My Historical Journey Through The CB and Ham Radio Experience.
By Dave, a.k.a. "Sandbagger"
My journey into the CB radio hobby began back in the fall of 1969, when one of my school friends brought a pair of walkie-talkies to school one day to play with at recess. I was 9 years of age at the time, and we played some sort of "secret agent" game using the walkie-talkies. The game was typical kid stuff, but the idea of sending messages over the air with no wires attached fascinated the heck out of me. So I asked for a walkie-talkie for Christmas that year. Well, I didn't get a walkie-talkie, but what I got instead was a Sears 100 mW "Base Station" and it turned out to be quite a bit more interesting than a walkie-talkie. This radio featured a removable plug in mike, headphone, and Morse code key, adjustable Volume, Regeneration (Which worked like an RF gain), and Tuning controls. The unit was powered by 6 "C" cell batteries and it was equipped with a built-in 44" telescopic antenna. This radio received the upper H.F. short wave and ham bands, as well as CB. I can remember listening to many interesting short wave broadcasts and a lot of "gibberish" sounding transmissions that I would later find out were Single Side Band (SSB). While fun at first, strictly listening became a bit boring after a while. I wanted to interact with others, and send those messages over the air. Luckily for me, besides receiving the short wave bands, my radio also transmitted on CB channel 14. So during this time, I started to make contacts with other neighborhood kids who had also received CB walkie-talkies for Christmas. It was fun trying to figure out who and where they all were. The weeks which followed were full of range experiments, and numerous conversations. I was excited when I found out that I could talk to another kid a whole 2 blocks away. I also learned which rooms in my house provided the best range in a given direction. But like most Christmas toys, when the batteries died, and the antennas invariably snapped off, most of the other kids gave up playing with their walkie-talkies, and moved on to the next big toy. But I was left with a radio bug that still haunts me to this day. During that first year, besides the local kids on walkie-talkies, I would also hear a scattering of "real" CB'ers (those with 4 watt radios). Most of them used their FCC assigned call letters, and their conversations were sporadic, usually routine (legal), and business-like in nature. So they didn't interest me all that much at first. But that would change soon enough.....
As the next year forged on, the local walkie-talkie activity had pretty much faded away, so I ended up only using the radio sporadically, when I felt the need to get "radioactive". I might have lost interest in radio right then and there due to the general lack of activity, compounded by other competing interests (like rebuilding lawn mower and go-kart engines) wrestling for my attention. But fate would intercede and change things for the better in the latter part of 1972. I was 12 by that time, and I was pursuing another spontaneous spurt in radio interest. One night, while tuning across the band, I stumbled upon a new group of "real" CB'ers. They seemed close to me as far as I could tell, since they came in with little or no background static and were very easy to copy, unlike the walkie-talkies which I had been used to talking to. This group differed from the CB'ers I had heard before in that they talked in a relaxed, informal, roundtable forum, identifying themselves with unique codenames that they referred to as "handles" instead of the FCC required call signs. This led me to believe at first, that they were hams since I believed that, according to my greatly outdated information at the time (based on this article), 11 meters was still allocated as a ham band as well as CB. In any case, this new local group consisted of somewhat older teenagers with the handles of Billy Goat, Nails, Rattlesnake, Scorpio, Capricorn, Bone Man, and Blue Willow. These guys (and one girl) were about 3 or 4 years older than I was at the time, in high school, and carried on in ways which were typical for most people of that age. They didn't really have a "home" channel per-se, they usually just met up on whatever channel they happened to land on. I listened to them for many nights, and their free-flowing, on-air antics they engaged in, fueled a major resurgence in my interest in the hobby. This was the kind of on-air fun I had always imagined, but hadn't quite attained. I wanted to become a part of their group so bad I could taste it, but they were usually on a channel other than 14. But then one night, as luck would have it, they happened to be using Channel 14. I could not believe it! Finally, I had my chance to join in. So, with much nervousness and trepidation, I hit the transmit switch, broke in and made first contact. Billy Goat was the first to acknowledge me and, as it turned out, only two or three in the group were close enough to hear my weak, "in the grass" signal. Those who could hear me seemed surprised that I knew so much about them. They also cleared up my initial confusion by stating that they were, in fact, CB'ers and not hams when I asked, and they didn't seem all that concerned about potential repercussions from the FCC over their somewhat loose and illegal operating practices. In contrast, I was truly naive and totally paranoid of the FCC, and thought that the minute you bent the rules even slightly, they'd swoop down from the shadows and dispense the wrath of the federal government on you, and lock you away for the rest of your life. Well, maybe not THAT long...... Anyway, after many nights of listening and occasionally talking to this group, I relayed my experiences to some of my friends, who then dug out their dusty and banged up walkie-talkies, put in fresh batteries, and we started our first small group on Channel 14. Billy Goat referred to us as his "satellites", since we were all close to and around his location. Soon afterward, I began to experiment with my 100 mW base. I added an audio preamplifier, made from one of those Radio Shack "100-In-1 Electronic Project kits", in series with the mike, which made my weak signal at least sound louder. I also added a multi position switch and a crystal socket so that I could transmit on channels other than 14. I soon added channel 7, which I "borrowed" from one of my father's old Tokai walkie-talkies, channel 11, which I got from Steve (Rattlesnake), as well as 14. Back in those days, the CB channels had specific purposes. You could legally only use channels 10Ė15 and 23 for talking to stations not under your license, so most of the growing "hobby" talkers were in this range.
