CB Radios: When The Truckers’ Tool Became A Hobby

Culture | October 10, 2021

A trucker used a cb radio while driving a haul. Source: (Getty).

Prior to the proliferation of the cell phone as a means of communication, on the road, drivers found another way to communicate: the CB radio. Cell phones, of course, can afford people private airspace. CBs, however, were anything but, and actually provided a way for people on the road to communicate with strangers anonymously, kind of like an internet chat room. However, they could also provide news, real-time weather and traffic, and reassurance if your transportation broke down as you would be able to radio for help.

Source: (Pinterest).

The Beginnings Of CB Radio

In 1945, the FCC began to regulate personal radio services which permitted a radio band to be used by citizens for personal communication. Thus, they activated the Citizens’ Radio Service Frequency Band, which became known as Citizens Band, or CB. Enter Al Gross. He jumped on this opportunity, forming a company called Gross Electronics. In 1948, the FCC approved the manufacture of his two-way devices which could utilize the frequencies. Initially, more than 100 thousand units were manufactured to be used by the U.S. Coast Guard, farmers, and blue-collar workers. Over time, as the radio was refined, and by 1960, the cost of the radio was reduced so that it was affordable for the public; as the size of the solid-state electronics in the radio got smaller, the price went down even further. During the 1960s, CB radios were popular with small businesses, including electricians, plumbers, and carpenters, as well as with truck drivers and radio hobbyists. Around this time, CB clubs were formed, and a CB slang language developed which used 10-codes, akin to those used in emergency services. 

An advertisement for President. Source: (consumerguide.com).

A Way To Share Information

In 1973, OPEC enacted an oil embargo which impacted the U.S., leading to gas shortages and gas station closures from October 1973 until March 1974. Additionally, the government imposed a mandatory reduction in national highway speed limits, dropping the limit to 55 m.p.h. At this point, truck drivers started to use CBs to let other drivers know about conditions on the road. They shared information about open gas stations. They also gave the police the handle Smokey and used the CBs to let other drivers know where Smokey had set up speed traps. 

From the 1978 movie Convoy. Source: (IMDb).

CB Radios Began To Have A Wider Reach

CB radios also became a means of organizing moving blockades and convoys, which they did in protest of the speed limits and the higher gas prices. Truckers were angry about the new speed limits because they were often paid by the mile. If they had to go slower, it reduced their productivity, and thus, reduced their paychecks. To create a blockade, numerous semis would pack the available highway lanes. The end of the oil embargo did not bring an end to the popularity of the CB radio; in fact, the FCC opened more channels in 1977, bringing the number of available channels to 40. Other changes also helped to increase the popularity of CB radio. CB originally required the use of a callsign and the use of a purchased license. By March 1, 1975, the cost of the license had dropped from $20 to $4 and the FCC made it legal to use a CB as a hobby. Many people had ignored the rules and came up with their own handles, and enforcement of the rules was lax. By 1983, individual licensing came to an end. The CB phenomenon became so widespread that even then first-wife Betty Ford had a CB handle, “First Mama.” 

Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. Source: (Reddit).

They Became A Part Of Pop Culture

As CB radio became popular among regular drivers, it also made its way into pop culture. Movies like Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Breaker! Breaker! (1977), Citizens Band (1977). And Convoy (1978) all referred to the phenomenon. Movin’ On, a television series which ran from 1974-1976, focused on long-haul trucking, and part of the merchandising tie-in for the show was connected to the Movin’ On brand walkie talkies for kids which could be used on CB channel 14. Additionally, references to CBs made their way into music. Perhaps the best known one was C.W. McCall’s song, “Convoy” from 1975, which hit #1 in the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1976. 

Tags: CB slang | truckers

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Linda Speckhals


When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.