“There’s nothing but smut and vulgar, nasty, old cussing men on that channel,” I remember my mother scolding me as I turned the CB radio in my dad’s pickup truck to channel 19. I probably wasn’t any older than eight years old at the time — a scrawny and mischievous farm kid living in Nowhere, Virginia.
I didn’t grow up with a paved driveway or knew what it meant to have sidewalks or community parks. My childhood was spent in the rolling farmland of Appalachia. Our town was small, our friends all owned cattle and life was simple back in those days.
The only real connection I had to the outside world was nearby Interstate 81 and the thousands of truck drivers who motored through our rural locality at all hours of the day; and my mother refused to allow me to even talk with them!
Sometime in the 1970s the fuel crisis, rise of Interstate trucking, Smoky & the Bandit and Dukes of Hazard all combined to make CB radios the most essential vehicle accessory on the road. My father and his farming buddies were no exception.
“Aaaaaaye Larry, you got your ears on?” my father would call out early in the morning from his old-style Dodge Ram pickup.
“Yessir,” more often than not our nearest neighbor would answer.
In an era before cell phones, the two would use the black CB radio, always tuned to channel 4, to arrange grabbing a bite to eat for lunch together, to notify the other if they had a cow that had gotten out or to simply rile the other about whose truck was the most stout.
Though a high crime these days, I logged a countless number of childhood hours sitting alone in a parked pickup truck while my father wrestled a cow to the ground, mowed hay on a hillside too steep for me to safely sit atop the tractor or grabbed coffee from a local convenience store.
I found turning the knob of the CB radio to channel 19 to be a source of great entertainment during these extended periods of waiting.
Yes, it is true that wonderful women like Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Barker took great pains to expand my limited country-boy vocabulary; however, if I’m going to be honest, the greatest source for the growth of my personal lexicon is owed to the faceless ruffians of channel 19.
It was from silently listening to the truck drivers of this channel that I learned what a “bear” and a “smoky” were, as well as terms of anatomy that would probably cause you to blush if I had the nerve to type them.
Many of the words, lessons and conversations I overheard decades ago have remained with me and probably will until I die. Even some of the political views I have retained to this day were developed by listening to truckers debate and gripe on that sacredly awesome, yet forbidden channel 19.
One of my favorite childhood memories was to key up the mic and 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 a few rare and special occasions, I’d get an answer.
“Looking good all the way to the stateline or you’ve got one hiding 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 otherwise uneventful day.
Always keeping a close watch on the truck’s mirrors, the moment I would spot my father making his way back to the parked vehicle, I would quickly flip back to channel 4 and pretend as though I had been sitting silently the entire time — regardless, he didn’t care.
With all the temptations and forces competing for children’s attention these days, channel 19 seems so tame in some respects compared to the Internet of modern society; however, it was channel 19 and the unnamed faceless truckers who gave me some of the most important vocabulary lessons of my young life.
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