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As of this writing, this is the last Radio Shack walkie talkie manufactured. Radio Shack does still carry CB walkie talkies, sort of. There are some Midland, Cobra, and Uniden models in their on line catalog (web only); but none are carried at the stores, and none bears the Radio Shack name. Radio Shack now offers a single model of mobile CB, and no longer produces base equipment. Unless the company decides to resurrect its line, this will be the last of a long line of walkie talkies to bear the Radio Shack logo.
Years back, the company offered dozens of models, ranging from the little (and terrible) Archer Space Patrol units, all the way up to full sized, full, powered radios for hunting, boating, job site, or hiking use. Power went from 100 Mw, up to a full five watts, and channel selection went from single channel up to the full forty.
The good news is that if this is the last in a long line, at least it is a worthy example from what was once the largest and one of the earliest retailers of CB equipment. The TRC-241 is a very nice radio. In common with most current offerings, it features the full 40 channels. Transmitter output on high is three watts, slightly lower than the four watt output allowed under FCC regulations, though in the real world the difference is beneath notice. There is also a low power setting of one watt.
The radio has scanning and monitoring functions, a nice LCD display with a battery and signal indicator, a weather band with 7 weather channels (receive only), selectable power levels. and a rechargeable battery pack. These kinds of features were the stuff of dreams back when I was a boy with my 100 Mw single channel 14 special.
Feature wise, the radio is able to scan the 40 CB channels, as well as its 7 weather channels, and can be set to monitor channels 9 (emergency) and 19. it can also receive weather alerts, and can be configured to sound a tone when weather warnings are given. This unit can also be connected to an external antenna, and an external power supply.
The radio is nicely packaged with its little rubber antenna, a rechargeable battery pack as well as a standard battery holder, a charger for the rechargeable pack, and a belt clip, as well as a carry strap. It also had, in addition to the manual, a copy of the FCC rules regarding CB radios. Though licensing of CB has not been required for decades, it is still a legal requirement for CB owners of full powered gear to have a copy of the rules.
I included the above photo of the packaged radio largely because it has been such a long time since I bought a brand new CB walkie talkie. They are getting a bit hard to find. I picked this one up at a local Radio Shack on my lunch hour. The store was closing them out, and I think I paid something like $25 for it. Though it was a great deal for me, I hate to see yet another store discontinue stocking of amateur and CB gear.
Range on a radio like this, as with any radio, is largely dependant on the antenna. This is where the real weakness of the newer radios shows, and is the cause of the most often heard complaint about the current crop of CB walkie talkies. For the most part, the more modern units do not get the range of the old units. In many cases they do not even get the range of the half watt FRS units, despite the theoretical higher range of CB frequencies over that of the newer UHF radios. Happily, this is easily fixed.
Back in the old days, a full power walkie talkie would have a large extensible antenna, usually either center loaded or base loaded. These antennas were generally 40" to 48" long, and were universally detested by users, because the antennas were very susceptible to being bent and broken. The older technology also called for a rather large radio, so you might have a foot long radio with a four foot antenna. In the photo to the right I have my venerable TRC-212 from the eighties, alongside the new TRC-241. Well, they aren't really quite alongside each other. The new radio, with its little rubber duck antenna, is on top of the shoe box, near the top of the old center loaded antenna. Note the somewhat bulkier size of the old radio, and the striking difference in antenna length.
Walking around in the woods with one of these big old radios was an invitation to snag and bend the antenna. What a regular user would often do, was was carry the radio with the antenna partially collapsed (though this would greatly reduce its sensitivity), and then extend the antenna before transmitting, so that the radio finals would not be damaged by transmitting into an improperly loaded antenna. This was a pain. Many CB walkie talkie owners looked enviously at the little rubber antennas on the VHF/UHF utility radios carried by police or commercial operators. Though many knew better, quite a few wondered why a similar antenna could not be put on a CB walkie talkie. Manufacturers also noted that a little rubber duck antenna could be included for quite a bit less money than the old large center loaded whip antennas.
