When I was in the Marines, I was once assigned to long and dreary days working in a mess hall at Camp Pendleton; what made it worse was the radio station that was played in the eating area. Being as it was December 1975, there was an especially dire mix of music, which was played on what seemed like a continuous, horrible cycle:
K.C. and the Sunshine Band: "That's the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh)" - Could any song ever be as dumb?
Simon and Garfunkle: "My Little Town" - Just plain depressing.
Paul Simon: 'Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" - I, however, had no way to leave the song.
Sweet: "Fox on the Run" - …which I actually liked the first 500 times I heard it.
ABBA: S.O.S. - Same comment.
Somebody horrible, but not Slim Whitman: "Una Paloma Blanca" - The irony of the lyrics about being as free as a bird didn't escape me.
Barbra Streisand: "Evergreen" - Not too bad, but repetition killed it, too.
Kiss: "Rock and Roll All Nite" - I could feel my brain cells dying.
Silver Convention: "Fly, Robin, Fly" - Beneath contempt.
Van McCoy: "The Hustle" - Beneath beneath contempt.
Carl Douglas: "Kung Fu Fighting" - Beneath even that.
I took refuge by buying Buffalo Springfield records at the PX and listening to those at night, to sort of cleanse the dreck from my head. But I was unsuccessful... even now, whenever I hear one of those songs I'm instantly taken back to the mess hall I seemed to be cleaning twelve or more hours per day.
The over-played hit that's relevant to this article, however, is "Convoy" by C.W. McCall, which, according to Billboard, was #1 for a time.
Every time it played, I tried to listen to the lyrics to figure out just what was supposed to be going on. This wasn't easy because of the jargon, the dialect and the sound quality of the mess hall's sound system. I was therefore mildly intrigued with it in the same way I was with other Southern-styled tunes with puzzling lyrics.
CB? Citizen's band radio? Why don't I have one? I'm a citizen. So, after mess duty was over I bought a $100 CB radio for my Volkswagen Beetle at the PX, one of the new ones with 40 channels. (I believe the FCC opened up new frequencies to accommodate the fad inspired, in part, by the song.)
The very first consideration I had was, where to put the antenna? The optimum placement would have been on the on the roof, in the very middle. But my commitment to this exciting new grassroots revolution in communications was tempered by knowledge of my poor craftsmanship ability. I knew that if I tried to mount the antenna there, it would be only a matter of time before I'd have water dripping on my head from the necessary hole in the roof. Besides, a VW Beetle with a CB antenna on the top looked way too Jetsonesque for me.
Mounting it on the flat surface of the front or back bumper was a logical place… so I mounted it instead on the upper part of the front hood, near the windshield. It was a clunky placement in that every time I raised the front hood the antenna would hit the windshield. My solution? Not opening the front hood very often.
Being essentially a law-and-order kind of guy, I applied for a Class Three FCC license, which was granted to me. The notion of using a CB radio without a license must have seemed like removing the tag from a mattress… nothing will probably come of it, but why flout the justice system? I forget my call sign, three letters and four numbers, but I dutifully made a label with this on it and applied it to the microphone, and cited it in all my conversations.
I do recall my "handle" (we all had to have one): The Yardbird. This had a triple meaning for me: 1) It was the name of a British Invasion group I liked, 2) I often worked in the yard at Base Telephone, fetching items to be used in that day's work, and 3) It was a description of a sort of lazy and shiftless person, which seemed appropriate to me. After all, one reason why I was in the Marines in the first place was because I was too lazy for college.
I had a two-hour drive from Camp Pendleton to Burbank most Friday evenings after work, a perfect opportunity to make contact with the Great CB Community on the Golden State Freeway. And so I did, in a rednecky tone of voice I copied from the popular culture. I'm sure some people on the CB back then, traveling north on I-5, can be forgiven for thinking they once made radio contact with Denver Pyle from "The Dukes of Hazzard"; but, no, it was the Yardbird!
Try as I can, I can only remember three conversations on the CB: one was with a rednecky female who informed me that she was a regular at a bar in Oceanside - probably trolling for young Marines - and another was some helpful advice during a traffic jam. The third was a creepy sort of "I can see you but you can't see me" thing with a total stranger late one night, like being stalked by a perv at sixty miles an hour. I quickly realized that, as a medium for any kind of meaningful conversation, the citizen's band radio was an abject failure. It had little "reach," and, as a consequence, unless the person was headed the same direction you were at more or less the same speed, your conversation would get truncated. (Not always a bad thing.)
The only real fun I ever had with the CB radio was when I did yet another poor installation job onto my 1971 Porsche 914, the car I had after the Beetle. This time, again not wanting to cut serious holes, I mounted the antenna onto the engine lid, which was directly behind the passenger compartment. I'm not sure what this did for the reception, but it sure trashed up what was usually considered a status car.
One Saturday night my pal Mike McDaniel and I, both having CBs, played an interesting game of radio hide-and-seek in my neighborhood. I hid my little black car in a corner of an unlit parking lot, and saw him drive by in his Lincoln Continental. I then broke radio silence and gave him clues as to where I was. It was fun, but, as I recall, we didn't repeat it.
I had far more amusing radio times on the U.S. Government's Camp Pendleton network. There were three users:
1.) Base Telephone, of which I was a part. My handle was "Oscar 23." We were all Oscar Something-or-another. Oscar One was the Telephone Officer, of course.
2.) Base Facilities - generally, the people who worked on heating and cooling.
