The picture illustrating this post may be of a more recent piece of equipment, but the general look and style of Citizen’s Band Radio kit hasn’t changed a great deal since it first truly became popular in the 1970s.
CB Radio’s origins actually begin far before this, back in the 1940’s, but it was in the US in the early seventies that they became a useful aid to long distance truck drivers due to an oil shortage and 55mph enforced speed limit on all roads. Truckers would use CB Radio to inform other truckers of places where fuel was available, and where traffic police were hiding out!
CB Radio initially required the user to have a license and a call sign, and it is from the latter that the usage of nicknames or “handles” came into popular use. This soon grew so that CB Radio developed its own language, much like today’s SMS text speak or e-mail TLAs. Most of this language, unsurprisingly enough, centred around things Truckers might need to communicate about, such as types of trucks and cars, place names and the police.
One interesting aspect of CB slang was the code numbers, which normally consisted of the number 10 followed by another number. For example, 10-4 was used in place of “yes”, 10-20 was used to ask someone where they were, and 10-100 meant you were going to leave the air to answer a call of nature!
For a much longer list of CB Radio terms check out this comprehensive Wikipedia page.
It wasn’t long before film makers caught on to the coolness factor of Citizen’s Band and many films sprung up around the world of Truckers, such as Convoy and Burt Reynold’s Smokey and the Bandit. Comedy songs such as C. W. McCall’s Convoy also popularised CB Radio, and there was even a Trucker based TV show in the form of B.J. and the Bear, which was about a truck driver who travelled across the US with his pet chimpanzee.
As with most things, the United Kingdom was a bit slow in taking up Citizen’s Band, so it wasn’t until the late seventies and early eighties that many people first got a chance to communicate with each other across the airwaves. This was partly due to the government being very slow to approve CB Radio transmission frequencies, meaning it was actually illegal to use CBs for some time. There were also many regulations about how tall an aerial you could use, meaning that longer distance communications were not possible without effectively breaking the law!
The classic CB Radio design is that pictured above, with a control unit and a hand held mouthpiece with a button on the side that you pushed in when you wanted to talk. More portable versions were also available in the guise of the Walkie Talkie, which would often work over both their own set frequency as well as over the tunable channel frequencies provided by Citizen’s Band.
Citizen’s Band Radio is still in use today, although the general public lost interest fairly quickly during the eighties. These days it is still used by some mini cab drivers and the farming community are still big users since you aren’t limited by mobile phone area coverage which can be patchy in more rural areas.