Most newer CB walkie talkies have the little rubber ducks, which is unfortunate. These antennas are convenient, and many radio enthusiast associate them with the more expensive and sophisticated radios used by police and commercial operators, but the duck antenna is a disaster for CB frequencies. Commercial and police radios tend to operate at much higher (VHF/UHF) frequencies, and do not need large antennas. Putting a duck antenna of this size on a CB radio decreases efficiency by a factor of somewhere between 20 and 30, when compared to the more traditional extensible antennas. That's right, from 4 watts out, to about a fifth of a watt out, or less, when compared to the older antennas. So probably the biggest favor you can do yourself is to get a longer antenna (usually $10 or so).
Antenna swapping on these radios is pretty easy. The photo to the right shows the top of the unit, with a standard BNC connector. Standard antennas are available, as well as adapter so you can connect a mobile or base antenna. With the included 8" duck antenna, you probably have a range of a mile or less. A decent sized whip antenna will probably triple that. A mobile or base antenna will get you the same range as a regular mobile (5 to 10 miles) or base radio (20 miles or more). Though CB frequencies have potential for great range, far in excess of that possible with the little FRS radios, they need large antennas to realize this potential.
The top of the radio also has the squelch, and volume controls, as well as a connector for an external microphone and speaker. These connectors are protected by a rubber gasket, and are properly spaced for use with a standard clip on speaker/mic. With the belt clip snapped on, and a good external speaker/mic attached, you can leave this unit riding on your belt and never have to touch it while hiking, or engaged in other outdoor activities.
The right hand side of the radio has the PTT (Push To Talk) button, and the buttons for changing to a higher or lower channel. this is also where the locking tab is located for releasing battery pack. These controls are sealed with flexible membranes to resist entry of the elements. Operation is simple and intuitive.
The radio was thoughtfully provided with two battery packs. One is the typical rechargeable battery pack that we have come to associate with police and commercial radios. The other is a very handy 8 cell AA pack. It's nice to have both, because the sealed rechargeable packs eventually wear out, and are very expensive to replace. Battery packs slide into the bottom of the radio and lock in place.
The rechargeable pack is the larger of the two, probably due to the internal charging circuitry. This battery is plugged directly into its charger, and does not charge through the radio. It is a pretty powerful pack, putting out 12 volts, and having a storage capacity of 2 amp hours (2000Mah). The manual indicates this battery requires an initial 18 hour charge, and that subsequent charges, from full discharge, should take from 12 - 16 hours. With the 80Mah draw of the radio, this should give about 20 hours of operation, though this can be reduced sharply by frequent transmission. Though the charge indicator LED glows red while charging, there is no indicator of full charge, so you will need to be aware of how long the unit has been charging. The included charger is a typical wall wart. It is center positive, putting out 16 volts at about 200Ma.
A typical rechargeable pack will have a service life of a year or two, depending upon usage. Replacement fo a rechargeable pack can cost $50 or more. It is a common proactive to have packs that no longer hold a charge rebuilt with new cells. This generally costs about half to two thirds of what a new pack will cost. A better alternative is the use of a pack holding standard AA cells.
The standard battery pack holds 8 AA cells. Though these cells may be rechargeable, there is no capability of recharging within the pack. Rechargeable cells will need to be removed when discharged, and recharged independently. Depressing a latch on top of the battery holder allows it to be opened like a clamshell, so that batteries may be easily removed and replaced. This is a handy option, due to lifespan issues with rechargeable packs. Most packs are somewhat proprietary, and can be very expensive to replace. The AA pack can use standard AA batteries, and these can be inexpensively replaced when they wear out. The battery holder is also able to stay current with battery technology. A few years ago, when these radios first came out, a good rechargeable cell might have 1200Mah. Today it is common to see cells with 1800 - 2100Mah. In a few years it might be 3000Mah, as newer battery technologies evolve to feed ever more power hungry devices.
