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UK CB radio crowd celebrates three decades of legality

Thirty years since the bears stopped listening

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Breakers around the UK will have their ears on come 2 November, holding out for a copy to mark 30 years since Citizen's Band turned legit in the UK.

It was 2 November 1981 when the inventor of CB, Al Gross, symbolically called 10-4 for a copy from Trafalgar Square without risking arrest. But he did so using an encoding system, mandated by the UK government, which was incompatible with the US kit that enthusiasts had been importing – and using illegally – for a decade or so.

The idea was to spur a British industry developing FM radios*, but making it legal made CB less cool, and making it incompatible immediately cut off the existing communities, who were reluctant to buy new radios and deserted the hobby in droves.

Since then it has been up and down, rising slightly when the CB bands went licence-free in 2006. These days local communities still exist, and freebanders can be found taking (illegal) steps towards radio ham-hood, discarding their razors and learning what QSL means.

But every year the good neighbours get their ears on to mark the anniversary, burning a few more candles and dusting off the rig for a 10-2 or two. This year is the big three-oh, so the breakers will be hanging out on channel 30 – there's no better opportunity to call out and see who's local.

The Big Net, as the annual event is known, runs from 1900 to 2100 on Wednesday, 2 November, but if you want to chatter for longer then knock yourself out: there are no bears with ears these days, but not a lot of bubblegummers either – they'll all be on Facebook these days. ®

* It was FM, not single sideband (SSB), as several readers have pointed out. SSB is still used by the Freebanders and our thoughts were with them when we originally typed up the story – sorry for the mistake.

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