Thursday, June 16, 2011

Breaker 1-9 for a copy!


My first experience with CB radio was in my postgraduate year in Swansea, Wales, when such transmissions were illegal. Yet the imported culture of CB had taken very deep root. The year was 1979. Having achieved my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education, supposedly the passport to a successful teaching career, I was facing the dole queue. Why? Because I taught history and swimming, and not science, science and science. For that was what the government of the day, a rump of a socialist administration, demanded. And so I sought employment elsewhere, which brought me into contact with Julie and her brother Stephen who were both "into" CB radio. We pooled money to buy a Midland hand-held A.M. transceiver, and most Sundays we would drive down to the sea-front and spend far too much time talking to other local and visiting CBers, and if we were lucky one or two from over the Bristol Channel in North Devon. It was all illegal, harmless fun, but the craze soon passed and the set was probably thrown into an attic somewhere when the UK government legalized Citizens' Band radio, albeit using inferior FM, in 1981.

Fast forward just a few years to 1985, and my third and final year training for the Anglican priesthood at Salisbury and Wells Theological College. My friend and now fellow-priest, now serving in the east of England and the author of the blog "Saintly Ramblings" (see the link to the right of this column) had a CB rig set up in his curate's apartment in Poole, Dorset. One balmy (barmy?) evening's visit I played about with it and the next thing I knew was that he gave the set to me, with all the bits and pieces including a rather handsome dipole antenna. All of this was secretly set up outside of my top storey window in the college, with kitchen staff looking up to see what was going on, and fellow students wondering what all the banging and colourful language was about. And I was back on the air.

My "handle," the name chosen by a Citizens' Band operator was Silver Eagle. To this day I don't know why so please don't go reading anything into that. It just sounded right, that's all. And I wasted far too much late evening time, when I should have been studying Karl Barth or fifth century eucharistic traditions, talking on air to locals - mainly farmers and delivery men - about anything but theology. To this day I find the price of meat far more interesting than the finer points of Johannine christology.

That CB rig went with me the following year when I was a newly ordained Deacon in Taunton, Somerset, and it was eventually installed in my small Citroen 2CV (see above post), the antenna effectively doubling the height of the car. I started using it in my new parish, but with great caution for now I was a public figure and vainly concerned about my reputation. My CB hobby became much more passive, as I listened more than I engaged in conversation. Then that rig, or rather a minor component within, decided to give up the ghost, and it was consigned to the great Channel 19 in the sky.

Fast forward again - this time over a quarter of a century (gasp!) - and an old, used multi-band radio that I use as a back-up set for DXing (long distance radio listening) from time to time. It also includes the (American, naturally, and AM) CB band. From time to time I tune in and marvel at what I hear. The humour is brilliant, especially the other day when a trucker from South Carolina was trying to find a delivery site in our location, and all the locals giving him different advice! But I am able to make one serious observation: CB radio as a popular culture is through and through American.

It's not just the codes and the language, and believe me when I say that CB language is up there with Esperanto. It's the way in which it's all rooted in the American interstate and highway experience of the 1960s onwards, and really needs to be spoken with a southern twang. We in the UK imported all of this stuff, but when you hear "Breaker 1-9, we got a smokey taking pictures on the A303 so you buddies keep yer ears on an stay out of the hammer lane, is that a 4 ? Come back" spoken in a Welsh/Dorset/any English regional accent... And as for a "Bear in the air above Wooton Bassett?" Sorry. Doesn't work. At all.

I wonder if that trucker found his warehouse?

1 comment:

Saintly Ramblings said...

I'd forgotten that was where the old CB set went. I still have the Licence I had to get for it ...