Whatever Happened To : C.B Radio

Mike Humble:


Epic US movies such as Convoy or Smokey and the Bandit (above) were responsible for the C.B fever than hit the UK from the late `70s.


There I was hammering along the endless black ribbon that is the A1 south last night when I spotted something even rarer these days than rocking horse muck – a car with a C.B aerial. This got me thinking about lost times in the post driving test phase of my late teens when only three items of equipment were compulsory in a Ford Cortina – a working cigar lighter, a pair of Ring branded driving lamps and of course… a fully operational C.B radio. These days, CB radio is virtually extinct – though a handful of lorry drivers continue to use them, you have your mobile phone to thank for its demise in the UK.

Words and terminology like: scarlet warrior, base loaded super-modulator or whip may have sounded like the contents of your others half’s secret box in the back of the wardrobe but were in fact the names given to the plethora of differing aerials you could bedeck your car with. Epic US films such as Convoy or the Bank Holiday favourite Smokey and the Bandit quite possibly shared the blame for C.B fever that took over the United Kingdom. If you weren’t around in the late 70’s trust me when I say that C.B fever was at its highest, especially in the denser populated town and cities of the midlands and the north.

“WHERE ARE YOU? YOU SOME BITCH” yells Sheriff Buford T Justice as the Bandit looks on.


Every terraced street in every town would sport one or two Home Base radio sets with an aerial that emulated a shrunken telescopic washing line fixed to some redundant scaffold tubing by a few car exhaust clamps. It seemed that everyone (including myself) was gripped by this weird method of talking to people without running the risk of your parents getting a nasty bill from the GPO. But with CB radio came a unique form of language, should you omit to learn and use this rather strange mixture of numbers and slang then you were socially outcast to a land even more lonely and desolate than Humberside.

Getting your Granada wired for CB sound was simple. All you needed to do was amble along to your nearest Charlie Browns, Halfords or that long gone emporium of poorly soldered electrical goods – Tandy. But in larger towns and cities the trend was so popular that independent shops would open up to cater for the masses. One such place I remember with fondness was Vanners , nestling in a small shopping precinct in the Far Cotton area of Northampton. If I close my eyes I can still smell the aroma of back room soldering and hot plastic… if you’ve had CB exposure you’ll know exactly what I’m on about and you’ll no doubt slowly be nodding your head.

I had a C.B in my Ital, three Ford Cortina’s and a Lada Riva, never so much fun was to be had taking part in mobile treasure hunts or hide and seek. One time we fitted a huge horn speaker under the bonnet (some CB sets had a P.A setting) and took great delight wolf whistling at the girls coming out of the night clubs. Random abuse hurling while driving through a busy town centre at night also couldn’t be missed. But the fun came to a quick end when a traffic unit pulled us over and quoted the public broadcasting laws… chapter and verse – point taken officer, I won’t do it again. They were truly great days which I have Burt Reynolds and Sheriff Buford T Justice to thank for.

york jcb
My own weapon of choice – the JCB 863 by York. Other popular brands also included Midland – happy days they were!



Mobile phones killed it all off and despite C.B radio becoming unlicensed in its dying days, it all just faded away as your sat nav or RDS radio told you about the jam up ahead. Car phone kits meant you could chat to someone without the worry of losing the signal, legal CB sets only broadcast at 4 watts which was just enough for a few miles. As mentioned before, truck drivers still use them albeit nowhere near as frequent as they once were. I still smile when I see a tractor unit fitted with a C.B twig with a ninety degree kink at the very top – the result of hitting a bridge or other low structure at speed.

Anyway that’s me done, I’m off for a 10-100 and no doubt see you on the flip side.

10-10 till we do it again good buddy!

One comment

  1. As part of the 4X4 green road driving fraternity, I can tell you that we use CB, on our days out. It enables all members of a group to keep in touch, in case of breakdowns or getting stuck, and to let front driver and back keep in touch. The CB is also a great way to keep the witty banter going all day between group members, without risk of getting busted for using a mobile phone at the wheel.

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