I became a news reporter for the Marine Corps in the early '70s. I'm now retired and write on a wide variety of subjects in my spare time.
What Is Citizens' Band Radio?
Citizens' Band radio, often simply called CB radio, is a system of short-distance, two-way radio communications using a selection of 40 channels within the 27-MH-z (11 m) band. The Citizens’ Band Radio Service originated in the U.S. in 1945 to provide citizens a radio band for personal communication. It was regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC.)
Originally, there were only 23 channels. The first 22 channels were what used to be an Amateur 11-meter band, while channel 23 was shared with radio-controlled devices. Some CBers still refer to it as "11 meters."
In the 1960s, CBs became popular with small businesses as well as truck drivers and radio enthusiasts. Advanced technology in solid state circuitry and electronics allowed the weight, size, and cost of radios to decrease. This allowed the general public to enjoy a medium previously only available to specialists. Many CB clubs were formed along with a unique slang language. CBers also used similar emergency service “10-codes.”
The CB Craze
The citizen band craze grew in popularity during the 1970s, partly because of the 1973 oil crisis and a nationwide 55 mph speed limit. CBs were used to help truckers locate service stations with fuel available and to warn other drivers of speed traps. Truckers found their CBs to be invaluable in 1974 to organize blockades and convoys in protest of the newly imposed 55 mph speed limit.
Throughout the 1970s and early '80s, the CB phenomenon swept the nation. CB allowed people to communicate in a quasi-anonymous manner. Many movies and TV shows about CBers soon followed, showing stars making prominent use of CBs. Storytelling songs were written about CBers, such as C.W. McCall’s “Convoy.”
Originally, CB required a license, fee, and the use of a call sign. However, when the CB craze hit its peak, these regulations were generally ignored by most users. The many restrictions placed on the use of CB radios were basically to blame. The license requirement was dropped after the FCC started receiving over 1,000,000 license applications a month.
The 40 Channel
The present 40-channel band did not come along until 1977. Channel 9 was reserved for emergency use in 1969. At first, Channel 10 was used for highway communications. Then, it changed to Channel 10 east of the Mississippi River and channel 19 west of the Mississippi. Later, Channel 19 became the preferred highway channel because it did not have adjacent-channel interference problems with channel 9.
Until 1975, channels 9–15 and 23 were used for "inter-station" calls to other licensees. Similarly, channels 1–8 and 16–22 were reserved for "intra-station" communications. This rule was also dropped, and channel 11 was reserved for establishing communications; however, this also was cancelled in 1977. During this time period, many CB radios had these inter-station channels colored on their dial. Channel 9 was usually colored Red. Also, Single Sideband (SSB) radios used Channel 16 as a home channel.
It was also common for towns relatively close together to use an inter-station channel as their home' channel to prevent overcrowding on Channel 11.
Why Did It Lose Its Appeal?
However, in recent years, CB seems to have lost some of its original appeal. This was no doubt due to the development of mobile phones and the internet. The 11-year sunspot cycle was also a problem for these frequencies.
In addition, CB may have become a victim of its own popularity. Millions of users flooded CB frequencies during the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s. Channels often were noisy, and communication became difficult. There was also the added aggravation of immature users intentionally interrupting others with profanity and endlessly holding their microphone keys in the talk mode. This effectively halted any attempts by legitimate users to communicate. Many CBers started to use their radios less frequently or abandoned them altogether.
Skip or DX
But there was another facet to the CB which kept a loyal following. It was fascination with the world of “skip,” also sometimes referred to as DX.
Skip is atmospheric conditions allowing for radio transmissions to travel long distances. These conditions can bounce signals from state to state or even country to country. This can occur because CB radio frequencies are located very close to one of the popular Ham Frequencies used for DX.
Skip has become a large part of the CB radio hobby. There are literally tens of thousands across the U.S. who love talking long distances when conditions allow. If skip is happening, operators are quick to turn on their radios and try to make contacts with other faraway stations.
