Equipment Perspective


How advancing age and changing times affect how we viewed our radio equipment.........



Those of us who started out in CB radio as youngsters, during the hobby's formative years, and have remained in radio for many years afterward, can't help but feel a little retrospective at times.  Many things have changed in the last 30 - 40 years, both technologically, as well as socially, and not the least of which has been our own level of maturity and perspective on all aspects of life.  I certainly don't want to get all philosophical on those elements not related to radio (Heck, I don't think my ISP has enough storage space for that).  But I do want to touch on just how and why certain equipment was viewed then, and retrospectively through the window of time.


When my friends and I first managed to earn our place among the members of the local CB community, by virtue of obtaining radios powerful enough to be heard beyond the boundaries of our small township, the radios of the time seemed to us to be dazzling pieces of technological wonder, which were coveted by all of the members of our teenaged CB group.  Naturally, the fancier and more expensive the radios were, the more they were craved.  But underneath the covers, these "wonder radio's"  designs were fairly simple; a single or dual conversion receiver with a 23 channel crystal synthesizer and a 4 watt transmitter.  Depending on the model and brand, there may also be a plethora of extra "bells and whistles" included as well.  Some of these features, however,  did more to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the radio than to actually help it communicate better.  The fanciest of these 1970's vintage rigs could cost upwards of $400 or more, which only made them all the more alluring and desired.  It was funny how the mystique surrounding that which we couldn't afford to own, made these radios seem larger than life, and gave us all a goal for which we could eventually work up to (or not).  


In the early 1980's, while the 40 channel band plan was still fairly new, a new breed of radio appeared on the CB scene, the so-called "Export" CB.  These radios were designed to be used in countries other than the U.S., and were equipped with many more channels, more modes, and usually more power as well.  It was the high performance hobbyist's dream come true.  A radio that did, right out of the box, what many people paid good money for a tech to "soup up" a standard CB to do.  Best of all, these radios did not cost much more than a standard CB, which by then had dropped drastically in price. That same $275 that you spent on a bare bones 23 channel SSB mobile in the middle 70's could now get you a 45 watt PEP SSB Export rig with 250+ channels, the FM mode,  and all sorts of other features.  By this time, most of my radio peers were all out of school and gainfully employed, which meant that obtaining radios such as this was a great deal easier than the radios we drooled over a decade earlier.  Because of this, these new radios were not as revered as their predecessors were.  They were popular to be sure, but there wasn't that same mysterious allure that accompanied last decade's top performers.  Consequently, as the features and capabilities of contemporary radios grew, the value of the older stuff dropped precipitously.  The limited capability 23 channel radios were now considered "junk", and you couldn't even give them away.  Hamfest tables all over the local area were adorned with old rigs that were fetching only $5 or $10.  It was sad, in a way, to see a radio that I once dreamed about, and had cost over $400 in 1973 dollars, now cast aside and sitting on someone's flea market table with a $10 price tag. Even "standard" 40 channel radios seem anemic in comparison to the export radio.  Suddenly, having a radio with "only" AM, USB, and LSB and 40 channels seemed limited.


Now as time has relentlessly trudged forward, we find ourselves close to 20 years later.   The "export" CB (or the deceptive title of "10 meter" radio) is still the king of the road for those interested in maximum performance and the most bells and whistles.  But as I get older, those old 23 (and early 40) channel rigs are starting to make a comeback.  While the capability and features of radios have jumped, the technology level of a CB radio hasn't changed all that much in the last 25 years.  So in a head to head performance comparison, a 35 year old radio is not as obsolete as one might think.  But mostly it's not about the old stuff being necessarily better, although in some cases they are.  No, it's more about recapturing and reliving the nostalgia of running the equipment of the past. Those rigs that we couldn't afford then, but can now.  The warm glow of tubes, the sound of a relay "clunk" when you transmit, or the smell of wood grained covers as they heat up, would ignite all sorts of previously buried memories of the people and fun that happened back in our glory days of radio.   Not surprising, those old 23 channel radios which couldn't fetch $10 on the hamfest table 20 years ago, are now selling on E-Bay for anywhere between $25 - $100 and sometimes more.  The more "premium radios" like the Browning Golden Eagle and Tram D201 are selling for $200 and up depending on condition.  It would seem that there quite a few people out there getting into "retro" CB.  Most of them, I'm sure, are guys like me who got into CB radio as a teenager in the 60's and 70's and are now trying to recapture some of those lost moments of radio fun.


In retrospect, it's interesting how those old radios went from being highly revered pieces of equipment, for which one saved all of their paper route money for, to radios which weren't worth the space they took up, to treasured classics that need to be lovingly restored and respected for the trails they helped to blaze through the CB radio hobby. It all depends on your perspective...............