It's now the year 2014. The years are rolling by at a seemingly ever increasing rate. It's hard to believe that this website itself has been up for over 11 years now. So I guess it's probably not so hard to accept that it's been 40 years (Holy crap!) since my big transitional year in CB radio. Yep, that milestone year was 1974, the time period where I finally shed my walkie-talkie image, which had been my staple since my initial discovery of the CB radio 'hobby' in 1969, and finally embraced the world of full powered, all channel CB radios. It took a good part of the year to fully accomplish this, and by today's perspective, 10 months time is a virtual wink of an eye. But back when I was a scant 14 years of age, that same 10 month time span seemed like forever. So as we turn the hands of the clock back to that time, I will stretch the old (and getting older) brain cells and try to recall the memorable highlights of that milestone year of 1974............
To help set the mood, here are a few popular songs from the beginning of 1974. Tunes that we all listened to on local radio station WIFI 92:
Love's Theme - Love Unlimited
Benny & The Jets - Elton John
Rock On - Davis Essex
Spiders & Snakes - Jim Stafford
Boogie Down - Eddie Kendricks
Usually, the best place to start a retrospective year in review is at the beginning. In this case, that beginning occured during the cold insufferable winter months of January through March, where sitting inside and talking on the radio made a lot more sense, than trying to hang outside in the sub-freezing temperatures. The Christmas season of 1973 was history, the second half of my 8th grade year was underway, and my 14th birthday would come and go. I was, for the moment, happily using my Midland 13-700 1 watt walkie-talkie, which I had received as a gift during the recently departed Christmas. At this point in time, I was thrilled to have range considerably greater than I had on my old 100 mw walkie-talkies. I was now able to reach Jimmy (Tree Stump), who had recently moved out of my neighborhood to a new location a mile further northeast. My extended range also allowed me to reach Sweet & Innocent and her sister Flower Girl, who lived in Norristown proper, just about 2 miles from me. Previously, I could hear them fine, but was not able to make the trip back with my enemic 100 mW transmitter. Our neighborhood "kids" channel group had recenly moved awayfrom Channel 14, and settled onto Channel 11, once we shed the limitations of those cheapy channel 14 super-regen walkie-talkies. The move to Channel 11, along with obtaining "better" walkie-talkies, opened the door for our group to expand. Some of my school friends, at my continual urging, decided to try out the radio hobby. First was Inchy, who started out with a Realistic TRC-25a 100 mW walkie-talkie. Then came Big Al, who bought a Midland 1 watt like mine. There was also Blue Cougar, who ran with a Realistic Rover 1500. And there was Money Man, who ran a Midland 13-724 2 watt walkie-talkie. Not long into the new year, I had stumbled across my old friend Mitch (Red Devil) who had a Midland 100 mW 3 channel walkie-talkie. Over the Christmas break, neighborhood brothers Doug and Dennis (Skyrocket and Dennis the Menace) got their feet wet with a Realistic Mini-23 and a horizontal 3 element beam. Their younger brother Dale ended up with a Lafayette HA-310 1.5 watt walkie-talkie. Then there was my soon to be neighborhood nemesis, Uncle Albert, who discovered the hobby of CB radio when he got an Archer Space Patrol walkie-talkie during that same Christmas. Once he figured out that there were other people out there besides his 2 neighbors, he soon purchased a Realistic TRC-25a, and then a Midland 13-700 2 months later. Some of the original core group of my closest neighbors were still hanging in there. Gone was Gilbert, who had gone from a cheapy super-regen walkie-talkie, to a Heathkit "Lunchbox". Problems with the T/R switch did that radio in. Once the radio died, he pretty much disappeared from the scene. But some of my other neighbors were still going. On the top of that list was Rob (Channel Master), who ended up with a Realistic Mini-23, and would later accumulate a few different radios along the way. My across the street neighbor Scott went from a walkie-talkie, to a Lafayette HB-115, and then to a Utica Town & Country 6 channel tube rig. Finally, we have "Spud", my next door neighbor, who ran a bright orange Midland 100 mW walkie-talkie, but then picked up the Utica from Scott when he had lost interest. And that pretty much describes my initial core group of radio friends. We all lived within 1/2 mile of each other, so whether we ran walkie-talkies, or full powered CB radios with homemade antennas, we were all able to talk to each other. And the fun took off from there.......
