CB Radio has always been about bringing people together through the wonderful medium of wireless communication. Today, most people don't think twice about the technology which makes their cell phones, laptops, and PDA's communicate with the outside world. But back in the 1960's and 1970's none of that technology existed yet, and if people wanted to communicate with each other, they either had to visit in person, or use the wired landline telephone to call someone (Don't tell me about smoke signals). Telephones only allowed a strictly 2-way conversation to occur, so the only way to kick back with a larger group of people was a face-face meeting. Then came CB radio as a place for people to have a virtual party over the air. Like the telephone, a CB radio allowed people to communicate with each other beyond the distance that your normal voice could travel unassisted. But unlike the telephone, the CB was more like a "Party line", which allowed many people to participate in the conversation. You didn't have to worry about what you had to wear, or how unattractive you thought you were, since other people couldn't see you anyway. Radio was a great ice-breaker for shy and introverted people to seek out friends and to form personal relationships, which were easier to accomplish within the confines of the familiar surroundings of your own home, and which could also be severed simply by turning the switch off. It was an ideal situation, and many people found kindred spirits and people who enjoyed the same activities or were simply fun to listen to. Many nights would go by with all sorts of spirited debates, discussions of current events, experiments surrounding improving signal potential or increased equipment capability, or just general chit-chat and goofing off. In many ways it was the ultimate solution to making (and keeping) friends.
Eventually though, when you've talked to someone for a while, and you became comfortable with them, you start to get curious about what they look like. Or you might want to take the casual on-air friendship to a deeper level and do things in the real world. Whatever the reason, it would seem that even the most shy and self-conscious CB'ers eventually wanted to "eyeball" one another. In the very early days of my radio hobby, most of my friends and I already knew each other through school or by living in close proximity in the same neighborhood. But as we got better equipment and our signals extended further away from our homes, we picked up some new friends who lived more than a few miles away, and who didn't go to our school. So naturally, the time came when we desired to meet in person. Other channel groups, especially those of the older adults, also sought a way to meet face-face with their radio buds. And so the "Coffee Break" or "CB Jamboree", as it was know in some other areas, came to be.
From what I've read throughout the years, the Coffee Break was pretty much a constant in most parts of the country, so my area was not unique in this aspect. What a Coffee Break was, in essence, was a well publicized gathering of CB'ers at a predetermined public place, or at a rented venue. Here, people would come, pay their $2 or whatever admission fee and, while wearing their "handle" badge proudly on their chest or baseball cap, sought out their radio friends. Usually the larger events were open to all groups on all the channels from miles around, so there were usually hundreds of people in attendance, many of whom we didn't know or had never heard before. It was also the place for the local CB clubs to show off their club shirts and to recruit new blood to add to their swelling memberships. These larger breaks often had entertainment in the form or a band or DJ, plenty of food to purchase, and usually a door prize or other raffle drawing. There were also various vendors set up hawking their wares. Radio equipment vendors were the most popular and they provided a means for people to kick the tires on new radio models or, for kids like me who never had more than $10 worth of spare change, to dream about those radios we might someday own. There were also vendors who sold custom printed QSL cards, or name, callsign or handle badges. There were also the "XYL's" vendors who sold cheap jewelry or other trinkets which appealed to the female contingent.
Besides the larger "Jamboree" style breaks, there were other smaller "Breaks" which were usually impromptu, informal, and normally limited to just the members of a particular channel group. These were held at a local restaurant, donut shop, or bowling alley. These small breaks were nothing fancy, but simply a regular or semi-regular excuse for radio friends to have a face-face meeting. The Coffee Break had its heyday from about 1973 to about 1977. Beyond that I don't recall ever attending any close by. I'm not sure why Coffee Breaks faded away as the CB fad was still on the upswing until the early 80's.
Here is a short list of the various "Coffee Breaks" that I remember attending along with a short description of what was there:
West Point Park - This was my favorite site for a Coffee Break. West Point Park was an (now defunct) amusement park located about 4 or 5 miles from my house. Compared to the size of the "mega" theme parks of today, this park was pretty small, but it was more than large enough for something like a coffee break. In the later days of the park's operation, they would rent the park out to large groups for private functions, which fit the bill perfectly for an event like a coffee break. It was relatively large, open, and with ample picnic groves and pavilions which could be used by food concessions and other vendors alike. And because it was in an amusement park, it held some interest for us younger people. I can remember attending this event twice along with a few of my local friends. Some of the more memorable things that happened while there included a little covert spying on the Channel 3 adults, who we were having some conflict with at the time. They were easy to spot as they were all fairly conspicuous by the prominent display of their club shirts. Also spotted at the break, was the notorious Cap't Coleslaw and his entourage. He was a well known energetic and flamboyant member of the Philadelphia Channel 1 group, the precursor for the modern day Channel 6. At the next year's event, we were having a bit of a feud with Steve and, as we were leaving, we snapped the coax cable lead to his 102" bumper-mount whip and laughed at his weak signal until he figured out what had happened.
Gilbertsville Fire Company - This was your typical fire house hall, which could house about 200 people give or take. There were vendors with equipment displays setup, plentiful food and a band. The biggest downside to this place was a lack of ventilation and I remember nearly choking to death on the thick cigarette smoke which permeated the air. Despite that, it was still a good time. The highlight of this break was meeting Wild Child, a local CB'er and commercial FM radio DJ, for the first time, as well as clowning around with my fellow radio friends.
Sunnybrook Ballroom - This was a break similar to Gilbertsville, in that it was an indoor venue. But it was a bit larger and could hold more people. I remember going there with Blue Bandit one year, but I don't remember much beyond that. It must not have been as much fun, I guess.......
Dunkin' Donuts - Located at the corner of Ridge Pike and Butler Pike just outside of Conshohocken Pa., this was the site of a small local break sponsored informally by the members of the Channel 18 /Channel 4 group. There was no set night, but the guys would meet there at least once a week.
Friendly's Ice Cream - Located in Trooper Pa., this was the destination for the members of the Channel 20 group in 1977. On every Thursday, many of Channel 20's finest (and me) would meet up and suck up our share of Sundae's, Fribbles, and Friendly Cola (very syrupy). The waitresses all knew us and had our tables ready for us when we got there. Sometimes we got a little noisy, but never disruptive. One of the more memorable times was when "Father John" showed up wearing a homemade priest's collar as a tribute to Father John's Workshop. On another occasion, while driving to the restaurant, my right front wheel hit a large pothole which jarred my brake wheel cylinder loose, which cause my brakes to fail. Since I was already just about there, I continued on and had a good time. But then I had to drive home (about 3 miles) with only the parking brake to stop by.
It's a shame that events like this exist pretty much only in the memories of those old timers who were around in the 70's. I have not heard anything about similar events in my area for many years. I'm sure there may still be a CB Jamboree going on in some part of the country. Then again, today's CB is not the same as it was back then, so who knows what might happen. You'd probably have to screen everyone for weapons............