At one time, differences in voltage between rechargeable and standard batteries could create issues, and ever require expedients like dummy batteries to be used to even out voltages. Newer rechargeables don't have these issues, and modern radios are far more adaptable to variations in voltage.
The ultimate power source would be either from automobile power or home electrical power. The radio has a 12 volt nominal (13.8 volt) power input on the left hand side. This is opposite where the charger plugs in on the rechargeable pack, to prevent any possible confusion. Note that the power adapter voltage (12 volts) is lower than the charger voltage (16 volts), yet the amperage is higher. Where the charger only requires 200Ma, the power supply needs to be able to supply up to a steady 400MA, with surges of up to 1.3 amps when transmitting. Radio Shack officially requires a 12 volt supply capable of providing 2.5 amps, with a positive center. In addition to different voltage and amperage requirements, the jack for the charger and supply inputs was intentionally made of different size.
It's nice to see a return to quality radios on the CB band. After the end of the big CB boom, back in the eighties, a lot of poor quality equipment was produced. It was an attempt to capture the last of a dying market, by cutting costs to the bone. There were some cheap little units back in the sixties, for children, before the big boom got started; but that market is gone forever, and today's low end market has mostly gone over to FRS radios.
Operation is simple, with the top mounted squelch and volume controls working as expected. The front of the unit features a multi-function LCD display. The display indicated channel selected, and battery strength, as well as incoming and outgoing signal strength. It also indicated if the unit is being used as a CB or a weather radio, and if the weather alert system is activated.
Below the LCD is a row of buttons that activated the display light, switches from high (3 watt) to low(1 watt) power, switches from CB use to weather radios use, and activates the scan and weather alert. This is also where you can turn off the annoying beep that sounds every time you press a button or change a channel. Like the side mounted controls, these buttons are rubber faced and water resistant. Below this is a relatively large speaker, and a small condenser microphone.
The radio is decent looking, and the large speaker and 400 mA audio make it easy to hear outdoors. It appears sturdy enough, and in several months of ownership I have had no issues. It has power saving circuitry, which I hate, that puts the unit in standby if there has been no activity for 10 - 15 seconds. An indicator flashed on the LCD during power save mode.
Having the weather channels is a nice addition. It's handy outdoors, and nearly a requirement when out on the water. I also find myself using the feature at home when I don't feel like firing up the computer. When the CB/WX button is pressed, the radio scans all seven NWS channels and locks onto whatever channel is being used locally. Interestingly, while CB uses AM propagation (or SSB, on radios so designed), the weather band uses FM, meaning that somewhere on this radio there must be an FM discriminator circuit. it makes me wonder about possible radio mods. So far I have found no information on modifications for this radio, though certainly a little tweaking could bring the power output up to the maximum allowable 4 watts. The final power transistor used in this radio is the 2SC2078.
Options and Accessories
Radio Shack, retailer that it is, sells a number of accessories for this radio. There is a speaker/microphone, which has a standard two prong connector for use with this, and with many other makes and models of radios. Catalog number for this accessory, if still available, is 19-310. The same speaker/mic will work with Midland, Cherokee, Cobra, and most other consumer grade Handheld CB radios that have provision for such an accessory. It will not work with police style radios from manufacturers like Motorola, kenwood, and Icom, which have a slightly wider separation between the two prongs.
The Speaker/mic combination can be handy for all weather use, where the radio can be kept in a protective holster or cover. It can also make operation more convenient for those who prefer not to handle the radio.
Radio Shack, along with many others, also offers an AC power adapter. This is of 12 volts and 2.5 amps. Car adapters are also available for running off of vehicle power. The battery pack is not required, when using a power adapter, which makes for a very small unit. With the battery removed, the unit measures 3.8" x 2.6" x 1.8"
The company also offers an external speaker for base or mobile use, and a magnet mount antenna with a compatible BNC conenctor. Replacement battery packs are also available, though with the discontinuance of the unit it is hard to say how much longer they will be available. Thank goodness for the AA battery holder.
