Convoys, CBs, and Trucker Culture: Seventies Novelty Song Was a Political Statement
A convoy of trucks in a scene from 'Convoy', directed by Sam Peckinpah, 1978. (Photo by Silver Screen CollectionGetty Images)
American singer-songwriter C.W. McCall released a novelty song called “Convoy” in 1976. This song, with its catchy tune and liberal used of trucker lingo, was an immediate hit, but did you know that “Convoy” was actually making a powerful political statement about government regulations? Not only that, but the song also showed the power of technology to unite people to a common cause…all before Twitter!
“10-4, Good Buddy!”
“Convoy” tells the story of a nationwide truck drivers protest to emphasize how new rules and government regulations negatively impact the trucking industry. The song is told like a conversation over CB radio between a few of the truckers who are participating in a coast to coast protest convoy and the song helped to introduce the general public to the code words and lingo used by truck drivers.
The 1970s Was a Rough Time for the Trucking Industry
The gas crisis of the 1970s hit the trucking industry hard. Gar prices hit record highs and truckers had to wait in long gas lines along with other motorists. Immediately following that, the United States government instituted a nationwide speed limit of 55 miles per hour. All this cut into the profit margins for long-haul truckers.
CB Radio Licensing Was Lifted
Prior to the 1970s, anyone using a citizens band, or CB, radio was required to have an operator’s license from the FCC. Truckers relied on CB radios to communicate with one another while on the road, to pass along valuable information, for companionship, and to help keep each other awake on long hauls. But when the FCC lifted the licensing requirement for CB radios, average citizens could use a CB radio to listen in to the truck drivers’ conversations. Soon, trucker lingo was becoming mainstream.
“This Here’s the Rubber Duck and I’m About to Put the Hammer Down”
One of the endearing aspects of trucker lingo was the handles, or radio names, that each trucker had. In the song, “Convoy,” the narrator goes by the handle ‘Rubber Duck’, and he talks with several other truckers, including his pal and fellow protest organizer, Pig Pen.
“Let Them Truckers Roll, 10-4”
As the story in “Convoy” unfolds, we learn that a small convoy of truckers have banded together in California to protest government regulations. But as word of their protest convoy hits the CB radio airways, more and more truckers join in, as well as a bunch of average motorists and “eleven long-haired Friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus.” The fictional convoy represents a great show of unity among America’s truckers. It seems that average citizens are beginning to understand that regulations controlling the trucking industry would have a trickle-down effect on them. If shipping costs increase, so would the cost of the goods they ship. With economic woes and high inflation rates already a concern, “Convoy” sends a message from the truckers and the citizens saying “No more!”
“Convoy” Inspired a CB Radio Fad
Although it is considered a novelty song, “Convoy” reached number one on both the pop and country music charts. The popularity of the song sparked a nationwide interest in trucker culture and ignited the CB radio fad that continued throughout the decade. CB Radios were affordable to the average person and operators didn’t need an FCC license to use them. Truckers used slang words and phrases so if the police were listening to their conversations, they wouldn’t be able to understand them. That all changed after “Convoy” came out and people decoded the trucker vernacular. Non-tuckers with CB radios could join in the conversations or at least eavesdrop on the truckers’ conversations. It became a hobby for many to listen to the exciting world of long-haul truckers.
Kris Kristofferson Played Rubber Duck
A 1979 movie based on the song starred box office draw Kris Kristofferson as the trucker, Rubber Duck, the organizer of a national protest by truckers. The action-packed film added to the public’s fascination with trucker culture, spawning more films and the 1979 TV series, “BJ and the Bear.”
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