Allen Varney, writer and game designer


A "Blast From the Past" column from Tuff Stuff Collect! magazine:


by Allen Varney

[Published in Tuff Stuff Collect! magazine, July 1996.]

Breaker-break one-nine, you got Past Blaster here, good buddy, ringing your bell if you remember the big CB radio fad of 1976-78. Did you read all those news stories, listen to the songs, watch the movies and TV shows, and go to the conventions devoted to citizen's band radio? Most important, did you buy the trading cards?

I never expected the general public to get so worked up over the 27-megahertz radio frequency. But then, I never expected the truckers' strike of 1974, either. Protesting new government regulations, independent truckers blockaded bridges with their huge, honking semis, while TV news cameras churned away. Viewers noted how truckers could organize spontaneously into giant convoys, and how (in the days before radar detectors) they seemed to know, magically, when police were approaching. Wising up to the truckers' magic, hundreds of thousands of citizens bought CB radios and applied to the Federal Communications Commission for Class D licenses to use them.

But the fad proper only ignited in early '76, with a Country & Western novelty tune called "Convoy." Written by C. W. McCall (advertising copywriter Bill Fries), "Convoy" describes the cross-country journey of an indestructible thousand-truck fleet. The song deployed a rich lingo of "Smokeys" (police), "hammer down" (driving fast), and the ubiquitous "10-4" (acknowledged, correct). Trucking is a hard life, but it has its romantic side: a brotherhood of independent loners in solidarity on the open road, using their wits and their CB radios to evade highway cops and bureaucratic regulation. "Convoy" conjured this romance, and the American public responded, making it a mammoth crossover pop hit. Then, of course, came the fad.

Like a hundred other fads, CB mania gave us many more CB-inspired songs, such as "White Knight" (about a trucker perfidiously lured into a speed trap by a CB-wielding Smokey); movies like the Smokey and the Bandit series and Sam Peckinpah's Convoy; trucker-hero TV shows like Moving On; and a flood of books listing hundreds of CB slang terms. We also got at least four sets of trading cards.

First came the 15-card "CB Stickers" issue (1976) of numbered stickers inserted in Tip Top Bread, followed in 1977 by Fleer's "CB Talk" (60 cards and seven stickers) and Sunbeam Bread's odd "CB Jeebies" set of 25 stickers backed with identical iron-on pictures. The set I've collected appeared late in the fad, 1978's "CB Convoy Code" series from Donruss. The 44 well-crafted die-cut stickers draw inspiration from the same source as the other sets, the colorful citizen's band jargon of "bears in the air" (police helicopters), "local yokels" (local police), and "roller skates" (small cars). Like the Fleer set, the Donruss stickers were backed with a dictionary of CB jargon; it has 23 parts, of which 21 were repeated. All these series are widely available and cheap to collect.

Like a hundred other fads, CB mania quickly ran its course. All the CB books in my local libraries date from 1976, no later. Today stores still sell CB radios, mainly as emergency signals if your car breaks down. Cellular phones and radar detectors have made other CB functions obsolete. People can meet more easily through Internet chat channels (originally called "CB simulators") and CU-SeeMe video reflector sites. Meanwhile, the CB frequencies once more belong to their original users, the truckers, who are probably glad to have the airwaves to themselves again.

This is Past Blaster cutting you loose, good buddy. Over and out.