CB Radio: The Wild West We Forgot About

Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

Every year, I go to my parents’ old alma mater in central West Virginia. Outside McCuskey Hall, there’s a grove of enormous oak trees, casting shade on the grassy field. In the fall it is absolutely picturesque. Every year my dad tells me and my sister the same story. When he was in college in the late 80s, he would climb one of the oaks and string up a hammock in the branches. He spent most of his time in these trees with his friends, chatting and practicing dove-calls. But sometimes, he would haul his ham radio (amateur radio) into the branches and talk to kids across the campus or call my mother in the other dorm hall. All the while, he feared to break a major law by ordering a pizza.

Every once in a while, it would occur to my father how easy it would be to call the local pizza place and have a pie delivered directly to the tree he was sitting in. But he never ordered that pizza, for one simple reason: it’s completely illegal. “Ham Radio” means amateur radio, and amateur means non-commercial. This non-commercial regulation prevents people from ordering pizza as a way to prevent clogging the airwaves. This sounds reasonable, and it would be if it weren’t for the fact that ham radio already does this, anyway.

Alternative Communication in CB Radio

Ham radio requires a license and is highly regulated by the FCC. But CB radio is the Wild Wild West. CB radio means Citizens Band Radio and has next to no regulation. Provided its users stay within CB range, (40 channels, legally speaking) they can do anything they want. This includes broadcasting copyrighted songs, government overthrow plans, mundane conversation, and vulgarity. While the FCC is technically supposed to regulate CB, in practice, unless a user makes themselves known on an illegal channel, there will be no “fox hunt”.  

Today, the internet is the new “Wild West”. It’s regulated, but with technologies like VPNs and IP concealers, it’s a technological tracking and hiding arms race between users and the government. This problem doesn’t really exist with CB. The people who use CB in the age of the internet and satellite radio are mostly truckers. This makes CB regulation microscopic potatoes in the eyes of the FCC. No such arms race exists, making coded, secret, and illegal conversation much safer and much more feasible. Conceivably, a radio with enough extension and power can reach exponentially further than what’s technically legal. But with the exception of space exploration, radio technology is going to remain pretty much stagnant.

Surprise! The FCC Fails at Regulation

Because the FCC is bad at CB regulation, the order of the 40 legal channels is exemplary of the value in self-regulation. People agree to use certain channels only for specific activities. Channel 9 for instance, people use for emergencies only. And channel 19 is for truckers reporting on traffic. There is etiquette concerning code usage and airwave crowding that is rare for experienced users to disobey.

This works because as humans, barring extreme mental illness, we care about how others perceive us– even anonymously. We especially care when there is a threat of angry truckers shouting us off the airwaves. Further, we care when we know we run the risk of impending life or death communication. Both of these are stark possibilities on CB.

Al Gross in Company with Ross and Assange

Author Ryan Lau says, “Five individuals [mentioned below] have done more for human freedom in 10 years than the government has in 50.” Al Gross, the inventor of CB radio, needs his company along the sides of Satoshi Nakamoto, Ross Ulbricht, Cody Wilson, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange, bringing the number of liberty-securers to six.

Although CB radio is public, its simplicity and antiquity is the advantage. They’re nearly undetectable and unrestricted– legally or illegally. Basic codes are not difficult to make, and there are safeguards to employ that the government can’t or won’t do anything about. CB radios also don’t have to cost a mortgage payment. High-quality CB radios can run around 30 to 50 dollars, with the serious ones running up to 500 dollars.

It’s important to employ these alternative communication methods when we can. Nonviolently evading government reach where you can is one of the most effective ways to fight against it. Exercising avenues of communication free of government control is a way to prove the state isn’t necessary.  It is a way to quietly escape tyranny while ordering a pizza.


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