How to Talk Skip
To talk skip, you need to know which channels you’ll be most likely to be able to talk on. Operators who talk skip find it easier on certain channels. Some popular channels for skip talking are channel 6, 11, 14, 17, 19, 26, 28, and 30. Of these channels, the most popular are channel 6, 17, and 19.
Many operators use a SSB radio. This is simply a radio having “split” channels. This allows a channel to transmit with the allowable wattage focused into a more limited frequency increasing its strength, similar in respect to laser technology. The majority of skip within the U.S., Canada, and Australia occurs on lower sideband (LSB) on the following channels: 35, 36, 37, 38, and 40. The majority of people prefer 36 and 38, with 38 more or less the nationwide call channel for SSB skip.
Skip talking is generally informal and disorganized. Multiple stations will be talking simultaneously with operators speaking a strange CB lingo. Most skip contacts last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
The Use of SSB
Many stations talking AM skip are running power way in excess of legal limits. Many stations talking on channel 6 run thousands of watts in comparison to the 4-watt legal limit of a CB. This means you might be able to hear them, but it's unlikely they can hear you. This is one reason many new operators will buy a small illegal amplifier or SSB.
On SSB, it is much easier to talk skip and doesn’t require large amounts of power. Many talking skip on SSB are using stock sideband CB radios putting out 12 watts. Talking skip on SSB is a little different than regular CB, mainly because of the language used.
Most SSB operators will use a number along with their location for identification purposes rather than a handle. Usually the numbers are 2, 3, or 4 digits long and can be whatever one wants it to be. One reason for using numbers and location when transmitting is there is a high possibility some stations may not hear you, but some other station might. Many stations use “Q” codes, which are basically abbreviation codes, but they aren’t necessary.
When Does Skip Occur?
Skip can last for 1 minute, 5 hours, or go on for days. The phenomenon occurs because of sunspot activity that shoots rays of energy that affect our atmosphere. Since these occur at random, no one can guarantee for sure when or where skip will occur or for how long. Often on CB forums, there will be sections where people can post up information if skip starts to happen so other members can go jump on the radio quickly and enjoy the conditions.
Warning: Know Your Risk
According to the FCC, CB radio was original allocated for short range transmissions. They specify that knowingly transmitting farther than 155.3 miles is illegal and punishable by jail time or fines. However, the FCC’s major concerns are stations using high amounts of power and causing disruptions to other radio services.
It boils down to this: Shooting skip is simply fun.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Andrew M Bridges on June 03, 2020:
I stopped using CBs years ago because it became wooper room. You always had cussing screaming and some dumb ass thinking he wanted everyone enjoy his music by drowning out the channel by their music. Before cell phones you could had conversations now everyone wants to woop someone else's ass over the CB. The day I did away with my CB for good came when I was coming out of Chicago. Behind a empty flatbed like me but his was a split axle with cargo boxes between the wheels. Going through road construction he hit a bump in the road and his passenger cargo box door came open on the passenger side. Straps started falling out onto the including portable ones $$$$$ not including dragging the door. I got on the CB called out location and what was going on with no response. So then I layed on the horn and started flashing my lights. He slowed down I pulled beside him bumper to bumper kept pointing towards his passenger mirror and holding my CB mic to let him know to turn his CB on. Finally he turn the CB on and the first words out of his mouth was "what the fuck do you want you fucking crazy dumb ass"? My mouth just dropped and. I turn to him because no professional attitude at all towards another driver. So I just looked at him and told him I was sorry and I hadn't taken my medication for the day and pulled past him. He started cussing and talking about how he was on his cell phone to arrange for next pick up and then all sudden I started blowing my horn flashing lights like I lost my mine. I just listen to this so call driver for about five miles. Then another driver keyed up and told him about him dragging that side door. Then I keyed up and said I might be crazy but I'm certainly not the dumb ass now. Then I told him about what mile marker he could fine all his gear at and added that would be about the time I started blowing my horn and flashing my lights aka acting crazy. All this so call driver could threaten me by a ass whooping but inform him I didn't have time because I was on the way to pick a load up and unlike him I actually had all my gear to get the job done. After that couple of drivers key in and basically told I should told him what was going and how unprofessional I was. So I agree but told him I rather be unprofessional and be a total asshole and teach this dumb ass a lesson. Drivers now all they want to do is talk on the cell phones without interuptions reguardless whats going on. Between the cussing screaming and State Troopers aren't equip with CB in patrol cars anymore so no more channel 9 for help. When you check into a place they get your cell # rather call out on a CB I find no need for a CB in my semi.