In early 1973, I received as a birthday gift, a Midland 13-428 100 mW 3 channel walkie-talkie, so that I could take my radio with me when I was "out and about". This took care of the limitation of having a boxy and not-so-portable "base station" as my primary radio. I loaded my new Midland with channels 14, 11 (which came standard) and 7. Soon afterward, I also purchased Channel 3, which had become the local rag chew channel for the "adults" in the area, and a growing focal point for the local agitators. I would soon find out that the superheterodyne-equipped Midland, had a far superior receiver than my Sears base radio, and I could hear all sorts of stations that I couldn't hear before. But it was a double edged sword. On the one hand it was an eye opening experience to a whole new world of radio operators, beyond the confines of my immediate area. But on the other hand, while I could hear them, they couldn't hear me, and that just made me want even more powerful equipment. Meanwhile, our little walkie-talkie group was going strong. Most of us ran some type of walkie-talkie, but some of the other kids, who also wanted to be heard, eventually managed to obtain more powerful CB radios. One scored a Heathkit CB "lunchbox" from one of the other locals. Another kid found a Lafayette HB-115 for cheap, at a local radio swap store. While the lack of a proper antenna (We made random length wire antennas without really knowing anything about impedance matching or wavelength), limited the full potential of these radios, they were still head and shoulders above my measly 100 mW stuff. I was jealous to say the least, considering that I had more or less started the group, and I was getting the feeling that I was being left in the dust. Without much in the way of funds (A 13 yr old's weekly allowance only goes so far), and a bad experience buying a used Radio Shack 3 watt walkie talkie which never worked right and had cost me $30 (A lot of money for me then), I was forced to wait until yet another Christmas, where I was hopeful that a sympathetic "Santa" would deliver me from low power hell.
That Christmas (1973), as I had hoped, a kindly Santa left me a Midland 13-700, 1 watt walkie-talkie in my stocking. This was a 2 channel unit, with a volume and a squelch! A 5+ foot "eyepoker" antenna was standard. My range increased from less than 1 mile to over 4. I was now able to reach some of the more distant local CB'ers in our area, who had been unable to hear me before, which became increasingly important as our group slowly expanded beyond the confines of our little neighborhood. Since I was now, more or less, becoming a part of the "big leagues", I took the handle "Captain Kidd" as my own after a short lived period of time when I had used the handle "Cough Drop", (a play on my given name) suggested by my mother. This new handle had somewhat of a dual meaning. On the one hand, as Blue Bandit once put it, I was pretty much "the captain of the kids group". On the other hand, I was also somewhat of a pirate with regard to my view of FCC rules at the time. So it made a good fit for me at that time.
By the beginning of 1974, once everyone in our group had shed the "el-cheapo" channel 14-only walkie-talkies, we moved from Channel 14 and settled on Channel 11, and at one time the group would grow to about a dozen or so regulars. This Christmas (like many more to follow) also brought in a new group of kids with walkie-talkies (And some lucky ones with 5 watt CB's), some of whom eventually joined our expanding group. My crystal collection would gradually grow to include channels 1,3,7,11,14,19,and 21. I was always trying to have at least one channel, that my soon to be prime antagonist, (Uncle Albert) didnít have so that I could escape from his clowning around and radio DJ shtick and the frequent arguments which he often goaded me into. These arguments were mostly immature kid stuff, but they were annoying anyway.
