All That's Trucking

CB Radios Then and Now

August 11, 2015

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A scene from the movie "Convoy."
A scene from the movie "Convoy."

The song "Convoy" came up on random shuffle on my iPod the other night. The 1975 trucker anthem, which topped both the country and pop charts, was a reflection of the times, when the slightly rebellious, independent hero was a romantic and admired figure. (Like the irreverent TransAm driving Burt Reynolds and his trucker friend Jerry Reed in the 1977 movie "Smokey and the Bandit.")

A lot of things from the song "Convoy" have changed. We no longer have "Jimmy" (GMC) heavy trucks, or "cab-over Petes." Electronic logs are soon going to replace "swindle sheets" (paper log books.)

One thing that's still around, though, is the CB radio.

"Convoy" (which was turned into a movie itself in '78) capitalized on the CB radio craze. Forty years ago, the nation was crazy for CB radio, an until-then niche tool used largely by truckers.

A then-unknown Rene Russo doing her best to make CB base stations sexy. Photo courtesy RoadPro Family of Brands
A then-unknown Rene Russo doing her best to make CB base stations sexy. Photo courtesy RoadPro Family of Brands

Housewives bought base stations and adopted handles; Hollywood churned out songs, movies and TV shows. Phrases like “10-4, good buddy” and “What’s your 20?” entered the vernacular. Even then-First Lady Betty Ford had a handle – First Mama.

Sometimes fads are inexplicable (Pet Rocks, anyone?), but the CB radio mania was largely fueled by the 1973 gas crisis. The federal government imposed a nationwide 55 mph speed limit, and frustrated truckers and others turned to their CBs to trade information about cheap gas and speed traps. Once the Federal Communications Commission dropped its license requirement, it became a cheap way for non-truckers to partake in an exotic culture.

You could view CB radios as a precursor to social media. On Channel 19, people could assume new identities, communicate with friends and strangers, argue and share whatever information they cared to pass on.  

The craze died down, eventually, as fads moved on to Cabbage Patch Kids and Star Wars. But CBs never went away. Though truck drivers now a use a host of electronics, including smartphones and GPS and in-cab tracking and communications systems, there is still a place for citizens band.

A print ad from the height of the CB radio craze. Photo courtesy RoadPro Family of Brands
A print ad from the height of the CB radio craze. Photo courtesy RoadPro Family of Brands

“They’re still an important safety tool for drivers,” says Gary Hill, category manager for CB accessories brands at RoadPro Family of Brands, which manufactures CBs and accessories under the RoadPro, RoadKing, Wilson, K40, Astatic and Francis brands.

Any long-haul trucker knows there are big parts of the country with poor cell phone reception, particularly out West. A CB also is the fastest way to notify other drivers of traffic conditions, road hazards and bad weather. CBs also let drivers alert each other if they spot something wrong on a truck they pass. And some terminals still insist on communicating with drivers through CBs.

Several years ago near Pittsburgh, a man veered off the road into the woods. He called for help on his CB and was overhead by a base operator who called police and directed them to the stranded motorist. It turned out the two had communicated by CB 20 years earlier when the motorist was a trucker.

And then there’s this extraordinary story from Tennessee about how a group of truckers, using CB radios to coordinate, boxed in a motorist who had snatched his son and was fleeing the state.

“Truckers no longer have to rely on it to do everything," Hill says, "but nothing else does exactly what it does."


  1. 1. Dirk [ August 21, 2015 @ 08:39PM ]

    The CB is dead! I have been driving (OTR) for 16 years now. The first five to ten years, the CB was invaluable! Now I will go days without hearing anyone on the radio! I will ask for directions or a place to get something to eat, and there is no response! It is a shame!

  2. 2. Robert [ April 29, 2017 @ 06:36AM ]

    I have a c.b. in my truck cab and have friends who have 2 c.b.'s in each of their rigs (back-up sets) We all enjoy talking with fellow drivers and folks on other channels with base stations, and motorists. Sometimes the channels can get a bit crowded, but my transceiver is equipped with sideband which is useful for "dx" communications ad i approach home (my wife uses our base station to keep in touch with me and folks in our area. Yes indeed, c.b. is still an important part of today's world. God bless America.

  3. 3. Ken [ April 29, 2017 @ 06:46AM ]

    In my rig i have 3 c.b. radios. I just cannot get enough of the hobby and the professional driver utility of these timeless devices. The airwaves are getting a bit crowded on c.b. lately, but i also have a ham rig (and an ham license) which pushes over 400 watts (100X more than c.b.) What a great world with c.b. in it!

  4. 4. Tiffany0123 [ June 05, 2017 @ 06:20PM ]

    My husband and I just hooked his cb up, and we can't find anyone on there. I am 38, and I remember when it was a big thing to be on there. I love having a cell phone and the Internet, but i miss the old days 😕

  5. 5. Tony Omlot [ June 30, 2017 @ 10:04PM ]

    I don't ever hear any cb chatter between Ohio and Chicago. :( I miss it too

  6. 6. Kyle McGhee [ August 02, 2017 @ 06:55PM ]

    I've been trucking for 31 years and unfortunately the cb radio is pretty much dead.
    When I first started trucking in the mid 80s it was alive 24/7, now it is quiet most of the day and night.
    It got quieter during the 90s but was still going strong but by 2008 or so it was beginning to really disappear.
    I miss the old days when it was so rowdy.

  7. 7. Imogene Hart [ October 21, 2017 @ 10:13PM ]

    We used to haave a cb in both our vehicles, one in the cars of our two teenagers and a base station at home. Back in the 60's and 70's, that was how we kept up with our teenaagers when they were out. And we knew if they needed help, they could reach us. Cell phones have replaced them now. We are in Tennessee, and my husband used to talk to people all over Canada and even some in Australia. He was disabled and it was a great passtime for him. I still have his equipment and would like to sell it, but there doesn't seem to be any market for it now.


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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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