Breaker, breaker: CB radios, the Facebook of the 1970s, back in fashion

Citizen Band (CB) radios, made fashionable in the 1970s by movies like Breaker Breaker and Smokey and the Bandit, are experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks to nostalgic baby boomers.

The owner of Australia’s largest collection of CB radios, Mark Regan, said interest in the 70s craze had suddenly peaked again.

“They’ve become collectors’ items, and I’m seeing a resurgence of use now partly because mobile phones aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” he said.

“Even though there were so many of them back in the 70s, not many survived, so the rarity also comes from that.

“And baby boomers, we’ve all grown up, and have cash to spend.”

Mr Regan has put his collection on show at the Lawrence Museum in the Clarence Valley region of northern New South Wales, in an attempt to satiate the interest of the growing numbers of CB radio enthusiasts.

“I also wanted to allow people to see what the social media of the day was,” Mr Regan said.

“It’s Facebook today, but back then it was CB radio — everybody had one.

“There was a lot of comradely gained and a lot of people became good friends and still are today.”

Bear bites from local yokels

Mr Regan said 14 million CB radio licenses were held by Americans in 1979, and Australians regularly spoke to them.

“In the mid 60s things started to really happen in the United States because radios were available fairly cheaply and you could have one in your car, your home, or carry one around with you,” he said.

CB radio language

  • Bear trap: Speed camera
  • Bear bite: Speeding ticket
  • Breaker breaker: Used to start a transmission/message
  • Choke and puke: A bad truck stop
  • Fox in the hen house: Unmarked police vehicle
  • Go-go juice: Fuel
  • Good buddy: CB radio friend
  • Kojak with a Kodak: Police officer with radar
  • Local yokel: Local police officer
  • Meat wagon: Ambulance
  • Papa bear: Police officer with a CB radio
  • Seat cover: Attractive woman in a vehicle
  • Ten-four: Transmission acknowledged

“Around the 1970s Australians really started getting interested in CB radio, especially truckies … and there was great sunspot activity which allowed for communication between Australian and the US.”

Mr Regan said part of the appeal of the CB radio craze was the slang words, which Australians began to pick up after speaking to Americans.

“During the early 1970s there was a fuel crisis and people couldn’t get petrol, and in the United States there was a 50 mile per hour speed limit, but truckies had to be places and so they developed this slang that they hoped would not be understood by the police who were listening on radios as well,” he said.

“So it initially started as a bit of skulduggery to avoid being caught speeding by the police.”

40 years of legal use

Mr Regan’s exhibition also coincides with the 40th anniversary of CB radio use being legalized in Australia.

“Truckies did a lot for CB radio to have it legalized in 1977,” he said.

“Before then it was a criminal offense punishable by six months in jail and/or a $100 fine.

“The Postmaster General would oversee all of this and they were catching people and fining them and some went to jail.”

Today, Australian CB radio users can still be prosecuted, but only if they use ‘channel five’, which is designated for emergencies only.

Mr Regan’s collection is on display at the Lawrence Museum until the end of November.