By the end of January, our group had become a pretty regular fixture on Channel 11 and we were in there everyday, once the school bell had rung. Our topics of chatter ranged from school related activities, to sports, busting each other's stones and, of course, exploring the wonders of radio and related experimentation. Our activity level was strong and as a result, we attracted some people who were not a part of my neighborhood or school circle peers. These included Steve, who was a long time regular in the area, Dead Soldier, who was a nearby neighbor of Big Al, but was older than the typical teens which made up our group, and who also had a full base and mobile setup. Next door to Dead Soldier was Fire Dragon, who was also a school mate of Spud. The most interesting addition to the group was Blue Bandit, who stumbled onto our local chatter via a 2nd hand Heathkit general coverage receiver he got on that same magical Christmas in 1973. He became interested in the camaraderie we all had, so he bought a Midland 13-885 base radio (which would become mine 2 years later)from Steve, who was his next door neighbor, and joined the group. So by March, this was the ragtag group that we had become. Despite the wide diversity in equipment type, we were easily able to talk to each other. But we would not be satisfied with our relatively low profile walkie-talkie signals for very long. Exposure to those with fancier equipment and with the addition of new, more distant newcomers to the group, it fed the desire to upgrade. And that takes us into the middle part of the year, from April to July.
The Upgrading Begins.............
Here are a few top 40 popular songs for the middle section of 1974:
The Locomotion - Grand Funk Railroad
Dancin' Machine - Jackson Five
The Show Must Go On - Three Dog Night
Midnight At The Oasis - Maria Muldaur
Band On The Run - Paul Mc Cartney & Wings
By the middle of the year, our group had pretty much settled in and life was good on channel 11. But the quest for more channel capability, along with a greater signal profile, pushed most of us, who didn't yet have "CB sets", to attain one as a primary goal. The move to upgrade started with Big Al, who's parents liked the idea of having a base and mobile setup to keep in touch, so Big Al ended up with a Cobra Cam 89 and a Turner +3 desk mic, and a Hustler "Jam Ram" 5/8th wave antenna, financed on his parent's nickel. Then Inchy comes on line running a Realistic TRC-47 SSB radio on a power supply. Money Man and Blue Cougar each ended up with Realistic TRC-23c Navaho base radios. Channel Master, by this time, is running an SBE Coronado II on his base, and a Hustler "Jam Ram" antenna. Mitch, by now, is running a borrowed (from Dead Soldier) Regency CR-142, with a dual Trik-Stik dipole antenna array, working up to buy an eventual SBE Trinidad. It was to the point where myself and Uncle Albert were the only ones of our original Channel 11 crew left still running walkie-talkies. For me, upgrading to a full powered radio wasn't a simple matter. I didn't have ready access to the necessary funds, so I was in the process of earning the money needed, which would take time. By the end of the spring, I was close to saving up $100. As luck would have it, I found a nice looking Midland 13-867 mobile radio in a mail order catalog (anyone remember Basco?), and the order was placed. The usual turnaround time in those days was 2 weeks. So as the two week time period approached, I'd watch for the approaching UPS truck and, with fingers crossed, hoped that it would stop at my house. But after the two week deadline came and went, an inquiry was placed with Basco, and it was found that the radio was back ordered, but should be processed in another 2 weeks. Well, that 2 weeks came and went again, and still the radio was back ordered. Frustrated, the order was cancelled. But now what? I would probably have to save up even more money, as even the cheapest Radio Shack mobile rig was $109 (not including sales tax).... Meanwhile, during my month of June debacle, Uncle Albert had managed to obtain a Midland 13-862B radio, along with a second hand Lafayette Range Boost II 1/2 wave antenna. And with the finalization of his setup, my period of hell began, as Uncle Albert's new setup could easily squash my 1 watt walkie-talkie signal, and I would have to deal with his nonsense on an almost daily basis. Buying more crystals for escape channels became a moot point now as he had all 23, so I could no longer escape. So by the beginning of July, I had become desperate. And in desperation, we often make hasty decisions which are not always the best........
