The Allure of Extra Channels


The desire to be the King of The Hill by outdoing the other guys.........



Last time, I wrote about the effects of Linear Amplifiers on people's personalities and how it emboldened many operators to act more aggressively toward other people, simply because they had the power to bully them.  That "King of The Hill" (KOTH) mentality did not stop with extra power, it also extended to other aspects of a person's radio equipment.  It was seen as a real status and ego boost to have equipment which could do more than the average CB'er could do.  In the early 70's, there were a scattering of operators who had power, and many also had the ability to go outside the FCC assigned 23 CB channels.  These guys were frequently looked up to, for their seeming expertise and their "no nonsense" attitudes.  So it came as no surprise that other people would make it their goal to emulate the "elite" operators on the CB band.  One of the biggest areas where people competed for recognition and dominance among their CB peers was in the arena of extra frequencies.  Most people desired a few "escape" channels, where interference was less, so that they could have semi-private conversations or increased DX potential. But for the true KOTH, the more channels he had, the more "elite" he felt he was.  It didn't matter if he didn't use most of them. The fact that he knew he could go more places than the other guys is what mattered most.


The quest for "extra" frequencies started with the fabled channel "22A".  This was the "bonus" channel that most 23 channel crystal synthesized radios had built-in, but defeated from the factory.  Sometimes you could access this channel by carefully rocking or wiggling your channel selector between channel 22 and the blank spot.  But usually it had to be added by modification.  But since most radios had this channel, it wasn't exclusive enough for the hard core King of the Hill in training.  So the next step was to extend the range of their clarifiers (No self-respecting King of the Hill would have an AM-only radio).  This mod was also relatively cheap and easy to do, depending on what model radio you had.  The clarifier mod gave you all of the RC channels (3A,7A,11A,15A, and 19A), one channel below channel 1, and channel "22B" (which would become legal channel 25 in 1977).  Combined with the "22A" mod, this would yield a total of 31 channels. This was usually good enough for a semi-private chat with a buddy or to escape a jammer.  But the true KOTH would not be satisfied for long.  He had to have more.  That's when he would next add some additional crystals to his rig.  Each additional crystal added typically gave 4 or 5 new channels.  Most guys added channels above channel 23, where the best DX could be found, and the farther up he went the less people could follow.  But because adding crystals was expensive, cumbersome, and yielded only a limited amount of extra channels, the true KOTH, would eventually elect to go with an external VFO.  An external VFO was a continuously variable tuner similar to the one found on a broadcast radio.  With a VFO, the user could tune many channels above channel 23, as well as many below channel 1. The VFO user (depending on his radio) could cover more channels than most other radio ops, and only the elite of the elite could keep up.  The downside to the VFO was that you needed a frequency counter to accurately determine what frequency you were on. VFO's sometimes drifted, which made SSB use a little dicey. Also, the total range that you could realistically tune was often limited by the bandwidth of the radio itself.  Many 23 channel radios would not go much above present day channel 40 before the transmitter power and receiver sensitivity would start to fall off.  So the upper channel limit was usually somewhere between 27.605 and 27.805. Those who went the other way, usually went no lower than 26.500


When the 40 channel bandplan became legal in January of 1977, a whole new method for going to extremes in extra channels came to light. The Phase Locked Loop (PLL) had become the FCC's new recommended method of generating the expanded channel plan. The PLL was recommended both from a technical perspective (It was far more frequency stable), and from an economical one (Less crystals = less cost to build). But these new PLL radios were also very easy to modify for channels outside the new 40 channel plan.  Where as before, with the most tricked out VFO equipped rig, the most you could typically travel was about 1 Mhz (26.505 - 27.505 or any 1 Mhz segment between 26 and 28 Mhz), many of the new PLL rigs could usually double that range, giving full 26 - 28 Mhz travel range. That's about 200 channels total.  If you are wondering why anyone would need THAT many extra channels, most reasonable people would conclude that you really don't.  The greatest amount of extra channels that anyone would need (and actually use) would probably be less than 20.  But most reasonable people were not wannabee King of the Hill's.  If one guy could go to 27.905, then you had to make it to 27.915, just so you'd have one more channel than your competitor had.  Sometimes, for the technical radio hacker, it was a challenge just to see how far a radio could be broadbanded, from both a technical curiosity standpoint, and to garner bragging rights among the fraternity of local technicians as to who could "make a particular radio move" the farthest. 


In the early 80's the so-called "Export" radio came to be.  Loaded with upwards of 200 channels or more right out of the box, these radios raised the bar yet again on total channel capability.  Then in the mid 80's, general coverage ham radios (Icom IC-720, Yaesu FT-757, Drake TR7, Kenwood TS-430 etc.) came into the scene.  With easily modifiable "transmit-where-you-receive" tuners, these radios could go anywhere from 1 to 30 Mhz continuous.  Operating a radio like this made all those crazy frequency modifications to "lowly" CB rigs seem silly.  Buying one of these rigs to use only on the CB band also seemed like a bit of overkill as well.  But a lot of people (myself included) did just that, although some of us justified it by aspiring to get HF ham privileges one day. 


Once these newfangled Export and ham radios proliferated into the market, there wasn't much point in competing for channels anymore, so the aspiring KOTH, looked in other directions to rise up above the rest of the crowd.  Some did so by investing in various audio "enhancements" and toys.  But that's a subject for the next article......