CB'ers Gullibility & Practical Jokes
( Playing a few pranks on those who truly deserved it)
While Dennis the Menace was a probably the most logical choice for induction into the local CB gullibility hall of fame, based on the exploits reported in this story, he was not the only one who fell prey to another's practical joke, or to have their ignorance of R.F. theory used against them for the amusement of others. CB Radio was one of those hobbies where technical knowledge was an important element of it but, paradoxically, those who partook in the hobby, didn't necessarily have to be well versed in that technical theory in order to use and enjoy it. It was this condition which allowed many myths and half-truths to proliferate, and many people were taken (sometimes for large amounts of money) by smooth talking people who made the case for many "theories" which just weren't true, but sounded reasonably plausible to those not well versed in radio theory. While there were those unscrupulous opportunists who exploited others' ignorance, in order to separate them from their hard-earned cash, most of the rest of us only took advantage of this "radio gullibility" for amusement purposes only. Indeed, there were many such incidents where an unsuspecting CB'er was led astray, by the convincing tone and seemingly logical presentation made by one of the veterans of the hobby, and who had unknowingly been turned into that night's entertainment for the rest of us. In most cases, the only thing lost was a little dignity and self-respect. In other cases, more serious damage occurred. The following are accounts of some of the many such incidents which played out over the CB channels back in the 1970's.
Usually we played our worst tricks on people whom we didn't particularly care for, such as a pesky kid with a new Christmas walkie-talkie or CB, who just didn't seem to catch on to the unwritten rules of the CB social hierarchy, or someone with obvious psychological issues. A classic example of this happened one night back in the mid 70's. The locals were being pestered by a kid with a new CB, who had a somewhat weak signal, (fortunately) because he was running an indoor back-of-the-set antenna. Those antennas were not the best, and most of the people who ran them, didn't put out a very good signal. They evidently didn't receive well either, as this kid was constantly keying over other people who were father away than he could reach. At first, remembering our own humble beginnings in CB, the group tried showing him the ropes and guiding him in the proper use of CB (at least within our definition of "proper"). When that didn't seem to work, certain people, namely Uncle Albert started agitating him. Predictably, that only seemed to intensify his anti-social behavior. Then one night, someone, I don't remember who, started talking friendly to this kid. He struck up a conversation with him and started giving advice about improving his signal. During the ensuing conversation, he casually remarked that sometimes radios got shook up in shipping and that he should pull the cover off and make sure that all the "screws" (The cans in the RF and IF circuits) were securely tightened down. Coincidently, that was the last night we heard that kid Heh Heh.......
Another similar kid, this time with an obviously old radio, once adorned us with his presence as well. His radio squealed, sounded distorted, and was off-frequency. He was also caught occasionally trying to drop dead carriers on us, but the unmistakable characteristics of his ailing radio gave him away. Uncle Albert told him, a few days later, that his radio's problems were likely the result of the accumulation of dust and dirt inside the electrical components. That dirt would "distort" your signal, and cause the radio to operate improperly. To correct those problems, he should take the cover off of the radio, take it outside and dunk it in a bucket of water and let it soak overnight until the dirt had dissolved. Then spray it off with a hose, and finally make sure to dry it thoroughly with a hair dryer or other forced heat source. At first the kid didn't believe that it would work, but further reassurance from me and a couple of the other "older and more official sounding" people finally reluctantly convinced him to try it. That was the last night we heard him too.
