From The Vault: CB Radio Feature

CB Radio, Walkie Talkies, by Jeffrey Reed
Originally Published September 2011 Popular Communications

Without a doubt, we live in a communications-mad society – and why not? The evolution of the electronics age has put instant communications in the hands of everyone from tech-savvy tiny tots to seniors who have caught the bug for innovative gizmos. Everything from text messaging classmates, to peaking in with Google Maps on what were before hidden venues, has put the world in the palm of our hands.

Sure, cell phones provide access to communication of a myriad of varieties – from idle gossip to emergency calls. The GPS has seen the compass used more by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts than motorists. Combined with the power of the Internet, and, of course, the advent of FRS, GMRS and MURS radio bands, one would think that the romanticism of low-powered CB walkie-talkies would have disappeared forever.

jeffreycar1-e1329249747101Think again. Like you, I’m a communications aficionado with an insatiable appetite to grow my shack and antenna farm. I continue to purchase and tinker with portable 11-metre handie-talkies. There’s just something about these 27 MHz hand-held transceivers that not only remind me of days gone by, but also put the fun back into our great hobby. In fact, CB walkie-talkies can provide services that not all modern communications means can offer.

Hand-Held Transceivers: The Beginning

The term “walkie-talkie” stems from a World War II development called, the SCR-300, a 1940 release from the Galvin Manufacturing Company (now Motorola Radios). It literally was a “talkie” used while walking – a heavy backpack with telephone-type handset for listening and talking, plus built-in antenna, lugged around by soldiers. The term “handie-talkie” comes from the company’s hand-held AM SCR-536 radio – the first of the large army-style transceivers which, even today, are emulated in the design of handie-talkies. A Canadian company, CM&S, also created a portable radio system called a “packset,” which later became known as a “walkie-talkie.” Today, the terms walkie-talkie, handie-talkie and hand-held transceiver all refer to the portable CB radio.

During the 1950s and ‘60s, surplus Motorola handie-talkies were commonly acquired by ham radio operators. Motorola’s public safety radios were loaned and donated to hams as part of the Civil Defense program. Today, business, public safety and outdoor recreation use dominates walkie-talkie applications.

11 Meter Radio: A Brief History

CB radio use has seen many ebbs and flows since early 1948, when the FCC issued the first licence for its designated Class “D” 26.965-27.405 MHz – or 27 MHz – band. By the 1960s, truckers, small business operators and radio hobbyists were using CB transceivers on a daily basis. Then, it hit – as hard as a Hank Aaron home run.

When the U.S. government imposed a 55 mph speed limit following the oil crisis and concurrent gas shortage in 1973, tuckers – today commonly referred to as professional drivers – were suddenly thrown into the spotlight. They were, of course, communicating via CB radios, informing fellow drivers of where to locate gas, and even warning others of speed traps set by Smokey Bear.

In 1976, C.W. McCall’s song, Convoy, did for CB radio what John Travolta’s 1977 movie, Saturday Night Fever, did for disco dancing. And once the 1978 movie, Convoy, hit the big screen, a communications hobby rivalled only by the Internet and texting spread like wildfire in the U.S. and Canada, and beyond. By 1978, both the FCC and Canada’s Department of Communications (DOC) – now Industry Canada – had no longer required General Radio Service (GRS) licenses for CB use. Licenses were inexpensive – there were hundreds of thousands of unlicensed CB operators – and government on both sides of the 49th Parallel decided it was no longer cost effective to license Citizen’s Band users.

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You could purchase a mobile CB transceiver and antenna for as little as $75 at the corner store – as a teenager, I did. But in the mid-1970s, what truly gave birth to my love of the communications hobby was a two-channel walkie-talkie from the local Radio Shack store: the TRC-74.

The rest, as they say, is history. My shack is now home to no fewer than a dozen 27 MHz walkie-talkies. This eclectic collection, sourced from garage sales, bargain stores, Internet purchases, pawn shops and retailers, includes radios from the mid-1960s to current day. The smallest of the radios are the pair of Radio Shack Archer Micro Space Patrol transceivers (1977), each radio 5” x 2/5” x 1.5” and reaching a few city blocks on Channel 14, or 27.125 MHz. I picked up these toy radios at a local second-hand store. Channel 14 is by far the most common CB channel installed with inexpensive walkie-talkies, and with two- and three-channel units which over the years have ranged in power from 1 watt to 2.5 watts.