1974 was a major evolutionary year for both myself, and the group as a whole. The original group that I had found in '72 and subsequently joined, had all but faded away. Our group now consisted of people with handles of Dennis the Menace, Dead Soldier, Red Devil, Big Al, Inchy, Cougar, Blue Bandit, Red Baron, Belly Dancer, Blue Cougar, Sweet and Innocent, Flower Girl, and a few more. Most of us had started off with walkie-talkies, and most would upgrade to full 23 channel sets by the end of the year. A couple of my friends were lucky enough to get their parents interested enough in CB, that they bought them decent setups right off the bat. I was not so lucky in that regard, as my mother was not all that keen with the thought of me getting anything more powerful than a walkie-talkie. In any case, if I wanted to upgrade my equipment, I would have to earn the money to do it on my own. It took a few months, but the big day for me finally came on July 4th of 1974. A combination of saved up allowance money, plus the proceeds from the sale of my father's old 5 HP outboard boat motor, had netted me a whopping $100, which was eventually spent on a new Pace 223. $100 didn't buy a whole lot of radio in those days, so consequently, this was a "no frills", basic feature-only radio with just a volume, a squelch, no meter, and 23 (soon to be 24) channels. But it was a full 3.5 watts of wonderful R.F. output. As I had spent all of my money on the radio, I had to build a power supply out of an old Lionel train transformer. My antenna was also a homebrewed kludge consisting of 108" of soldered together broken car radio antennas which I had scavenged from the trash can at the local car wash. The SWR was surprisingly good, but the antenna wasn't mounted very high up. Once again, parental influence limited my full potential, as my mother was not happy about the thought of me putting up a "big, ugly antenna" outside. Not only did she not like the looks of a base antenna, she was afraid of it attracting lightning (She had had a bad experience with an outdoor TV antenna and a "near miss" lightning strike which scared the heck out of her). So accordingly, my signal was not the strongest one in the group by a longshot. But I was happy for the moment, for even this Mickey-Mouse setup was an improvement over the walkie-talkie, both in terms of signal strength and channel capacity. I used the Pace for the summer, spending many hot days inside yacking it up with the locals. My mother could not understand why I would rather sit inside a hot house talking, instead of playing outside. But when you've got the radio bug, the usual outdoor activities just couldn't compete. In the fall, I sold the Pace, and then I got the opportunity to get the radio which I had set my sights on, a Lafayette Comstat 25. Dead Soldier donated a 1/2 wave Radio Shack "Super Maxum" ground plane antenna, while Blue Bandit donated 20 ft of mast and coax cable. He also managed to work his charm (He was, after all, a salesman) and smooth talked my mother into allowing me to put it all up, and I was finally on the air with a big (relatively speaking) signal. I was now finally able to match and slightly best the signal of my rival, who had already gotten a 4 watt Midland CB and, for the past few months, had enjoyed the ability to key on me at will whenever we had one of our frequent arguments. It was also psychologically gratifying to have the capability to tell someone to "take it to 22A or B" (which came standard in the Comstat), where he couldnít follow. Our group would spend many hours after school, and in the evenings, talking about the things we wanted to do next with our "sets", as well as a bit of clowning around and general B.S.íing about the typical topics that teens talked about. Most of us drooled over the radios in the Lafayette, Radio Shack, and Henshaw's catalogs that we all managed to have. I was always imagining what it would be like to actually own a radio like a Cobra 135, a Pearce Simpson Simba, a Tram D201, or a Browning Golden Eagle, and driving a Moonraker 4 antenna on the roof. As a Christmas present in 1974, a whole year after first getting the license-required 1-watt walkie-talkie, I finally received my FCC CB station license (Or more accurately, my mother did), which kept me "legal". This was probably a good idea, as my signal profile had gotten quite a bit higher in the past year, and the last thing I needed was a pink slip from the FCC. My first call sign was KIN-4577. Even though we pretty much all had licenses by then, none of us used our call signs however, as we were cognizant of the fact that we broke the rules fairly regularly, and we didn't want to make it any easier for the FCC to identify and fine us. Back then there was still a very real fear of the FCC. There were always rumors of "The Candy Man", as the FCC was referred to then, being in town. But despite these seemingly endless and ever-present rumors, nobody in our local area ever got popped to the best of my knowledge back in the 70's.
One of the most memorable things about this time period, were the various "Coffee Breaks" which became a regular occurrence. The Coffee Break was the place where CB'ers could finally meet, or "eyeball", someone in person and finally put faces to all of the handles and voices that were heard on a regular basis. It was also a place to "kick the tires" on new radio equipment, as there were always vendors selling stuff there as well. There were several local and semi-local breaks, held in places like fire houses, and banquet rooms. But by far the best break of all, from my teenaged perspective, was held at a small local amusement park, which has since been turned into a housing development. Besides the larger organized breaks, there were also the impromptu ones held, somewhat regularly, at a local donut shop, pancake house, or restaurant. These were usually just an informal gathering by the members of a specific local channel group.
Not everything was peaches and cream on the airwaves though, and once in a while we got into disputes with other CB'ers. Most of our detractors came from the "adult" channels who somehow felt that, because we were kids, we didnít belong on the radio. These disputes usually started over bleed over and then usually escalated into heated debates over who had what right to talk on which channel, and things like that. It was surprising how these little squabbles brought out the lack of maturity in people who should've been above that. I mean, we were the kids, we had an excuse.
