Follow by Email

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Golden Age of CB Radios
Interesting tale of the old days of the CB Radio, written by and thanks to Harry Rudolfs. Link to his web page follows below:

The golden age of CB began in the mid-70s and lasted for about 10 years. Now the domain of truckers and a few hobbyists, the radios were originally intended to be cheap, short-range communication devices for small business operators. But there was a time when mobile units and home bases were all the rage among the general population.
The public’s fascination with CB radio paralleled the "urban cowboy" phenomenon and came by a curious route. In 1973, OPEC had tightened the taps on the oil pipeline causing line ups at gas stations and fuel shortages that had never been seen before. Then in 1975, the US pulled out of Viet Nam suffering its first ever lost war.
In those insecure times, America needed a hero-figure and found it in the truck driver. It made perfect sense. As the direct descendent of the cowboy/frontiersman, the trucker personified the pioneering spirit, fierce independence and indefatigable work ethic that had made America great.
Making the leap from cowboys to truck drivers is not difficult. Both are close to the land and work outdoors. Truckers often call their tractors "horses" and getting in a truck is often referred to as "getting in the saddle." And trucking is not that dissimilar from cow punching because much of it involves herding trailers into and out of huge corrals. Lastly, truckers even dress like cowboys.
North America has always had a love/hate relationship with truck drivers. But in the late 70s the romance was at its coziest. "Trucking also has a dramatic quality which has served as an image for popular entertainment," says sociologist/trucker Lawrence J. Ouellet in his book, Pedal to the Metal. "The combination of travel, danger, mystery, the potential for adventure...suggests the existence of heroic qualities."
And heroic is what Hollywood gave us. Within a few years, four trucker movies and a TV series (Movin’ On) caught the masses’ attention. Nashville helped promote the image by producing a number of trucker/CB songs that moved up and down the charts.
The film with the most profound impact was Convoy. The movie’s signature tune, "Rubber Duck" by C. W. McCall, features a narrative track that mimics CB chatter and shortwave static. The song and movie tell the story (supposedly based on a real incident) about an incongruous group of truckers who find strength by banding together to defy a wicked bureaucracy that is stacked against them.
Overnight, CB sales shot up astronomically and specialty stores opened in strip malls. CB aerials and whip antennas appeared on cars and a network of clubs formed across the country. Signs were put up on Canadian and US Highways announcing that the authorities were monitoring channel 9 and communications centers were installed in some police stations.
Channel 19 became known as the truckers’ channel. The designation changes to Channel 1 east of Quebec and some western truckers use also use 1. French speaking truck drivers gravitated to channel 10 in Quebec and 12 in Ontario.
Tom Jones was working as a radio inspector for the Dept of Communications in Regina, Sask. when the CB craze hit. "It was unbelievable," he says. "We went from issuing about ten licences a week to about 300 a day. And that was the people who were applying for licences, who knows how many weren’t bothering."
The association of CBs and trucking brought with it a rich terminology that was unique to the subculture--trucker talk. People now had their "ears on" when they were using a radio. A cop with a radar gun became "Smokie Bear taking pictures."
An elaborate system of "ten" codes (originally developed for police officers) was adopted, some of which remain in common use today. "Ten-four" has come to indicate an affirmative response, and "What’s your twenty?" is understood to be an inquiry about one’s present location.
The signs on the highway have been gone for ten years or more. The communications centers have been taken down, and public interest in Citizen’s Band has dwindled.
But truckers are talking on the air as much as ever. "I’ve been using a CB for thirty years and I’m still using it the same way I did when I started," says Roger, a shunt man at the Triple Crown Railyard in Toronto.
Roger (CBers are reluctant to give out full names over the air) sets his radio on Channel 19 and uses it as a dispatch tool. He can talk to other drivers and tell them where to drop their trailers and where to pick up their outbound loads.
More importantly, he sees the CB as a safety accessory. "My first time on the road in 1972, I got a call that there was a truck across the QEW at a curve on the way St. Catharines," says Roger. "Without hearing about it on the radio I would have hit him."
"It’s a useful tool no doubt about it." says Constable Doug Fenske, a former truck enforcement officer with the Aurora OPP detachment. All the. truck enforcement cruisers in the Toronto area are equipped with CBs. Fenske has occasionally used one to stop trucks. "Instead of putting on the lights we can go on the air and ask them to pull over."
