To date, I've written a bunch of lighthearted stories and other treatises on the subject of CB radio and of the wonderful experiences which I, and my many friends and associates, have had with the hobby over the 3 decades of time which has passed by seemingly like the blink of an eye. Mostly these articles have painted a picture of a very positive experience with the radio hobby itself, and with the various people who shared a mutual interest in wireless communication or who just enjoyed the medium and the capability it provided for social interaction. Mostly this was the case, as my experiences were overwhelmingly positive. Even some of the occasional disputes we had, ended up being somewhat entertaining at times. But despite the overwhelming percentage of great experiences that I have had in the hobby, there have been some low points along the way as well. Human nature tends to filter out or downplay the bad memories, while boosting and retaining the good ones. This is why most people look back longingly to "the good old days". They remember all the good times that they had, while unconsciously filtering out the bad ones, which often results is an unbalanced and overly favorable recollection of their past. I wondered if my own fond recollections of the time spent on CB might have been affected by this "favorability filter". So to be fair, and to provide some additional perspective, I decided to stretch my memory again. This time to recall some of the low points which happened along the way when technical, personal, or other setbacks reduced my ability to fully enjoy the hobby. I've also included those setbacks which happened to some of the other locals as well, if for no other reason than to show that it wasn't just me.........
The best place to start is from the beginning, and during that time, there were many little setbacks to contend with. My initial inability to purchase quality full powered gear, was certainly seen as a low point to me at the time. But in retrospect those little hurdles only gave the hobby more depth, and a richness that I may not have gotten if I could've simply ran out and bought a full blown setup at once. But even within the constraints of my limited capability, there were still those small "gotchas" which were neither expected, nor welcomed. I guess the first such case happened way back in 1973. I had recently purchased a Realistic TRC-99c 3 watt walkie-talkie from Steve, in a desperate attempt to rise above the 100 mW power level I had been at. Originally, Steve had offered me an Allied 6 channel unit, but I didn't have the money at the time. When I had finally saved up the $30 that he wanted, I sought him out. I was crushed to learn that he had just sold it about a day or two earlier. But he did have the TRC-99. This radio was only 3 channels, and he told me that there was something not quite right with it, but I was so desperate to have something with more range, that I didn't care. So I bought the radio and took it home. It didn't take long for me to realize that Steve was not lying about the radio not being "quite right". While it did seem to transmit well (Which was my main concern), the receiver seemed a bit weak, compared to my Midland 13-428 100 mW walkie-talkie. I had already started experimenting with radios and electronics to some degree, so I figured that all the radio needed was an alignment. So I took it apart and attempted to align the receiver. I managed to make a very small improvement, but I continued to try to squeeze every last microvolt of sensitivity that I could from it. In the process, I cracked the slug in one of the 455 Khz I.F. cans. I could no longer turn it, and the receive was pretty deaf at this point. I tried to replace the slug, but ended up screwing up the whole can in the process. At that point, I reached out to Steve for some help. But Steve was having a laugh at my expense, for having bought a potentially defective radio in the first place, and was not motivated to help me. When I cornered him while he was visiting one of my other neighbors, he actually unscrewed one of the transmit coil slugs and tossed it in the grass. Fortunately, I was able to scrounge another slug from a junk walkie-talkie, and I soon had it transmitting again. For a while I used that radio to transmit, while receiving with the 13-428. Then people started saying that my signal was not quite as good as it had been (which might have been an attempt to pull my leg), so I started trying to align the transmitter. Using my kit-built field strength meter, I attempted to "peak" the radio. However, I was still not back to my former strength, so I kept trying. Somewhere along the line, I managed to short out the transmit final, and that brought that radio's usefulness to an abrupt end. I tried replacing the final transistor with a generic "junk box" part, and (of course) it didn't work. So I was now $30 poorer, with a radio that neither received or transmitted. I was back to flea power status and I was very much bummed out. I would have to remain that way for the next 3 or 4 months until Christmas came, and I got my Midland 13-700.