1975 continued the slow evolution and growth of our group, and my growing thirst for knowledge of all things R.F.. Experimentation was the name of the game, although having a tube rig with high voltages present, meant more than my fair share of electrical shocks (Ouch!). I quite accidentally stumbled on that little quirk in receiver images which allows you to swap the transmit and receive crystals in walkie-talkies, yet still communicate on an out of band image frequency. It didn't take long to figure out how to apply that same technique to the synthesizer mixer crystals in a 23 channel CB radio, and we soon had some "private" channels. Those were the channels where you went to plot against rival channel groups, or to escape a determined jammer. It was also during this time that I built the "bicycle mobile". That bike setup could talk over 5 miles, and was quite a novelty among the locals for its uniqueness. Eventually, I was offered a trade. The bike setup (minus the bike itself) for a Contex 6706 75 watt linear amplifier (sorry FCC!). I was still having occasional feuds with Uncle Albert and, thanks to the growing popularity of the CB hobby, there was an increasing amount of carrier throwers, would-be channel masters, and a few idiots with egos larger than brains. So I wanted an edge, and I took my first step down the path toward the dark side of illegal amp use. The new found power boost also led to my first taste of "skip" talking. I had constructed a 1/2 wave wire dipole and strung it across the corners of my room and, with the aid of the Contex amp, used it to talk to a station in Kentucky. I would make several more skip contacts, but grew bored with it quickly. I was much more comfortable, and preferred talking with the people local to me whom I knew, rather than trying to find common ground with strangers.
Around September 1975, most of the truckers moved from Channel 10 up to Channel 19, in order to align with the west coast truckers who were already using 19. Our group took advantage of this to move from the increasingly hostile and crowded Channel 11, down to the now quiet Channel 10. For several weeks we would have to send an occasional stray trucker up to 19, but it was still much quieter than Channel 11 had become. Running on Channel 10 was not without its problems though, as we started getting grief from local REACT stations complaining about bleed over onto Channel 9, as well as from a more distant co-channel group (See this story). Our group changed little for the next 6 or 7 months. Shadow, Blue Bandit, Uncle Albert, Big Al, Cougar, and a few others were still going strong along with some newcomers, like Cheetah, Gumshoe, LIM, Frogman, Tigershark, Rubberband, and Blonde Beauty. Most of our group would start to lose interest over the next year and either become "part timers" or would get out altogether. Some moved on to other channels. I however, was still captivated by the technology and learning all I could about it, and had no desire to quit. Still relentlessly experimenting, I managed to build a simple "slider" for the Comstat. Made from a old radio tuning capacitor and a coil of wire wrapped around a BIC pen, this thing allowed me to drop about 3 channels, which gave me access to the RC channels as well as a few below Channel 1. I was never afraid to try something far-out. What the heck, the worst that could happen is that it wouldn't work. I also "invented" the poor man's reverb, which could sound as good (or poorly depending on your perspective) as some of those cheesy "echo mikes" which they now sell. My antennas also changed over the years, from my original 2nd hand Radio Shack 1/2 wave, to an Avanti Astro Plane (Didn't work well at the height I was forced to keep it at), then to a Hustler Trumpet 5/8th wave, and then eventually a 3-element beam. The beam would later come crashing down in an ice storm in 1978 and the Trumpet returned to the top of the mast for a bit.
1976 started off with more of the same. I soon had to face the reality that most of my ever increasing "projects", demanded a certain amount of capital. Because of my limited disposable income, I soon learned the fine art of horse trading. I also started to earn a fair amount of money by doing repair and modification work for the locals in our area. I studied the circuitry of the Contex amplifier and managed to build another from surplus parts out of my tech school electronics class. I then traded that amp to Dead Soldier for an SBE Cortez mobile rig. I also bought my first SSB radio, a Radio Shack TRC-47 mobile rig for $50 from another kid in tech school. This radio had a fried final and a few other problems. I replaced the final and soon had my first taste of SSB. I got an "Echo Charlie" (The semi-local SSB club in the east) number (2632) so I could be "in" with the group who dominated Channel 16 (The only "official" SSB channel at the time) lower. Back in those days, if you didnít have a "number", most of the guys wouldnít talk to you (Institutionalized snobbery). Due to a damaged audio transformer, the TRC-47 would not modulate over about 20% on AM. So I ended up simply using the '47 on SSB, and then switching to either my Comstat or the SBE for AM talking. One of the locals had recently taken a lightning strike, which had wiped out his Midland 13-885 SSB base. His homeowner's insurance money had bought him a new Royce 640 base, and he was casually trying to repair the Midland. But he also wanted a sideband radio for his car, so he soon offered to trade me the Midland for my TRC-47, and I jumped on it. It turns out, the Midland only had fried audio transistors and a blown regulator in the power supply. So in less than a week, I had a really good talking AM/SSB radio, with a clock, and a huge S-meter. That Midland would scream! To say it was loud and proud was an understatement. Even on a stock mike it was loud, so imagine what a D-104 would make it do. So now I had a great SSB radio, but I still spent most of my time on AM, since not everyone in our group had SSB. Also, the regular Channel 16 sidebanders in my area were a lot like (wannabee) hams. Serious, very rigid, straight laced, and definitely too mature and uptight for the antics that our mostly teenaged group liked to play. If you liked getting a tongue lashing, all you had to do was use a handle instead of a "personal", or use the 10-code instead of the ham radio-based "Q"-code (Which was often used incorrectly anyway). For these reasons, we never really felt comfortable on Channel 16 SSB, so we didn't hang around there. Operating SSB on any other channel was bound to elicit complaints from AM operators though, as back then only channel 16 (and in some cases 17) were "allocated" (by gentleman's agreement) for SSB use. We would use sideband occasionally on our home channel but more as a quick way to tell someone something "secret" that you didn't want non-SSB'ers to hear, or as a defense against unwanted intruders, who normally had AM-only rigs. When one or more of these troublemakers would show up, and we weren't able to talk over them on AM, we'd either switch to a "private" channel, or would go to sideband, slide the clarifier off of center slot, and talk until the sideband noise would drive the clowns away. It was fairly effective, but I used to chuckle at the irony. There we would be, talking away using sideband our own home channel, for whatever the reason, and without fail, someone from some other channel would jump in there just to give us grief for talking on sideband (on our own channel!) on an "AM" channel. Whatever happened to minding one's own business?
