I undertook my first Radio-communications course and learnt how to use one correctly in my early teens as Cadet Leader of the St. John Ambulance.
I also gained experience of using a mobile set when assigned as radio-operator to a District Staff Officer at the Biggin Hill Airshow, and later for the Chief Ambulance Officer at events such as Trouping the Colour and Lord Mayor's Shows in London.
We had a Pye Westminster fitted into our St. John Ambulance.
I later used these and Motorola sets in the London Ambulance.
There were various makes of transportable radios, I used both St. John and Police Radios whilst covering the Trooping the Colours.
CB Radio originated in the United States, and although communications frequencies were available from 1945 in a limited form it was not until 1958 that a proper multi-channel system was available. These were used on farms where a telephone system was not available or practical. The fuel shortages and introduction of 55 mph speed restrictions in the US in 1973 increased the mobile use by truck drivers trying to avoid speed traps and was used to arrange blockades and protest convoys in 1974 strikes.
However it took way up until 1977 when we saw the first 'Smokey and the Bandit' film staring Burt Reynolds and the later 1978 film 'Convoy' staring Kris Kristofferson that interest in the UK really started. Following these two CB related films and the television series 'The Dukes of Hazard', many 'Illegal' American AM frequency sets were imported to the UK and covertly used by fans who secretly hid them away in car glove boxes, under seats or behind false panels in the car dashboard. Using 'Non-suss twigs', aerials that resembled normal car radio aerials. many deserted high spots were occupied late at night with 'Breakers' trying to contact each other, whilst anxiously trying to avoid the Police and Home Office authorities.
After much campaigning In the late 70's and early 80's, including a march on Parliament to stress the public's growing desire for CB use, the Government sanctioned use of a licensed low wattage CB Radio system of 40 channels using the 27 megahertz FM frequency at a max of 4 watts. Overnight cars sprouted long whip like aerials, and a new vocabulary came to life, everyone was using the code words made famous in those films. "Ten-Four", "73's & 88's", "Rig-check", and i guess the most common term ever used... "On the side" !
Leading up to legislation legalizing the use of CB's I must have read every publication available, learning what I could about standing wave ratios (SWR) and groundplanes, and once they were legalised I wasted no time in obtaining my 'CB Radio Operators licence' from the Post Office and heading for the shops. I walked into the Curry's electrical store and come out the proud owner of a Rotel RVC 240 CB Radio. A further trip to the nearest CB shop to purchase a DV aerial, a power-pack, ground-Plane, SWR meter and all the necessary cables and I was ready and eager to head home to set up my first 'Rig'.
I spent hours stepping over long arms of the big metal ground-plane now reaching into each of the four corners of my little bedsit room trying to adjust the height and 'match' the aerial in electrical length to reduce my SWR reading to the lowest possible. The whole room alive with crackles, whistles and odd crackly voice coming through the tiny in-built speaker.
We all know that many people, even those who appear outward going and loud can suddenly dry up and be lost for words the moment a microphone is placed in front of them. This is even more so when you are a relatively shy individual, despite having undertaken much radio training and using one since my teens in the St. John Ambulance and using a two-way radio on a daily basis at work on the Ambulance Service. I had no idea what to say to initiate conversation, so I never talked to anyone on day one, I just flicked endlessly through the 40 channels listening to others, trying to make some sense of what they were saying.
Eventually on the second day I took a deep breath and squeezed hard on the transmit button....."Hello, can anyone out there hear me?", after doing this three or four times I suddenly heard a reply "Yes I can hear you, what is your handle?"..... Damn, I had been so busy connecting up and sorting out the rig I had not even thought about a nickname. In shock and somewhat embarrassment I turned it all off !
I spent the next few hours, in fact the rest of the day contemplating different nicknames, trying to think of something unique and individual that possibly reflected who I was. 'Ambulance man' or 'Medic' came to mind, but apart from already being in use it still wasn't unique enough, so had to be something from another part of my life.
Got it ! - I had lived for a short while in Australia, so I would use something relating to that.
I eagerly keyed up the microphone and once again took a deep breath ...
"Hello this is the Wombat here...."
Suddenly it was if the whole nation of CB users was laughing at me. It wasn't until I heard one explain that 'Wombat' was the CB equivalent to 'Plonka' or 'Wally', being the CB term to describe a 'Idiot', that I realised what I had done wrong. Hastily I had to think of something else, Looking up on my wall I saw hanging by my clock the wooden boomerang I had bought many years before in Australia.
THE BOOMERANG WAS BORN !
Now why didn't I just think of that at the beginning!