Pee-Www = KBK-5222 on November 08, 2019:
[Gee, I am 64 & remembered my firs call letters!]
I was in CB radio from 1970-2000 & was active in it & REACT = was in 2 clubs [different countie] I knew all the 10-codes, I pray CB radio becomes 10-8
Well this is Pee-Wee = KBK-5222 10-7
Sad Sack on April 15, 2019:
Two biggest factors that killed CB. Lack of regulation/enforcement, and too many operators. You could say the FCC neglected it to death.
JJ on April 11, 2019:
I bought an CB radio last year, after many years. I were active in the en of 70's and beginning of 80's. Noticed that it is silent today, we are in sunspot minimum, but still verý silent. lets see 2..3 years what happens when more spots on the sun. I hope that not all users are gone.
Saso on January 30, 2019:
Hello to all. I'm from EU and i have INTEK HR-5500 station, President Black Pirate antenna and MICROSET 27-100R power amplifier. Is it possible that we comunicate? I would like to do test if it's possible. TY for answer
John on December 07, 2018:
Started driving in ‘69 at 22 years old in a ‘61 model b mack. I believe I got my first cb in ‘75 as I bought a new truck in ‘76 and remember taking the radio out as it was only a year old at the time. I spent 27 years as a bull hauler in the Midwest, and the last 18 driving a van. Back in the late 70’s through late 90’s the cb was non stop chatter, and quite entertaining to listen to. You had us truckers, 4 wheeler clubs,people that were ground based, and families or business men with cars that had factory cb’s. Sadly towards the end of my career it was nothing but dead silence or a couple of idiots dropping f bombs like a teenager.
Sailor Jack on November 25, 2018:
I was big time on CB in 1980's had coffee break clubs and got to know people all over country. After I retired from Navy, put it away in 1990 and just came back with a base station and was shocked, no handles no trash talk and no people mostly static. I have a HAM but I don't hear much on it either so wont waist time on getting license.
Stephen A Kirsten on September 08, 2018:
This is KHU6237 Lil Leroy on ch22 out of Lancaster, Pa. Started my CB adventures at the age of 12. I had a Lafayette Micro 23 on a 12v converter and a big stick when I started. Worked my way up to a Midland SSB and a Moonraker but never got past 23 channels. I was probably the youngest CBer in the county and I knew everybody on the air. I loved when I was invited to go along to the coffee breaks. But things really changed after it went to 40 channels, and people got ugly and nasty. I really miss those older times, and thank you to those who helped shape my youth. 73's This is Lil Leroy going 10-7.
Mountainman on March 21, 2018:
Cb is alive and well. FCC changed the regs on skip shooting last year. It is now legal to talk anywhere in the continental us. No change on power limitation tho. Still 5watts and 100 percent or less modulation sweep. Have fun and encourage others to take up the hobby. Galaxy, Ranger, Cobra(dynascan corp i think), uniden are all still producing new radio equipment. Lot of great radios out there. 73s all. KAVM 6838.
Radio Dr on January 28, 2018:
Started using CB radios in the 70's and it later encouraged me to get a Ham license. But I remember when the air waves were quiet and you were required a license to use the CB. Used those big old walkie talkies when I went hunting. (lol) Looking back at those older tube CB's, They were great radios!
I still use CB when I'm traveling on the highway, It helps to listen to the truckers and highway conditions. I repaired many CB Radios in the past for other CB shops and still do once in awhile keeping CB alive. 73's
Josh Andersons on August 28, 2017:
Great article John.