TRC-209: Mother Of All Handie-Talkies

SONY DSC

The largest radio amongst my collection – and one of my most prized radios within a shack that has pushed out my better half’s arts and crafts corner – is the Titanic-sized Radio Shack TRC-209. It’s a mint-condition radio – even the 53” center-loaded telescopic antenna is as shiny as a new quarter and without any bends in its mass. Measuring a whopping 10.5” x 3.5” x 2.5”, and weighing in at 2.5 lbs. when powered by 10 “AA” batteries, this radio has a large cult following. It was one of the first 4-watt, 40-channel CB walkie-talkies, and is chalk full of features.

With the original 23 CB channels clogged, the FCC expanded the service to 40 channels in 1977, and that’s where things remain today. The beauty of CB walkie-talkies is that you can purchase AM units ranging from 1 Watt to 4 Watts output, and today costing anywhere from less than $20 to about $150.

The TRC-209 sold for more than $200 in 1979 – almost the price I paid for my first car, a used 1973 Chevrolet Nova (I wish I still had the beauty parked in my garage). Like the muscle car, I purchased this walkie-talkie as a second-hand unit, and for the bargain basement price of $25. Along with my Cobra 135 SSB CB base unit in perfect working order, the TRC-209 is a gem amongst my always-growing shack. You can take today’s feather-light smartphones: there’s nothing like hauling around this bad boy for old time’s sake. And it, too, has more features than a Swiss Army knife.

The top panel on the TRC-209 includes a nice RF/Battery meter, separate squelch and off/volume controls, external microphone and speaker jacks and rotary channel – plus the enormous telescopic antenna. The front panel houses the red LED channel display, and a nice-sounding speaker. Even the microphone does an outstanding job. The side panels provide grounding and better reception plus enhanced transmission. The PTT button contains a smaller button to light up the channel display, which fades off after a few seconds to save battery power.

The bottom of the left side panel houses a power switch which also saves power when dropped down to low. You can also power this baby with 8 “AA” batteries plus two dummy batteries – key up with this behemoth on a regular basis and you’ll empty your pocket pretty quickly. An external antenna jack, plus charge and power jacks round out the full features included with this vintage beauty. It’s not quite as large as those backpacked Motorola SCR-300-A portable radios, nor the armed forces SCR-536 walkie-talkies, but it’s big enough to build up your biceps.

Handie-Talkie A Multi-Tasking Traveler

When you think of handie-talkies and their uses, you think of emergency uses, such as those involving REACT – Radio Emergency Association Communications Team. The Suitland, Maryland-headquartered group reached its pinnacle of membership during the CB heyday, but it just as important today. In addition to CB Channel 9 27.065 MHz, REACT members also commonly use ham, FRS and GMRS radios.

But utilizing CB handie-talkies – in particular when used while traveling (and connected to mobile antennas) – still has merit. Road Trip America www.roadtripamerica.com recently stated, “(CB radios) work well, and they provide communication under circumstances where other forms of technology still don’t do a very reliable job.” Whenever I travel, I use my Midland 75-822 handie-talkie/mobile to get a handle on road conditions – who better to ask than those behind the wheels of 18-wheelers? Boosted by my K30 magnet mount mobile antenna, it’s a terrific performer on the road.

The 75-822, along with the Cobra Electronics 38 WX ST, are the two most popular CB handie-talkies on the market today; both boast beauty and brawn. The Cobra unit features Soundtracker, a patent-pending technology which improves sound quality of both transmission and reception of 27 MHz signals. A full-featured hand-held CB, this unit includes NOAA National Weather Channels, dual channel watch plus full 40-channel scanning. The Midland radio’s innovative design allows for the conversion from a handie-talkie to a mobile radio with the simple slide of a bottom converter, which includes a cigarette lighter power cord and BNC connector. The 4-watt, 40-channel unit boasts a myriad of features, including full channel scanning, five memory channels and NOAA National Weather Radio reception

Special “emergency radio” CB handie-talkies/mobiles have been around since the 1970s. Midland has been a leader in this field – in the 1990s, its 75-784 was a popular dual-functioning radio, with its rubber BNC antenna.

