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CB Radio History – The Pop Culture Explosion (Part 3)

Al Gross invented the Citizens Band (CB) radio to help people wirelessly communicate with each other long before the concept of a cellular phone was put into production. By the late 1960s and early 1970s he attained this thanks to a combination of smaller, solid-state electronics, reduced radio prices, and the 1973 Oil Embargo.

The six-month action by OPEC to protect the Yom Kippur War caused the use of CBs to explode among drivers. They reported speed traps and gas station locations that were still open. When the embargo ended in March of 1974, the use of these radios didn’t decrease. In fact, their popularity increased to the point that pop culture took notice.

CB Radios in Television and Movies

In 1977, Smokey and the Bandit became one of the first films to fully incorporate the CB radio culture. Starring Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed, Sally Field, and Jackie Gleason, the story revolved around Bo “Bandit” Darville and Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Gleason).

While transporting 400 cases of Coors beer from Texas to Georgia (Coors wasn’t available East of the Mississippi back then), Bandit is chased by Justice. He gets past the sheriff thanks and his blockade attempts thanks to numerous characters who kept him informed by CB Radio. The movie was so successful it resulted in two sequels.

On the smaller screen, the series Movin’ On incorporated the CB radio culture. It starred Claude Akins and Frank Converse as independent truck drivers. The show inspired the handles “Do it like Pruitt,” and “Do it like Pruitt used to do it,” after the show ended. In a merchandise tie-in, walkie-talkies that worked on CB channel 14 were marketed to children.

CB Radios in Music

A number of songs came out promoting the trucking and CB culture. The most popular of these was CW McCall’s “Convoy.” Still heard on classic hits stations today, McCall’s song from 1975 told the story of a truck convoy crossing the country to deliver their goods and get back the roadblocks put up by the Smokey. The lyrics were filled with CB handles that some listeners needed to look up to understand their translations.

Spreading Across the Pond

At its peak, millions of people used CB radios while millions more listened via Ham radios or walkie-talkies to their chatter. The craze got so big that it eventually filtered across the Atlantic to Great Britain. This is where the next wave of CB Radio production began...

Stay tuned next month as we continue our History of the CB Radio series.


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