Normally the content of our conversations were typical teenager-oriented stuff, (school related activities, other kids, cars, music, sports, etc.). We (at least the guys) also liked to play Romeo to the few females that happened on the channel. Time was also spent playing Chess or Battleship for hours on end, and sometimes we would create song parodies and radio comedy bits which lampooned other CB'ers, or current events. Some of them would probably have launched a career in broadcasting for the few of us that happened to be good at it. Had a few events in my life happened a bit differently, I might've been sitting behind the mic in New York, instead of Howard Stern. I was certainly doing bizarre song parodies before Weird Al Yankovic hit the scene. He just had the forethought to reach out to Dr. Demento and established professional connections. Besides, I never imagined that this kind of stuff would actually have mass appeal at the time. It was just a bunch of us guys goofing off on CB radio. But that's another story and it's all water over the dam now. Needless to say, our activities were not always appreciated by some of the more "serious" (IOW: lacking a sense of humor) operators. But that's why we had our home channel, and they had theirs. But that didn't stop them from trying to impart their "wisdom" on us from time to time, which became the source of more than a few channel wars, and even more lampooning.
By the summer of 1976 (a picture of my station from this time period can be seen here) the national "CB Fad" was now in full swing, but ironically, gradual waning activity on Channel 10 would soon necessitate a change of home channel. Many of the channels were becoming full of people chattering, but our original core group had started losing interest and, one by one, had become part-timers or had moved on completely. I couldn't stand listening to dead (or almost dead) air waiting for someone to show up, so I started scanning the band looking for another group of locals that fit my radio interests and my unique and somewhat warped sense of humor. I finally settled on Channel 6, where there was a decent group of people who had also started a formal CB social club. I joined the club that fall, shortly after making myself at home on 6, and would enjoy many group activities (bowling parties, volleyball games, transmitter hunts, Christmas parties, camping trips etc.). This group was a mixture of both teenagers and adults, and yet somehow we all managed to get along (most of the time), despite the relative differences in maturity. 1976 for me, was also that magic year when a young man's desires turn to 4-wheel independence. I got my first car, a 1967 Mustang (which I bought from ex-channel 10'er Dead Soldier), and it wasn't home an hour before I was putting the SBE Cortez in it. I also had an Antenna Specialist's base-loaded trunk mount for an antenna. Having my own mobile was great. It opened up a whole new world of radio fun and I soon scored another great piece of broken equipment which would help enhance my mobile experience. This time, lightning had claimed a Lafayette HA-250 mobile amplifier and I ended up with it. The lightning strike had cooked the sense relay, so I hard wired the keying circuit to key directly from a transmit voltage in the Cortez. So I now had a little extra kick (about 35 watts) in the mobile, which basically made up for the difference in signal potential between a 4dbi gain base station antenna 30' off of the ground, and a loaded mobile antenna. The Cortez was a great performing radio but it didn't have SSB and, as luck would have it, I soon fell into another trade opportunity. Another CB'er offered to trade my Cortez and the Contex base amplifier, for a Tram XL5. As much as I hated to lose the power on the base, I wanted a SSB mobile more (even though I still didn't use SSB all that much). I knew there would be many more horse-trading opportunities in the future, so I didn't sweat the loss of the base amp all that much. By this time I had earned a fairly good reputation for repairing, modifying, and tuning up CB's. One of the CB club members (Diesel Doctor) managed a trucking firm and he always had broken radios from his drivers. He worked out a repair agreement with me and I soon had a fairly steady source of income. Shorted protection diodes, as a result of the reversal of the battery polarity, was the most common problem, seconded by intermittent microphones. My most popular "mod" at that time, was putting Channel "22A" (which would later become channel 24) in the blank spot in the dial between 22 and 23. As the year drew to a close, I can remember ogling the brand new 40 channel radios on display in the Lafayette store over the Christmas season. They weren't allowed to sell them until the 1st of the year, but they had them out on display for people to "ooh" and "ahh" over, without mics of course. I can remember how strange it was, after being used to seeing 23 channel dials, to see those tiny dial numbers run all the way up to 40.
