Citizen’s Band Radio 

20 November 2017

From Radio Annual 1984, Hereward edition

It means you’re never alone, it means you’re never bored, it’s a way of making a whole new batch of friends… above all it’s FUN. It’s Citizen’s Band Radio, known as CB to the million or so breakers, or CB users, who have turned CB into a cult craze in this country over the past couple of years.

Major plus point for a beginner is that the basic CB set, or rig, is so easy to operate. As long as you already know how to twiddle the knob on your TV set in order to change channels, and if you can use the simple ON/OFF switch on a microphone, then that’s all the technical knowledge you need to know in order to operate the rig. Then it’s just a question of raising the necessary cash to get starte … £10 for the CB licence which allows you to use up to three rigs, around £30 for a basic CB set, £11 for a power pack to reduce the mains voltage, and a further £10 or so for your radio antenna.

Welcome to breaker’s world! The rig is basically a type of two-way radio which lets you talk and listen to all the other breakers who are transmitting in your area. But, unlike with a telephone, you don’t need to have your rig always based at home… on foot, in a car, in a holiday caravan, or even bobbing around in a small boat at sea … the freedom of the airwaves is yours. No telephone numbers to remember, no complicated STD codes to master, all you do is flick a switch and see who else is out there ready to talk, or ratchet in CB jargon. You can start up a conversation of your own, or you can join in a ratchet that’s already in progress, or you can simply listen in to other people’s conversations; whatever takes your fancy.

It all began with the truckers in America. In Britain, long distance lorry drivers may travel the same mileage as their American counterparts, but they’re never very far from a friendly transport cafe or their essential breakdown services. In America it’s a completely different story.

The truckers often have to drive for long stretches of several hundred miles between towns and settlements with no-one to talk to and no help at hand in case of an emergency. Its a lonely life and a breakdown could mean a delay of several hours before another vehicle comes past to fetch help. No wonder then that as soon as CB became available in the States many truckers had them installed in their cabs… not only the luxury of being able to break the driving monotony by chatting to other truckers, but, more important, being able to keep each other informed about weather conditions ahead and traffic delays, as well as having the security of knowing that they could summon immediate aid in the event of accident or breakdown.

Al Gross, often named the father of CB, who was flown into Britain from America on November2nd 1981 to obtain the first British CB licence ever issued. He was also the first person to speak on American CB many years ago.
[From CB Radio Magazine]

In those days, had you been able to listen in to the conversations, you would probably have been able to understand what everyone was saying. But in 1973, things suddenly changed.

That was the year when the international fuel shortage meant that America was running out of petrol. In order to bring fuel consumption down, a speed limit of 55 mph was introduced.

This spelt disaster for the truckers, who relied on speedy deliveries of goods to keep their businesses afloat and they began to use CB as a means of avoiding speed traps. But there was nothing to stop the police from listening in to the CB conversations and monitoring what was going on.

The truckers began developing their own jargon so that messages were coded, and stopped using their own names, adopting handles, or nicknames, for themselves and the towns and cafes they used. They created a whole new language.

Like Cockney rhyming slang, there was a definite lyrical quality to many of these trucking expressions and it wasn’t long before a song writer, in the shape of Country and Western singer C W McCall, put the jargon to music and created ‘Convoy’. It rocketed to the charts virtually as soon as it was released… a mammoth blockbuster of a hit not only in the States, but in Britain and right across Europe.

Suddenly everyone was try ing to leam this intriguing new jargon, anxious to join that small but select group of CB users, and crying out to get hold of rigs which would make them part of the growing fellowship of breakers.

First to cross the Atlantic may have been the Top Ten hit, but it was the crateloads of rigs which followed which really marked the widespread start of CB in this country. But there was one extremely serious snag for those so anxious to get their hands on a rig of their own… the American rigs operated on a 27 MHz AM frequency which the British Government, in the shape of the Home Office, had already allocated to other licensed users… it was against the law for British breakers to use the CB rigs which they had bought. Left and right the police suddenly began to swoop down on offenders, confiscating and imposing fines.

Stephen Pratt (handle Stickinsect), a young breaker from Bloxham, Oxfordshire, who has used his rig to help stranded motorists by relaying their emergency calls on his CB set.
[From CB Radio Magazine]

It was all aimed at stamping CB out, but it had the very opposite effect… the fact that breakers were operating outside the law only fuelled their enthusiasm. When ‘Convoy’ first topped the chart there were a mere 500 breakers in the UK, but by early 1980 that number had swelled to almost a quarter of a million. “Make CB legal” was the chant from all sides.

As the numbers continued to climb to almost the half million mark, the Government was forced to give in and promise to legalise CB. But they still insisted that they couldn’t allow breakers to use the American AM frequency which was strong enough to allow breakers to speak to each other around the world from London to Los Angeles or Hong Kong.

Instead the Home Office (Uncle Charlie) insisted that the breakers be given an FM frequency which limited people to chatting within a mere thirty miles or so radius of their rig. The breakers tried as hard as they could to fight against it, taking to the streets on marches and demonstrations but to no avail. In 1981 when the first CB licences were issued it was only the FM frequency which was legal.

So how does a CB set now operate? Each FM rig has a total of 40 channels which breakers can use for their conversations and a channel selector which allows the breaker to move up and down the channels to find a clear channel where they can talk.

To find if there is anyone out there wanting a chat, the first step is to use the breaking channel… usually either channel 14 or 19, but NEVER channel 9 which is reserved for emergency messages. Having found someone on the breaking channel, it’s then just a question of moving up and down the forty channels to find a free space for the conversation to continue.

Breakers still use a large proportion of the jargon developed in the early trucking and illegal days of CB. Below you’ll find the format for your first ever chat on CB. Once you’ve got the conversation started, just what you end up ratcheting about with your new-found friends is entirely up to you.

“Breaker one-four for a copy… breaker one-four for a copy …”
(Using the 14 channel as your breaking channel you’re asking if anyone fancies a natter)

“Got a copy there Good Buddy”
(Someone is there and ready to talk to you)

“Smash a window”
(You’re asking them to choose a channel to talk on)

“Try three-five”
(They’re suggesting channel 35 might be free)

“Roger, Gone”
(You’re agreeing and saying OK see you up there)


“Are you on channel?”
(They’ve arrived, have you?)

“Yes, Roger”
(You reply yes you are)

The rest is up to you. But just remember one thing. CB users never reveal their actual names or addresses on channel. There are shady characters around in CB just as there are everywhere else. So one of your first tasks as a newcomer to breaking is to think up a suitable handle for yourself. How about Spiderman, Cough Drop… Bionic Bunny? Already the fun has started.

Troubled times: Breakers on the march which took place in the summer of 1981 from Speaker’s Comer, Hyde Park, to the Houses of Parliament, to protest against the Government’s decision to legalise 27 MHz FM instead of 27 MHz AM.
[From CB Radio Magazine]

The 10-10 code

An important rule for all CB users is “Don’t hog the airwaves for too long”. Give other users a chance. Which is why, over the years, breakers have developed the 10-10 code which uses numbers to denote certain phrases. It goes from 10-1 to 10-100, but here are some of the more familiar ones.

  • 10-1 I can’t hear you cearly
  • 10-3 Stop transmitting
  • 10-5 Relay your message
  • 10-9 Repeat your message
  • 10-12 I’ve got visitors present/I’m not alone
  • 10-33 EMERGENCY
  • 10-34 I’m in URGENT need of HELP


A Transdiffusion Presentation

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1 response to this article

Paul Mason 23 November 2017 at 1:39 am

CB – killed stone dead by the internet.

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