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Trucker Slang & The History of CB Radio

With its colorful lingo and ease of use, citizens’ band (more commonly abbreviated CB) radio has been truckers’ chosen communication mode for over 40 years.

CB radio was born in 1947 and originally used by the military. Initially CB radio only had 23 channels, was highly regulated, and required a license. Over the next few decades regulations loosened up and the license fee was lowered, leading to increased interest in CB radio and the addition of 17 new channels in 1977 to accommodate the new interest.

Because of the opportunity for on-the-go communication over a short distance, CB radio was adopted by the taxi industry in the 1960s.

The gas crisis of 1973 brought a lot of changes to the trucking industry, including the widespread adoption of CB radios. As a fuel efficiency measure, the national speed limit was lowered to 55 MPH, so truckers took to CB radios to warn each other about speed traps and let each other know if approaching gas stations were out of fuel.

There are now smartphone apps available that accomplish much of what communicating over CB radio used to - designing routes that avoid low bridges, alerting drivers to construction or accidents, and finding the nearest rest stop.

But, if this conversation a New York Times reporter had over CB is any indication, radios aren’t going anywhere soon:

Trucker 1: “It s’posed to snow tonight? Come on back.”

Trucker 2: “Sounds like it is, driver. Gonna be all up and down 81.”

NYT: “Did you catch the Weather Channel report, driver?”

Trucker 1: “Ain’t got no Weather Channel, driver.”

NYT: “Do you have an iPhone?”

Trucker 1: “Ain’t got no iPhone. Can’t hardly afford one of them $10 phones.”

Who can use CB radio?

The Federal Communications Commission no longer requires CB radio operators to be licensed and as long as you’re following the FCC’s rules, you’re in the clear. An important one is that Channel 9 is reserved for emergencies.

Among CB users, some unofficial rules have emerged around who uses which channel. Truckers tend to stick to channels 18 and 19.

Say What?

Truck drivers using CB radio have developed their own lingo over the years. Thanks to MonkeyMeter and Trucker Country, here’s what some of the things you might hear over the radio mean:

10-4 - Ok or message received. 10-4 is just one of several “10 codes” that drivers use as shorthand.

Barbershop - A low overpass that could “take a little off the top.

Bear - A police officer or highway patrol officer.

Donkey - Behind you.

Dragon wagon - A tow truck.

Granny lane - The farthest right lane on a highway; generally where the slowest traffic travels.

Greasy - Icy or slippery.

Hammer lane - The passing lane or farthest left lane on the highway.

Local information - A request for directions.

Rainbow - Oil on the road.

Ratchet jaw - Someone who monopolizes the radio and doesn’t let others get a word in edgewise.

Salt shaker - Highway trucks that salt the road when there’s snow and ice.

Have any suggestions for good trucker slang words we left out? Email us or continue the discussion on Facebook.