed to try and establish a connection between the two radios. You can do this by pushing the PTT button on your microphone and speaking then inquiring from your friend if the transmission is clear.

4. Adjusting the antenna

If your friend tells you that the transmission is not clear, you can proceed to adjust the screw on the antenna until you get a clear signal. Loosening the screw will allow you to adjust the height of the antenna. 

Screws are usually common with whip antennas, but they come in various forms depending on the type of antenna. Some antennas have these screws on tunable tips at the top of the antenna while others prefer having them towards the bottom.

Other antennas usually have rings which you can move up or down which can help achieve the same thing.

Your task will then be to repeat the process until your friend tells you the transmission is clear. Since you do not have an SWR meter, it is wise to adjust the height of the antenna in small increments until you get a clear signal

Benefits of Using an SWR Meter to Tune Your CB Radio

Now that you know how to tune your CB radio without an SWR meter, you may be wondering how different your experience would be if you used an SWR meter.

The short answer is that it would have been much simpler as you would not need an extra CB radio at any one point. Below are some of the benefits that you would have realized if you used an SWR meter:

  1. It is faster

When using an SWR meter, you can tell whether your antenna is tuned properly by reading the value on the meter. The aim is to keep the SWR reading below 1.5, and this is easy and fast to achieve with an SWR meter.

  1. Less risk of damaging your CB radio

SWR meters reduce the risks of damaging your CB radio since they show you the exact SWR readings. Tuning a CB radio without an SWR meter is usually done at low power and the actual SWR reading is unknown.

There is therefore a chance that the reading could be on the 1.6 mark. You will thus find yourself in a dilemma whenever you wish to make changes to your radio since you don’t know where your SWR actually lies.

  1. You can re-use it

Having an SWR meter lets you adjust your readings at any time. Since you know the exact SWR reading of your antenna, you can always know your SWR reading before making a major change to your setup. You can also share an SWR meter with a friend. The same cannot be said when tuning without an SWR since it has many requirements.


To summarize, tuning a CB radio without an SWR meter is possible. Though time consuming, it simply requires you to gauge the performance of your radio while using a second CB radio that had been pre-tuned. 

It will then involve making small adjustments to your antenna until you can get a clear signal. However, using an SWR meter would make the tuning process faster and more efficient. There will also be less chances of your CB radio getting damaged.

Scroll to Top