1977, 40 channel radios became legal on Jan 1. Great! Or was it? Thanks to the new rules, I was now saddled with 3 "obsolete" radios. My Comstat had 25 channels, and the Midland and Tram each had 24. But that was it. I couldn't afford a decent new 40-channel radio, so I had to do the next best thing. I added crystals to the other radios. I added crystals to the Midland for channels up to 27.455, and expanded the clarifier to fill in the gap channels. I ordered crystals for the Comstat also, but they messed up one of them, and I ended up with channels 26 to 30, and 50 to 54. I left the Tram alone, since most of my talking was still on Channel 6. During this time, I got to play with PLL radios and discovered just how far one could be made to travel if equipped with the right PLL chip. I soon ran across another lightning special (You'd think I lived in Florida or Texas, instead of Pennsylvania, with all the lightning stuff I had to deal with), a Radio Shack TRC-152. A PLL (uPD-858) 23 channel rig which, with the addition of a few switches and some VCO mods, went from way below channel 1 (I don't remember exactly) up to 27.935. This was more range than even the popular Siltronix model 90 VFO would give, and it was a heck of a lot more stable. I used this radio when I needed to go way out of band (for those "secret" conversations). I also picked up a Hy-Gain 623 (Utopia) for a bargain price. That radio was a great talker. It had that "bassy" almost broadcast quality audio, which I would later grow to really appreciate. As for the local group, there were signs of waning radio activity and, by the summer, I would be moving home channels again. While the CB club would remain active until about 1980, most of the steady regular radio activity on Channel 6 had faded by the summer of '77. So I found myself scanning channels again, and ended up first on Channel 20 for the remainder of the summer, and then later finding my new home on Channel 13. The Channel 13 group would go strong until about 1981. This group would become one of my all time favorites, as we all had a good sense of humor and did many things together, both on and off the radio. This group was also unique, in that we decided to abandon the use of "handles", 10-codes, and other "CB-lingo", and instead went simply by our first names and talked in plain language. With the help and talent of Albert (Not to be confused with my old nemesis, Uncle Albert), one of the Ch 13 regulars, I rekindled my talent and desire for creating comedy bits and parodies. Albert and I made many parodies of some of our more "interesting" activities, and some of the more "colorful" locals. These were done, as always, with a humorous bent. When we were in an especially rambunctious mood one night, the group of us once played out a spoof of Star Trek, incorporating local CB'ers into the plot (With a pretty good rendition of Scotty crying "Capín, she canna take much more o' thisÖ") complete with phaser sounds, and some humorous plot complications (I really wish I had THAT one on tape). Some of the people from other channels didnít always appreciate their lampooned portrayal in our bits, and that fueled even more arguments. But it made the channel interesting, if nothing else. I was truly saddened when the end came for this group.
By the early 80's, I was again looking for a new group, and settled on a pair of channels, Channels 30 and 35. The group on Ch 35 were younger and on in the afternoon and early evening, while the Ch 30 group were late-niters. This suited my schedule just fine. More horse-trading opportunities brought me a Realistic TRC-458 for $15 at a hamfest (broken naturally) and, once I fixed it, it would soon become my flagship radio for the next few years, after finally retiring my dependable, but now battle-worn Midland. Over the years, I would mod the heck out of the 458 for frequencies, power, modulation, and even a photocell dimmer for the channel display. In the summer of 1982, I was laid off from my full-time job and suddenly had a lot more free time to spend. (What could be better? Free time, ample money, and above the legal drinking age?). There were many pool parties, nightly parking lot "breaks", impromptu road trips, and frequent trips to another localís house for a few beers. I also rediscovered my love of boating, thanks to Art, another newly found radio friend. Art was about as wild and crazy on the radio, as anyone I knew since Albert. We did many off-the-wall things that summer. In November of 1982, I would meet the girl who I would eventually marry, on Channel 35. She had made a bet that I couldn't find her location (Big mistake!). Needless to say, I found her in less than 30 minutes, despite her attempts at changing antennas and power levels. A clever and devious woman. Sounds like my type! The funny part was that I had known her father from the Channel 6 CB club dealings back in 1976, but I didnít find that out until after I had met her. Talk about a small world! At this time, I also sold the Hy-Gain Utopia, and picked up a Yaesu FT-101E. My mobile rigs now included a Lafayette SSB 80, Realistic TRC-152, a Realistic Mini 40, and a Midland 77-882. I bought, sold, and traded more radios than I can remember at this time. I also happened upon a D&A Maverick 250 base amplifier, and a Golden Eagle 500 Mobile amp. My base antenna had evolved to an Avanti Sigma 4. This was by far the best omni-directional antenna I've ever owned. In late 1981, I also made the plunge into Ham radio by passing my Novice test. Early in '82, I upgraded to Technician. I never liked Morse code, nor the attitude which many hams throughout my years of exposure to ham radio expressed, which was basically that you weren't a "real" ham, if you didnít like, or weren't proficient at CW. This "stuffed shirt" attitude had long delayed my entrance into ham radio. But in the 80's, the no code movement was in its infancy, and ham radio had loosened up enough (and I had matured enough), that I finally decided to explore the fun of VHF FM. The ever increasing amount of foul, "seedy" CB operators, was the final straw which broke the camel's back and gave me that final push toward ham radio. I didn't know it then, but this would be the end of a special era in CB radio history. For, like in that Bob Dylan song, "The times, they are a changin' ".
