A Transmitter Hunt Goes Wrong
This is the story of a simple transmitter hunt, which somehow went horribly wrong.
The time was late 1975, and our local group was currently taking up residence on Channel 10. It had been only a few months since we had moved our home channel from Channel 11 to Channel 10, after the truckers had vacated it to move up to Channel 19. But it was pretty clear to anyone in the local area, that this was now our new home channel. Some of the local adults, who ran on Channel 15 at the time, were a bit disappointed that the additional channel now in-between us, didn't lessen the amount of bleed over all that much. But, all things considered, when we looked at it from our limited perspective, the move was for the best, and things were running pretty smoothly. Once in a while, an occasional squatter group (like on this audio clip) would show up unannounced to test the waters to see if the channel was "open", and then move on when they discovered that it had already been "taken". But as we carried on with our daily routine, I guess we didn't realize just how far our signals traveled, as we suddenly started having trouble with a group of people allegedly about 7 or 8 miles up the road, from a town called Collegeville. Since the members of our group were all within a mile or two of each other, with signals normally at least +10db over S9, we never really paid much attention to signals less than S5 on the meter and we often ran the squelch at the level to silence the background noise, so we weren't aware of any interference. But our blissful ignorance would change one day when we started getting flack from some unidentified mobiles while we were engaged in our usual after school roundtable. Accusations started flying about illegal power use, bleed over onto Channel 9, and the usual operating critiques that I had come to expect from "adults" who somehow felt more entitled to the band than us "kids". In and of itself, this might have been a workable situation, had they asked to discuss this in a civilized manner. But instead, they chose to become degrading and condescending about it. So naturally, we didn't take this lying down and responded in kind. Mitch and I took the lead in fighting them back, determined to let them know that they weren't going to disrupt our communications, let alone force us off the channel. My newly acquired Contex amplifier saw a lot of use during that time, and it was lucky for me that Radio Shack had a lifetime warranty on tubes back then. This type of agitation was nothing new for us though, having dealt with people from both Channel 3 and Channel 15 in the past. Truth be told, these little skirmishes actually livened things up a bit, and broke up the predictable routine of our usual banter. So I would be lying if I said that we didn't actually enjoy a little bit of conflict on occasion. But the daily interference onslaughts, in this case, became tiresome after a while, and we finally started contemplating ways to ratchet it up to the next level and hopefully solving the problem for good. But little did we know, our plans would need to be put into play sooner than we first thought. Up until this point, this had been strictly an on-air battle, with faceless and nameless voices on the CB. Normally, what we did over the radio was kept separate from the things and the people we interacted with in person. Our two worlds were kept apart deliberately. If the issues on the radio ever became a bit too hot to handle, we could always turn it off and return to the "real world". But all that was about to change.
One day, my tech school electronics instructor took a sick day and we had a substitute. This substitute, who I had never seen before, kept looking at me with this strange sort of "I-know-who-you-are-and-I-know-what-you-did" expression. Needless to say, that creeped me out a bit, so I started keeping an eye on him. Sensing at some point, that I was aware of his unusual interest in me, he took me aside and started giving me the third degree about my CB activities. Trying to hide my shock that this guy even knew I was on CB, I asked him what this had to do with tech school. I immediately suspected that this was related to our recent problems on the radio. He told me that I was asking for a visit from the FCC and possibly a huge fine. Naturally, he had caught me off guard and I was a bit concerned and wondered just who this guy was and how he knew so much about me and my friends, simply from listening in to our radio conversations. Looking back in retrospect though, it's amazing just how much information we give out unknowingly during normal casual conversations. I'm sure I had made mention of my tech school class, and people like Uncle Albert were always announcing other people's real names when they got a bug up their rear end. A simple search in the phone book would be enough to fill in the rest of the details in many cases. So I guess finding out certain key personal information was no amazing feat. But someone would have to have a strong incentive to do this and it would have taken a fair amount of careful and dedicated monitoring, over a fairly long period of time, to put all of the pieces together. Time that these guys, currently harassing us, should not have had. But whatever the case, somehow these guys had managed to find out enough information that they knew where at least some of us were. Consequently, not too long afterward, targeted strong mobile carriers would appear, almost nightly, in an attempt to disrupt us. Fortunately, most of our group lived close enough to at least one other person that a single mobile could not disrupt us all at the same time, but it did make the usual casual conversations a little rough. This was a time before most of us had SSB radios, or a ton of extra channels. But some of us did have an "escape" thanks our newly found ability to reverse synthesizer crystals which gave us some "private" channels. We would just say "push the button", and we would be out of band and beyond the reach of the jamming stations. We then used those channels to plan our strategy, and any potential revenge. Of course, we never considered that these guys could do the same thing we did, and were actively listening to us. But one thing became clear at this point. The only way that we were going to beat these guys, and hopefully put an end to this situation, was to find out who they were, where they lived, and give them back a taste of their own medicine. Unfortunately, these guys had a big head start in the information recon area, and we really needed to find out who and where these guys were first, before we would be in a position to give them their comeuppance. And so the plan to track down our adversaries came to be.