A better portable antenna was already mentioned above; but it is also possible to use this radio with a standard mobile or base antenna. The rubber duck antenna included with the radio is easily removable. The BNC antenna connector is standard for handheld radios; but it is not compatible with the PL-259 connectors used by most base and mobile antennas.
The situation is easily resolved by a BNC to PL-259 adapter. These are not large, or expensive. The adapter is mounted in between the incompatible connector types. There is a slight difference (72 ohms to 50 ohms) in impedance between the two types; but this does not really present a problem. A view of the adapter alongside a standard PL-259 terminated coax cable, and the BNC connector of the TRC-241 is shown in the accompanying photo. Such an adapter can be used to connect to an automobile mounted antenna for mobile use, along with a 12 volt car adapter for power, or it can be hooked up to a base antenna at home.
With an external power supply, an external speaker/mic, and an external antenna, this radio can make a handy little 40 channel base. I use the unit's belt clip to hang mine from a bit of webbing in the garage, as shown below. It is small and handy, and when operating through a base antenna puts out as good a signal as any dedicated base unit. I tmay look a bit silly; but it works great, and takes up little room. It is then a simple matter to convert it back for handheld use. It may not be the fanciest or most feature filled base station; but it is small enough to put in a bedroom or anywhere else you want an unobtrusive little transceiver.
All in all it is a very nice little radio with all of the bells, whistles, and features that today's digital technology can offer. It also has a modular construction and enough connections that it is quite a versatile little device. At one time, it seemed that the only way to get a good quality unit for CB was to get one of the old models from decades ago. Many still believe the older units are better, largely due to the deficiencies of the cheapened models that followed them.
Though I could find no mods for this radio, I disassembled it anyway, just to look it over and get an idea of its quality. What I found surprised me. This radio has a true chassis construction, something I thought had disappeared with the old metal bodied radios of the seventies and early eighties. Additionally, the metal chassis is shielded by a protective metal plate. Quality of construction is very good. I also immediately saw why I could find no radio mods. There are no solder pads or jumpers visible, and the few adjustable components were covered with epoxy. I had half thought that this might be a Macom radio, like the AH-27 and the Midland walkie talkies; but I could find no markings on the circuit boards. I know of no sister models, and also note that this radio is made in China. Maycom radios are made in Korea.
For those that wonder, this chassis is what the antenna is grounded to. Radios that do not have a chassis generally ground the antenna to a small bit of metal foil pasted to the inside of the back cover. This poor ground is another reason the small antennas on these radios perform so poorly. Though a good ground will improve the performance of any antenna, smaller antennas are particularly affected.
Sadly, the plastic outer shells of these radios do not allow for any possibility of grounding the antenna to the body. Some of the older radios sued to do this, with metal side panels. I may have to come up with a mod for that myself, with a copper panel in contact with the outer body of the antenna connector.
I am largely a ham operator now, often on two meters, or 10 meters, with occasional excursions into HF. Yet I do find CB handy to have around. I have friends, and relatives that I like to share traveling or outdoor activities with, and most of them are not licensed to use ham radio. For these situations it is nice to have a few CB radios laying around, and for nostalgic reasons as well.
Coverage 26.965 - 27.405 MHz. (40 CB channels); 162.40 - 162.55 MHz (Weather, receive only)
Sensitivity 1 uv for 10 db
Adjacent channel rejection 60 db
Squelch adjustable from .5 uv
Audio Output (10% distortion) 400 mW
Current drain 80 mA ; 400 mA Max
Coverage 26.965 - 27.405 MHz. (40 CB channels)
Output 3 watts (high)/1 watt (low)
Spurious emissions 60 db
Antenna Impedance 50 ohms
Current drain 1.3 amps (high) 700 mA (low)
Dimensions 7.4" x 2.6" x 1.8"
Weight 18.3 oz
Power 12 volts @ 2.5 amps; positive center - or appropriate battery pack.