(This is the first real post in The 1976 Project, which will feature 1976-centric posts, some rebooted from the archives.)
The citizens’ band was first marked out on the radio spectrum shortly after World War II. The idea was to permit radio communication for private, individual use, although few people were able to take advantage of it in the early days because the technology was bulky and hard to operate. By the 1960s, however, transistors replaced tubes in radios, making them smaller and less difficult to use, and small businesses soon embraced the CB radio. At some point around 1970, my uncle installed one at my grandparents’ farm to connect the house to the farm’s vehicles.
During the 1973 energy crisis and the protests over the new 55MPH speed limit that followed, over-the-road truckers used CBs to organize blockades and convoys, as well as to locate fuel itself. At that time, there were about 800,000 licensed CB operators in the United States. But once interest in CB radio spiked in 1975, the FCC couldn’t keep up with the requests for new licenses. Eventually, the government abandoned the license requirement entirely, and the citizens’ band became a wild frontier not unlike the Internet—a loosely regulated public space where people could communicate with one another while maintaining as much or as little anonymity as they liked.
It was a fad unlike any other in 1970s America, and it was at its height 40 years ago this month. On the flip are some hit songs inspired by the CB craze.
“Convoy”/C. W. McCall. The greatest of the CB hits, “Convoy” hit the Billboard Hot 100 on December 6, 1975 at #82, then went to #29, #14, #7, #6, and finally #1 on the chart dated January 10, 1976. (It topped the country charts starting on December 20, 1975.) Its popularity was so pervasive that it inspired a British version by a couple of BBC disc jockeys, credited to Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks. It made Number Four in Britain during the spring of ’76, despite the fact that Britain has nothing like the American independent trucker tradition.
“The White Knight”/Cledus Maggard and the Citizens Band. Trailing “Convoy” up the charts by a few weeks, this tale of a cop using his CB to lure truckers into a speed trap topped the Billboard country chart for a week in February and made it to #19 on the Hot 100 during March. Maggard was actually a South Carolina advertising man named Jay Huguely. Hear “The White Knight” here.
“Teddy Bear”/Red Sovine. One of the classic country weepers of all time—a lonely, crippled boy whose father was killed in a wreck fights his loneliness by talking to truckers, and he gets a big ol’ surprise. The song spent three weeks at #1 on the country chart in the summer of 1976 and squeaked to #40 on the Hot 100 in August. “Teddy Bear” is the sort of thing that would probably have been at least a modest hit even without the CB craze, however, and Sovine was good at it—he had made a career of sentimental and/or truckin’ songs since the 1950s, most famously on “Phantom 309,″ a song covered by Tom Waits on Nighthawks at the Diner.
“C.B. Savage”/Rod Hart. Supposedly, “C.B. savage” was a pejorative term used by ham radio aficionados to describe CBers. A country singer named Rod Hart put it to use in another song about a cop using the CB to lure truckers into a speed trap. In a much different era, people found the homosexual stereotype of “C.B. Savage” funny enough to push it to #23 on the country chart and #67 on the Hot 100 toward the end of the CB craze, in early 1977.
By the time “C.B. Savage” hit the air, many of the people who had glommed onto CB radio during the craze had abandoned it. Truckers would continue to use it, and would remain folk heroes for a while longer.
If you have any CB radio tales to tell, or if I missed any CD songs, hit us up in the comments.
(From a post that first appeared in January 2009.)