Before There Were Cell Phones, We had a CB Radio

Amateur Radio Station LicenseIt’s hard to imagine taking even the shortest of car trips without your phone. After all, what if you get a flat tire or are running late? Long before mobile phones became widespread, drivers had another telecommunications tool: the CB Radio.

Here’s a quick look back at how drivers communicated back then.

What is a CB Radio?

CB stands for Citizen’s Band and is the common name used to refer to Citizen’s Band radio. The CB radio was invented by Al Gross in 1945 as a two-way, short-wave communication service using the 27MHz band. CB radios have numerous channels, all of which are shared. Thus, users hear other conversations and must wait their turn.

Because communication took place over the public airwaves, the FCC initially required users to obtain an FCC license in order to use the service. That has since changed, and no license is required to use a CB. At one point, the FCC was receiving one million license applications a month, an overwhelming amount to process.

Many CB users skipped out on licensing completely to avoid the hassles — and the FCC licensing fee. They used nicknames, or “handles,” to identify themselves, remain anonymous, and to avoid the fee. Handles such as “Road Hog” and “Blue Knight” were common. First lady Betty Ford reportedly had a handle of her own while in the White House — “First Mama.” Even after the FCC dropped the license requirement, the tradition of using handles stuck.

Though CB radios arrived in the mid-1940s, they became a craze in the 1970s. Not only had the equipment become affordable, the oil crisis prompted many drivers to hit the airwaves in search of available gas. In an effort to curb gasoline consumption back then, the speed limit was reduced to 55 miles per hour. This also prompted many drivers to use CBs to inform others about police car sightings and speed traps.

The 411 on CB Radio Slang

Just as CB users used nicknames, they also created a language all their own. You’ve probably heard words and phrases like “Do you copy,” “good buddy,” “10-4,” or “10-20.” Those are all common terms used by CB users. Do you copy means, “do you understand?” or “are you there?” Good buddy means just that, it’s a term of endearment. 10-4 and 10-20 are from a long list of “CB 10” codes with specific meanings such as “OK, message received” for 10-4 and “location” for 10-20.

Because truckers represented a huge portion of the CB user base, many CB slang terms are trucking related such as “jewelry” which refers to the lights on a rig, “drop stop destination” which refers to where the driver will be dropping off freight, and “box” which refers to a tractor-trailer.

CB Radios Today

With the popularity of mobile phones, SMS, and social media, CB radios are nowhere near as popular as they once were. However, they still have their place. Many truckers, RVers, motorcyclists, off-roaders, and hobbyists still use CBs even though they have cell phones. CB radios remain an effective way to share road information with nearby drivers. In addition, CBs can be an effective, reliable choice during times when cellular networks are down or overwhelmed such as during or after a natural disaster.

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Sources:

Public domain image — Al Gross’s Amateur Radio License from FCC
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_J._Gross#/media/File:W8PAL.jpg

“CB Radio: A History – Pacific Standard.” n.d. Accessed May 18, 2018. https://psmag.com/social-justice/cb-radio-a-history

“CB Radios in the Modern World.” n.d. Accessed May 18, 2018. https://www.wearecb.com/cb-radios-modern-world.html

“Fun Trucker Handles for the CB Radio User.” n.d. Accessed May 18, 2018. https://www.driveabco.com/2015/03/fun-trucker-handles-cb-radio-user/

“The CB Radio Craze (1970’s) – Mortal Journey.” n.d. Accessed May 18, 2018. http://www.mortaljourney.com/2010/10/1970-trends/cb-radio

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