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1970s Fads: CB Radios

By Wikipedia

Citizens' Band radio (CB) is a system of short distance radio communication between individuals on a selection of 40 channels within the single 27 MHz (11 meter) band. The popularity of these devices by the mid 1970s - and their fairly swift decline from the mainstream (at least as a form of entertainment) - put them squarely in the "fad" category.

The Citizens' Band radio service in the United States is one of several personal radio services regulated by the FCC. These services began in 1945 to permit citizens a short-distance radio band for personal communication (e.g. radio controlled models, family communications, individual businesses).

In the 1960s the service was popular for small trade businesses (e.g. electricians, plumbers, carpenters) and transportation services (e.g. taxi and trucking firms). "10 codes" originally used in the public service (e.g. police, fire, ambulance) and land mobile service were used for short acknowledgements. With the advancement of solid state technology (transistors replacing tubes) in the Super70s, the weight, size and cost of the radios decreased and the number of them in use skyrocketed.

US truckers were at the head of the boom. Many CB clubs were formed and a special CB slang language evolved. The prominent use of CB radios in mid- and late-1970s films (see list below), television shows such as The Dukes of Hazzard (debuted 1979), and in popular novelty songs such as C.W. McCall's Convoy (1976) helped to establish the radios as a nationwide craze in America from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.

Originally CB did require a license and the use of a call sign but when the CB craze was at its peak, many people ignored this requirement and used made up nicknames or "handles". The use of handles instead of call signs is related to the common practice of using the radios to warn other drivers of speed traps during the time when the speed limit was reduced to 55 mph beginning in 1974 in response to the 1973 hike in oil prices and safety concerns.

The low cost and simple operation of CB equipment gave access to a communications medium that was previously only available to specialists. The "boom" in CB usage in the 1970s bears several similarities to the explosion in popularity of the Internet in the mid-1990s; similar to the Internet chat rooms a quarter century later, the CB allowed people to get to know one another in a quasi-anonymous manner. The many restrictions on the authorized use of CB radio led to widespread disregard of the regulations, most notably in antenna height, distance restriction for communications, licensing and the use of call signs, and allowable transmitter power. Eventually the license requirement was dropped entirely.

Originally, there were only 23 CB channels in the U.S.; 40-channel radios did not come along until 1977. In the 1960s, channels 1-8 and 15-22 were reserved for "intrastation" communications among units under the same license, while the other channels (9-14 and 23) could be used for "interstation" calls to other licenses.

In the early 1970's, channel 9 became reserved for emergency use. Channel 10 was used for highway communications, and channel 11 was used as a general calling channel. Later, channel 19 became the preferred highway channel in most areas, as it did not have the adjacent-channel interference problems with channel 9.

In its heyday in the 1970's, you were likely to find CB Channel 9 monitored by parties who could relay messages to the authorities, or even directly monitored by the authorities themselves. However, with the popularity of cellular phones, support for Channel 9 as an emergency channel has largely vanished. If you are in dire need of help on the road and your only communications tool is a CB radio, you are much more likely to find help on Channel 19.


CW McCall's song 'Convoy' perhaps best captured the fad in a song.

In more recent years CB has lost much of its original appeal due to the advancement of technologies, such as the Internet and mobile phones.

CB Slang

CB slang are terms that those operating CB radio used mainly during the CB craze of the Super70s and Awesome80s. Some of these slang terms are still in use with their original meanings, others not used at all and some have changed meaning. This list shows the historical meanings.

Some of the popular slang terms included:

Handle. A Handle is the nickname a CB user uses in CB transmissions. Other CB users will refer to the user by this nickname. To say "What's your handle?" is to ask another user for their CB nickname.
County Mountie. This refers to a Sheriff's deputy car.
Smokey. A law officer. A "smokey report" is what CB users say when they have information on a law officer, such as location or current activities.
Bear. Another slang term for a law officer. References to Smokey & Bear are both direct references to Smokey Bear, a character image commonly seen along U.S. highways. He wears a flat-brimmed forest ranger's hat very similar to the hat included in many highway patrol uniforms in the U.S.
Bear / Smokey in a plain brown wrapper. An unmarked police car.
Bear in the air or Fly in the sky. A police helicopter.
Bubble gum machine. See "Gum ball machine"
Back door. The area behind a vehicle. To say "I got your back door" means that someone is watching another's back. Knocking at your back door means approaching from behind. (Today back door is more often used as sexual slang.)
Four. Usually short for the ten code 10-4, which means acknowledged, ok, etc.
Four-wheeler. A small passenger vehicle, as distinguished from an "eighteen-wheeler" (a semi truck.)
Front door. The leader of a convoy.
Gum ball machine or bubble gum machine Reference to any law enforcement vehicle. It refers to a popular style of rotating mirror light used by many state police and some other law enforcement agencies at the time, however the term can refer to any law enforcement vehicle. It looked somewhat like the round style of 'penny' gumball machines. It was basically a clear cylinder, like an upside down jar, with lights and a spinning mirror system inside. It was usually mounted on the center of the roof.
Hauling fence post holes or Hauling sailboat fuel. Carrying an empty load.
Local yokel. A law officer with a city or township police force, seldom encountered on interstate highways.
Put the hammer down. Slang for shifting to the highest gear & flooring the accelerator.
Put the pedal to the metal. Another slang term for pushing down on the accelerator.
Picture-taker. A law officer monitoring traffic with a radar gun. Today, this can also refer to an automated speed camera.
Seat cover. An attractive female passenger in a vehicle.
Twenty as in What's your twenty? This is asking the receiver what their current location is. This term comes from the ten-code 10-20.
Rolling refinery. A semi truck carrying fuel.
Suicide jockey. A truck carrying explosives.
Got your ears on? Asking the receiver if they are on the air and listening to you.
Breaker (channel number) Telling other CB users that you'd like to start a transmission on a channel. ("One-nine" refers to channel 19, the most widely used among truck drivers.)
Breaker, breaker to (CB user handle). A slang term telling another user that you'd like to speak to them.

CB's in Movies

Citizen Band radios have been featured prominently in some movies. Here are some of the most notable:
1974 Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
1976 The Gumball Rally
1976 Cannonball
1977 Breaker! Breaker!
1977 Handle With Care
1977 Smokey and the Bandit
1978 Convoy
1980 Smokey and the Bandit II
1981 The Cannonball Run
1983 Smokey and the Bandit III
1984 Cannonball Run II
1986 Big Trouble in Little China
1989 Powwow Highway
1990 Tremors
1993 Dazed and Confused
2001 American Pie 2
2001 Joy Ride
2001 Roadkill
2005 The Dukes of Hazzard (film)

CB's in Music

CB radio appears in several of 1976's biggest hits. All of these charted on both the US pop and country music charts that year:

One Piece at a Time by Johnny Cash As the song ends, Cash describes his incredible Frankenstein car over the CB.
Convoy by C.W. McCall "Pigpen" and "Rubberduck" form a convoy of rigs.
Teddybear by Red Sovine - A handicapped boy befriends a group of truckers over his CB.
The White Knight - by Cledus Maggard And The Citizens Band - Is the mysterious White Knight giving out dubious information for a reason?
C.B. Savage by Rod Hart Is the mysterious C.B. Savage really gay or hiding an even bigger secret? - A gay-themed parody of both White Knight and Convoy.



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This is a typical CB base station that has the option of being used as a mobile as it has 12VDC capability. Shown with this Uniden Washington two way radio is an Astatic D-104 microphone.


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It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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