Officer Bettina Schwarze ("Goldielocks") of the Brighton OPP has been using a CB for the last 8 years. She’s found the radio to be helpful in critical situations. In one instance drivers called her about wrong way vehicle. "If it hadn’t been for Big Iron and couple of other drivers who pulled over and relayed messages, I’d have lost him."
At other times truckers with radios have helped her shut down the highway or blocked the shoulder so an impaired driver couldn’t flee. "I’ve got three home bases in my area. If someone wants to get a message to me, Bam Bam or Hawaiian punch will provide land lines," she says.
Schwarze, who has an AZ licence and occasionally drives truck herself, has a great rapport with truckers who regularly hail her as they pass through the area. "It’s so important to be able to talk to someone," she says. "Sometimes they’re just talking because of the sheer boredom."
Ham radio enthusiast Paul Denby agrees that trucking is the perfect niche for CB radio frequencies. "You’re not going to pick up your cell phone and call the truck in front of you. But for $100 you can walk into any truck stop and get a pretty decent set that will allow you to talk to the people around you."
Truckers use CB for a variety of reasons. The have an almost obsessive interest in the location of police cruisers and road conditions, but much of the chatter concerns day-to-day working activities. Drivers talk about their equipment, the loads they are hauling, and complain about their bosses and fellow drivers. At times the radio is a diversion to stay awake on a long haul.
Some commerce does occur over the CB, much of it illicit. I’ve overheard operators in truck stops selling televisions and once a even a hand gun. Less-than-reputable massage parlors in the southern US states will use women broadcasters to lure drivers to their establishment (like the Sirens tempting Ulysses).
Occasionally a driver will strike up a friendship with someone on the radio and then meet up with them later. Better let sociologist/trucker Oullet handle this: "...a woman told us by CB radio (two of us were on the same run) that she spotted our trucks while we were taking a break, waited for us to finish and then followed us onto the freeway where she began exposing herself to us. This woman said she was attracted to truckers, especially tanker drivers."
Much of trucker slang is playful, poetic, ironic, sometimes self-deprecating, and often naughty or crude. It is a cartoon world full of cartoon images. A driver may refer to his own rig as "a bucket of bolts." A passing ambulance may be described as "a meat wagon in the hammer lane." Log books are often called "swindle sheets" or "comic books," while "chicken coop" has come to replace inspection station in truckers’ lingo.
An empty load might be described as a load of "post holes," "sailboat fuel" or "dispatcher brains." A restaurant could be called a "chew n’ choke" or worse.
"Good Buddy," which was once a term of camaraderie between two drivers has come to mean homosexual. "Coin operated beaver" or "lot lizard" are slightly pejorative labels that are applied to female prostitutes. A deconstructionist would have a field day this symbolism. The imagery for non-spousal women is based on animals, while wives are usually referred to as mama, as in "I’m going home to chase mama around the house."
French CB chatter appears to be as colorful as the English variety. A bear on the side taking pictures is "police avec un Kodak sur le cote." 10-4 is often translated as "zero-quatre." And French truckers have substituted the ursine "bear" monicker with the peccarial "couchon."
Over the years some attempts has been made to clean up the airwaves. The most famous case occurred in 1998 when a trucker was charged with using "superfluous and obscene language" by the Broadview, Sask. RCMP.
The charges were eventually discharged by the judge, largely because CB operators did not need to be licensed after 1987.
Tom Jones of the Spectrum Management Branch of Industry Canada admits that the frequencies are wide open for anyone to abuse. "You can turn off the set," he says. "But realistically there’s very little that can be done. If someone’s being a real nuisance we will go around and talk to them."
Jones’ department will respond, however, with the full weight of the law if they receive complaints about overpowered sets. Canadian and US specifications require that CB transceivers operate on no more than 4 Watts AM power. "All CB radios have to meet that standard," he says. "99% of our complaints are about linear amplifiers," he says. Usually what happens is they start knocking out all the TV sets on the block. We will take action on those complaints and shut them down if we have to."

Link to: thedieselgypsy-Harry Rudolfs


  1. I remember the old days of CB Radios when you had a call sign and everybody knew each other. The old tube radios were great! Now I repair all types of CB's old & new. They call me the Radio Doc.. visit...

  2. This was a great story. I miss the CB radio days. I always thought they were more efficient. You could have some fun with them too on long road trips.

    Aaron |

  3. My dad use to have a CB radio in his vehicle that he would use when he would go off roading. That way we could keep in contact with the other drivers that we go with and just talk to each other in general. They were a lot of fun and I really like using them.