In 1983, my mother passed away and I inherited the house. No longer bound by my mother's restrictive antenna rules, I soon erected a 40-foot crank-up tower and topped it with an Avanti Astro Beam. The extra height, the gain of the beam, plus the power of the Maverick, gave me what would be my strongest signal ever on CB from this location. It's just a shame that I didn't have this setup 5 or 6 years prior. It didn't last too long though, as increasing TVI complaints forced me to scale back a lot of my operation to "legal" power levels and I soon horse traded the Maverick away for another piece of gear. At this time however, CB had also begun it's slow spiral around the rim of the toilet bowl, as the "good clean fun" people were slowly replaced by dirty, foul-mouthed, "ghetto" types who eventually took over. Over the years, we had certainly done our share of agitation and fooling around. But in our day, it was done purely for innocent fun and entertainment, and with some degree of wit and taste. Any jamming or agitation was also done to specific people who had done things to truly deserve it. We also, no matter how mad we got, avoided using foul language. I'm not sure if it was out of respect, or out of fear of the FCC. But now it seemed that every other word out of the typical user's mouth was a 4 letter word, often accompanied by associated verbal threats of violence, to any and all people that they didn't get along with. The combination of this anti-social belligerence, and yet another peak in the skip cycle, forced the remaining locals to finally move our home channel out of band. A half dozen or so people started a group on 26.675 FM. The FM mode was fairly immune to atmospheric noise, the audio fidelity was better, and it discouraged outsiders and skip stations from disrupting us. Very few people in this group remained from those I knew in the beginning of the hobby. Besides myself, there were maybe 2 other regulars and a few part timers, who had been part of our various groups since the early 70's. Most of others in this group had been around for a while, but had just run in different circles. I bought a President Jackson at a local hamfest, and used that for FM until buying my next new rig.
In 1984, I bought only my 2nd brand new radio, since buying my first CB ten years earlier in 1974 (Hard to believe!). This time it was a Yaesu FT-757, which I obtained after letting go of my trusty, but now obsolete, FT-101E and several other excess radios. My soon-to-be wife was starting to harp on me (like many women do) about all the various "junk" that I had. So I sold off most of the excess, and consolidated down to a few, but highly capable radios. I ended up with the FT-757, the Jackson, and 2 Superstar 360's. I still had my original Comstat 25, Midland 13-885, and TRC-458, but they were relegated to closet shelf status, kept mostly for sentimental value. In about 10 years, I would start to wax nostalgic and I would begin to add to that vintage collection. 1984 also had a very sad element to it as Uncle Albert, once my chief nemesis and constant pain in the backside in the early days, passed away in a tragic workplace accident. Things would never be the same in my neighborhood.
1986-1990 marked a slow decline in my CB activity, with a corresponding increase in ham radio activity. More and more of our old group, in an attempt to get away from the noise and foul mouths, had obtained ham licenses, and we eventually formed a group on 2 meter simplex. Most of these people came from the 26.675 FM group, and some others were guys who used to frequent Channel 4 back in the early 70's. The final straw came when I took down the Astro Beam, and replaced it with 2 and 6 meter beams. I was, at that point, officially "out" of CB. I also sold off the Superstar and Jackson radios, and picked up a Uniden HR-2510.
In 1993, I got the bug to get back into CB again. I put up my Sigma 4 again after initially running my 2 meter Ringo Ranger through a tuner. Since I did a lot more listening at first, I chose the handle of "Sandbagger" when I made my official return to CB. This "second life" on CB, also revealed me with a different attitude. No longer into "loud and proud" radios, and instead appreciating clean signals and clear audio (Probably as a result of listening to FM for so long), I found another group of locals on Channel 29. The people in this new group were a bit more "crude" than those I remembered from the 70ís. But most had some level of respect, as I was now considered one of the "old timers", and they soon picked up some good habits from those of us that showed them the right way to do things (like turning off those annoying "roger beeps" and echo boxes!). Because consumer electronics had gotten so bad, I could never run more than the 10-watt output of the 2510 on the base, or the TVI complaints would start. This was a common problem, which lead to the strangely reversed paradigm of people running tons of power in the mobile, while only running barefoot on the base. In the old days, people ran home to the base to put out the "big" signal. Now it seemed the reverse was true. There were more than a couple of people in the local area, who ran upwards of 1 KW or more from their mobiles, and many more with at least 500 watts.