3.) The Movers - the civilians who arranged for trucks to move Marines on and off Camp Pendleton housing.
The last group, the movers, were especially fun to listen to because it seemed that they were all doddering old men whose conversations were riddled with hilarious misstatements and misunderstandings. They were sort of the radio oafs of Camp Pendleton. Once, after one tortured, extended two-way conversation, I decided to stir up additional confusion by keying the mike and going "Digadigadigadigadigadigadigadiga" for about thirty seconds. Pat and Mike, the two movers, then announced that there seemed to be some kind of interference and could they each retransmit? I once again keyed the mike for another "Digadigadigadigadigadigadigadiga" transmission. Again, same result. After the third such transmission, Oscar One, the Base Telephone Officer, got on and stridently chewed out whomever was having fun with the movers. Needless to say, the Yardbird called it quits at that point. But I bet there were sniggers in every radio-equipped vehicle on base.
The only other time I played the government radio rogue was when Erv (the civilian with whom I worked) and I came across an abandoned backpack radio, a fairly expensive item. Apparently some infantry unit was on maneuvers and left the radio behind. I keyed the mike and responsibly asked if anyone was on the frequency, to ask if perhaps somebody didn't leave something behind. No response. I tried again. No response. So, being deeply into Beatles music, as I was at that time, I sang the first verse of George Harrison's "Something" into the mike - which got the desired response. An angry Marine chewed me out for misusing a government asset, and I chewed him out for leaving it behind, with directions as to how to fetch it.
Thirty years after C.W. McCall's hit song, I was gratified to see that, yes, there is a use for the humble citizen's band radio after all. I was once on a chartered bus with a bunch of high school drama kids - I was a chaperone - when we encountered heavy traffic on the road heading south in the Shenandoah Valley. As I was sitting directly behind the bus driver, a courtly older gentleman who had a decidedly Old Virginny dialect, I heard the CB come alive with truckers reporting the cause and extent of the problem. He responded with an authenticity that I had to admire and quickly assured us that, based on his information, there was no reason to be concerned.
I can close no better way than to cite the appropriate song lyrics. My CB experience wasn't quite as dramatic as this, however.
C. W. McCall as sung on "Country Memories": MCA MSD2-35429
Peak Billboard position # 1 for 1 week in 1975-76
Words and Music by C. W. McCall, Bill Fries and Chip Davis
Spoken on CB Radio in background, sung by background singers:
Ah, breaker one-nine, this here's the Rubber Duck. You got a copy on me.
Ah, yeah, ten-four, Pigpen, for sure, for sure. By golly, it's clean clear to Flagtown. C'mon.
Yeah, that's a big ten-four there, Pigpen. Yeah, we definitely got the front door, good buddy. Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy!
It was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June,
And a Kenworth pullin' logs,
Cab-over Pete with a reefer on,
And a Jimmy haulin' hogs.
We's headin' for bear on Eye-one-oh,
'bout a mile outta Shakeytown,
I says "Pigpen, this here's Rubber Duck,"
"And I'm about to put the hammer down!"
'Cause we got a little ole convoy rockin' thru the night,
Yeah, we got a little ole convoy, ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on and join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna get in our way,
We gonna roll this truckin' convoy 'cross the USA.
Ah, breaker, Pigpen, this here's Duck 'n' you wanna back off them hogs?
About 5 mile or so
Them hogs is gettin' intense up here.
By the time we got into Tulsa-town we had 85 trucks in all,
But they's a roadblock up on the cloverleaf,
And them bears 's wall-to-wall.
Yeah, them smokeys' thick as bugs on a bumper,
They even had a bear in the air.
I says "Callin' all trucks, this here's the Duck,"
"We about to go a-huntin' bear!"
Ah, you wanna give me a ten-nine on that, Pigpen? Negatory, Pigpen, you're still too close. Yeah, them hogs is startin' to close up my sinuses. Mercy sake, you better back off another ten.
Well, we rolled up Interstate Forty-Four,
Like a rocket-sled on rails,
We tore up all of our swindle sheets,
And left 'em settin' on the scales.
By the time we hit that "Chi-town,"
Them bears was a-gettin smart,
They brought up some reinforcements,
From the Illinois National Guard.
There's armored cars and tanks and jeeps,
'n' rigs of ev'ry size,
Yeah, them chicken coops was full of bears,
And choppers filled the skies.
Well, we shot the line, we went for broke,
With a thousand screamin' trucks,
And eleven long-haired friends of Jesus,
In a chartreuse microbus.
Ah, Rubber Duck, this 's Sodbuster. C'mon here.
Yeah, ten-four, Sodbuster. Listen, ya wanna put that microbus in behind that suicide-jockey?
Yeah, he's haulin' dynamite and he needs all the help he can get.
Well, we laid a strip for the Jersey Shore,
Prepared to cross the line,
I could see the bridge was lined with bears,
But I didn't have a doggone dime,
I says "Pigpen, this here's the Rubber Duck,"
"We just ain't a-gonna pay no toll."
So we crashed the gate doin' ninety-eight,
I says "let them truckers roll, ten-four."
Ah, ten-four, Pigpen. What's your twenty? OMAHA? Well, they oughta know what to do with them hogs out there, for sure. Well, mercy's sakes, good buddy, we gonna back on outta here, so keep your thumbs off your glass and the bears off your……..tail. We'll catch you on the flip-flop. This here's the Rubber Duck on the side. We gone. 'bye, 'bye.