Citizens Band (CB) radio celebrates 60th anniversary

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ron, who reminds us that today is Class D CB radio’s 60th anniversary. From Wikipedia:

On September 11, 1958 the Class D CB service was created on 27 MHz, and this band became what is popularly known today as “Citizens Band”. There were only 23 channels at the time; the first 22 were taken from the former amateur radio service 11-meter band, and channel 23 was shared with radio-controlled devices. Some hobbyists continue to use the designation “11 meters” to refer to the Citizens Band and adjoining frequencies.

My dad was an avid CBer when I was a kid. He had an FCC-issued license and belonged to a healthy community of CBers in our part of the state. He had a beautiful yellow Robyn T-240D (same as pictured above) as a base station, and a mobile CB installed in every car. After the FCC dropped the licensing requirement, his activity on the bands slowed down although it did give me a chance to hop on.

My best friend (who lived about 1/4 mile away) and I used to keep in constant contact with our 40 channel 5 watt CB walkie talkies. It was great fun.

Of course, it was a treat when I would catch some “skip” and make contact with someone two states away with that same walkie talkie.

Like it or hate it, a lot of radio enthusiasts and ham radio operators cut their teeth on CB radio.

I was certainly one of them.

CB radio is still a pretty dynamic public radio space today.  True, it’s a bit of a free-for-all and if you can’t tolerate profanity and “colorful metaphors” then you best stay away.

You don’t need a CB radio in order to listen to the CB frequencies; most SDRs and many portable shortwave radios can tune in. If interested, check out this previous post: Listening to Citizens’ Band (CB) radio on your shortwave receiver.

Post readers: Anyone still use CB radio today? Anyone else get their start in CB radio? Any stories you’d like to share? Please comment!

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19 thoughts on “Citizens Band (CB) radio celebrates 60th anniversary

  1. jason

    I live in Australia and if you check out dash cam footage from this country on youtube you will see that most 4WD and truck vehicles have a CB radio antenna on the bull bar.

    They are not for 27MHz though, which is long dead. They are for 477MHz CB which is in heavy use still, especially on highways. When travelling through rural areas that have no mobile reception, UHF CB is usually the only form of communication, if you don’t also have a amateur radio license.

    There is a large number of repeaters in use in Australia too to communicate over long distances, with a decent radio and antenna can easily get 300 miles from the repeater and still transmit to it.

    You can read more about UHF CB in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Vanuatu here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UHF_CB

    Reply
  2. Tom Servo

    I got in to SWL before CB, but CB was sort of a stepping stone into ham radio because the CB radios my friend and I could afford in our little slice of suburban paradise didn’t have the reach needed for us to communicate with each other from our homes. (To be fair, neither did our first handheld 2 meter radios after we got licensed, but at least there were repeaters to make up for lack of simplex coverage.)

    I think my first radio was a Radio Shack handheld I received for a birthday or Christmas. It ate AA batteries like a kid eats candy. I took it with me on school trips and talked to some friends at theme parks and elsewhere, but otherwise it didn’t see much use. Walking through Six Flags with a giant metal antenna and a big radio really got the looks!

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  3. rick duff

    My dad was not electronic enclined. Hard worker. He asked me one day what would be best CB radio to put in his truck he drove then for what money he could afford. I looked at those available from Sears then. Chose a cobra 25 and a 4ft whip. Went and bought him the mirror mount and coax. Tuned it up and he used it to contact other drivers in his job at work. Today cb is 90% dead as brick. He passed in 2000. I kept his radio as a memory of him. My ham rigs are 1000% better radios from start. But it was way to talk to him on a end of day. He like all cb operators was intimidated by a real radio like mine. And like them wasn’t able to pass the tests to get a ham licence. So that’s why CB was popular..

    Reply
  4. SniperSarge

    I had a cb license KID5406 call name DaddyLongLegs. My rig was a tube type from Radio Shack. I used cb right up to the time I entered the Air Force in 1960. After basic training I was sent to Montana. I lived in the barracks and used a coat hanger for a antenna. My roommate and I talked to a guy in Australia. When I was ststioned in Italy we lived in various towns near the base no cell phones then. 30 of us applied to the Italian Government for cb license so we could talk to one another and we used them for base recalls. We all were licensed to transmit on the Italian airwaves. You had to compete with all of Europe which was fun. We made alot of friends that spoke English.

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  5. Mario

    Thanks Ron for the great post.

    Back in “75 got my call KBN8387, had a blast on CB, even though there were only 23 channels. My handle was “blackfish.” The SSB’ers were on channel 16, channel 9 was for emergencies only, and 19 was always hopping with trucker chit chat. Looking back, it was a fun time to be on the radio. It took the country by storm in the 70’s.

    Started out with a Midland AM radio and a “Big Stick” antenna, then graduated to a Midland SSB rig which cost about $300 back then. Now you can get one new for half that price hi hi.

    Still have an old President AX144 bought on Ebay as a tech special, use it in the car. Will always have a CB as there’s always someone on and it’s great to hear radio chatter in the background.

    Glad to read the interesting comments and am happy some folks still use CB.

    Reply
  6. Chris

    Many of us found our way into Amateur radio via CB radio. However, I always remember the dark seedy side of CB radio.

    Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s it wasn’t uncommon to turn the radio on in the wee hours of the night and hear a couple guys fighting or someone that’s had too much to drink that would go on endless rants, people wanting to meet for a fight, the swearing, keying up over others because they figured they had the most powerful CB. I’ve seen and heard it all. Being in my early teens I met some of the people from the CB community. Most were unemployed and looking for an outlet to keep them occupied while they collected welfare and smoked endless amounts of cigarettes and drank. I even met my ‘first love’ on the CB, only I wasn’t the only one she was seeing if ya catch my drift. I learned years later she was arrested for prostitution. I also remember a fella who pulled shotgun on someone who ‘tracked him down’ at which point the police had to get involved. I too was harassed by another CBer in the form of harassing phone calls which the police also got involved in. It was addictive though because it was the only piece of technology at the time which allowed others to communicate with each other, was kinda like primitive ‘social networking’.