It was decided that LIM (Tom), (since he had a car) Mitch, and I would hook up my D.F. loop in Tom's car along with his usual Midland 13-830 radio, and go hunting. We also rigged the car with a 3-way switchbox to change between the D.F. and normal antennas, and we even had a dummy load position to switch to for close in signals. We also had a clipboard, a small flashlight and a map. We were rigged for bear. Once we got our stuff together, we made a practice run using our own locals to "calibrate" our setup, so that we would know what signal levels to expect when we were within a certain distance of our targets. Once we were satisfied that we could do this, we made plans to go out the next night. Being careful not to reveal too much over the regular channels, we instead used the "reverse" channels to talk about our plans (Which may have been our undoing). That night, the three of us squeezed in the front (actually the only) seat in LIM's 1974 Ford Ranchero (Ford's version of an El Camino), with me sandwiched in the middle, and straddling the hump between Tom and Mitch. Tom drove, I operated the radio and checked signals, while Mitch rotated the DF loop and navigated via the map. Once we had all of our ducks in a row, we then headed toward Collegeville. But as we approached the area, it didn't take long before it became painfully obvious that the channel was deathly quiet. The only voices heard were from our own group chatting away weakly in the distance. Our first reaction was to suspect that our targets must've somehow known we were coming, and had either moved to another channel, or elected to stay off the radio altogether. In our arrogance, we never considered that these guys may very well have been technically advanced and had out of band channels to go to that we didn't have. But whatever the reason, that night we came knocking, but there was no one home..........
After all the work we put in to set up for this night, we didn't want to go home without some sort of prize, so we started scanning the 23 channels looking for familiar voices, and other strong locals who might be part of the group we were looking for (nothing like shooting blind). Our search soon turned up a group of strong locals on Channel 18 and we started tracking them. It didn't take us too long to find one guy. We made a note on the map and then we started looking for another. In the midst of our searching, we decided to start dumping a carrier on them as some sort of payback (We still weren't sure these were the same guys who had been bothering us), and to keep the channel lively and our targets talking. As we got close to our next target, I wisely stopped throwing the carriers, but maybe not soon enough. A few minutes later we were pulling up in front of the next guy's house, the faint silhouette of his ground plane antenna backlit by the moonlight, confirmed that we had the right house. Mitch was in the midst of marking his location on the map, when I made the dumbest move of the night. As a sort of "Gotcha" gesture, I hit the mic for a quick second, hoping to slam the guy's 'S' meter, and thereby letting him know that he had been had. But we were totally unprepared for what happened instead. The next thing we know, this guy comes tearing out of his house, like his pants were on fire, and jumps in his car with the intention of chasing after us. Tom was suddenly in an "Oh Shit!" kind of mood, as he hit the gas and we pulled away and high tailed it out of the neighborhood at warp speed. The sudden start made Mitch loose his grip on the clipboard and pencil, and they fell to the floor. I had dropped the mic and left it to dangle from the front of the radio, while a now visibly agitated Tom was cursing rapidly in Italian. Tom's car was no speed demon, (a smogged down 1974 302 ci. engine put out less than 170 H.P.) but we hoped (no, make that prayed!) that we would be able to elude our pursuer, since we did have a bit of a head start. In a period of time far shorter than the time it took to get in, we had found our way back out to a main road (Pa. RT-29 if my memory serves me), traveling back toward Collegeville at speeds, at times, exceeding 75 MPH. Tom was driving like his life depended on it, Mitch was holding on tightly to the door handle, while I was stuck in the middle with little to hold on to but the dashboard. Not surprisingly, we had lost all interest in what was happening on the CB, although the guy chasing us was in contact with his friends on the radio and we could hear him informing them of his efforts to chase down the carrier thrower, and he wasn't sounding all too happy. I had a brief impulse to jam this guy's transmissions, but I thought better of it, as he was already mad enough, and I didn't want to make things worse. We also contemplated what we might do if he did manage to corner us. As it was, our pursuer was 2 or 3 dozen or so car lengths back and closing and it looked like we might not get a choice. But God was watching our backs that night (What's that old saying about fortune favoring the foolish?) when all of a sudden another car backed out of a driveway between us and our pursuer, which forced him to slow down and wait for the road to clear again. The sudden jump in distance between us took us out of his sight and allowed Tom to make a quick turn at an intersection, and then quickly duck behind a gas station and out of our pursuer's sight. No sooner had we doused the lights and stopped the engine, our pursuer went speeding by, fortunately without seeing us, still radioing his progress to his compadres on the CB. At that point, sensing that our ordeal was over, the three of us let out a collective sigh of relief. It was also then that Mitch and Tom finally unloaded on me for keying up in front of the guy's house. I guess I deserved at least that much and I never made that mistake again. After our collective hearts stopped pounding hard, and having had more than enough excitement for one night, we called it a night and headed home at a much more sedate speed. We could still hear our pursuer talking about us on the radio while he relentlessly continued to look for us. We had hoped that he never got close enough to get our license number, and indeed, none of us heard anything further as a result of our harrowing escapade. Recounting this incident 40+ years later, it seemed like an exciting, fun outing, but at the time we were truly scared at one point. We had no idea what might have happened if that guy had managed to trap us. With three of us and only one of him, the odds were certainly in our favor if he wanted to start a fight, but we didn't want to take the chance that he might have been a gun totin' lunatic.
