Lakewood life, a half-century ago... When "Chat Room" Chatter Was Spoken Aloud... "What's Your 20, Good Buddy?"

T'was a time, not so long ago, when "chat room" chatter took place in real time, and was a spoken event, rather than being written down. Generally too, what was said went unrecorded as well. Those were the days when CB (Citizens Band) radios ruled the roost. In those pre-Internet days, you could purchase a CB walkie-talkie, a mobile unit, or a home base station, and talk away to your heart's content. Originally, there were call signs and licenses to buy, but over time, the licenses were no longer required. People generally went by "handles", (adopted names) which is not so different from what many people in Internet chat rooms do these days. Back then, my "handle" was "Silversticks", as it happened to be the nickname that I went by as a drummer.

There was also a unique language with CB radio. If, for example, I wanted to let people know that I'd turned on my radio and was ready to receive calls, I might have said something like:

"Breaker One-Six" (channel 16) "Breaker! Breaker!" "This is one Silversticks on the side, 10-8!"(meaning "standing by")
"Greetings Silversticks, this is Hatman. (not a real person here) What's your 20?" (Where are you?)
"Hey Hatman, this is one Silversticks, good buddy, I'm just holding up the shingles here. (I'm at home) Hey, you going to the coffee break?"
(A "coffee break" was a weekly or monthly meeting, usually at a local restaurant, where CB'ers met to hang out and have fun, often holding fund raising activities like getting a pie in the face for a good cause)
"That's a negative, Silversticks, A gum-ball flashin' Smokey took my picture flying low (the police caught me speeding on their radar and stopped me with their old "gum-ball machine style" top car lights) so I'm slappin' leather on the sidewalks. (I have to walk everywhere now!)

Citizens Band Radio began in the closing days of WWII and really took off around the time of the 1970's Energy Crisis. With gasoline shortages and reduced 55 mph speed limits on freeways, there was a widespread disregard of those limits. Truckers would install the radios in their rigs and let people know where accidents, construction slow downs, and sometimes, where speed traps were located. Soon, channel 19 became known as the "trucker's channel", and just about anyone having an extra $100 installed a CB in their car in order to hear what was going on, and contribute to the conversation. Popular songs came along about the CB culture as well. The CB way of life remained strong for many years, at least until cell phones and Internet communications came along.

One thing about CB radio that unfortunately seems to have carried over to the Internet chat rooms is the rough language and brash tone of many communications. True, people weren't supposed to talk that way over the radio, but they often did so, and before long, parents became very leery of listening to the CB in the car during long trips, due to the nature of some of the conversations they were hearing.

Another problem was the endless human lust for power. Although CB radio was only supposed to be a low wattage device, there were those who attached illegal linear amplifiers to their units, having hundreds of watts of power. They could then talk "over" just about anyone else, at least until they were caught by FCC (Federal Communications Commission) agents.

Sometimes, even legally powered radios could interfere with TV and electronic devices in homes and businesses. I well remember sitting in a local church one morning when a CB'er loudly came over the church's organ/PA system during a quiet time of reflection.

Over time, CB radio expanded from 23 to 40 channels, and then you had those single sideband radios that used only half of a channel. Sideband focused more power into the transmission and you could "get out" farther in those days.

In preparing this column, I spoke with several people as to how the CB world is doing nowadays. I even dusted off an old CB radio to hear for myself what might be going on. I discovered that truckers still use channel 19, and that channel 9 is still considered an emergency-only channel. I've heard some faint chatter around here on channels 6 and 20, but nothing so far on any other channel. I have also heard that local citizen emergency teams continue to use and value their portable CB radios during power outages.

I have to interject a chuckle and a caveat here too. When I turned on that old CB base station, I naturally put it right next to the computer for convenience sake. That turned out to be a BIG mistake when I pushed the transmit button and my computer's mouse stopped working! Be careful where you put your electronic stuff. A radio-wise friend later told me (Why do I always learn stuff LATER?) that strong magnetic fields and radio transmissions don't always work too well with computers, but I digress here....

Funny isn't it? If CB radio came along today as the next new thing...If suddenly, (as we might soon do with the Internet) you could chat live and for (almost) free all over the world on the computer, (as ham radio operators have done for years) perhaps some form of CB might once again enjoy the immense social and utilitarian popularity that it once did.

As mentioned, CB radio continues in use with community response units during times of public emergency, but it seems that, other than truckers, hunters, and the off-road community, the general public is just not using it too much these days. It was fun though, for me to go back and listen to that good old radio static...except that it was kinda lonely...

"Breaker channel twenty....breaker....One Silversticks on the side. Is anybody out there????"

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Volume 10, Issue 5, Posted 8:46 PM, 03.04.2014