Jul 152013
 

CB Radio

When the 1970s arrived, few people outside of the trucking industry had ever heard of a CB radio. Within a few years, however, just about everyone and their mother had joined in the fun, thanks in no small part to a popular song and a very successful movie, each of which promoted this early version of social networking that took the nation by storm.

Citizen Band radio was developed in 1945, setting aside a segment of radio frequencies, split into 40 channels, for use by the general public. By the 1960s, small businesses were using it as an effective way for their employees to communicate with each other. Most notably, the trucking industry embraced the technology, allowing its drivers to converse with each other and share information along those lonely stretches of highway.

With the emergence of the energy crisis in 1973, the nation decided to impose a 55MPH speed limit. Truckers weren’t pleased, and began using the technology to alert fellow drivers to the presence of speed traps set along the highways. It also allowed them to organize protests, blockades and convoys under the relative anonymity of various nicknames or “handles” and by using coded language filled with colorful catchphrases. A highway patrolman was a “Smokey Bear”, a police helicopter became a “bear in the air.” A “10-20” referred to to a specific location, while a “10-100” meant taking a bathroom break. And, if your 10-20 was a “choke and puke,” that meant you were at a roadside truck stop.

It wasn’t long before Hollywood got wind of these underground antics and started portraying truckers using this intriguing technology. In 1974, a television series debuted called Movin’ On, which featured Claude Akins and Frank Converse as big-rig drivers who regularly used CB radios. The following year, a singer named C.W. McCall released a novelty song called “Convoy” which featured the colorful CB communications between a group of truckers organizing a protest. The song went straight to the #1 spot and stayed for an impressive six weeks. The public was slowly beginning to catch CB fever, and the sales of these devices began to rise.

The real catalyst, however, was a 1977 comedy film starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed. A tale of a couple of outlaws who elude the law as they attempt to bootleg a truck full of Coors beer across state lines, Smokey and the Bandit was an enormous success, earning a whopping $126 million at the box office. Almost overnight, a CB radio became a must-have item, with millions of Americans installing them in their vehicles and even at home. In a world before cell phones, this was cutting edge technology. Needless to say, all those new users with their creative handles cluttered up the already-limited airwaves to the point that the service became almost useless to truck drivers, but the CB era had, for better or worse, arrived.

Much like the internet of today, CB radios afforded a certain level of anonymity, as users could hide behind their handle. As a result, a number of celebrities joined the airwaves in the 70s. Prolific voice artist Mel Blanc used to broadcast in the Los Angeles area using his various cartoon personas. First Lady Betty Ford assumed the handle “Big Momma.” Much like the Facebook accounts of today, if you didn’t have your own CB handle in the late 70s, you were seen as somewhat of a societal outcast.

And yet, with the arrival of the 80s, we pretty much forgot all about CB radios, returning the airwaves to the thousands of truckers that actually used the technology for reasons other than to be popular. And they still use them today. In fact, there is nothing stopping you from going out and installing a CB radio in your car today. You can even pick your own handle and say something to the effect of “Breaker 1-9, this is 70s Kid letting you know that Smokey Bear is parked behind the Choke and Puke on I-40.” Of course, as fun as that sounds, today’s cell phones have all but made those glorious 70s relics obsolete.

Did you or your family own a CB radio in the 70s? Bonus points if you can remember your handle! Help us remember the CB radio craze of the 70s, by sharing your recollections in our comments section below.

  8 Responses to “CB Radio”

  1. I had a CB base station in my basemenet around 1973, give or take (I was about 16 at the time). This was before the craze hit later in the 70’s. My dad put an antenna on the roof and I was able to talk to other CB’s in a several mile radius. The problem was that my signal would wipe out television reception at the next door neighbors! An in-line filter from Radio Shack took care of that little issue. My handle at the time was Godzilla.

    I joined the mobile CB craze later on with the handle “Rocket Man”. There was always someone to talk to on the LI Expressway!

    10-4, Good Buddy, signin’ off! See ya on the flip side!

  2. Thanks so much for this post, and ALL of these amazing posts. You are reminding me of so many things that I haven’t thought of for 40 years!

    If I remember right, when CB’s first started to get popular, there were only 23 channels available. But the explosion in the use of CB’s prompted the FCC to open up it up to 40 channels — though I don’t remember what year that happened.

    I was in middle school when all this became popular, and had a couple of radios — my favorite was my Cobra 40-channel, very similar to this one . All sorts of kewl knobs and switches!

    One aspect of the CB radio craze that you don’t hear much about (not that you hear much about the 70’s CB radio craze anyway…) are QSL cards. I was BIG into this. They were postcards that you’d design yourself with some hand-drawn (sometimes lewd) design, which would include your handle, your license number, and your mailing address. Somebody would send you a pack of 10 of their own QSL cards, and also include several from other people. Then you’d put together envelopes of 10 of your cards, plus some others and send them on to everyone who’s QSL card you’d just received. It was sort of like a chain-letter, really. I had hundreds of QSL cards from people all over the United States. I guess the idea was that if you traveled somewhere, you would have somebody you could contact over the CB while you were there.

    I just did a Google search and came up with this groovy site: http://www.myqsl.org I didn’t find my card, but I also didn’t look through the 10,412 cards that are there…

    My handle was Dr. Pepper. And for the record, as stated on my card, “I QSL 100%” (which meant that if you sent me cards, I would absolutely send you cards…no wasted “sends”) 🙂

    Oh, and I have no idea what “QSL” stood for. Hmmmm….

  3. Yeah, end of junior high school in ’77, I had a base in the basement and the 40′ whip on the parents roof! Then when I was awarded a wonderful Ford Pinto as a “gift” for landing an electronics assy. job in Westbury, I went mobile with the thing and used it “to meet chicks” at 17. Trouble was, I was meeting the 23-and-older ones who had no interest in a teen, so I dunno what the hell they were on the air for to begin with.

  4. My handle was “Bongs Away”.

  5. A CB radio or “citizens band” radio is the perfect medium range communications tool. The average store bought 2 way radio usually operates on GRMS or FRS frequencies. These frequencies are limited to a few miles and are limited even further by buildings, tress, mountains and all obstacles. CB radios can obtain ranges up to 150 miles, sometimes more. CB’s operate on a different frequency than traditional consumer radios which allows them to obtain these extended ranges and makes them a preferable communications tools.

  6. Back in the 70`s, I was a member of Suffolk County REACT, the volunteers that monitored channel 9.
    I still have a CB radio in my pickup truck.

  7. Dad was a trucker and had a base at the house in the 60’s. Back then I went by the “Little pony”. His call letters were KBP-6994. H e went by BIG SLIM. I dont know what ever happoned to his collection of CB cards but there were hundreds of them stacked in his desk drwer. Every once in awhile i would pull them out and look athem all.,and there were some crazy ones! I do remember one from Arthur Godfrey. I would be interested to know if anyone has our card in there rellic collection. There was a pony on the card. Big Slim and Little pony. Call letters KBP-6994.. Thanks Patty P.

  8. Can’t use a cell phone to warn others about smokey etc.. Anyways, my handle was the Italian stallion. Rocky came out in 76, same year I got my Cb. Good ole days!!

 Leave a Reply