That was just the start, I was using the same unit both indoors and in my old J4 Camper, but I was now addicted and it wasn't long before I had another rig to use in my new car, the car the others named the 'Unicorn' because of its long centrally mounted 'Modulator' aerial standing out like a horn. A public address horn system fitted under the bonnet, amplifiers hidden away under the back seat, and my name in big bold letters across the visor section of the windscreen, everyone knew 'The Boomerang was in town!'.
Back at home, the house too had sprouted a brand new aerial, a massive pole fixed to the highest point of the chimney breast, swaying in the wind high above the by-pass leading to the Blackwall Tunnel. My Rigs 'tweaked' to the ultimate they could handle and 'Boots' (amplifiers) that magnified the signal 200 fold. No longer the quiet unheard of voice of the past, I was now a voice to be reckoned with!
I BOOMED OUT ALL OVER LONDON !
After being suffocated for so long in my first marriage, it took time for me to re-learn the meaning of 'socialising', I had forgotten what it was like to go to a pub and meet people, to have friends and to have conversations that did not just revolve around the kids, the flat, or what she did that day while I was at work. Suddenly for the first time in years I was developing friendships, enjoying chatting to a wider community, and although they were only faceless voices coming out of a speaker these voices were becoming as if I really knew them. I was invited many times to join them at their weekly meet at the Charlton Athletic Football Ground Clubhouse, nervous at first, but nerves that vanished within ten minutes of my meeting this varied selection, people of all ages, all backgrounds, all walks of life who all had this one common interest...CB! I had just joined the Charlton Breakers Club!
Apart from being invaluable in avoiding heavy traffic build up, accidents and traffic jams pre-warned by another user and able to change route before getting stuck, or getting directions to find an unknown destination, it was the forerunner of the mobile phone, enabling warning of delays so that evening meals did not get fed to the Dog. It also proved a life-saver to me when my old camper broke down on the way to work on an early shift in the West-end, a fellow breaker not only came out dressed in hastily thrown on coat over his pyjamas to help me push the heavy old van off the main road in Deptford but also kindly drove me to work, on return in early evening he had even fixed the camper for me.
THE CAMARADERIE BETWEEN THE MAJORITY OF CB USERS WAS UNRIVALLED !
I became one of the original members of 'Medico-09', a specialist CB group compromising of personnel from the Emergency field, Ambulance staff, Doctors, Police, Fire & Rescue teams. Its main purpose was to be able to provide a large number of trained bodies in the case of an emergency situation or disaster who all had their own radio and were able to communicate. The professionals within the group would mobilise and co-ordinate other CB users whenever a serious situation occurred.
Over the years we took part in quite a few searches for lost or missing children, armed with handheld radio's we were able to increase the Police search teams 100 fold at very short notice, searching every alleyway, garden and park bush in the area quickly and efficiently and in an efficient organised manner in co-operation with the Police, something it would have taken the Police alone weeks to do.
We certainly did have a lot of fun too, many weekends were spent on 'Treasure Hunts' where clues were hidden all around the Kent countryside, pinned to doorways or tied around a lamp post, each cryptically prompting us towards the next location. Or in club 'Convoys' down to the coast for the day, snaking our way through the villages and then struggling to find enough parking places for all the cars on our arrival.
Another favourite and one in which two of us became exceedingly good at, was 'Fox Hunts', No we never chased real foxes, just one member (the Fox) would drive off into the countryside and hide their car in the depths of nowhere, and just talk on the radio, it would then be a race for the others to find them using the signal strength meters on the CB. This normally meant many trips down dead end alleys and across muddy paths depending on the ingenuity of the 'Fox' and whether they had hidden in a car park or camouflaged themselves deep in the woodland. The first to find them took the prize! We got it down to a fine art, we built DF Loops (as shown) and many prizes were ours at the end!
This ability we had mastered to track down another CB station whether it be mobile or home based led to the development of quite a reputation for us both.
Ian (other wise known as 'Rat-Bag' or just 'RB' to a few close friends) was my partner in crime, or in the case following a Foxhunt normally 'Partner in Grime'. Ian and myself would drive around the different areas of south east London and Kent borders in the evenings, performing light-hearted 'wind-up's'. We would only wind up those we knew well and it was never done maliciously. Our cars carried what we called 'The Kit', a collection of equipment including tape recorders and voice changers and anything else we could find to use. We would disguise our voices and wind up people we knew for a few hours, well ok I have to admit there was the odd occasion it did last and go on for a few days, even weeks. It was a great time, never a dull moment, we were always full of life and always up to mischief, 'Good Mischief'...
We even did our own version of 'This is your Life' one night at the clubhouse.
Our fellow club members used to pretend we were a bad influence on the club, but they were always really eager to join in and be part of one of our escapades, it never took much persuading to get one to assist in the wind up of another!. One night at the weekly club meet, Ian and myself were presented with baseball caps, embroidered on the front of each was "The B-Team" and from then on our reputation grew even further, I'm not sure if it was upwards though or from 'bad to worse', but in the Foxhunts we were unbeatable, when they saw the B-team pull up at the start they almost gave up!
