Q: Do over-the-road truck drivers still like to use CB (citizens band) radios to communicate?
Norm Geolat, of Belleville
A: That’s a big 10-4, good buddy — although not nearly as much as they did before the days of cell phones and GPS.
Look on any internet trucker forum, and you’ll find rookie drivers frequently asking whether they need a CB, James Sweeney noted in a 2015 article in Trucking News Online.
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“And the answer from veteran truckers is always yes, yes you do,” Sweeney wrote. “As one experienced driver put it, ‘It’s not a dying tool; it’s a forgotten tool by many drivers. Any trucker that gives a damn has a CB.’”
Some would argue with this assessment.
“The CB is dead!” a commenter named Dirk wrote on a blog just after Sweeney’s article appeared. “I will go days without hearing anyone on the radio! It is a shame!”
But you don’t have to search hard to find those who agree.
“In my rig I have three CB radios,” Ken blogged just two months ago. “I just cannot get enough of the hobby and the professional driver utility of these timeless devices. What a great world with CB in it!”
“I have a CB in my truck cab and have friends who have two CBs in each of their rigs,” Robert concurred the same day. “We all enjoy talking with fellow drivers and folks on other channels with base stations, and motorists. Yes, indeed, CB is still an important part of today’s world. God bless America.”
For those too young to remember, CB radios were the social media of their day, providing a quick and relatively inexpensive way to communicate with family, friends and anyone else who was listening in. Nobody, however, probably would have predicted how wild the craze would become after the Federal Communications Commission established the Class D CB service at 27 megahertz, popularly known as “citizens band,” on Sept. 11, 1958.
Through the mid-60s, CB radios were used almost exclusively by small businesses, farmers, radio hobbyists and some truck drivers. As advances in solid-state electronics allowed the size and price to fall, the general public began buying them as well. CB clubs were formed, and soon a colorful CB vernacular with such terms as Shakeytown (Los Angeles), pregnant roller skate (a VW beetle) and Kojak with a Kodak (an officer with a radar gun) started going mainstream.
The fad exploded when the 1973 oil crisis led to a nationwide 55-mph speed limit along with fuel shortages and rationing. CB radios almost started overheating as motorists told one another about service stations with gas and speed traps. Those of a certain age also may remember people like River Rat, the handle (CB nickname) of truck driver J.W. Edwards. He used his radio to almost single-handedly coordinate an interstate highway blockade of hundreds of tractor-trailers in eastern Pennsylvania to protest the new speed limit, which cut into drivers’ profits.
Yep, Rubber Ducky, thanks to the CB we had ourselves some convoys, a movement that catapulted Bill Fries to momentary fame in the music world. Fries was working as an ad agency rep in Omaha when he took the handle of C.W. McCall and watched his novelty song “Convoy” soar to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard chart on Jan. 10, 1976, and become a hit in Britain, South Africa and Australia as well. And, of course, who can forget movies like “Smokey and the Bandit” and “White Line Fever” as well as such TV shows as “B.J. and the Bear” and “Movin’ On”?
The fever even swept the White House as former first lady Betty Ford took the handle First Mama. Even I couldn’t resist the craze. Fresh out of college in 1974, I bought a car stereo at the then St. Louis electronics giant — CMC — and they threw in a free CB radio as a bonus. So there I was, driving around in my robin-egg blue Beetle with a magnetically mounted antenna that I could pop on and off the roof.
Today, driving apps and GPS units now provide location and directions at a moment’s notice. A quick cell phone call can keep drivers in touch with family and friends.
Still, even with smartphones, family radios and every app under the sun, CBs occasionally can be indispensable, Gary Hill, the category manager for CB accessories at RoadPro, told Trucking News Online. He says truckers know that cell phone reception can be poor or nonexistent in large parts of the country, particularly out West. When you don’t know their phone numbers, CB Channel 19 also can be the fastest way to notify other drivers of traffic conditions, weather or if a driver sees something wrong with a passing truck. There’s no monthly bill, either.
“Truckers no longer have to rely on it to do everything, but nothing else does exactly what it does,” Hill said.
One recent report I found guesstimated that perhaps 50 percent of truckers still use the CB, and, Sweeney found, it continues to pay dividends. He uncovered one story in Tennessee that told of a group of truckers who, communicating by CB, boxed in a motorist who had snatched his son and was trying to flee the state.
So to them and all others still 10-8 on CB, let me offer 3s and 8s. That’s “well wishes” to the rest of you — or love and kisses if you want to get really personal.
What is the longest running show on a radio network?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: How do you get child actors to cry on camera? You might tell them you’re going to kill their pet. That’s what happened to 8-year-old Jackie Cooper, who starred as “Skippy” in 1931. When Skippy’s dog is killed in the film, director Norman Taurog (who was Cooper’s uncle) needed his nephew to cry so he told him he was going to kill Jackie’s real dog. Jackie did the scene only to find out later that his uncle had had no intention of harming the animal. It may have helped Cooper become the youngest person to win a best-actor Oscar nomination, but he reportedly rarely spoke to his uncle again. Cooper even entitled his 1982 autobiography “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog.”