Sunday, February 26, 2012

KXW 1788

Those were the call letters of the first and only radio station I ever owned. I don't brag about it, because most people don't consider it a real radio station, But it was.
Heck, I paid $20 to the FCC for the license back in the middle 70's. Later, these stations became so popular that the FCC gave up trying to regulate them after they started getting over a million requests for licenses a month.

I'm speaking, of course, about the CB radio craze of the 70's and early 80's.
Breaker, Breaker One Nine

There was a very good reason for the truckers, who began the craze, to embrace the CB. After the 1973 Oil crisis, the Federal Government imposed the 55mph speed limit to ostensibly relieve the fuel shortages. The radios were crucial for truckers to inform each other of gas stations that had ample supplies and also to warn each other of “Smoky Bears” waiting in the bushes for “customers.”

I was driving quite a bit back in those days, and could see first hand how valuable a CB radio could be.
So I installed CB's in both my cars AND in my house (called a “base station.”)
I was “wired” baby!

And the times I truly needed it, it never let me down. I'm still overwhelmed at how willing complete strangers are to help other complete strangers.
Although channel 9 (the truckers channel) was quite busy....and often not appropriate for young ears, there were 39 others channels available. I settled on one of the seldom used channels and the kids and I had a blast! Getting stuck in rush hour traffic was still a common occurrence, but cold dinners were a thing of the past.

I don't remember how it began, but before long other like minded neighbors who had base stations in their homes began talking with one another (the range of the normal CB was probably only about a 5 mile radius).
This became a nightly community event. This was happening all over the country. We would talk a couple of hours a night. Imagine becoming friends with so many of your neighbors. Unheard of!
We even started meeting at a local restaurant every Saturday morning for “eyeball” sessions.

George Washington Parkway
There was one other group of CBers I talked with every day. There were about 20 of us who drove from Virginia into DC on the George Washington Parkway during rush hour as we commuted to and from work. We “met” everyday on channel 22 to basically learn which bridge across the Potomac was the least crowded at that particular time. We also got together for “eyeball” sessions on Friday afternoons at one of the “overlooks” (built primarily for tourists to pull off the parkway and enjoy the view of Washington from the high banks of the Virginia side of the river.)

The overlook next to ours was the entrance to Fort Marcy, which was then unknown to just about everybody in the world except those of us who regularly traveled the Parkway.

The most memorable “breaker” (one who asks to talk) I ever heard on the CB happened during a business trip I took to Tennessee. Just outside of Nashville, a fellow came on and said his handle was “Merle.” A trucker came back and said, that's a nice handle Buddy, too bad you ain't the REAL Merle.
The breaker replied, “I don't know who you're thinking about, but I'm THIS one.". At which point he began singing about 4 bars of his latest record.

It was Merle all right. Merle Haggard

People rarely look like they sound, but usually on the CB there was a logical relationship between the handle and the person.  For example:

Breadman worked for the Baker”s Association
Boston Wireman sold grocery carts to Grocery Stores
One Armed Bandit indeed had lost an arm in Korea
High Government Official was a federal worker who loved happy hour.
Raghauler was a sailing enthusiast. (He lived 4 houses from me and we had never met until we began talking on the CB.)
Tomato Man's hobby was gardening and he was famous locally for growing roughly a thousand tomato plants each spring.
Sue Jitsu was a nice lady, but you never wanted to make her mad.
Wild Irish Rose had seen better days.
Biff Stew was a very rotund man who was the typical “jolly fat man,” until he went on a diet and lost a lot of weight. Unfortunately, the “jolly” went with it.

There were about 35 of us at the height of the craze which lasted about 2 or 3 years....then, almost as quickly as it had started, the fad disappeared. Neighborhood groups like ours just dissolved .

The rush hour bunch broke up little later as traffic increased and it became obvious that ALL the bridges into DC were jam packed at ALL times.

Some say that in many ways the CB was the forerunner of the Internet.. Others say that people just naturally hunger to socialize with others at a safe distance.

I don't know about that, but for me, the CB was my inner Dick Tracy making the most of his long awaited wrist watch radio!