I first 'discovered' radio communications via CB radio back in the late 1970's courtesy of some schoolfriends who had the good old AM system imported from America and hearing about the chats, the meets/'eyeballs', the wind-ups and 'shooting skip' to talk to people in America sounded fantastic. My chance to get onto the bands was not until 1982 when I finally obtained a radio and antenna for the recently (1981) legalised UK FM system. Unfortunately the hobby had changed somewhat by then but there was still fun to be had (other than when my transmissions would break through Dad's hi-fi or his Betamax video recorder of course!!!!).
By the time I had my rig I was living in Ivybridge (Creeper town) and set up initially with a mobile base load antenna and ground plane in my parents loft. The rig was good but had the annoying Cybernet 'thing' of a squelch circuit closing with a 'whoosh' (even when the volume was down!) but worked well with a handheld ALTAI power microphone and even with the indoor basic antenna could get me a good range of well in excess of 12 miles (well into nearby Plymouth and down into the South Hams). I was really bitten by the bug though when about the first day I used it a sudden burst of sporadic E opened up and I found myself talking to a very nice lady dubbing herself the 'Highland Dancer' in Kircudbright in Scotland!! She sent me a postcard and very nice note as a QSL. That would have been late June/July 1982, the Es conditions were quite good and I ended up with a healthy list of contacts up and down the country (and the QSL cards to confirm them). I went as far as buying a FM/AM Commtron 8 from a friend for a tenner and that opened up more possiblities with mid band AM/FM contacts into Europe and some more cards from further afield but there was of course the ever-present interference from the 'sidebanders' who were having a much better time immediately below the AM/FM transmissions. As an old clunker though it worked pretty well and the princely sum of a fiver got the Hi band frequencies shifted to align with the UK channels though only on about 26 channels as I recall using (by now) a DV27 (followed by a DX27!) on the loft based ground plane.
Anyway 'swoopy/popping' squelch circuits and an advert on the back of 'Breaker on the Side - the British Breakers mag' (BOTS for short) showing a Uniden 100 'portable ready pack' with antenna mount and battery housing prompted some action and the poor old Fidelity (now 'peaked to give 10 watts/2.5 watts output) was traded in for a new Uniden Uniace 100 (below) courtesy of the 'Sir Lancelot CB Centre' in St. Judes in Plymouth. A tiny but punchy little rig, it suffered from poor transmitted audio with the standard microphone but was sorted out when I swapped the mic for a President AR144 microphone (see below) and latterly a Leson TW232 desk microphone (see below). I never bought the 'ready pack' which was a shame, it would be sorting out the Yaesu FT857d as a portable unit about 30 years later before I'd get around to that!!
I did get a portable radio though, a Harvard 40 channel FM handheld with nicads and leatherette case and shoulder strap and it was entertaining to take it up onto Western Beacon near home at Ivybridge and speak to people in Plymouth and Cornwall with only a couple of watts and a 'rubber duck' antenna. In my case the predecessor to the FT290r and FT817 I guess!
(lower two images courtesy of Carl at http://howtocbradio.com)
Having been bitten by the bug as it were I managed to obtain a clean low mileage 'sidebander' of dubious UK legality (of course) - smuggled in through Heathrow Airport I believe. I bought a 40 channel AM/USB/LSB President AR144 from 'Crazy Horse' for 50 quid (it had funky green, orange and red diodes for the mode selector) and within a day or two I was talking to people in locations as diverse as Italy, Germany, Spain, the Azores and America also having upgraded the antenna 'system' to a quarter wave horizontal aluminium dipole in the loft and the ground plane now used for a vertically polarised base loaded 'The Modulator" mobile antenna, so good I still have one for 10 metres!! And all with 12 watts SSB. Wow! Well, others were getting their Cobra 148's/Superstar's and NATO 2000's by then but there simply wasn't the cash! It was also nice to chat to the locals and there was a regular net in Plymouth (Port City) on channel 37 mid USB where Sheila 'VP19' in St. Judes in Plymouth (using a President McKinley) and various others would just drop in during the day to say 'hi' and to rag chew.
President AR144, my original 'sidebander' with its mode indicator diodes
President McKinley as used by VP19 on the Plymouth net on 37 USB
(I remember seeing a brand new one for sale in 'Mister Resistor' in Plymouth in the early eighties!)
