Dodgy wiring and a language that bordered on gibberish once took the UK by storm. Mike Humble recalls the time when your handle and 10-20 made all the difference in social circles.
We are, of course, talking about CB radio…
Films like Smokey and the Bandit captured the hearts of the British public and CB radio
popularity hit fever pitch
There I was hammering along the endless black ribbon that is the A1 south last night when I spotted something even rarer these days than rocking horse muck – a car with a CB aerial. This got me thinking about lost times in the post-driving test phase of my late teens, when only three items of equipment were compulsory in a Ford Cortina: a working cigar lighter, a pair of Ring-branded driving lamps, and – of course – a fully-operational CB radio. These days, CB radio is virtually extinct – though a handful of lorry drivers continue to use them, you have your mobile ‘phone to thank for its demise in the UK.
Words and terminology like: ‘scarlet warrior’, ‘base-loaded super-modulator’ or ‘whip’ may have sounded like the contents of your other half’s secret box in the back of the wardrobe, but they were actually the names given to the plethora of differing aerials you could bedeck your car with.
Epic US films such as Convoy or the Bank Holiday favourite Smokey and the Bandit quite possibly shared the blame for the CB fever that took over the UK. If you weren’t around in the late 1970s, trust me when I say that CB fever was at its highest. This was especially so in the more densely populated towns and cities of the Midlands and the North.
Every terraced street in every town would sport one or two Homebase radio sets, with an aerial which emulated a shrunken telescopic washing line, fixed to some redundant scaffold tubing by a few car exhaust clamps. It seemed that everyone (including myself) was gripped by this weird method of talking to people without running the risk of your parents getting a nasty bill from the GPO. However, with CB radio, came a unique form of language – should you omit to learn and use this rather strange mixture of numbers and slang then you were socially outcast to a land even more lonely and desolate than Humberside.
Getting your Ford Granada wired for CB sound was simple. All you needed to do was amble along to your nearest Charlie Browns, Halfords or that long gone emporium of poorly-soldered electrical goods, Tandy. But in larger towns and cities the trend was so popular, independent shops would open up to cater for the masses.
One such place I remember with fondness was Vanners, nestling in a small shopping precinct in the Far Cotton area of Northampton. If I close my eyes I can still smell the aroma of back room soldering and hot plastic. If you’ve had CB exposure you’ll know exactly what I’m on about and you’ll no doubt slowly be nodding your head.
I had a CB radio in my Ital, three Ford Cortinas and a Lada Riva. Never so much fun was to be had taking part in mobile treasure hunts or hide-and-seek. One time, we fitted a huge horn speaker under the bonnet (some CB sets had a PA setting) and took great delight wolf-whistling at the girls coming out of the night clubs. Random abuse hurling while driving through a busy town centre at night also couldn’t be missed.
Unfortunately, the fun came to a quick end when a traffic unit pulled us over and quoted the public broadcasting laws… chapter and verse – point taken officer, I won’t do it again. They were truly great days, for which I thank Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristopherson and Sheriff Bulford T Justice.
Mobile ‘phones killed it all off and, despite CB radio becoming unlicensed in its dying days, it all just faded away as your satnav or RDS radio told you about the jam up ahead. Car ‘phone kits meant you could chat to someone without the worry of losing the signal, legal CB sets only broadcast at four watts which was just enough for a few miles.
As mentioned before, truck drivers still use them although nowhere near as much as in the past. I still smile when I see a tractor unit fitted with a CB twig with a 90-degree kink at the very top – the result of hitting a bridge or other low structure at speed.
Anyway, that’s me done; a 10-100 beckons and no doubt see you on the flip side.
It’s 10-10 ’til we do it again good buddy. I’m down and gone.