CB radios are still used. But not nearly as often as they were in the past. Cell phones all but killed off CB aka Citizen Band radios. The present use is limited to truck drivers and those who view CB radio as a hobby. CB radio use peaked in the 1970’s during the oil and gasoline shortage crises. People used the radios to communicate gasoline availability. Also, to help conserve energy, the U.S. federal government lowered the speed limit to a maximum of 55 MPH. That resulted in more speeders on the highway, and thus, more highway patrol officers (“bears” in CB lingo) writing speeding tickets. Truck drivers would communicate to each other via the CB radio identifying police speed traps which allowed those drivers to slow down and avoid a speeding ticket.
CB radios are two way communication devices regulated by the Federal Communications Commission- (Uncle Charlie) a U.S. Federal agency. They are open to anyone and everyone in the world. The device is a 40 channel transceiver (the ability to transmit and receive) in the short-wave, high frequency, electromagnetic spectrum (27 Megahertz). They can be used in a car (mobile unit), at home (base unit), or completely portable in your hand walkie-talkie (HT). The maximum legal power is 5 watts which generally allows you to talk about 5-10 miles under normal conditions. Under certain atmospheric conditions (skip conditions), you can talk across the U.S. and beyond. The radio waves propagate towards the sky and are reflected back to earth thousands of miles away from the original transmitter.
Today’s hobbyists often attach linear amplifiers (kickers) to their radios to boost the power up to many thousands of watts. Those high-powered radios are illegal, but the extra power allows them to be heard above everyone else (hammer down). They often operate on channel six also known as the “Superbowl” contesting to see who has the most powerful radio. They go by “handles” (made-up names) such as Prime Minister, Machete, and Showtime. They also go by “numbers” usually three in a row such as 666, triple three, and 357.
CB radio lingo made it famous. They use the “10” code to shorten common phrases, such as “10-4” (OK), “10-20” (where are you located), and “10-9” (repeat). The world famous phrase “Breaker 1-9” means someone is trying to break into a conversation on channel 19.
While CB radio operators are not always polite to each other, they are disdained by another class of two way radio operator- called Ham Radio or Amateur Radio. You must pass a 35 question exam to obtain your FCC approved Ham Radio license. You get a call sign like “WKRP” instead of a handle. Once licensed you can legally operate two way radios on many different radio frequencies.
Like CB’s, Hams are also a dying breed due to the communication afforded by the internet. Up until about 1960, Hams were on the cutting edge of technology, perfecting Morse Code (those short beeps in a row that spell out words), and the first to use radio wave propagation to communicate around the world. Notwithstanding those achievements, young people now days, are hardly impressed by the ability to talk around the world on a radio. There are still a few years left until the final old time two way radio enthusiast dies off, however, with no new people to replace them, it will will likely be the end of that era.