I also started reminiscing about the "glory days" of CB and started collecting old "vintage" radios which I had remembered and, in some cases, drooled over from the past. I found another Hy-Gain 623, a Cobra 135, a Cobra 139XLR, an SBE Trinidad, and a few mobile radios. I also picked up a bone stock TRC 451 SSB mobile that I ran as my "legal" radio. I would stay with the Channel 29 group until the end of 1999, when I picked up stakes and moved to another area. With the skip again high, and with the birth of my daughter, I have not had time to really pursue radio. When the skip finally leaves, I may scan around to see who might be on in this new area. We'll have to see.
Update 2004: The skip is pretty much gone except for occasional summer bursts, but alas, there still appears to be little local activity in my area now. I can spin the dial on a skip-free night, and hear virtually nothing over S2 (except on Channel 19). The only channel which has any fairly strong local activity is inhabited by noise toy and gadget crazed yahoos. Not my type of people. It's depressing to say the least. Click here for a picture of my current station. In yet another strange bit of irony, after slowly getting larger and better antennas over the years, I have set the clock back 30 years, and am now back to running a 102" whip on a rain gutter. The difference here is that my current home is at 400' ASL, a full 275' higher than my old location, which allows less than optimal antennas to actually perform acceptably well.
Update 2006: CB radio interest has grown considerably in the last 2 years. A combination of a somewhat decent core group of people, with a resurgence in interest in "classic" old radios, has made CB fun again. Yes, there are still some foul mouthed malcontents, but all in all the level of civility has risen as of late. I guess it's true that good habits will rub off on people just as easily as bad ones.
Update 2010: I'm still doing my best to enjoy CB radio, although it's not always an easy task. On the bright side, a couple of other old time CB'ers and I have been spending much quality time restoring and running old vintage radios, which we take out on a weekly cruise Wednesday nights on Channel 13 (also a nod to the old days) for Classic Radio Roundup. But other than the core group of like-minded locals, there is also a small but very persistent and vocal group of malcontents and social misfits who see themselves as far more important than they really are, and who enjoy trying to disrupt those who they feel threatened by (which is anyone with a real life and a solid education). But like bad Chinese food, they just keep coming back, and won't go away... Oh well, C'est la vie.
This somewhat lengthy diatribe only scratches at the surface of the many experiences that I had as a result of my radio hobby. To say that it affected my life path, would be a major understatement. My current electrical engineering career was fueled by my interest in electronics, which was kindled by all the playing around that I did with radio. There were many burns and shocks (And a little smoke!) along the way. But I learned a lot more this way, than I would've in any classroom. Prior to my introduction to CB and electronics in general, my career path had been headed toward something relating to automotive technology, as I had been pretty adept at small engine repair as a youngster, and had a fairly extensive interest in it. But radio soon replaced mechanics as my first love. Every time I smash my knuckles while working on my various vehicles, I am very grateful that I had chosen a different career path.
Besides learning about the many strange and interesting facets of R.F. theory and general electronics, I also met some very interesting and colorful people along the way. Some were bright and influential, some were funny, others just friendly and good-natured, and one that I actually married!. My mind is full of memories of the various "coffee breaks", and other gatherings where we finally got to "eyeball" those people who we previously only knew by voice. It was always weird how most people never looked anything like the way you pictured them in your mind before you actually met them.
CB radio also served as a medium for people to socialize. Long before the internet and chat rooms, CB radio was truly the first "social network". Many of us were more relaxed and comfortable behind the mic, in the familiar surroundings of our rooms. The relative anonymity made it easier for the more introverted, the socially challenged, and the less attractive among us, to develop deeper relationships with other like-minded people.
Unfortunately, it's a double edged sword, as the relative anonymity of CB radio also attracted a good percentage of less than desirable people as well. Some were relatively benign, and they provided an outlet for us to verbally beat up on (stress relief). But others were hell-bent on making the lives of anyone listening a living nightmare. These people unfortunately, used CB as their own personal soapbox, and would preach their own warped, anti-social rhetoric to anyone unfortunate enough to be in range. Worse yet were the people who derived pure pleasure by wrecking other people's radio experiences. In the beginning, they were a fairly small and manageable minority. As the years progressed unfortunately, the number of these idiots grew. It was this last group of deviants who finally drove away the remaining really great people from my area. Some people gave up on CB and sold out, others upgraded to ham radio, and some moved permanently to the freeband.
40 years have gone by and I still love radio. As much as computers and the internet have replaced radio as the next social fad, it doesn't come close to the magic that CB held for me during the 1970's. But people change as they grow older. I don't know if the radio conditions are really that different now, than they were back then, or if it's simply a case of my middle aged viewpoint now being a world apart from the fresh, young, brash, and ever curious mind that I had over 35 years ago. I guess it's just a matter of perspective. I'd like to see CB return to what it was like back then. Changes in moral values, social expectations, and the character of our society as a whole, as well as new technological advances, such as the internet and cell phones, makes this unlikely. One can only hope.
"Cap't Kidd" (1973-1978)
Echo Charlie 2632