The next "low" point for me came in mid 1974 when my 13-700 suddenly dropped off in transmit power. Standing in the street outside of my house next to another kid with the same radio, revealed that his signal was 2 whole "S" units stronger than mine to others on the channel. I could not bear being thrust back to low power status again so I immediately looked into it. Sure enough, my field strength meter showed barely any power out. Fearing the worst and figuring that the final had blown, I ripped into it. Further investigation revealed that the final was good, but one of the switch segments in the PTT switch was no longer making a reliable connection, which blocked full B+ voltage from reaching the final transistor when I transmitted. Fortunately, I got lucky this time, and it turned out that this particular switch point was not really needed, and I was able to jump it out and regain full power. But it wasn't long before other switch contacts started becoming more intermittent, and I needed to use tuner cleaner on the switch more frequently to keep it working. Luckily for me, I managed to finally obtain my first 23 channel radio before the walkie-talkie failed completely. The silver lining in this cloud came when Steve expressed an interest in obtaining a small, but powerful walkie-talkie. He liked mine and after some persuasion, I agreed to sell it to him for $10. It was working at the time. But a week or so later, it developed a strange problem, which produced a howling noise while receiving, and he was unable to fix it. I was reminded of the way he stuck me with the TRC-99c a year prior (seemed like a lifetime back then), so I offered little help. Eventually he gave it back to me, and it wasn't long after that the PTT switch finally gave up the ghost completely, and the radio became a parts bin candidate. But turnabout was fair play.
The next low point came a few months later in 1974, while I was running my newly acquired Pace 223 23 channel radio. Due to a lack of disposable income, I could not afford to buy a quality power supply to run the radio on. Consequently, I chose to homebrew one out of an old Lionel model train transformer. This turned out to be an acceptable solution initially, and I used this setup for a few weeks. But as I would learn, I was still a few db's under my other friends in the signal department, mostly due to the Mickey-Mouse antenna system I had kludged together. When my arch rival and chief antagonist, Uncle Albert, started keying over me when I was talking, I started to get a little pissed. I needed to do something to improve my signal. Obviously, my biggest shortcoming was my inferior homemade antenna system. But back then, we were all fixated on transmitter power as the single most important ingredient to obtaining a strong signal. I actually believed that if I could put out 5 or 6 watts of power, that it would overcome my poor antenna, and best Uncle Albert's 4 watts on his half-wave antenna (I obviously still had a LOT to learn back then). I knew that my radio was not putting out full power due to the power supply voltage sag when I transmitted. I thought I could compensate for this by cranking up the voltage a little bit. I figured that the voltage might be a little high on receive, but would drop to the proper level on transmit, rather than sag below it. Then end result would be an increase in that all mighty power output. I didn't yet own a wattmeter, but I was able to determine, by using my #47 bulb dummy load, that there was a definite increase in power with the higher voltage setting. So I settled in on the channel with my increased power, fully expecting to level the playing field in the signal department. When that failed to be the case, I got even more perturbed, and I started bumping up the power supply even more. At some point, I noticed that my field strength meter was not moving. I thought there was a problem with the meter's "sense" antenna, but everything checked out. I asked for a signal check from one of my close locals. He replied that I was a solid S9 and sounded ok otherwise. Well, an S9 signal might be ok, if you're 3 miles away, but I was down the street. I unplugged my antenna, and attached my #47 bulb and keyed the transmitter. Nothing. Crap! I knew, at that point, that I had fried something. The situation was made worse because I no longer had a working higher powered back up (see above). So I was now back to flea power status again. So, being highly motivated, I set about opening up my 1 month old radio, in order to attempt to fix it. I was able to test the driver and final transistors and determined that they