As with any good thing, it too also had its downsides, CB Radio did not escape the attraction of a few weird, nasty and occasionally a few dangerous people too. An increasing problem, It started to seem that in every corner there were people who just wanted to spoil it for others.
The early years were plagued by very young kids. Some parents totally unaware of the legal age restrictions had bought CB radios for their kids as something to keep them off the streets or keep from under their feet. Others would sneak on to a parents rig when parents were out, some would just make noises, others would play music, some would just key up the microphone to obliterate all conversation between others.
There were also a few adults who abused the system and stalked women and children, being verbally abusive, scaring them and making their lives a misery by following them around the channels making sickening sexual suggestions. The biggest one in our area was known as the 'Dalek', using a 'metallic' robotic sounding voice he would persecute the ladies and literally terrify the younger children.
Many complaints were made to the authorities and Police at the time, but lack of resources and equipment to track them down made reporting a pointless exercise. The authority in charge only worked 9 - 5 Monday to Friday and most of the hassle was in the evenings or at weekends.
Over the years I had many different makes of CB Radio, they were modified with extra 'Secret' channels, boosted and tweaked for ultimate performance. I also had a much more powerful Tristar 777 Multi-mode transmitter capable of using a far larger range of frequencies and capable of transatlantic communication under the right conditions.
I later worked for a Private Ambulane Service and we had CB's fitted in every vehicle, it helped us keep in touch and less reliant on the use of Pagers, it was also cheaper than using mobile phone technology that at that time cost many pounds just for a minutes conversation.
As our reputation at tracking down foxes grew, it did not escape those who were having issues with 'Wallies', those who were stalking the women and children. Soon we were being asked to put our skills to better use.
The B-Team then took a slightly different direction, although very well known over quite a wide area by our reputation there was not that many who actually knew our faces or even who we were. The B-Team name was on everybody's lips and the talk of the airwaves, they all knew we could track down someone in a blink of an eye, but they did not know what we were really about!.
The 'Dalek' and a few others in the area were as busy as usual, the females and parents of the young were getting very angry and upset with all the abuse, the authorities were helpless so they called us.
So after a lot of requests the B-Team stepped in and did what we did best,
We tracked them down!
Now we were totally a non-violent and law-abiding team, no way would we even consider using any form of rough vigilante style Justice to sort out a problem no matter how bad it was, but 'presence' is a powerful thing, we found that just the knowledge that we had traced them and were now parked outside their house was normally enough for them to think twice and quickly shut down their stations, lights would go out, curtains got drawn together, all trying to pretend no one was at home. If it was a young kid that was causing the problem then sometimes just a word with an unaware parent was enough to do the trick, quite a few kids found themselves grounded and equipment removed by a parent ashamed of what their child had been doing and the bother it had caused. It didn't work for all, but most were that unsure of what the B-Team would or could do if they found them, that the airwaves around the south east of London once again became a nice place to be.
Selective memory loss makes it hard to remember now, but I think on one or two occasions we must have left the car boot undone, and the odd pair of wire cutters must have bounced out and accidently cut through an aerial lead here and there, but the cutters were very selective and only ventured near those who caused endless repetitive trouble, and upset the ladies and children of the south east of London !
The B-Team eventually eased up on both its harmless pranks and the chasing down of 'Wallies' as we moved on with our lives.
I carried on using CB in the car and at home even after moving to Wales in 1990, using it more like a mobile phone connection back to my home when out working. I tried talking further afield, could easily get to the US, Holland and a variety of other countries using the 1500 channels of the Tristar, but unfortunately due to the local terrain it would not let me chat to my old friends back in London. With the development of the mobile phone and the Internet, use of CB radio has diminished to all but the most dedicated, but it certainly has still got a use and not completely out of date.
If there was a crisis situation, either from a natural disaster, or from a war or terrorist attack then the first thing that would be attacked would be the countries communications. An EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) Bomb could instantly wipe out phone systems and everything that used a circuit board, all services including the Internet could be put out of action, a CB radio might then be the only way to communicate.
The 7/7 bombings in London showed just how easily the mobile phone system can be overwhelmed forcing them to close the systems down, a wide scale power failure or Electronic Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack cripple both types of telephone systems completely.
Its a tool that hopefully may not be ever used, but one still worth leaving in your toolbox just in case you ever need it!
To stop the CB's being ruined in an EMP attack, they would need to be protected in a Faraday cage or equivellent. There is a link below that will take you to my other website and explain.
I still have several rigs, along with power packs, microphones and aerials in my cupboard, not used now for several years, but maybe one day I will set them up again, perhaps when I retire in my garden shed... Who Knows!