CB Radio, A 40 Year Old Social Network

Now-a-days social networks are usually thought of as online communities, but people were social networking before computers. I know — I was there. Dictionary.com defines a social network as a “Network of friends, colleagues, and other personal contacts,” which is exactly what CB radio has been for at least 40 years, and continues to be among truckers and many others today.

The Citizens Band radio wave length was introduced in 1947 when the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) decided citizens needed a dedicated radio band. By the 1960’s a few businesses, such as taxi services, were using CB, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s, when truckers adopted CB, that it became a social network. Several milestones, including the introduction of a national 55 MPH speed limit, fuel shortages, and rising fuel costs hastened the need for an information sharing network. Fuel rose from 34¢ per gallon in 1971 to $1.60 by 1981. Knowing where to find the best fuel prices, or where to find fuel — at all — was important.

The CB radio became the primary network where this information was shared… and then something happened. CB’ers not only shared information – they conversed. They complained about the “double nickel (55mph speed limit)”, bragged about a “triple digit ride (a truck that could reach 100 mph)” and warned of “taking pictures (police using radar).” They also talked about their “better half (their better half)” and “ankle biters (children).” Truckers shared where to eat, best maintenance practices, and driving tips. They talked about the weather, jobs, and sports — they networked.

Truckers, law enforcement, emergency vehicles, and others continue to use CB radios everyday. They share traffic congestion, construction zones, and answer each other’s questions. And, they continue to converse — they network.

Social networks are not new. Online communities aren’t even new, and as much as online networking advocates, such as myself, would like to believe – we didn’t invent social networking. Truckers have been using CB’s to social network longer than half of America’s current population has been alive. I think I’m going to buy a CB and listen for a while — maybe I’ll learn a thing or two.

BTW (by the way), look for my upcoming post, “Smoke Signals — A Social Network.”