Rise and Fall of CB Radio

photograph by selbst, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

If you grew up in the ’60s or ’70s, you probably remember CB Radio. CB Radio (Citizens Band) was a two-way radio service in the United States that allowed people to talk to each other. Of course, what people really used it for was to gossip, make fun of celebrities, and invent code names based on their favorite fast-food restaurants.

Unfamiliar?

Blink and you’ll miss it:

Well, we thought we’d take a look at how this technology came to be and what role it played in our culture during its heyday in the 1970s. We’ll also take a look at how it fell out of fashion and why.

How this Technology Came to Be

CB radio is a technology that’s been around for a very long time, but it’s not nearly as present in our lives as it used to be. If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym CB, you might know it by its alternative name, Citizens Band. The CB radio came into popularity in the 1940s and was dedicated to citizens’ use.

The CB radio was born in 1946 when two separate people (Charles H.C. Moore and Al Gross) invented the technology simultaneously. They went on to form the first private company to manufacture CB radios, which became wildly popular with truckers—in fact, several truck-driving groups pushed to make radios like these available to all drivers for safety purposes. People also used them for fun purposes, too, like talking to people around them or just for general chit chat.

How CB Radio Got Popular

1971 marked the year that CB radio went from being just a military tool to being a part of everyday American life. As more and more people started getting their hands on these devices, they brought them along during rides in their trucks, pulling them out to converse with others on the road. The CB radio craze really took off in 1973, when a business called Midland Radio introduced a handheld unit that made it much easier to use this device. The CB radio was no longer solely for truckers, as anyone could now communicate long-distance by simply turning a dial to find an open channel.

It wasn’t long before people were flashing their CB radios from their cars and trucks, and they became a symbol of more than just a hobby. If you had a CB radio, you were a true American, and some people even had more than one. But while this new device created a flash of enthusiasm among truckers and motorists, the trend died down just as quickly. Just a few years later, people stopped using their devices or switching on their headsets.

This trend is such an interesting one because it shows us how quickly people move on from new ideas and technologies. We’re often quick to hop on the newest fads and get our hands on the latest advancements in technology before we really understand what we’re dealing with. 

Some interesting facts about CB radio that most can find on the internet indicate that before the late 1970s, most amateur radio enthusiasts used 10 channels between 26.965 and 27.405 MHz, but that meant that they were limited to communicating with just one other person at a time. However, after the FCC introduced the 11-meter band in 27 MHz on October 10th, 1977, it transformed how amateur radio operators communicate with each other by allowing multiple people to chat at once. The 11-meter band was quite popular until the mid-1980s when CB radios hit the market and captured most of the enthusiasts’ attention.

The Fall

In the 1980s, the CB radio was ubiquitous. In fact, they were everywhere–people had them in their homes, businesses had them to keep in touch with employees and fleets used them as well. However, like cell phones and other modes of communication came onto the scene and the internet grew, radios like this became obsolete for many people. But today CB radios are making a comeback among those with a passion for outdoor activities and nostalgia for simpler times.

The closest modern equivalent might be the walkie-talkie, but many other options exist. For example, wireless handheld intercoms make it easy to talk to your kids while you’re hiking up a trail or riding a trail bike. Intercoms can be used to communicate with other riders on a trail, and they make it easier to spend time outdoors with friends and family. You can also use mobile phones and tablets or computer-based communications systems.

The rise in popularity is also due to the rise in mobile devices that are replacing traditional communication devices like phones. Having mobile communication with people close by is more convenient than trying to use old technology like CB. But what CB radios lack in modern convenience, they make up for in freedom. 

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