When I was about 16, my dad acquired a CB radio to play about with. He was an electronic engineer, but it was more than a job, it was a hobby. He rigged up a voice operated microphone on his crash helmet and got me to try and speak to him on his drive off somewhere in the suburbs of SW London, to see if it worked.
We had picked a channel that was quiet, but what we didn't know is that it was a channel that got kicking late in the afternoon with a network of people from Richmond Hill into the far reaches of Surrey. The first to switch his rig on called himself 'Desperate Dan' and he lived on Richmond Hill.
Within 20 minutes of first trying to speak to my dad, there were at least a dozen people trying to speak to the guy on Richmond Hill, as he had a good rig and a large aerial. Me, with my cheap little rig and small loft aerial, could not hear most of them, and I was a weak signal or 'no copy' to them. Of course, the channel got well chaotic and I couldn't even speak to my dad.
Eventually, my dad got to his location, but I stayed on and talked to all that I could. I met 'Black Swan', 'Redstripe', 'Amber Gambler', 'Spirit', 'Wildmouse', 'Crazy Camel' among others. So began my relationship with this 'night light' which lasted about 2 years. I eventually adopted a 'handle' for myself - I was 'French Connection' of Strawberry Hill. (No, I do not drive cars like a maniac and I don't do hard drugs. Somehow though, like the nic 'honestfi' it seems to suit me somehow - you had to be there) The relationship with the 40 red channels was rocky at best, and I think the main reason why I stopped using it was because of a couple of nasty incidents of verbal abuse and there came a time I was regretting the day that I first picked up the mic.
CB was waning in popularity then, and now there are only 20,000 odd license holders (though probably just as many unlicensed), and we now have the internet and chat rooms and it is nothing to speak to someone in Florida whereas this would have been an achievement on CB. However, you can pretend to be somone you are not on the internet, e.g. a 7 year old girl when in fact you're a 40 year old man...dashed difficult on CB. And although you can just about keep your exact location a secret on the internet, (though the determined can find out) as your 'copy' on the CB was doubtless less than 10 miles away, he could leap into his car, track you by looking at the signal when you spoke, until eventually he would 'key up' right outside your door, blasting your speaker and causing the meter needle to click loudly to 'n stop.
Reading the article at the BBC, and the positive comments underneath it, brought back a flood of memories, and I am able to forget the heartache and reflect on the happier times.
- 'Wildmouse' and his mate Jamie finding out where I lived and driving their cars down our road shouting "Chrrrrroooome!" (quiet location, and I think the neighbours must have had apoplexy!)
- Developing my first, serious crush on another 'breaker' and the long long long long walk we had on our 'eyeball' (I think it was about 10 miles!). Sadly, the love I thought I felt was not reciprocated. I wonder where he is now?
- The thrill late at night of copying someone in Canary Wharf!
- The sweet offers of friendship, maybe more, from various guys, rather desperate for a girl methinks, but an important part of life when you're turning seventeen
- In fact I think there was one who held a candle for me, but never asked. Seems that boys have the same trouble as girls in expressing their feelings sometimes. If he had asked....well....I think given the circumstances at the time, I would probably have said yes
- The conversations with the 'old boy' network, who, despite the difference in age, welcomed me into their talks and never left me out.
I realise all this, and more, contributed into me turning from an adolescent into an adult and certainly boosted my confidence - I was a 'mouse' that barely spoke but I started to become a little more forthright and less introverted. So. Happy Birthday, CB Radio, and may you have many more, even if you are isolated to Age Concern - and such a brilliant way to earn your keep.
There is one more, precious reason that CB Radio will always have a special place in my heart and memories.
A few years after their first meeting, 'French Connection' married 'Desperate Dan'.