were bad. Both transistors were Motorola MRF-8004 TO5 case style transistors. Radio Shack and Lafayette did not carry these parts. I tried calling the local TV parts stores looking for replacements. What I finally came up with were RCA SK-3047 devices. This is where it gets a little weird. The SK-3047 was a listed as the proper replacement for a MRF-8004, but it was only rated for a 2 watt dissipation. I didn't think that was right, but I took them anyway. I installed the replacement transistors in the radio, crossed my fingers, and powered it up. Well I ended up with mixed results. I was able to get SOME power back out of it as the #47 bulb now glowed dimly. I borrowed a wattmeter from my neighbor, and checked the power. It was barely 1/2 watt. I tried aligning the radio, but I was not able to do much more than 1/2 watt output. I rechecked my parts to make sure they were still good and were installed correctly and everything checked out ok. So I was back on the air, with a signal that was close to that of my 1 watt walkie-talkie, but at least it was not as bad as my old 100 mW stuff. For the next couple of weeks I slugged it out as a true "grasser". Blue Bandit felt bad for me, and managed to find a local ham who agreed to look at the radio for me. He determined that the final transistor was inadequate (as I had initially thought), and replaced it with a RCA SK-3048, which was rated at 5 watts. He was then able to get the radio back up to about 3 watts of power. So I was back to my former glory after a few excruciating weeks of being trapped in weak signal purgatory. Shortly afterward, I picked up a regulated power supply from a neighbor, and there were no further issues with the Pace.
The next low point came about a month later. I had agreed to sell my Pace to Cheetah, another of our locals. I was saving up money to buy a base rig, and the money raised by selling my current rig would comprise the biggest chunk of it. But once the radio was gone, I was left with nothing more than my ever reliable, but hopelessly underpowered, Midland 13-428 100 mW walkie-talkie to use. I tried making the best of the situation by hooking it up to my "new and improved" homemade 1/4 wave ground plane. That helped, but I was still barely making 1 mile range. I now had trouble talking to people that had been an easy trip before. And after becoming accustomed to have all the channels, going back to just 6 or 7 channels was also a sobering realization. Some of my more antagonistic associates took advantage of this to run off to channels that I didn't have, just to needle me. I felt as if the clock had been set back a year. This horrific situation might have dragged on for a few weeks or more, of what would've been pure hell for me in the signal department, had it not been for Blue Bandit intervening on my behalf again. He offered me the use of his spare Royce 1-600 mobile rig until I got my new base. But there was a catch. His offer was predicated on me getting rid of my home-made antenna, and putting up something which presented a good SWR (I guess he didn't want HIS finals blown). This led to my sudden and equally welcome acquisition of a 1/2 wave Radio Shack ground plane, donated free from Dead Soldier, and with my mother's reluctant approval (obtained due to a lot of persuasion from Blue Bandit) to put it all up, I soon went from a very low point in my signal situation, to my highest point to date.
The next major "catastrophe" to my station happened about a year later. This time, I had been enjoying, and had become addicted to, the feeling of power that comes when one buys their first amplifier (A Contex model 6706). I had been using it one afternoon, most likely during a dispute of some sort, when all of a sudden I heard a sizzle, accompanied by a wisp of smoke, and I smelled something burning, as the power abruptly fell off. For a couple of days, I was forced to do battle with the idiots without the help of a 2 "S" unit boost in signal. While this was not as severe a problem as being forced to run 100 mW power levels, it was a psychological blow. Fortunately, the problem turned out to be fairly simple, much to my relief. The failed part consisted of a burned B+ RF blocking choke. The value was 9 uH, and as luck would have it, Radio Shack carried 10 uH units in stock. So with a simple change of the bad part, I was back on the air at full capacity in a day or so. This particular choke would burn up a few more times during my period of ownership. The failure of the choke seemed to coincide with the tubes getting weak. So when the choke burned out, I knew it was time to change the tubes.