By the end of June, I had given up on ordering the Midland 13-867, but I didn't quite have enough cash to "buy local" at either Radio Shack or Lafayette. I don't remember why I didn't opt to buy a radio like Uncle Albert ended up with, as I could have easily afforded the $89.95 (tax free!) sale price tag from Henshaws. I guess I didn't want to wait for another 2 week span, and risk another "out of stock" situation. But I was running out of options (no such thing as E-Bay back then). But then a solution presented itself. Blue Bandit found out that a local franchise dealer had a new Pace 223 radio that he'd sell me for $100. I immediately looked up the radio in my Henshaw's catalog and saw that it was a really bare bones radio. One that had a wired-in microphone, and didn't even have a meter. Not exactly what I was looking for. But what did I say before about desperation? Yea, so on the 4th of July, in the middle of the dealer's holiday family bar-b-que, Bandit drove me over and I bought the radio. The range of emotions and thoughts running through my head afterward were crazy and intense. On the one hand, I was ecstatic to finally be able to hold in my hands, a full powered 23 channel radio of my own. But, while I had finally managed to obtain a 23 channel radio, I had no base antenna, no power supply, and no left over money to purchase either. So I wondered if I was really any closer to becoming an official member of the "big leagues" of CB radio. Naturally, I wanted to try out my new radio, so Bandit allowed me to hook it up in his car to try it out. The Pace performed well in the car, with signal and audio reports from the wired-in stock mic to be loud and clear. Of course without an S-meter of my own, I could not return the favor. But at least the radio worked (for now...).
Meanwhile, our channel group was still expanding. Joining us was Tiger Shark, who initially ran a Lafayette HA-310 1.5 watt walkie-talkie. We also had Red Baron, who had a Midland 13-700 1-watt like mine. Finally, we had Cheetah, who was also running a walkie talkie, the make and model of which escapes me at the moment. We also had some people join the group who had full powered radios . My across-the-street neighbor Spaghetti Man came on-line with a Robyn WV-23 which he used in both his car and in the house. There was also Silver Nail, a school friend of Channel Master and myself, who lived about a block away. He was another lucky one who had a parentally financed station which included a Cobra 135. Finally we had Cougar, who lived about 1.5 miles away, and went to a different school district. Cougar was running a Midland 13-864 base radio. In retrospect, it's funny just how many Midland products we had in our group. I guess that was probably due to the fact that Midland CB's were the products of choice carried by the mail order catalogs.
The Rocky Journey of Transition......
The 3rd quarter of 1974 begins with a few of the top 40 songs from that time period:
Rock The Boat - Hues Corporation
Please Come To Boston - David Loggins
Waterloo - ABBA
Sideshow - Blue Magic
I Shot The Sheriff - Eric Clapton
Things were a bit rocky for me during the months of July thru September of 1974. While I finally had a "real" CB radio, I didn't not have a decent base antenna (Rather, a homebrewed 1/4 wave whip). My signal profile was still far below that of my peers, and I was still being antagonized by Uncle Albert, and it was a continual stick in my craw dealing with the irony of knowing that even though I had a far greater technical understanding of how radio worked, I was being bested by someone who didn't know much more than how to "plug it in and turn it on". My increasingly frustrating attempts at trying to boost my signal managed to push my new Pace radio too far and I ended up blowing the final transistor out of it. I wasn't sure if it was due to a high SWR, or from trying to "volt" the radio with my homemade power supply, but whichever the case, I was down for the count again. Fortunately, I still had my 1 watt walkie-talkie, as a backup, but that wouldn't do for very long. So I set out in an attempt to repair the radio. It didn't take me long to verify that the final and the driver were both shot. So I looked up the part number (MRF-8004) in the transistor cross reference guide. Naturally, I could not find anyone locally who carried the exact replacement part. But I was able to cross the part over to a supposed RCA equivalent. So I rode my bike all the way down to the west end of Norristown, to the local parts dealer. I bought two of the RCA replacement parts and proceeded to install them. But I was met with only limited success. I was able to get the radio to make power again, but only up to about 1/2 watt. I tried peaking it, but that's all she had. So now I was stumped. Nothing else appeared to be defective. But without a plan of action, or a way to test anything else, I had to concede defeat. Once again Blue Bandit came through for me, and set me up with a local ham who was willing to fix the radio. By now the radio had been down for a week, and the ham had it for yet another week or so. So for two long weeks, I was back in low power purgatory. Finally I got the radio back repaired. Turns out that I had too weak of a part for a final amp (even though the cross reference guide said it was correct). A stronger part was substituted and the radio was aligned to about 3 watts of power. Once I got