I remember in the 70 when CB radios were popular then. But I never own one for financial reason. Now I just get into it with a AM/SSB and setting up a dipole in my attic hoping to work on skips. Your information about skip channels is very helpful. I certainly will try make contact on them.
Paul Destefano on October 14, 2016:
I was the belched out of Los Alamitos Ca
John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on December 01, 2015:
I have bought a whole new outfit myself including 40 ft pole and a Tram model 1411 Dicone broadband antenna 25-1300 MHz. The only problem is I haven't been well enough to put the pole and antenna up. But I will soon.
BravoKilo22 on December 01, 2015:
Riveratt1 im thinking of getting my RCI2950 out of the closet and putting up a Dipole in my attic and start skip talking again, that was the most thrill i got when on the CB-- I once was able to reach dublin irelend for bout 2 minutes it was a great QSO. 73's BravoKilo22, Pensacola Florida, USA
Riveratt1 on October 25, 2015:
Yes cb radio is alive and well! I have one in my work van,my wife in her jeep and we have a base setup.Skip is very fun and thousands of people still out there doing so.I myself highly recommend anyone thinking of either trying it or getting back into it to do so! Its a great hobby that should continue,i hope someday it will be as popular as it once was. 73's to all,and were off the key.
Steve on August 24, 2015:
amateur radio is where it's at for now. I remember though that grandpa had a cb in his truck. It had a telephone piece for the mike and speaker. He told me that when you have a mans truck, you'll have a cb. I always wanted one. I played on my friends radio and could pick up any traffic. However, being a ham, I feel I get more out of my radio now than I ever did, even as a kid on grandpas radio. I still miss it though.
lloyd on June 21, 2015:
yep I had a CB since 1977. matter of fact I got my handle off of Smokey and the Bandit, I am Bandit ! I have a Uniden 40 channel with a K-40 magnet mount antenna for my car ! I gave it all up about 5 yrs. ago when I found out most of my friends gave it up and my best friend died ! I still have my equipment and I hope someday CBs will make a comeback ! 10-4
Ron on September 08, 2014:
I was heavily into CB radio from 1964-1974. All the kids who lived near me while in Jr. High and High School had them. First real radio was a Midland 100 MW Walkie-talkie, then I progressed to several base stations, the very best being a Courier Royale, with linear amp and a scanner antenna. I also had a Cobra mobile radio in my car.
As a kid, I used my own name, no silly handles. I also never had a license, even when it was required. Channel 12 was most popular in the Philadelphia area.
Looking back at it, it ruined my school grades, caused too much TV and radio interference, had too limited power and range, and became overcrowded. But it was lots of fun at the time I was into it.
Danny Jimenez on June 12, 2014:
Yep, still using our CB radios in our vehicles and at home. At home, I have a Uniden Bearcat 980 SSB, in our Jeep Wrangler we have a Uniden PC 122. In my Nissan Xterra I also have a Uniden PC 122. Those are great little radios! We mainly talk on Sideband though. But it seems like most of the idiots from the 70's and 80's are gone now. They are still VERY handy when you are traveling in an area where there is no cell phone coverage.
rainman256 on July 31, 2013:
yep cb radio is still kickin'
peterwo2e on February 27, 2013:
internet and cell phones has kill the hobby not to mention the idiots, a few years ago me a and a few other ex CB ops went to the FRS family radio ch one, it was good. small antennas and FM mode it was great lots of people cause of the cost of the radio was cheap and portable. it didn't took long for 3 or more idiots to start causing damage this on the air arguing went on for more than a year until i call it quits for good came back to CB. another year went by and i went back to FRS just to check out the mail. nothing it was completely dead. people get tire of the same bull crap everyday. the hobby has taking a black eye hope it comes back with more mature operators.
dion on April 02, 2012:
hey all. Cb is still alive and kicking with dedicated dx clubs etc. If ever you hear skip listen out on 27 usb. You will hear div 44 coming through load and cleat when conditions are right. 73s 44tm001 durban sa.