From that point on, I was never really affected too drastically by equipment failures. As I started wheeling and dealing in radio equipment, I had accumulated backup units, which covered any problem that might develop, should my primary radio fail for any reason. So my next low point was a result, not of my own equipment failing, but from my attempt to modify someone else's radio, and accidentally causing it to fail. By 1976, at the ripe age of 16, I had built up a fairly credible reputation for being knowledgeable with respect to CB radio operation, repair, and modifications. I had repaired and modified dozens of radio by this time, and the money I made doing it allowed me to improve my own radio stable, as well as paid for my car insurance. But even when you are fairly confident in your abilities, mistakes can still be made. One of my biggest modification requests at the time, was putting channel 22"A" in the blank spot between channel 22 and 23 on the selector switch of a 23 channel radio. I had done this numerous times and it was normally not a risky mod with a standard crystal controlled rig. One of the regulars on Channel 6 at the time, was a guy by the handle of Wandering Jew. He had just upgraded from a Cobra Cam 89 to a brand new Courier Centurion PLL 23 channel rig. I had put 22A in his Cobra, and he wanted the same done to the Courier. But there was a wrinkle. The Courier had one of the "newfangled" Phase Locked Loop synthesizers, and I was not all that familiar with them yet. But I was willing to give it a try. But in the process of analyzing how the channel selector defeated the channel in the blank spot, something must have shorted the PLL chip somewhere (likely from the probe tip of my VOM) as one of the chip's control pins was suddenly pulled hard to +5 Volts and could not be pulled low again. The result of this malady caused some of the channels to be way off. Some of the normal 23 channels were now missing, and in their place, were freeband frequencies, which otherwise would have been cool to have, but not in exchange for the regular channels (Including the home channel 6). I was not able to correct the problem, and I had no other choice but to reluctantly inform Wandering Jew of my blunder. This was my first "oops" ever working on a customer unit, and I was not particularly happy about it. But the story did have a happy ending. Wandering Jew sent the radio back to Courier (It was still under warranty). By this time, 1977 had begun and 40 channel radios were now legal. So rather than fix his radio, the Courier repair center sent him a brand new 40 channel version of the radio. So he ended up making out on the deal, which ultimately got me off the hook. But I had suffered a credibility hit as a result of the whole thing, and it was probably no small coincidence that my relationship with Wandering Jew became distant soon afterward.
My next low point came in the winter of 1978, when my 3 element beam came down in an ice storm. Thanks to my own laziness, I neglected to repair a broken mast mount, which then allowed the antenna to fall when the weight of accumulated ice pulled out the safety backup chain. Fortunately the antenna was not damaged extensively and I was able to bend the elements straight again. But for a couple of weeks afterward the beam lay in the back yard supported by a 6' wooden step ladder. I was on Channel 13 at the time and I had trouble being heard 2 miles away with the beam so far down and virtually horizontal. I was forced to talk strictly to the neighborhood locals and for the first time in about 4 years, I felt cut off from the main group. The problem was made worse by the ice covered snow which made antenna work difficult at best and dangerous at worst. After a couple of weeks, there was enough of a break in the weather, where I was able to quickly put up my backup ground plane antenna on 12' of mast. While not as good as the beam when it was up in the air, it was many times better than the beam barely off the ground.
Some low points had also befallen some of the other members of our groups throughout the years. One of my neighbors, Rob (Channel Master), who had raised his Hustler Jam-Ram 5/8 wave antenna, sometime in 1975, to the now legal height of 60'. His house was also up the hill a little from mine. The end result is that his antenna was about 40' higher than mine was, and his signal was noticeably better in the distance. But there were pitfalls associated with having his antenna up this high. First off, his antenna bent over during one high windstorm. He corrected that with a stronger section of mast and guy lines. But then an even worse setback occurred, when his antenna was hit by a direct lightning strike one night. The energy of the lightning bolt vaporized the matching coil in the antenna, melted the coax right out of the base of the antenna, and fried his (soon to be my) Midland 13-885. He was forced off the air until he was able to obtain a new antenna. He was then able to run one of his mobile rigs until his parent's homeowner's insurance paid for him to replace the Midland with a new Royce 1-640.