As the days and weeks progressed, we made a few other attempts at tracking the guys who harassed us, but they were seemingly a step or two ahead of us, and we never really caught them when they were on the channel from their base stations. But we did manage to "liven up" their area, with some radio humor and music appreciation courtesy of Steve and Jimmy, who were more than happy to use their "talents" to help our cause. Eventually, the problem went away on its own. I guess those guys got tired of wasting the gas to drive down to our area just to harass us (Gas had just made a jump to an unheard of $.60 a gallon then), when it became clear that we weren't moving channels. Eventually, by the middle of 1976, our Channel 10 group had pretty much died off and most of the remaining people moved to Channel 6. There would be other DF hunts, including this one just 3 years later. But none had the adrenaline pumping "excitement" factor of this one.........
After 40 years of retrospective of this whole situation, I am forced to consider that we totally had it all wrong with these guys. I don't think we were really dealing with a rival group trying to use channel 10 at all, as the facts just didn't seem to add up. We had moved onto channel 10 right as the truckers were vacating it, so there would have been no way the "rival gang" could have been there any sooner to stake their claim to it. Then there was the issue of how they knew exactly who some of us were (Including knowing the exact tech school class I was in). While I acknowledged that we do inadvertently give out a lot of personal information in dribs and drabs as we hold our regular conversations, there was a lot to gather in a relatively short amount of time, and I don't think we were THAT loose lipped. Then finally, there's the fact that we were never really able to hear these guys trying to hold regular home channel base-base-type conversations on Channel 10. It seemed that the only times we heard them, were when they were hassling us from their mobiles. So based on a few comments that they repeated during their numerous arguments with us, as well as those mentioned by my tech class substitute, I've come to the conclusion that they didn't hang out on channel 10 at all, and that their problems with us simply stemmed from bleed over issues onto Channel 9. We had been accused of running illegal power (which was true in my case, but because I lived in a hole, the extra power only served to put me on equal footing with barefoot stations in better locations, it likely didn't give me a much better signal to Collegeville). Bleeding channel 9 was also mentioned a few times, which I thought was an odd issue to bring up from people who we assumed were simply unhappy trying to co-exist on the same channel with us. So I'm guessing now that these guys were all local (Collegeville area) REACT members, and probably knew who we were from when we had been on Channel 11, or at least knew other locals who did. When you're from a certain area, you tend to know who the other locals are. Our group was also notorious for goofing off and for being less than accommodating to people who challenged us. So I'm sure we were on the radar of several adult-oriented groups back then, including the local REACT's. When we made the move from Channel 11 to Channel 10, I'm sure any volunteer monitor trying to listen for emergency traffic on an otherwise dead quiet on Channel 9, would have heard splash from our group, if they were within 3 or 4 miles of us. And if they jumped up to 10 to complain and they were more than 4 or 5 miles away, we probably didn't hear them, because we rarely paused between keyups long enough to hear anyone farther out than the immediate local area., which is likely what prompted them to start driving around the area in their mobiles. Then finally, when the creepy substitute was giving me the what-for in tech that day, he mentioned getting in trouble with the FCC, and I was thinking "for what, refusing to leave Channel 10 when you told us to?" Yeah, that would have been a really weak case for the FCC to pursue. The final irony, in yet another example of typical adult hypocrisy, they were trying to take issue with the way we conducted ourselves, yet who was it riding around trying to jam our conversations? Yea, there was never a dull moment on CB in the 1970's. It's probably why I miss it so much to this day.