Kosak on March 26, 2012:
CB information: http://www.radionoticias.com
Margo Taylor on March 26, 2012:
WE have been trying to talk to? Anyone on Our cb so far no one called back so if your driving through THE SUNSHINE COAST OF BC just hit up channel 19 and that's where we will be
WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM ANY ONE THAT STILL USES THE CB RADIO ON THE SUNSHINE COAST OF BC Canada
tripXXX on December 05, 2011:
I love Cb's I run on channel 28 and channel 6...mostly love shooting skip and talking to drivers! Also they have keydown competition they call them breaks all over the US object is who has the most power and wh can out talk who.. its fun over 2 to 3 thousand ppl show up and hang out for the whole weekend...a lot of 10 meter operators hat ppl like us but we have fun and dont cause no problems...ppl next door came over one day and asked if I could stop talking on my cb I was coming through is tv,I went straight to radio shack and bought filters then i cranked my cb back up dead key was 10 watts swing 2500watts on There is nothing wrong as long as you repect other ppl..
Thomas on June 06, 2011:
Yes some amateur radio transceivers can transmit out of band by just removing a diode The Icom Ic-706 the original, I do not know about the other models the MK-II etc, there are a few on the web that have actual pictures of the diode to remove, where it is located, just crush with a pair of plyers and your IC-706 will transmit anywhere from 550 KHZ to 30 MHZ, of course this is not legal, your radio will transmit 100 watts SSB on 11 meters as well as above channel 40 and below channel 1, I never realized the amount of info a person can find on the web ! The info is out there it is up to you if you want the mod !Years ago I purchased a used Yaesu FT-101EX with an 11 meter crystal in it, I got 240 watts pep a great radio but it used tubes and was very heavy 35 pounds, I sold it before I moved to Hawaii !
John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on June 03, 2011:
Thomas, I haven't been involved in years. But I didn't know that could be done.
Thomas on June 03, 2011:
This past weekend I had a yard sale and with the items I had for sale was a working Cobra 40 channel AM CB radio,I was asking all of $5 for the radio, guess what ? No one was even interested ! Try selling a CB now a days and the rig must have SSB and work out of band !I have noticed that many of the serious CB operators buy amatuer radio transceivers and just remove one of the diodes(illegal of course)and their amateur rig now transmits anywhere !
John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on May 20, 2011:
You are right Thomas. I got into sideband for the same reason. I didn't delve into the dark side aspect in this article. Most serious cber's know all to well of that. But thanks for bringing it out for those who may not have known.
Thomas on May 19, 2011:
How I remember the early days of CB radio, back in the 1960's when I first got into CB, my first radio was a 5 channel Globe Star,I could never seem to get out with it until I realized I was not using the right antenna, I was using a fiber glass mobile antenna mounted on a pole ! SWR probably was sky high, but I knew very little about CB and even less about antennas ! I eventually got a decent CB antenna, a ground plane from Radio Shack or maybe some other radio suppy house,which worked very well, I remember once hearing and also working a skip station early one morning over in Michigan I couldn't believe that my little 5 watts could work someone that far away ! I also remember the dark side of CB back in the late 60's and early 70's, it was a very segregated hobby especially in the large American cities like Los Angeles, Blacks generally just used channel 6 and of course there were a lot of racial slurs and threats said between the races plus a lot of very foul words used, I always kept the volume down so that my mother would not hear some of the very foul language that was used ! I lost interest in CB and it was not until the 1980's that I got back into the hobby again this time with a side band rig, side band operators were generally more professional than their AM couterpart and very little foul language was used by the SSB operators, to be honest I would not want my mother or a wife to depend on AM CB in the advent of an emergency such as an auto break down, there are many really good CBers, "BUT" there are some who use CB to entrap individuals for robbery and in the case of females rape ! And near certain truck stops it is known that some prostitues use CB to attract cutomers ! CB like any hobby can be fun but also know of it's dark side too !
Thomas on May 19, 2011:
Excellent article ! Really hit the nail on the head about CB ! Yes CB was fun and still is except for some of the individuals who have little or no consideration of other operators, illegal high power, throwing carriers, music and foul language over the channels ! I do feel that the advent of the cell phone did a lot to limit the popularity of CB !