We were not always malicious in our pranks however. Some were just harmless little jokes. Like the one I played on a local by the handle of Green Hornet back in 1975. Green Hornet was a member of the Channel 18 group, who we had just ended a recent feud with. Things were pretty much settled with them, and we were on somewhat tenuous speaking terms with most of those guys. This was also during the time when I had built the bicycle mobile. Green Hornet had heard me out and about on my "bikemobile" many times and was somewhat impressed with it. He knew the radio I used on it was an old 5 channel Johnson with a stock mike. I sometimes ran the radio from my base when I was working on it and trying to modify it. One Thursday night, I was attending our weekly Explorer Post meeting, and was operating the Midland 13-885 base radio that our Civil Defense sponsors maintained there. That radio also had a stock mike on it, and when Green Hornet came on the channel somewhat later, he assumed, by the sound of my audio, that I was home working on the Johnson, and he asked what I was doing to it. Rather than telling him where I really was, I got the wild idea to play a trick on Green Hornet, so I decided to let his assumption work to my advantage. I told him that I had been aligning the radio, and discovered something wierd. I told him that when I turned one particular tuning slug past a certain point, it made the receive sound like SSB. So I asked him to listen to my transmit while I adjusted the slug to see what it did to the transmit side. So I gave him a count, and when I got to 5, I hit the mode switch on the radio to USB, and then continued counting to ten. I then counted down from 10 and again when I got to 5, I switched it back to AM. Green Hornet excitedly informed me that I was indeed transmitting on sideband after I hit "5", believing that I had actually managed to "align" a cheap and dirty 5 channel radio to transmit and receive on SSB. After some further "tests", I then acted somewhat disappointed to learn that I could only "align" the radio to work on USB, and not LSB too. But he still felt that it was a good accomplishment. I later heard him telling someone else about my "discovery". I'm sure a rumor, that you could "put SSB in an AM-only radio simply by alignment", got started that night, and who knows how far it might have circulated. I don't remember if I ever came clean with him, but a few of us got a laugh over that one.
A few years later, I decided to play a little prank on a couple of the guys on Channel 13. I was out in my mobile in the general neighborhood of a few of the guys. Since I was in the area, I figured that I'd switch to my dummy load, pretend to be in my driveway, and then fire up a bogus "amplifier", by switching back to the antenna, and then listen to their reaction when the signal jumped up big time. so I parked in a nearby location, so as to present a steady signal, and switched over to my D.F. tracking dummy load. I then broke in on the channel and started talking to them. Naturally, my signal potential was much weaker due to the dummy load, but my close proximity to their houses worked to give them a signal roughly close to what my mobile would give them from my driveway, 4 miles away. I told them that I had just gotten a fantastic deal on a nice large mobile amplifier and was just finishing installing it in the car. I was just about to fire it up for the first time and I wanted them to give me a signal check. While they were watching their meters, I switched from the dummy load back to the antenna along with my usual 50 watt amp. The difference in signal was dramatic. I went from about S7, to a +25db over S9 signal. Their reaction was predictable. "Holy Crap!" Jimmy said, "You're stronger than your base", as even when I was fired up at home, and the beam pointed his way, I couldn't give Jimmy more than about a +15 over S9 signal. "You're even stronger than Albert", who lived less than a 1/2 mile away from Jimmy. The other guys saw similar signal jumps and were equally impressed, at least initially. But these guys were fairly sharp, and soon got suspicious. I tried to maintain a serious voice and continue. But my cover was blown a few minutes later when a more distant station, from back in my own neighborhood, came on and asked why they couldn't hear me before. At that point the gig was up and I could no longer hide my laughter. Then Jimmy spoke up and told me that he thought something didn't sound quite right. I asked him to elaborate. He then said that even though my signal was roughly the same on the dummy load a few blocks away, as it was on the antenna 4 miles away, he claimed that it somehow "sounded" different. He couldn't put his finger on exactly what was different, just that it was. I'm not sure what propagational phenomenon would affect a transmitted signal to the point that the audio was noticeably different, but I give Jimmy credit for having a sharp ear.
There were many similar pranks pulled by different people at opportune times over the years. I have long since forgotten many of them, as the years have slowly moved on by. But these little practical jokes were a fun way to bring a little diversion from the norm, and give everyone a chance to laugh. It was the radio version of "Candid Camera" minus Alan Funt.