In an age before mobile phones the CB Radio craze arrived here from America in the 1980s

“Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck/You gotta copy on me, Pig Pen, c’mon?…”

It sounds much like gibberish, but it was actually the language of enthusiasts who used a form of communication called CB Radio in a distant age (well, the 1970s and 80s) long before the dawn of mobile phones and the internet. Our main photograph from 40 years ago shows some of those enthusiasts at a CB (Citizen’s Band) radio gathering in South Shields.

Initially, CB had been used by US military, navy and emergency services. Then truck drivers started using it to warn each other about police speed traps on the highways, before America soon became gripped with the practical benefits of CB – which could warn of traffic congestion, accidents, emergencies and bad weather and was simply also a useful means of keeping in touch.

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CB came to be identified with the culture of the open road, and used an accepted jargon, some of which derived from the slang of 1950s American truck drivers. Operators needed equipment known as a “rig”, and would adopted colorful nicknames called “handles” for use on the air. “Bears” were police officers, “smokey bears” were patrol cars, and “wall-to-wall bears” referred to a large number of police vehicles.

Users became “good buddies”, “copy that” meant “I understand”, and “ten four” meant “yes” or “acknowledged”. The location of a police speed trap would be referred to as a “Kojak with a Kodak”.

Here in the UK, the trucking song Convoy by American singer CW McCall entered the UK singles charts in January 1976, peaking at number two, and giving those of us on this side of the pond our first earful of CB speak, with the song declaring at the end “Looks like we got us conveyed”. DJs Dave Lee Travis and Paul Burnett, calling themselves Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks, released a spoof version of the song later that year giving Citizen’s Band radio further publicity.

Doreen Bone of Dixon's with one of the new legal CB Radios, which came in on November 2, 1981
Doreen Bone of Dixon’s with one of the new legal CB Radios, which came in on November 2, 1981

Also giving CB a helping hand were films such as Smokey and the Bandit, Breaker-Breaker and, Convoy – the latter being the result of McCall’s smash-hit record. Singer Kris Kristofferson starred as Rubber Duck in box office success. Although CB sounded a lot of fun, when Convoy first hit the cinemas, imported AM and SSB rigs brought in from the States were actually illegal and you risked a hefty fine if caught using one. But Brits often brought them back from holidays across the Atlantic, and didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong.

Finally recognizing their popularity, CB radios were legalized by the then Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw on November 2, 1981, and given their own wavelength – 27 MHz FM. Like other crazes down the years, CB Radio came and eventually went, but moving into the 1990s and 2000s, some CB enthusiasts were still active.

Looking back at CB’s heyday, one trucker told us: “By communicating with other drivers on the main channel, 39, I got to hear about road closures, police speed traps and any major hold-ups. If you were driving down the A1 and came across an accident, you could get on your radio and warn other drivers.”

And that would be a 10-7, good buddies…

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