The Citizen’s Group (CB) radio was a popular car accessory in the 1970s. As historian Art M. Blake explains, magazines like News week and Car and driver full page announcements for the two-way radio device. There was one area that at first glance may have missed the trend: black media. Perusing the popular black magazines of the time, Blake writes: “One might get the impression that CB was not part of black culture, that fashion had not hit black America”. But CB radio was a powerful organizational and community tool that “created a very distant and opposite mobility system to that of white ‘good buddies’ talking into their radios as they traveled the American road.”
Established by the FCC in 1945, the citizens’ group has made communications between drivers “cheaper, more reliable and more convenient” than ever before, say researchers Tyler Watts and Jared Barton. CB users had to be licensed, and if license numbers were any indication, the radio was successful with “about 800,000 CB license users in the period 1966-1973” and 12,250,000 in late 1977. There were also about 10 percent of unlicensed users. While the main users and buyers were truck drivers who used it “to find out from each other about where the state police are and low diesel prices”, Black CB users had a history and community predating fashion.
According to Blake, Black CB users were active as early as 1959 with the founding of the Rooster Channel Jumpers, a network of Black CB users across the United States. The club had branches in major cities in the north, south and east, and “a formal governance structure at all levels, and blue and gold uniforms for its members.” In 1978, approximately 10,000 Rooster Channel Jumpers gathered in Dallas for the club’s annual convention, where the keynote speaker urged Black CBers to “join a national organization of black radio operators to promote the use of radio stations. CB channels specifically for black economic organization and mutual benefit. . “
Black CBers were already experimenting with radios as a form of organization, albeit in a way that was not exactly endorsed by the government. The plans expressed at the convention “met with their consistent disregard for FCC regulations to achieve social and communication goals distinct from the practice of black CB radio,” says Blake. The Black CBers regularly used their equipment to engage in a practice known as “jump shooting”. This allowed the signal to go much further than the 150 mile limit allowed by the FCC Citizen’s Band Radio. This network of CBers has created an âinvisible and mostly unguarded communication networkâ. The Black CBers created a community of voices that not only helped them connect with each other, but also organized themselves against racist violence.
The use of CB has spread everywhere, including to hate groups. The Ku Klux Klan began using radios to “organize their racial terrorist activities by reporting to each other on the whereabouts of law enforcement or their latest targets,” and the Black CBers responded. One organization, the Deacons for Defense and Justice based in Jonesboro, Louisiana, used CBs to “ensure a swift response to any perceived or real threat” to black residents and civil rights activists.
Black CBers have created what Blake calls “an audible black geography.” Everything from the slang they used to the way they organized themselves positioned the Black CBers as “a process of listening, with great skill, towards a shared invisible and disembodied darkness, a shared black sound and a black technoculture â.
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By: Art M. Blake
American Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 3, Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies (September 2011), pp. 531-553
Johns Hopkins University Press
By: Tyler Watts and Jared Barton
The Independent Review, Vol. 15, n Â° 3 (winter 2011), pp. 383-397