CB radio History – WHERE WE HAVE BEEN?

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Twelve short years, that’s all it has taken to transform the 270-kc segment of the frequency spectrum between 26.96Mc and 27.23Mc from a deserted region inhabited only by an occasional wandering diathermy machine into probably the most-used, a most-crowded area in the entire range of the radio.

Yet, short as it is, it’s probably unknown to a majority of today’s licenses. With new station licenses being issued at a rate averaging by the thousands each month, most operators active today have been licensed for less than two of those twelve years. So let’s take a trip into the past and see how we reached the point we’re at right now.

A logically starting place for this brief look at a short history is the beginning, so first let’s see what the 11-meter region amounts to.

At the conclusion of the World War 2, in 1945, virtually all pre-war frequency allocations, because wartime developments had resulted in a large amount of new knowledge about radio.

One of this development was radio diathermy which makes use of heating effects produced when RF energy meets material such as flesh. The same heating effects result when metals or other materials are placed in strong fields of RF energy, and this industrial scientific and medical use of radio energy rapidly developed into an important activity.

Since the effects were produced right at the transmitters themselves, and since no communication from one transmitter to another was intended as part of the “ISM” use of radio, it made the most sense from the standpoint of frequency allocations to pull all “ISM” transmitters on a single frequency. While this frequency would be blocked for communication use, the rest of the spectrum would remain free.

At the Atlantic City International conference in 1945, the “ISM” service was assigned the frequency of 27.1Mc, with a tolerance of plus-or-minus ½ of 1 percent on the frequency. This meant that the band from 26.96 to 27.23Mc was assigned to ISM use, and could not reasonably be expected to be useful for any other purpose.

Alert amateur representatives immediately present for a “Footnote” to the allocation, which they got. It permitted the secondary use of this 26.96 to the 27.23Mc band by amateurs, with the understanding that they were subject to interference from ISM devices and would not be permitted to cause any interference to the prime users. Ham interference to a diathermy wasn’t likely, but this is the way such footnotes are worded.

With thousands of kilocycles worth of space available elsewhere in the spectrum, few hams blocked to use the 11-meter band.  

Only a few hardy souls ventured into it. Its main advantage was that a number of types of communications not permitted on other low-frequency bands could be used here. Among these were a facsimile, wide-band FM, and radio teletype.

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This was where 11 meters stood in 1957. What about the citizen radio service?

The CRS had officially come into existence a decade earlier, under rules which became effective on December 1, 1947. The first version of CB operation included only two classes, both in the UHF region between 460 and 470 Mc. Class A operation was subject to rigid control, comparable to commercial two-way users, but was permitted to use up to 50 watts input power in certain parts of its band. Class B users, on the other hand, were relatively free of restriction. Only one major restriction of a legal nature held them back-all equipment had to be type-approved by the FCC. General availability of equipment for this service did not come until late 1955 when FCC standards were lowered somewhat.

And even with the general availability of equipment, the sorely limited operating range of the gear, combined with relatively high prices, kept class B CB operation from achieving wide popularity.

This was the way things were in 1957 when a rearrangement of many UHF allocations cost the CB service more than half of its UHF band.

While the reallocation was pending, the commission took a hard look at ham use of their 11-meter band (During this time there was an organized movement to “Save Eleven”) and decided that space could be used to better advantage in some other services, under the same restriction applied to hams.

The upshot of all this was an extensive revision of the Citizen radio service rules, a less major change in the amateur rules, and on July 3, 1958, the 11-meter band was taken away from the hams and assigned to the newly created Class D portion of the Citizen Radio Service.

Though the action was dated in July, the band was not opened for communications until September 11, 1958, so the official birthday of CB is celebrated each year in mid- September.

So 23 new channels, at a much lower frequency than ever before available, had been added to the Citizen Radio Service, and in addition, the requirement for type-approval of equipment was quietly dropped. What was the public reaction?

The silence, believe it or not, was deafening. So all this space was available, so what! That seemed to be the public’s attitude. A few licenses were processed during October and November of 1958, but by January 1959 the national total was only about 600 per month.

By May, the number of licenses issued monthly had jumped from 600 to 5500, and it’s been steadily growing ever since.

In these early days, the FCC’s CB rules were purposely made about as vague as could be imagined. Almost anything went. The idea was to give operators the greatest possible freedom to develop new uses for Citizen Radio.

