Remembering the Days of CB Radios

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Growing up in the 1980s on a farm in rural Virginia and being the grandson of West Virginia truckers meant that no machinery or truck owned by my family was complete without a large antenna being affixed to the roof or hood and a wire chord being linked to a black Cobra CB radio on the dash.

Actually, my dad and grandfather’s trucks had two “radios”.  One had a standard black mic and linked to the dash CB radio — we used this radio for talking with neighboring farmers and truck drivers.

On the other hand, their trucks also had another radio which had a white mic and was used exclusively for “the company”.  From time to time I was allowed to pick up the black microphone and talk on it with our neighbors, but under no circumstance was I ever permitted to even touch this fancier radio — the radio’s white Motorola mic always served as a childhood mystery to me each time I climbed into their trucks and it was my goal to one day have a company radio in my vehicle, too.

The days of CB radios have long passed for most in this nation, as cell phones, the Internet and walkie-talkies have all chipped away at the number of CB users; however, not too long ago, CBs were all the rage.

It was not until the late-1960s that CB radios reached the point where they were affordable enough for the average consumer to purchase one; however, it was the 1973 oil crisis that served as the perfect storm for their widespread usage.  With crude oil supplies limited, the US government imposed a nationwide 55 mph speed limit and began rationing gasoline.

Truckers soon found the CB radio to be a useful tool in finding out which stations had supplies of fuel as well as where any speed traps may have been.

Romanticizing the life of truckers, the 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit, revolved largely around the CB radio, adding to their popularity.  Two years later, The Dukes of Hazzard built upon this foundation and soon the CB radio had become a nationwide craze.

By the close of the decade even former First Betty Ford had become a CB hobbyist, using the CB handle “First Mama”.  Similar to internet chat rooms a quarter-century later, CB allowed people to get to know one another in a quasi-anonymous manner.

Originally, CB (named Citizens Radio by the Federal Communications Commission as of 1972) required a purchased license ($20 in the early 1970s, reduced to $4 on March 1, 1975) and the use of a callsign; however, when the CB craze was at its peak many people ignored this requirement and invented their own nicknames (known as “handles”). Rules on authorized use of CB radio (along with lax enforcement) led to widespread disregard of the regulations (notably in antenna height, distance communications, licensing, call signs and transmitter power).

As a child, my father and his farming buddies typically used channel 4 for whatever reason and my mother would never allow me to listen to channel 19, which was the king of all channels due to its widespread usage by truck-drivers.

“There’s nothing but cursing and smut on that channel,” I remember her scolding me once, when I was about ten-years-old.  Still, that didn’t stop me from turning the knob to 19 whenever I got away from her. Looking back, she was probably on to something!

One of my favorite childhood memories was to key up the mic in one of the deepest voices my pre-pubescent body could muster and ask, “Where are the bears hiding today?”

Sometimes, my request would be met with calls from rough men ordering “whatever kid is out there to get off the radio…” while other times I would be ignored altogether; however, on rare and special occasions, I’d get an answer.

“Looking good all the way to the stateline or you’ve got one hiding in the median around the 76 mile marker.”

These acknowledgements from truck drivers roaring past our town was always one of the more exciting things to have happen in a young farm kid’s day.

In addition to not being allowed to listen to channel 19, I wasn’t allowed to talk on channel 9.  In days long before cell phones, this was the channel monitored by the State Police and first responders — or so I was told.  I was always too afraid to even play on this channel to find out if there was any truth to it.

These days cell phones have taken the place of CB radios as the chosen method for communicating with friends and the Internet comments section has erased the novelty of chatting with someone far away, leaving the CB radio a largely waning and forgotten technology.

I never achieved my life’s goal of having a white mic company radio in my truck, but looking back those days of CB radios were golden.

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