CB radio hobbyist Jon Greener recently stumbled upon a weapon in a local war over control of the
“Most people would think this was a bomb,” said Greener, 60, as he brushed aside some dirt and loaded the bizarre box into the back of his 1971 Dodge Tradesman van.
The crude device was comprised of a curious metal box of knobs and a Christmas light timer fastened to the top of a car battery with duct tape. It was spray-painted green, and a 50-foot-long coaxial cable was connected to the end of a 6-foot-tall truck antenna.
“When this thing turns on, you can’t hear anybody,” Greener said as he fiddled with the knobs on the disabled transmitter. “It was a ‘jammer’ and it was planted in the forest by a saboteur whose goal was to interrupt CB traffic between Sonora and Twain Harte,” Greener said.
The device was simple and its purpose obvious to anyone familiar with CB radios. The battery-operated transmitter was timed to send out a high-pitched squeal every few minutes, making it impossible for local CB users to hear each other. The jammer was likely left by local CB scofflaws living in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties who have for years been waging a war of disruption against peace-loving hobbyists, Greener said. At stake are 40 public radio channels known as the Citizen Band.
“There are hundreds of people on the radio at a given time, but only 9 or 10 do most of the talking,” said Greener, who has been using CBs for more than 40 years.
When many people think of Citizens’ Band radio, the first image that comes to mind is a mustachioed Burt Reynolds dodging Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the 1977 film “Smokey and the Bandit.” But in many regions of Mother Lode, where cell phone coverage is spotty at best, CB radios remain a vital line of communication between distant neighbors.
Greener, who doesn’t own a phone, said he listens to his CB radio more than eight hours a day to keep tabs on friends and family from Jamestown to Long Barn. The series of public channels is also a kind of meeting place where local radio hobbyists can chitchat, gossip, and, more often than some would like, spew vitriolic hate speech at one another.
CBs are also still widely used by long-haul truckers, four-wheelers and RV enthusiasts who use the devices to communicate about weather conditions, sources of cheap fuel, law enforcement activity and where to find a good place to eat.
“If you’ve ever been on the road for hours and days, you know it gets pretty lonely,” said Doug Levick, who owns LNB Electronics with his brother Rob in Sacramento. “But via CB,” he added, “you can not only make friends, but you get to know people’s whole families.”
Levick started his business in 1978, when CB radios were all the rage and there were dozens of radio shops in Northern California. “At that time, you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing something about CB radios,” he said. “Cell phones have steadily become cheaper and more reliable, making CBs obsolete for most users,” he said.
Levick’s humble shop off Interstate 80 is one of only a handful of such businesses left in California. The waning popularity of the Citizen Band has also caused it to be all but abandoned by federal agencies that monitor U.S. communications networks. This lack of oversight has opened the airwaves to the voices of people whose only apparent goal is to antagonize other users, Greener said.
Greener, a retired tree climber whose CB handle is “Tree Dr,”blamed a homegrown group of radio hobbyists for planting the jammer in Twain Harte and for various other high-frequency hijinks. Called the H&D-ers — for hate and discontent — the group’s goal is to disrupt the communications of others in any way possible, Greener said. Their motivations, however, are decidedly more opaque.
“They’re a gang, they do these things just to be mean,” said Greener, who said he has found similar jammers before. “The main target of the Twain Harte high-frequency attack,” he said, “was likely Don Wages, a 70-year-old Vietnam vet who lives less than 200 yards from where the jammer was found.”
Wages has been an avid CBer since the late 1960s, and is a frequent target and antagonist of those whom he says violate the tenets of radio etiquette. He believes other local CB hobbyists planted the device on a nearby tree in an effort to silence him.
“When they talk that dirty talk, I get so mad,” he said from his porch-front radio hub.
Wages, whose radio name is “Renegade Red,” said that CBers go by handles rather than their real names to preserve an element of anonymity — though he knows most local users personally. He has boxes full of tape recordings of locals with handles like “Captain Morgan,” “One-Eye” and “Nevada Red.” When CB hobbyists don their quirky radio nicknames and “key up,”they enter a world filled mostly with hissing feedback and trucker chatter, but also a fair amount of anti-government paranoia, racist propaganda and childish personal attacks.
“We hear about these groups across the country,” said Federal Communications Commission spokesman Matthew Nodine in Washington, D.C.
As the CB radio craze reached its peak in the 1980s, a backlog of applicants forced the FCC to drop the requirement that users obtain a license, leaving no way to track who is using the Citizen Band. The airwaves have grown more lawless ever since, and the FCC has virtually no resources to locate or stop nuisance broadcasters, Nodine said.
The FCC generally refers all complaints about foul language, threats or illegally high signal strength to local law enforcement. Mike Remmel, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol office in Jamestown, said that while officers will sometimes consult truckers about road hazards via CB, law enforcement agencies generally don’t monitor civilian radio bands. As a result, the Citizens’ Band is a mostly lawless region of the public airwave spectrum. “They threatened to burn my house down with my little puppies in it,” said Soulsbyville CB enthusiast Linda Starnes, who owns several dogs.
Starnes, who has been using radios for 15 years, said she has been repeatedly harassed by others on the airwaves. She complained about the verbal abuse to the Sheriff’s Office, was told it was a civil matter and there was nothing the authorities could do, she said. Starnes, who goes by the CB moniker “Cloud 9” because nine is her lucky number, said that rowdy radio users have been pushing out more peace-loving hobbyists.
“It’s a dying art nowadays,” she said. Greener said the H&D gang is led by a CBer who goes by the name“Icepick.” He said the group’s goal is to disrupt communication between foothill communities and “flatlanders” who live in the Central Valley. They accomplish this by using powerful transmitters and tall homemade radio towers that block out weaker signals from most standard CB radios, Greener said. They also leave jammers at strategic locations in the forests, he said. “With Icepick, it doesn’t just get dirty, it gets real foul,” he said.
Levick said that groups bent on disruption are common in most places, and that in the past the FBI has come into his shop trolling for information on those who misuse the airwaves.
“It seems like every community has one,” he said. “I guess they’re lonely little people who have nothing better to do.” Levick said that despite the rancor caused by some CBers, the hobby still has much to offer. For one thing, it’s relatively cheap. A starter 5-watt CB radio and antenna costs about $159, and can pick up signals from 20 miles away, Levick said. High-power Illegal upgrades are common in the CB world as well. Thousand-watt transmitters capable of sending a signal 100 miles or more are common in the Mother Lode, where mountains can hamper less-powerful radios.
Most CBers are also familiar with a phenomenon known as “skip,”which allows a signal to carry thousands of miles when reflected off the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere, Levick said. Though CB radio channels share elements of some of the less savory Internet chat rooms, they remain a good way to meet local people, he said.
“You’re gonna hear a lot of foul language, and but meet a lot of really nice people too,” he said.
Written by Ryan Campbell, The Union Democrat, April 29, 2011 02:08 pm