But unfortunately, the last sentence of the catalytic Stoner article which triggered the initial boom consisted of quite loaded questions:

“Who will be the first to issue a certificate for Worked All States – Citizen Band?”

And that popped the cork on a pseudo-amateur operation the like of which the radio world has never before seen. The only requirement for a license was U.S. citizenship and an age above 18, and with this and a rig, you could talk to anybody anywhere.

The rigs were something, too! There were the “Benton Harbor Lunch Box and the “the Icebox”, not to mention the “Gooney bird”. If you remember any of these, you don’t have any business reading this article in the first place! Super regenerative receivers were standard equipment and while the transmitters loaded up to the full 5 watts in, few indeed would give much more than a watt and a half or so of RF power coming out. But who cared? This was more than enough to work all the way across the country, from coast to coast. And at first, nobody said a word about it.

As it became painfully obvious that the new “Business and personal communications” service was in actuality becoming a sort of license-free ham band, the FCC had to modify its original rules. For several months it was a race to see which would be quicker—the guardhouse lawyers finding loopholes in the newest amendments to the CB rules, or the commission in plugging up these selfsame loopholes!

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During this time-from mid-1961 until, roughly, the last part of 1962-interest in CB operation on 27MC. continued to grow, and the new industry involved in producing equipment for the 27-Mc operators mushroomed almost overnight into really big business. Some firms previously involved with amateur equipment added CB gear to their lines, and at least one of them dropped ham equipment completely. The biggest success stories, however, were those of the small firms which suddenly found themselves leaders in a $50 million a year industry.

In this same period, the FCC was becoming more and more involved with problems of policing this tiny segment of the spectrum. It didn’t help a bit when one of their own examiners threw out a case against a CB’er whom the enforcement bureau has considered to be a particular flagrant violator, on the grounds that part 19 of the rules and regulation was a worthless and unenforceable document because it was too vague for anyone to understand.

At any rate, on November 14, 1962, the commission issued a notice of proposed rulemaking which, as issued, would have seriously impaired the CB service as it existed at the time. Comments were requested. The definite action appeared imminent.

About the same time, one Ernest Walker, A CB’er from New Mexico, was put off the air for a number of alleged violations of FCC rules. He complained to CB publication and found one willing to take up his cause.

The combined “threat” of the new rules proposal and the Walker case were used by the publication to encourage the formation of a national organization, which was titled the American citizen band association Subsequently, ACBA and the magazine’s idea became intertwined to such a degree that it was difficult to determine which was which. The magazine was used to promote direct challenges of the FCC’s authority to regulate CB radio, and as a result attracted the backing of most, if not all, of the operators who resisted any type of authority.

The publicity generated by this combination, together with the flagrant violations of common courtesy, decency, and ethics, not to mention the ignoring of all federal regulations, heard on the 11-meter band, combined to paint an image of the CB operator as an irresponsible idiot to whom someone had, in a careless moment, entrusted a couple of thousand-pound bombs and Sherman tank. Users of the most other services looked at this “Typical CB’er,” Shuddered and wrote the service off as not worth saving.

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However, while all this was going on in the white glare of deliberately induced publicity, most CB’ers were quietly set out to improve their level of operation, to organize for public service, and to actually achieve the goals for which the service was initially authorized. The commission had been correct in its premise –left to itself, the service would itself develop its proper operating techniques and methods, which could then be incorporated into the rules.

Months dragged by with no action announced on the new rules, but the original announcement had –almost unseen –achieved the purpose of reducing flagrantly illegal operation and setting the service on its feet. By the time a decision on Docket 14843 was announced, rules violations had dropped to half the level of mid-1962.

In the meantime, CB horizons had suspended operation, its staff members in various directions. The ACBA severed all connections with its origin and then, it too dropped off into oblivion. Many irresponsible operators are still with us, and probably at least a few of them always will be. But the mature, responsible users of CB are coming out to the position they have held for some time, unrecognized –as the majority of the licenses, who are always ready to help anyone in any way they can.

Twelve short years. Not very long, as the calendar flips. But long enough for our radios service to have completed one major stage of its evolution and to be well embarked on its second stage. It will be interesting to watch what happens in the next 12 years!

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