And speaking of lightening, Rob wasn't the only one to fall victim to a lightning strike. My good friend Mitch also suffered a direct strike to his Hy-Gain Penetrator antenna in 1976. At the time, Mitch had just sold his SBE Trinidad, and was waiting for his replacement mobile rig to arrive. So to fill in the void in radio equipment that he was facing, he had borrowed an SBE Cortez from another local, Bob (Cougar). Mitch was also running a Lafayette HA-250 mobile amplifier off of a car battery on his base at the time. One night, while he was sleeping, lightning struck the antenna. Mitch was awakened by bright blue arcs dancing around in his room, and he knew something had happened. The next day, we were able to determine the extent of the damage. The heat of the lightning melted and deformed the gamma match on his antenna. It blew the regulator in his power supply. It also blew the sense relay circuit in the amplifier. The really weird thing was what it did (or didn't do) to the radio. The radio powered up and appeared to work ok, but further investigation revealed that the squelch was not working. One single transistor was blown in the squelch circuit (of all places). Mitch never did replace his antenna, and just decided to run strictly mobile. The Cortez was fixed, and I eventually ended up with the HA-250 and the power supply.
Not all "low points" in the CB experience were equipment related. Some involved the personal relationships with other people which had built up over the years. One personal low point for me, happened in the mid to late 70's, when a formerly close friend, LIM (Tom), became pissed off at me, and no longer wished to continue our friendship. It all started when Tom was setting up his base station. Initially, Tom was strictly mobile, but as his interest in radio grew, he desired a base setup as well. He and I managed to "appropriate" a half-wave antenna from the backyard of a recently vacated house in my neighborhood, and we had set up a slide mount "console" in his house so that he could run his Midland 13-830 mobile rig both in the car and on the base. He also expressed a desire to have a little extra power on tap as well. Knowing that I had successfully built a 2 tube amplifier before, he persuaded me reluctantly into agreeing to build him one. He agreed to buy all the parts that I needed, and I'd put it together for him. Initially I attacked the project with some enthusiasm as it was, after all, a radio project and I was always interested in those. I was probably about 75% complete when I ran into a snag finding some less than common parts (Meaning parts I could buy at Radio Shack or other locals parts stores). This effectively brought the project to a halt, pending a resolution to the impasse. At first Tom was understanding, but he soon grew impatient with my lack of progress. During this time I became even further distracted by a girl who had showed an interest in dating. When a guy's mind is diverted by matters of the heart, it's often hard to think about other things. But the end result was that Tom finally reached a point where he felt that I had personally betrayed him. It was mostly my fault for not giving the project more attention, although I would have thought a true friend would understand certain mitigating circumstances. Even though I had supplied many parts from my own junk box (Like the power transformer), Tom was out about $50 for parts, and money issues seem to be one of the biggest causes of friendships crumbling. We never really resolved the issue, and Tom eventually moved out of the area. I did finally manage to complete the amp to the point where it amplified a signal, although it was not arranged very neatly. Recent attempts to contact Tom through E-mail have gone unanswered, so it looks as if even after close to 30 years have gone by, that perhaps those feelings haven't softened all that much. I hope I'm wrong.
