Whatever Happened to CB 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 CB’ers still refer to it as "11 meters."
In the 1960s, CB’s became popular with small businesses as well as truck drivers and radio enthusiasts. Advanced technology in solid state circuitry and electronics allowed 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. CB’ers also used similar emergency service “10-codes.”
The citizen band craze grew in popularity during the 1970s. Partly because of the 1973 oil crisis and a nationwide 55 mph speed limit. CB’s were used to help truckers locate service stations having fuel available and to warn other drivers of speed traps. Truckers found their CB’s to be invaluable in 1974 to organize blockades and convoys in protest to the newly imposed 55 mph speed limit.
Throughout the 1970’s and early 80’s, the CB phenomenon swept the nation. CB allowed people to communicate in a quasi-anonymous manner. Many movies and stories about CB’ers soon followed with movies and TV shows in which stars made prominent use of CB’s. Story telling songs were written 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 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.
However, in recent years, CB seems to have lost some of its original appeal. This was no doubt due to development of mobile phones and 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 CB’ers started to use their radios less frequently or abandoned them altogether.
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 far away stations.
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, & 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.
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 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.
Skip can last for 1 minute, 5 hours, or go on for days. The phenomenon occurs because of sunspot activity which shoots rays of energy that effect 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.
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 concern are stations using high amounts of power and causing disruptions to other radio services.
It boils down to this. Shooting skip is simply fun.