the radio back, I needed to get a real regulated power supply, so that I wouldn't blow the radio again. My neighbor Spaghetti Man sold me his power supply, and with that, the radio worked better than ever. No more indicator lights dimming and no trace of a hum in the speaker. But my signal was still down compared to everyone else. I was convinced that my biggest problem was that my radio put out "only" 3 watts (where most radios made were now at the new FCC limit of 4 watts output). I was under the mistaken idea that simply being able to raise power up to 5 or 6 watts, would bring me right up there with everyone else. So in order to do that, I would need to find another radio. I had heard rumors about how tube radios could be made to put out way more power than a solid state rig. So based on that, I decided that I wanted a tube rig. Word was put out that I was looking for a new radio, but I would have to sell my current one to earn the money. One of our newer locals, Cheetah, ended up buying my radio and power supply. So I had about $115 back in my pocket. But I also had no more radio. And to make matters worse, my 1 watt Midland WT had recently died (the PTT switch had literally worn out from excessive use), so that was no longer available as a backup. All I had left was my original Midland 13-428 100 mW 3 channel walkie talkie. So for another week or so, I really struggled with low signal potential, and very limited range, along with dealing with a lot of ribbing from my friends about my pitiful signal situation. While I was going through my own version of radio purgatory, other people in our group were slowly upgrading their stations. Red Baron had shed his 1 watt WT in favor of a Lafayette Comstat 25a. His WT ended up in his neighbor Rose's (Belly Dancer) hands and we gained yet another group member. Tiger Shark had opted for a Lafayette Micro 723 mobile rig. Dennis the Menace had put the Mini 23 into his car, and ended up with a Lafayette Comstat 23 on his base. He also ditched the horizontal beam in favor of a Radio Shack 1/2 wave omni. As for my situation, Blue Bandit once again took pity on me and lent me one of his spare mobile rigs, and helped me to twist my mother's arm into letting me put up a full size 1/2 wave antenna. Things improved rapidly for me from that point in the signal department. With the addition of the 1/2 wave base antenna, my signal was finally up with the rest of the group, give or take. A week or so later, and I would be taking possesion of my next radio, a Lafayette Comstat 25 and from that point on, I never looked back. Life was finally good!
The Year Comes To a Close................
The last quarter of the year starts out, as usual, with a few selections from the current top 40:
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet - Bachman Turner Overdrive
Tin Man - America
The Bitch Is Back - Elton John
Jazzman - Carole King
Life Is A Rock - Reunion
October through December of 1974, was a far less tumultuous time for me than the previous few months had been. I had finally gotten a decent base radio, a decent base antenna, and with 6 watts of output power (with a fresh Radio Shack "Lifetime" final tube), I was finally on top of Uncle Albert in the signal department. My "new" radio was not without its quirks however. When I got it, it came with a Turner +2 desk mic. The modulation was somewhat muffled sounding with it, which didn't sit well with me. But in short order, I ran into a trade opportunity. Blue Cougar had gotten a D-104 mic for his Realistic TRC-23c, and it was really tinny sounding on that radio. So we figured that if we traded mics, he might be less tinny and I might become less muffled. So we made the swap, and the both of us did end up sounding better as a result. The D-104 was a much better match for my radio. By now, pretty much everyone of the active members of the group had managed to upgrade beyond walkie-talkies, to regular CB radios. The end of the year brought about another Christmas, where I got my first SWR meter, a mic plug to wire up a standby stock mic, and that all important FCC CB license. With all the money spent on radio equipment, I hardly had an extra $20 lying around to pay for my station license. So it ended up given to me as a Christmas gift. Thus ending my year's worth of "bootlegging" without the required license, and the lessening of the chance that I (or more accurately, my mother) would get popped for the max $10,000 fine for not having one. 1975 would bring about even more additions and changes to the group. Radios would be bought, sold, and traded. Experimentation with antennas would continue, as at least some of us would become obsessed with attaining the strongest possible signal
In the beginning of the year, our group was running rather eclectic and kludged together setups, which were good for talking over a less than 3 mile radius. But by the end of 1974, we were on equal footing with the typical CB'er, much to the dismay of the "adult" groups who were close enough to be bothered by our bleedover. But while we had all managed to finally make the "Big Leagues" of CB radio, the upgrading didn't stop there. No, the coming years would see further upgrades, to SSB radios, linear amplifiers, and better antennas. Then, when we became of age to drive, our stations expanded to the mobile for a new and exciting dimension of radio fun.
And once again I get to say: "Boy I'm getting old........"