The History of CB Radio

CB Radio was first introduced in the USA in the mid 1940’s by the FCC. The FCC or Federal Communications Commission was, and still is the governing authority for all communications in the USA. Initially operation was restricted to UHF frequencies between 460-470Mhz and it wasn’t until 1958 that 27Mhz or the real “CB Band” as we know it came into operation.

CB Radio ( 27Mhz ) became popular in the USA in the early 1970’s mainly with the highway truckers. After movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Convoy and of course Dukes of Hazard hit the big screen their popularity soared. Eventually most families in America ended up with a CB in their family vehicle. Communication was predominantly only local and on the lower AM channels.

One of the reasons that the 27Mhz band became so popular in the USA was that in 1973 there was a fuel shortage and the government introduced a 55MPH speed limit. Truckies were often exceeding this speed and the CB was a great way to stay informed of where the radars were located. The radars were sometimes referred to as “barbecues” and the police were known as “smokies” or “bears”.

The other advantage of owning a CB Radio during this time was to find out where the nearest Petrol Station was located, traffic conditions and also simply for finding out general information such as where to grab a feed, getting directions and even meeting the odd “YL” ( Young Lady ).

Later in the 70’s a phenomena known as “skip” started occurring which allowed operators to bounce their signal off of a charged layer in the sky known as the “Ionosphere”. The Ionosphere was charged by the sun and when the correct conditions occurred then instead of the signal going off into space it would bounce back and further the distance that you were able to communicate.

By the mid to late 70’s many folks were setting up base stations at home and installing large beam style antennas which made skip even more reliable and signals stronger. In fact in the late 70’s we were able to hear stations from all over the USA booming into Australia most mornings. During the late 70’s and early 80’s the sunspot cycle was at it’s peak which in turn charged the ionosphere more which in return allowed more skip from all over the world.

I can remember even as a youngster talking to the USA on an old CB using only 12 watts and a single element quad antenna. CB’s in Australia became popular around the late 70’s also and just about everyone had one in their car. It was heaps of fun cruising around in my 1971 HG Holden with a Realistic TRC-449 CB Radio and 100 watt amplifier hidden in the glove box.

Often we would arrange an eyeball with some local dudes down at Hungry Jacks or McDonald’s car park and checkout each others cars and radio equipment. This trend continued for quite a few years until the introduction of mobile phones. Once mobile phones started to become more widely used then CB’s started to fade out. Many of the die hard operators who enjoyed working skip either progressed to Ham Radio or improved their equipment in regards to antennas and amplifiers etc.

By 2021 most CB operators have disappeared as the internet has made communication world wide so much easier. It’s only us fanatics that remain in the hobby still waiting for the sunspot cycle to improve and start producing some better skip conditions. Many operators now are using ham equipment, 1KW plus amplifiers and large quad or yagi antennas.

While the bigger antennas and more power do help make long distance communications easier the 27Mhz CB band still relies 100% on the correct skip conditions. If the ionosphere is not charge enough then no matter what equipment you have you will still not be able to talk long distance. It’s interesting watching the USA operators as many of them are still stuck on the lower AM channels and they seem to prefer this over SSB.

Australia is very different in the fact that we rarely ever use AM. In the 70’s and 80’s AM was more popular among mobile operators however nowadays it’s almost 100% SSB. Australians tend to sit on 35 LSB or if we are listening for stateside we tune to 38 LSB. Everybody at the moment is waiting patiently for the next big sunspot cycle to come so that the skip returns.

It seems that operators all over the world are getting their shack’s and equipment all fired up and ready for when conditions improve. Bigger antennas, more power and whatever else they can think of to improve their stations. Let’s hope that the next sunspot cycle produces some really great conditions, until then keep fixing those stations cause the skip will return.

There was a magazine in Australia which started in the late 70’s called “CB Action“. This magazine came out monthly and it included stories on CBer’s, Antenna designs, CB reviews and at the back it had a section for readers to post their own classified ads. On the cover of each CB Action was a young model scantily dressed holding a CB or an antenna which helped to make the magazine much more popular.

The CB Action magazines are now very collectible and the average magazine if in good condition can sell for up to $20 each. A great deal of the CB Radio equipment from that era is now becoming sort after with CB’s such as the Cobra 2000, The Madison/Bengal and GE base Stations selling for up to $1525AUD.

Many of the “Die Hard” CB operators eventually obtain their Ham Radio licences which enables them to use a wide range of bands and much higher power levels.

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