I remember some of the locals who had their 'big rigs' for instance 'Prince Charming' in Ivybridge had a NATO 2000 (below) sold as a legal 40 channel rig and stamped as such until you took the back off and switched two components to open up another 4 bands of channels on FM/AM/USB/LSB/CW and activated the 10kc shift. Similarly 'Cockney Rebel' at nearby Lutton had a Superstar 360FM (also below) which was basically a Cobra 148GTL mk3 with the same bands and functionality as the NATO but all activated by plugging in a 3.5mm jack plug to a socket on the back of the rig! He had a monstrous 'Sigma IV' vertical antenna outside his house and I spent one very jolly Sunday afternoon there as his guest to use the rig and was in the chair for a net throughout the south west for a few hours! Others nearby included 'Iron Pumper' (Cobra 148 GTL Mk.3 with super lows and super hi's - he later graduated to a 27MHz modified Yaesu FT707 as below with a 6 foot roof mounted Moonraker and mag on his Escort mk2), 'Eagle Warrior', 'Short Circuit' and 'Atomic Rooster' also with Cobra's I think, 'Rubber Runner' with a HAM International Concorde (?), Patrick '70 Sandbagger 532' (he NEVER came on FM!) had a Lafayette, 'Shiftman' had a Tristar 777, 'Pinball Wizard' had a Tristar 747, 'Wildman' in Plymouth had all sorts but did have a fantastic new Petrusse Pacific 160 and 'Grasshopper' at South Brent had a President Grant. Funny what you remember when you put your mind to it!!! A Sigma IV mysteriously appeared on a house down our road and the guy turned out to be a 'radio amateur' (maybe not!!) but did have a Colt multimode!
Superstar 360FM (basically a modified Cobra 148GTL mk3)
Modified Yaesu FT-707 - became a popular choice for serious DX'ing CB'ers with enough cash in the 80's
This was the stage when I dabbled with getting licensed as a radio amateur but other things took over and there was the thought that as a 'B' license, the 'more interesting' long distance HF bands would not be accessible anyway. Had I known then how much fun can be had with an FT290r VHF multimode with 2.5 watts and a homemade beam things may have been different but thats history! By this time (1983) I had started carrying around the FT290r brochure but I didn't get the rig until about 2007. It comes to those who wait I guess!
Anyway the legalised FM CB radio system was getting no better, too many idiots, small kids, music playing, dead keying and foul language and one day I announced in the middle of an evening net that I would be going QRT from CB radio and would not be coming back. I did exactly as I said, selling all the gear except for the President AR144 which I still had in its original box until just a few years ago. I did keep some accessories including a really good microphone (Leson TW232 - see below) 10/11m pre-amp, loads of co-ax and other odds and bits against the day I would get my license as I knew then I WOULD do it one day. Unfortunately all the gear has since disappeared one way or another and as I write this all I have left from then is a dud 3amp power supply and a roll of co-ax (with the moulded on PL259 from my very first base loaded antenna..., bizarre!!). I still used to listen to the AR144 (precisely twice I think) in the years between giving it up in about 1984 and finally getting licensed in 2005. One of those times was in a sunspot peak with some very strong signals but tons of noise all coming through from the cradle of CB, the good old U.S. of A!
I still listen in occasionally just for fun. Reg GJ3XZE gifted me an old Hy-Gain V - 2795DX 120 channel multimode (nice rig - see below) and I have a 10m only SSB rig in the car which tunes down to 26MHz! Listening on 27.555MHz (channel 52 High) is a good tell as to what the conditions are likely to offer in the significantly quieter and less used 10 metre band just up the dial. A slight aside, I was dead keen to have a Hy-Gain V when a sallow teenager, I was offered one for £120 at the Cattedown CB centre in Plymouth in 1983 and I tried one out in the Paignton CB shop at around that time and spoke to a Russian 'maritime mobile' station. Perhaps thats all part of the mystique and why it is still popular!
At a car boot sale (or Troc Puce) in Brittany I happened across an original early 80's silver fronted President Jackson 200 channel AM/FM/SSB rig for the princely sum of €25 including a mag mount mobile antenna (rig pictured below the Fidelity 2000 - just behind Fireman Grubb!!). It receives superbly but the transmit is a problem just transmitting a carrier/buzz in any mode and one fine day I will get it fixed but its nice to have it and at least it makes a good 11m receiver and a 'kind of' successor to the long since disappeared and lamented AR144.
CB radio still available at F4VPJ via a modern 'Sigma IV' equivalent!
But lets be dead honest about it, Amateur radio is now more accessible than ever with Foundation Licensing etc. and can give just so much more scope. You can use it as a kind of pseudo CB if you must but with the assistance of repeaters, or you can DX to pretty much anywhere in the world on a huge variety of bands. Add to that the variety of equipment, aerials, modes and types of operation and in my humble opinion you just cannot go wrong, maybe I'm biased though!
Binatone 5 Star (not mine) shown 'just because'..., its a nice radio and a nice picture of it!
73 from 'Sundance Kid', 'SK7', latterly 'Eagle 1' and '26MC452'