Popular CB Walkie-Talkies

Over the years, collecting CB walkie-talkies has become a hobby within a hobby – I’m guilty as charged. There’s a great website, www.museo-cb.com – you can translate Spanish to English, but the photos speak a thousand words. I’ve spent hours glancing at the photos and reminiscing about the glory days of CB radio. I even found information on my vintage Channel Master 6423A 2-watt, dual-channel handie-talkie with all-transistor and RF Stage. I purchased this unit, along with its partner radio with 10 transistor and RF Stage for just $5/pair at a garage sale. They even came with heavy leather carrying cases – does it get any better than that? – and are both in great shape.

Just the mention of the following manufacturers will, I’m sure, conjure up memories for you: Cherokee; Fanon Courier; General Electric; Hy Gain; Johnson Messenger; Kraco; Lafayette; Midland; Pace; Panasonic; Royce; Sanyo; Sharp; Sony; Toshiba; and Westinghouse (which manufactured its radios about two blocks from my childhood home). Everybody jumped on the walkie-talkie bandwagon in the 1970s – even Sears and J.C. Penney.

In more recent years, the GE Communications 3-5979 was a very popular handie-talkie (1990s), with full power, 40 channels and a three-position power saver switch. It measured 12.5” x 3.5” x 3” and sold for just $55. Radio Shack’s Realistic TRC-216 also has a cult following, with its modern, rectangular box-type design in black and silver. The side light and PTT features are designed as buttons flush with the panel (rather than traditional exterior PTT controls). The Realistic TRC-217 4-watt, 40-channel handie-talkie was a tank, too, thanks to a solid casing and durable controls. It’s about half the size of the giant TRC-209 but performs equally. I recently picked up two of these beauties in excellent condition at an online auction site for just $20/pair. Interestingly, they were made in China (rather than Japan, place of origin for many of Radio Shack’s CB walkie-talkies).

Throughout the 1990s, Radio Shack continued with its walkie-talkie offerings, although selection – as with other manufacturers – had diminished. Its 1996 annual catalogue showcased five units, including its then top-of-the-line TRC-232 – just 3.4 watts output, despite 40 channels and multiple functions (including an RF meter and scanning capability). The TRC-222 2.5-watt, 40-channel unit cost less than half the price of its big brother, but offered fewer features.

A peak at Radio Shack’s 2000 catalogue shows what was a new offering from the popular electronics company: the TRC-238 – designed with water resistant properties (you just didn’t watch to drop it in the lake when trying to land that big fish). As is still the case with numerous current electronic gizmos, it was marketed as a “sports” CB.  In fact, despite only five 27 MHz walkie-talkie products back then, Radio Shack advertised them as “a great way for family and friends to stay in touch while hiking, fishing, traveling, at amusement parks, job sites, vacation spots, or just around the neighbourhood. You can communicate with other walkie-talkies and CBs in vehicles and homes.”

Accessories

MFJ-4225MV2

When you purchase a walkie-talkie, you’ll want to add onto it, as is the nature of this hobby. Ironic, since handie-talkies are made as mobile units. Starkville, Mississippi-headquartered MFJ Enterprises manufactures an endless array of radio accessories, including antennas (portable, mobile and base), power supplies and speakers. Its MFJ-4225MV switching power supply is a tank in a compact 3.7 lbs.

It’s rated at 25 amps surge, 22 amps continuous at 13.8 VDC and adjustable voltage from 9 VDC to 15 VDC. When I’m not powering my Cobra 148 GTL SSB mobile radio as a base CB off the five-way binding post, I’ll use the power supply’s cigarette lighter socket to power my handie-talkies, including the full-featured Cobra WX ST. And the MFJ-281 Clear-Tone speaker is a tiny but mighty performer, too, providing top-notch audio with my radios.

Another popular handie-talkie accessory is the rubber ducky antenna that screws onto both built-in center-loaded and simple telescopic antennas. While reception and transmission won’t reach maximum potential, this slide-on rubber ducky does prevent you from bending the antenna on a tree branch, or worse yet someone’s head.

I’m quite fortunate in that I have two hobbies which will last me a lifetime: golf; and radio communications. Just like when I reminisce about Jack Nicklaus and his heyday in the 1970s, I can also fire up my vintage radios and relive my youth in the 1970s. And like modern golf gear, today’s handie-talkies are big performers. When on the road, on the trails or by the fishing hole, my CB walkie-talkie is a constant companion.

Update: In Spring 2015, I am finally studying for my amateur radio license exam.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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