I write today in honor of the Land Mobile Radio System, a bidirectional short-distance voice communication network receptive of transmissions established on 40 channels near 27 MHz in the high frequency, shortwave band.
Forty-five years ago, this was better known as CB radio.
And I remember it every Oct. 4, because CB radio operated on a, frankly, goofy system of numeral-based codes, and if I remember right “10-4” was code for “understood” or something like that.
In the days before cellphones, Citizens Band radio was a useful tool if, for example, you had a construction business and wanted a way to communicate with employees in the field. It also became popular among truck drivers as a way to share information about speed traps, road conditions and fuel availability, which was an issue in 1978.
CB radio was notable for its colorful prose, a sub-language in American culture that was, in its way, oddly similar to street lingo known at about the same time as “jive,” or as the academics dismally called it, “ebonics.”
A half century ago, the statement “Break for that westbound turkey hearse, you got Barny Fife taking pictures at the 18 yard stick. Already got a pregnant roller skate for a paying customer, you got your ears on?” would not only have made perfect sense, it would have conveyed useful information.
It goes without saying that most Americans in the 1970s did not drive a truck or own a construction business, but CB radios became a craze among the driving public, and was something of the TikTok of its day.
CB radio was central to movies like “Smokey and the Bandit” and songs such as “Convoy” — the late C.W. McCall was more or less the pop icon of the time. For two or three years there, truckers were American heroes, good natured bad boys who glorified in the open road.
It was admittedly a pretty amusing and irreverent world, where a stock truck with animals headed to slaughter was a “turkey hearse,” an ambulance was a “meat wagon,” a Volkswagen Bug was a “pregnant roller skate” and an “alligator station” was a guy on the radio who talked all the time and never listened (the alligator being all mouth and no ears). My favorite was the trucker term for duct tape: “Alabama chrome.”
For the briefest of time, the celebrity trucker movement oddly intersected with the hippie movement, characterized by Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” Both groups represented wayward spirits with a common enemy in the police.
Even by fad standards, civilian use of CBs was abnormally brief — maybe two years, if that. I also think it was primarily a guy fad. With machine screws they would fasten the set — about the size of a digital alarm clock — to the dashboard of their Buick LeSabres in the days when dashboards were still made of metal.
The transmitter fit in the palm of your hand, and was attached to the set with a coiled cord. The radio stayed in “listen” mode until you activated a button on the transmitter and your voice went out to about 3 square miles of the world.
“10-4, good buddy” became a universal response to anything, really, no matter how inappropriate. If your doctor had just broken the news that you had six months left to live, you would acknowledge the statement with “10-4, good buddy.”
Guys' voices would deepen when they spoke into the radio, fancying themselves, I guess, as manly long-haulers on the open road. Truckers themselves seemed to welcome the popularity, but not the public, speaking disdainfully of amateur “four-wheelers.”
And then almost overnight, it was gone. The reality was that an occasional amusing moment would be offset by miles and miles of dead air.
America, as usual, couldn’t wait that long to be entertained.
Tim Roland is a Herald-Mail columnist.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Citizens Ban radio a fond relic of motorists in the 1970s