    I don’t miss CB radio at all and for the most part it’s dead up here in Canada. It did lead me into amateur radio which I got licensed in 1991 but Amateur radio has had a dramatic decline because of the internet and smart phones. Listening to scanners has also become obsolete due to advances in digital technology and encryption. It’s just become too easy to communicate with others half way around the world. There was something magical about CB and amateur radio but I’ve lost that interest years ago.

    Reply
      1. Michael Black

        I’d forgotten about the diathermy machines. Even in the seventies, the only period when I tuned the band, they were there. Unstable oscillators generating power, and weak power supply filtering so the AC !ine modulated them, probably incidental FM too.

        Sometimes you can think of shortwave as an ocean, there’s voice broadcasting and communication, but other things like those diathermy machines and Teletype and whatever, things you can’t decode by ear, are like “wikdlife”. Some you can always find in the same spot, more !ike landmarks than wildlife.

        Michael

        Reply
  7. Curt Schwarzwalder

    Yes, I had a CB license (KAFL2276) – why do I still remember that? The mobile CB radio was useful when I was meeting friends coming from different directions, way before cell phones. I’m not far from an interstate highway, and once in a while listen to the truckers. There is still plenty of “traffic”, especially on channel 19… “Breaker breaker”

    Reply
  8. Tom Reitzel

    Happy anniversary, CB!

    I use CB today. I want the freedom to transmit digital across CB frequencies. The current time limitations are alright, I just need the capability. I do NOT need other services, just digital CB with its power and range. I do NOT need or desire for the FCC to grant me a license for this constitutional RIGHT which is precisely WHY I will NEVER apply for an amateur radio license.

    Reply
  9. Michael Black

    I got my Hallicrafters S-120A, the transistorized one, in July of 1971. It was awful, but the CB band was active enough that I could receive a lot there, even though the receiver’s highest band was mostly dead. Though the CB band was a small slice of the band. When the skip was in it sounded jammed, a mass of signals and heterodynes.

    I latched onto amateur radio early, so CB never tempted me, though legally you had to be 18 so it wasn’t an alternative to ham radio at the time. But when I started reading hobby electronic magazines in 1971, age 11, certainly the CB ads were as interesting as the rest. All that gadgetry for such low power and which wasn’t legal for DXing.

    One day going to the swimming pool someone in the park had a portable radio. I recognized it as a Lafayette rig, they had mobile rigs of various types which looked similar, and an accessory which would make them portable. I imagined this was a ham, but it turned out to be a CB set.

    A few years later there were guys at school who played with CB, that period when CB got very popular.

    If you look in hobby electronic magazines from 1958 and so, CB was often presented as a hobby band. The FCC had to revamp some of the rules a few years later to clarify some things, but even then it was too late. It was popular from the beginning, just got even more crowded later.

    CB came to Canada a few years after the US. The rules mostly the same, but I think FM was allowed besides AM, but it’s been a long time. I don’t think any CB sets were made in Canada, so there was a reliance on equipment aimed at the US. But there were fewer than 23 channels, maybe 19. A small slice remained as an 11metre ham band. That only changed in April 1972, the ham band gone and 23 CB channels in Canada. It came at the same time as the 15 year old minimum was dropped from ham radio, so you didn’t have to wait till 15. So when I passed the test in June, the 11 metre ham band was gone in Canada.

    Michael

    Reply
  10. Jim Trame

    I had one (KACF9225) in the 70’s– we all climbed on board when they imposed the national 55 MPH speed limit. There was a lot of chatter out on the interstates and one always knew where “smokey” was hiding.

    I had been an SWL since 1965 and eventually I went the Amateur Radio route. My start in radio though came many years before that when I bought a Lafayette Phono Oscillator and became the 100 mw powerhouse of the neighborhood. Jim -W4FJT

    Reply
  11. Laurence N.

    I’m in the wrong country for CB, but I’ve used remote SDRs to listen to it. I’m not impressed. I have to hope that standard radios are better than the remote SDRs, because it is hard to pick up anything. When I do, I never hear anything useful, even if I was actually there. Sometimes I hear nothing. Sometimes I hear one person just repeating the same thing over and over. One recent attempt involved the same man repeating that he was on a mountain and that there were cotton choppers, which I don’t understand. One would think that one time would be enough to announce these facts, but he didn’t agree. I didn’t hear anyone responding to these valuable news updates, so I really don’t know what the point was. Often I hear conversations that, although they’re using English, make no sense to a fluent speaker. Conversations with sentences containing a maximum of five words, where at least one of them is simply an expletive that doesn’t really add any meaning to the sentence, have very little interest for me. Maybe I’m just missing it.

    Reply
  12. Jay

    I started in CB in 1979 when I was 13, got my license KBNB-7856 and thanks to shows like The Dukes Of Hazzard and Convoy, that’s what got me into it. I am now a ham radio operator but still have a CB in my vehicle as well as ham. Yep people still use CB in Southern CA and I still like it

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Citizens Band (CB) radio celebrates 60th anniversary – dxradio.de

  14. Matt Moyer

    I listen to mine whenever I am in my car. Anyone who says truck drivers don’t use them anymore since cell phones came out hasn’t listened lately. Rarely is channel 19 silent. A few years ago I was driving cross country in Kansas when all the interstate traffic was at a standstill, I happened to be in the front where I could tell people what was going on. I was amazed at the responses from regular folks like me who apparently had them in their cars/SUVs as well.

    Reply

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