The Outer Limits of CB Communications
During the 1970's, most of our regular daily CB chit-chat was pretty much contained to a group who were all pretty much within 3 miles of each other, and the great majority of us lived within a 1 mile radius of our respective homes. This was due mostly to the fact that our original core group knew each other from school or from the neighborhood, and had gotten our start in radio at about the same time. So it was no surprise that we lived so close to each other. It also stood to reason that the ease in which very close stations could be copied through the noise was preferable to trying to carry on regular conversations with those weaker stations in the distance. It is a heck of a lot easier to understand someone who's signal is +20db over S9, with no background static, than someone who is only S5 competing with a ton of static, bleed over, or other noise coming in with them. Whatever the reasons happened to be, our various CB groups usually ended up being a fairly close knit cluster of stations. This arrangement also served us well when jammers tried to interfere with our conversations. It's pretty tough to get in between stations who were only 2 or 3 blocks apart, unless the jammer was also in the neighborhood. In which case, we probably knew who it was.
Even though we normally talked among ourselves in our geographically close group, that didn't mean that we didn't occasionally make some more distant friends and associates, even if only to "wave a hand" and say hello to on occasion. There were also those occasions where we tried to see how far we could be heard by a mobile moving farther out and away from the home turf. In the early days, we all were curious just how far we could be heard. According to the reference material at the time, it looked that the typical range for a 4 watt CB was somewhere between 5 and 25 miles, depending on antenna height and ground elevation. For me, I was at a disadvantage on both fronts, as my ground level elevation was only about 150', and my antenna tip height was barely 40' above the ground. Most of my friends were in similar situations, so there was still some competition to see who could "make the trip" the best. Blue Bandit, became one of our mobile target subjects, because he was always out and about commuting to and from his office and his sales calls. My first "distance record", after getting my first full powered CB radio (with a homemade antenna), was to talk with Blue Bandit from Montgomeryville, which was about 7.5 miles to the northeast of me. As my radio station improved, I was eventually able to hit his mobile all the way up to his office in Sellersville nearly 15 miles away. These distance contacts were hardly armchair copy, but we were able to hear each other well enough to communicate at least some of the time.
In another example of "it's a small world", I ended up making some radio friends in the towns of Perkasie, Telford, and Souderton, which were between 10 and 15 miles up the road from me. But the first time I met these guys on the air, it wasn't from my home station. No, I first ran across them up at Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pocono mountains while I was hanging out with Blue Bandit in the summer of 1974. We had just put up a Trik-Stik dipole antenna at Bandit's trailer to give us a little CB base setup at his mountain weekend getaway home. At first we used a Midland 13-770 5 watt, 6 channel walkie-talkie on a power supply as the "base" radio. As opposed to the Norristown area, CB activity in the Pocono mountains was far scarcer. The most popular channels up at the lake were 10 (truckers), 11 (general calling), and 13 (boats). The rest of the band was virtually dead. One day I ran across two younger sounding guys talking on channel 11 by the handles of Superbee and Rowdy Ralph. I struck up a conversation, and learned that they too were "vacationing" at the lake, and that both also had boats. In fact, Superbee's boat was the same make Sidewinder jet as Bandit's, except it was powered by a Chevy 454 and was gold metalflake in color. Superbee also had a brother who went by the handle of Ramcharger (Mopar fans no doubt). They told us that they kept their boat at a place called Seeley's Landing, which was about 2 miles from us as the crow flies. So the next day, we met out on the lake and chewed the fat for a few hours. That's when I found out that Rowdy Ralph lived in Souderton, while Superbee's family hailed from Perkasie. After getting to know those guys up at the lake, I tried to reach them during the week from home. Their home channel was channel 17, and I had little trouble making the trip, although my signal to them was definitely on the weak side. So I usually made a point to stop by and say hello from time to time, when local interference would diminish enough to allow it. We eventually lost touch as these guys evidently got tired of radio. The next season, I couldn't find them up at the lake, and increasing bleedover plus a local group setting up shop on channel 17 made it difficult to listen for them in the distance from home.
In later years, when I had some extra power and a beam antenna, I managed to make friends in neighboring towns from 5 to 20 miles away. In 1982, when I was unemployed and stayed up later at night, it was common for people to make longer distance contacts as the usual local chatter died off for the night. A few times, I was able to make a SSB shot down to the New Jersey shore, which was close to 100 miles away, during the summer when straight line propagation improved a bit. This had to be my longest direct shot ever, and it was definitely a fluke. The station I was talking to was running several hundred watts, while I had 100 watts. I don't think I would have been able to make that shot with 12 watt radios.
I've read a few radio stories from other nostalgic CB guys who claimed all sorts of fantastic local distance shots on a regular basis. Distances of 40, 60 and 100 miles were not all that uncommon. Yes, there was extra power involved, but the bigger factor was the terrain. In this one guy's area, he was on top of a large mountain, where there was nothing but air to block his signal until he hit the horizon. A far cry from our area, which was in a confluence of a creek and river valley, with the surrounding terrain in most directions gradually elevating. We were lucky to make a 20 or 30 mile trip. Still, it's all relative. We were not out to win the overall farthest contact contest. We just competed between ourselves in the same general area, on a more level playing field. And compared to our walkie-talkie days, where reaching 1/2 mile was a thrill, talking 20 miles was a definite improvement.
Seeing how far you could reach out was a normal part of CB. Most people were curious about it at one time or another. It was all a part of the CB radio experience in the 1970's......