A lot of us got interested in CB radio in the late 60's and early 70's. An interest in radio communications, without the requirement to learn morse code or heavy duty technical theory drove many of us to CB back then. The number of early CB operators was relatively small, and not well known outside the tight circles of other CB enthusiasts. The number of CB'ers did grow, but in relatively small amounts. Early radio gear was not as diverse, had a more utilitarian appearance and, with the notable exception of Radio Shack and Lafayette, could not generally be bought over the counter at your typical retail store.
But then came the Arab embargo in 1973. All of a sudden there was a shortage of fuel, and the price shot way up. People sat in long gas lines for hours waiting to fill up. In an effort to reduce fuel consumption, a nation-wide 55 MPH maximum speed limit was enacted. Truck drivers started feeling the pinch and they organized protests and strikes to force someone (And who that someone was, was not fully understood) to "do something" about their looming crisis. Enter the Citizen's Band radio. CB radio had already started to play a part of a typical truck driver's lifestyle as drivers found that CB radios were helpful to pass the time, get directions, and avoid traffic problems. Because time is money to a driver, the 55 MPH speed limit cost them as well. So they looked to CB and the network of other drivers to spot police speed traps which then allowed the drivers to violate the "double nickel" speed limit with less chance of getting caught. Not surprisingly, during the fracas in 1973, the trucker protests and traffic slowdowns were organized over CB as well.
It didn't take long before the behind the scenes aspect of CB radio caught the attention of the mainstream media and the folks in Hollywood. News reports showcased the truckers and the associated CB subculture. Movies like "Citizens Band", "Convoy" and "Smokey & the Bandit" were produced which highlighted CB activities, truckers usage of CB, and the slang lingo which went along with it. It didn't take too long before the general public wanted to be a part of the action and soon new CB'ers started to spring up like crabgrass everywhere. And so the "CB Fad" of the 1970's, the first official "chat room", was born. All across the channels you could hear all sorts of people saying "10-4 good buddy", to other similarly equipped newcomers to the hobby. Unlike the earlier CB hobby pioneers of 5 to 10 years prior, these newcomers were simply interested in following a fad and socializing over the air, and didn't really care all that much about the technical aspects of radio communications. This "CB Fad", and the users that it brought to the service grew in leaps and bounds which resulted in CB radio becoming a household word. Nearly a third of the vehicles on the road had a CB installed as well as a good number of homes. CB radios became available at typical retail stores like Sears, K-Mart, J.C. Penney and others, while staples like Radio Shack expanded their offerings. The fad burned hot for a while, however it lasted for no more than about 4 or 5 years. In the end, it was mother nature that killed the CB Fad. As luck would have it, as the 70's came to an end (with fuel finally topping the $1.00/gallon mark) the 11 year solar sunspot cycle peaked, which brought about daily ionospheric propagation enhancement, which made worldwide communications not only possible, but pretty much routine. It wasn't long before the local casual chatters found themselves being drowned out by big gun DX stations in other states (and countries). After a year or two of these unfavorable local conditions, most of the casual fad users died off and moved on to embrace the next fads like MTV, video games, and the infancy of the personal computer.
CB radio eventually returned to what it had been before the fad - a hobby for people who enjoyed the idea of wireless communications, but did not want to get involved with ham radio. However, as cell phones and other wireless technologies gained popularity, the attractiveness of CB radio has been slowly fading. But once again, we are faced with high fuel prices. Truckers are talking about parking their rigs and driving to state capitols in protest. History has been known to repeat itself and I have to wonder if the price of fuel keeps on rising, and the trucker protests continue, whether CB radio will once again be brought into the spotlight. Will there be another generation of fad users as a result? Will you once again be able to buy CB radios at K-Mart, and will Radio Shack come out with Base Station and SSB radios again? Or has the current level of computer and wireless technology completely replaced the need (and hence the desire) for CB radio? We'll just have to wait and see. But who knows? Stranger things have happened.........