TruckerDan on April 04, 2011:
Hi. i'm a trucker in canada and i've been using cb's since 94'. i also run a base station at home, rci 2950dx on a antron 99. 15 footer base whip. there are a few bases around lurking in the uppers. i use my cb's all the time. it even prevented major accident on highway 401 westbound. in the rig i run a cobra 29ltd. me and a few fellow drivers run convoy chattin about everything. i love my cb radio. 73's and 88's all around!!!
John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on February 20, 2011:
leabeth, I quit because of those immature idiots too. But I've been thinking lately about putting another rig up.
leabeth on February 20, 2011:
I can still recall those days when CB Radio was illegal in South Africa. I agree with Martie that when it became legal it was not so nice anymore with all the ankle biters on the air as well. My hubby still has all his radios and until up to 3 years ago he made regular contact with radio users from other countries. His radio room was just next to our bedroom and some nights and early mornings around 2 to 3am when he could not sleep he would go onto the radio and start calling for overseas contacts. I used to love lying in bed and listening to their conversations. Good memories. I miss it all.
John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on February 20, 2011:
Amie, That's a big 10-4 rubber duck. We'll just slide right into that cradle until the next motion lotion and then I'm history. We're outta here.
Amie Warren on February 19, 2011:
"eh, breaker 1-9 this here's the rubber duck. You got a copy on me Big Ben, c'mon. ....
We definitely got the front door, good buddy, mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy!"
My handle was "Li'l Fox".
John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on February 18, 2011:
Thanks woodsmen for taking time to comment and share that memory.
WoodsmensPost from Arizona on February 17, 2011:
Yeah they were pretty fun back in the 70's and 80's for me. Gramps ( Buggs) had one and got me into it ( LiL Buggs) they were great for traveling and I always wanted a base station. It was just a fun time having a line of communication that sometimes you needed to bounce just to get a message to someone far away. I still take my hand set along once in awhile just to listen to an old boy trucker that's still out there using them. I think we'll keep them around for awhile yet. Cool hub.
John Young (author) from Florence, South Carolina on February 17, 2011:
I got into it big time during the 80's and 90's. one mobile and a base. I was called the Shadow. I had a straight aluminum "fire stick" antennae about 50 ft up and was running about a 250 watt foot warmer on a single side band. I loved skip. My former wife couldn't stand it. Anything that took my attention away from her, she hated...including family. But it was my one joy in life also. I would always be searching housetop antennae for what kind of rig people were running.
Martie Coetser from South Africa on February 17, 2011:
10:4, Juliet Yankee 3502
My ex-husband and I were deep into Citizens' Band radio while it was still illegal in SA. About late seventies-early eighties. We had a base station and a mobile in each car. 108 wips – what the Police used on their cars, galore. I can’t remember the name of the aerial we had for the base station – initially it was that parachute-framed or rather mushroom-framed one (something like ‘four-eight’ rings in my mind), and then we installed the pole – something of a seven-eight – I can’t remember the names of those antennas.
We had 40 channels – MORE illegal! Were busted once at a CB-rally, still known as the Big Bust. All CB-equipment were confiscated by the Police. But we just replaced it and kept on trespassing the Law. My husband’s handle was ‘Sidewinder’ and I was ‘Percolator’.
Then CB’s became legal! And a play-station for every other teenager and even younger children. The calling channel all of a sudden sounded like a sizzling snake calling with hundred voices: “Any buddy for a chat.... Enige maatjie vir ’n praatjie....” Absolute chaos!
So we adults all fled to the illegal channels. Et cetera....
That two years in my life I was happily married. Perhaps because my husband and I were enjoying the same recreation?
Thanks so much JY– you’ve waken some of my nicest memories.
Greg Schweizer from Corona, California. on February 17, 2011:
Hi JY, I never got into CB's but I do remember them and how popular they were. I know there are still some out there, but I believe cell phones replaced a lot of them. Thank you for the walk down memory lane though. Even though I didn't have one, I did know a lot of people that did. Greg