One of the worst low points in CB life came in 1984, when Uncle Albert passed away suddenly one night. By this time, Uncle Albert had been in radio for about 10 years. He and I had long ago buried the hatchet and he was no longer a chief antagonist, and had pretty much become a friend on the radio. In the years which he had been involved in radio, he had changed in many of his attitudes quite a bit along the way. Where he was once a vocal opponent of both cigarette smoking and doing drugs, he had started hanging out with people who eventually turned him on to dope smoking. I guess he thought that he had to do it to "fit in" with his new crowd. But he claimed that he enjoyed it (not that I would expect someone to actually admit anything to the contrary). Interestingly, he became a much more fun person on the radio during this time, as he had developed a philosophical side, and made some really off the wall observations on people and life itself. But the trouble signs started when he started expanding into other drugs, which he actually claimed included LSD. He had graduated high school in 1979, and had been working at a local newspaper for a while. Because of his eyesight issue, he didn't drive a car, so he was forced to either walk or ride a bicycle to work. His job was about 4 miles away by road, and coming back was pretty much all uphill. So when he got the opportunity to change to a much closer job, he took it. This new job involved the manufacture of injection molded Styrofoam forms, and his job was to run one of the mold presses. The company where he worked was not the best when it came to maintenance and safety. Certain safety interlock switches had malfunctioned on his press and were taped closed, so that the press would continue to work (albeit without the protection that the safety switches provided). One night during his shift, he went to work stoned, which is never a good idea, and while he was working, he managed to get his head and shoulders caught in the mold as it was closing. Without the safety interlocks functioning, he found himself between the mold halves as the press was closing with 5000 LB of force. Needless to say, he didn't survive. We were all shocked, as we weren't used to dealing with young people dying so suddenly. While Uncle Albert had been slowly getting away from steady radio use at the time of his death, he was nonetheless missed by those who knew him well.
Then there was a period of time in the early 80's, where jealousy, paranoia, suspicion, and mutual mistrust between certain individuals caused a great deal of friction for the members of the Channel 30 group. The major details of this situation were outlined in the "3 Cables Cut" story. Needless to say, it was not a fun time when I had to remain alert for suspicious activity, and to keep watch over my antenna and my vehicles. I was glad when this situation eventually resolved itself.
I was also saddened by the loss of another friendship in the mid 80's. This one involved Uncle Chuckie , who I had first developed a business relationship with in the mid 70's. Through mutual radio friends, he found out that I did repair work on radios, and he soon sought my services. He was always wheeling and dealing in radios, so he frequently had stuff in need of a little TLC. Eventually we became fairly good friends and, along with a bunch of the other locals from Channel 30 in 1982, I used to frequent his house on many nights for a few beers and some good laughs and an occasional prank. Throughout this time, I was still modifying and repairing the radios he would pick up at various hamfests and from other CB'ers who he would deal with. Chuck helped me out obtaining my Realistic TRC-458, and a few other pieces of equipment. Things were fine between us. We often went to hamfests together, and we took our Novice ham test at the same time. But things took a turn for the worse starting in late 1984. I had recently taken that big step and had gotten married. Now, any married guy will tell you that, having a wife means that you will have much less free time available to spend on "hobbies" than you did when you were single and I was no exception. One of the things which I had to cut back on, was my radio repair activities. What was the most affected was my "instant" turnaround. In most cases, I was no longer able to take care of someone's need right away, and it usually took a few days before I could find an open time slot where I could get to it. This lack of immediate attention seemed to bother Chuck, as he was used to just dropping in or having me come over the minute something needed fixing. I started putting him off, and at some point he took it personally and soured in his opinion of me. Up until that point, I had thought we had a friendship which had transcended our business relationship, but I guess Chuck didn't see it that way. I guess in the grand scheme of things, I'm probably better off, as it seems clear to me now that his "friendship" was only a ticket to gain access to my technical abilities, and when that went away, so did the "friendship".
Another local, Steve also passed away in the late 90's after a long battle with a stroke and related illnesses. Steve and I had some disagreements in the early days, but as annoying and socially oblivious as he often was, I was saddened by his passing.
The most recent low point came in 2004, when the CB radio world lost another great participant and a good friend. Blue Bandit (Whitey), who had always looked out for me in my early days in radio, and who had fought one too many battles with cancer, finally left this earth. RIP, he will be missed and with his passing, yet another door linking the past is forever closed.
These were examples of a few of the less than bright spots which have been a part of our local CB radio experience. Like practically any other similar type of hobby or activity, both high and low periods are to be expected. In most cases, this disparity creates perspective and allows one to reflect on it with a certain degree of objectivity. While I will stop short of saying that the low points were welcomed - they certainly weren't at the time. But they did act to add to the depth and dimension of the hobby.